The Great War: Director’s Cut (大戰放映會)
DIR: Yan Yan Mak | Dragons & Tigers| Hong Kong | 2013 | 84 min. | DCP
Sat, Oct 05 07:00 pm | International Village #10
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Take your pick: New Kids on the Block, All-4-One, The Backstreet Boys… the ‘90s had no shortage of harmonizing hotties, and Hong Kong’s boy-band fever was as bad as anyone’s. This documentary by award-winning HK filmmaker and music video producer Yan Yan Mak catches up with Cantonese pop (Cantopop) supergroups Grasshopper and Softhard, after nearly three decades in the biz, as they rehearse for an epic 12-night reunion concert “battle” at the Hong Kong Coliseum.
Candid interviews and backstage scenes reveal deliciously stereotypical boy-band drama. In the Grasshopper gang, Edmund (the nice one), jokes about control freak Remus (the pretty one), while brother Calvin (the strong, silent one) philosophizes about life and society. Over in the Softhard camp, Eric (the funny one), teases Jan (the endearingly dim one) about his aversion to the gym. Lady Gaga-worthy costumes abound, alongside the requisite crises about hair, makeup, muscles and choreography. We also meet die-hard fans from all walks of life and get a keen sense of just how important these pop groups have been in crafting a post-1997 Honk Kong identity.
Disappointingly, quips and clips are all Mak really offers in telling the otherwise fascinating Grasshopper/Softhard story. A total lack of captions and narration—more a lazy shortcut than artistic device—ensure that any viewer less than moderately obsessed with either band will fail to match names to faces until at least halfway through. In addition, a repetitive and non-chronological cycle of chair-bound interviews, backstage shots, and overdramatic slo-mo sequences from the single concert fill the full 84 minutes, and result in a doc void of story or suspense.
A film about five sexy pop singers rising to fame and heartening a troubled nation should be a no-fail recipe, but missing ingredients—names and places for one, context and backstory for another—actually make for a rather bland serving. Fans already steeped in the Cantopop craze will nonetheless relish the inside view, but at the very least, a YouTube crash course should be mandatory prep for the rest.