Heavenly Kings
Hong Kong 2006
Directed by Daniel Wu.

The semi-real, semi-imaginary chronicles the "boy band" ALIVE NOT DEAD (Conroy Chan, Andrew Lin, Terence Yin, and Daniel Wu) and their rise to moderate success in Hong Kong, on the strength of their star combined star power and contacts in the industry, along with some very savvy marketing of their own. To get press for their first single, they leak it to the internet and hold press conferences about how it was stolen. Genius! The song becomes a hit, and soon they are playing at some concerts and wondering how far they will go, and when they should stop -- since the band was started as kind of a gag to see how much they could get away with. Interviews with real cantopop stars like Miriam Yeung, Jacky Cheung, and Candy Lo are peppered throughout the film, as are some very cool animated segments scored by various hardcore Hong Kong rock bands.

But HEAVENLY KINGS is not just a documentary of the boys and their occasionally very funny prank on the Hong Kong music industry and the press (who took it very badly when they finally realized they'd been had -- which makes the whole thing even better). Instead, the boys create not-quite-real characatures of themselves and it is these characatures who we see in "real" backstage footage. So Terence Yin appears to be a womanizing wastrel, Andrew Lin picked on by the rest and leading a life of quiet desperation, Daniel Wu completely anal about everything. No doubt based a bit on their real personalities, but not really them. So now, HEAVENLY KINGS adds a second layer of deception: first, the band is a fake, created to make the documentary, and second, the documentary is fake, adding backstage drama and actors playing characters, rather than being themselves. This complicated narrative structure sometimes falls in on itself and becomes insincere and tiresome, but surprisingly, it usually works well enough. There are some good laughs, some crazy bits, and some moments that still feel genuine. An impressive directorial debut from actor Daniel Wu.

[And say, what's with the title? Once upon a time, the media dubbed four Cantopop stars as "The Four Heavenly Kings,": Andy Lau, Jacky Cheung, Leon Lai, and Aaron Kwok. The title perhaps suggests the four members of ALIVE NOT DEAD might be next in line for coronation.]

Rating: Recommended (Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on September 09, 2007.

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