Jay Chou, kungfu, and basketball sound like decent ingredients for a fun if not exactly award-winning film. But that doesn’t turn out to be the case, and in fact, a high school basketball match in a musty gym has more heart and drama than this turkey. Filmmakers fail to turn its star’s oft-professed love for kungfu and basketball into a coherent fantasy, and it’s shameful how flagrantly it ends up violating all rules of good storytelling.
Chou features as the Shijie the Basketball Orphan, abandoned near a basketball court and raised in a kungfu school. He’s an extremely capable student, so much so that he gets locked out one night for showing up a teacher. An encounter with Zhen Li (Eric Tsang) leads him to a club where the pair ends up conning their way through a darts game. That results in a massive fight, and in a matter of 24 hours, Shijie is again kicked out of the school, this time for good.
Zhen Li won’t let any harm come to his new friend though. Having discovered his talent for accurately throwing any object from any distance, he dreams up another con. He enrolls Shijie into First University and hopes to make bank, presumably as agent to this sure superstar. (There are no NCAA regulations to be broken here.)
But Shijie must get through a few hurdles before he can burst onto the collegiate scene, including a one-on-one with the team captain, Ding Wei (Bolin Chen). It’s the first, and last, climactic encounter of the film, and that’s because the remaining matches never really build up to anything. Even the classic showdown that ends the film, wherein Shijie’s former teachers come to his aid, is so absurd and not in keeping with any actual basketball rules that it feels like someone’s cheating. With no sense of league structure or standards to ensure fair competition, there’s little tension or consequence.
This lack of a discernable athletic goal creates an obvious dramatic vacuum that the writers try to fill various subplots. Ding Wei turns out to be a boozy star while his sister (Charlene Choi) is the chipper groupie who’s crushing on the team’s other brooding stud, who only has room in his heart for his dead girlfriend. A better storyline that isn’t pursued with much vigor but that might have been more rewarding is Shijie’s father-son relationship with Zhen Li. But this is also an afterthought, given undue and confusing attention at the end of the film but not throughout. The writers try to convince the audience that Zhen Li really cares for his friend when exploitation seems closer to the truth.
For once, Chou’s presence doesn’t help much. Surprisingly bland in this role, though more the fault of the lifeless script, he fails to give shape to his quiet character, something he’s managed to do in previous films and even music videos. One would expect that the action would make up for these plot and character deficits, but the kungfu and basketball sequences prove less than stunning. Aside from a legitimate fight at the beginning of the movie, the action consists mostly of high wire jumping and dunking. Chou gets a few chances to show off his agility with the ball, but on the whole, the picture doesn’t earn its title.
“Master Chou” (周大侠) – theme song by Jay Chou:
Alt Title: 灌籃, Slam Dunk
Prod: Yiu Kei-Wei 姚奇偉; Albert Lee 利雅博; Xu Pengle 許朋樂
Dir: Kevin Chu 朱延平
Action Dir: Tony Ching 程小東
Writer: Kevin Chu 朱延平; Lam Chiu-Wing 林超榮; Wang Youzhen 王宥蓁
Cast: Jay Chou 周杰倫; Eric Tsang 曾志偉; Charlene Choi 蔡卓妍; Bolin Chen 陳柏霖; Wang Gang 王剛; Ng Man-Tat 吳孟達; Baron Chen 陳楚河; Leung Kar-Yan 梁家仁; Eddy Ko 高雄; Kenneth Tsang 曾江; Liu Genghong 劉耕宏; Lee Lichun 李立群; Shaun Tam 譚俊彥
Time: 98 min