movie: Road Less Traveled

(Dateline Taipei part 8 )

Road Less Traveled was on my to-watch list while in Taipei so it was a pleasant surprise after the interview with Van Ness Wu to get an invitation to watch no less than the premiere the following night.

But my interview with Ariel Lin pushed through the night of the premiere so I had to watch it on Day 2 on the last screening.

I was the only one in the cinema, a medium-sized one (compared to the 30-seater one, which I will blog about later).

While buying my ticket at the boxoffice, the lady had three questions for me:

“Are you a student?” (Either I looked young… or surviving on a student allowance. Presumably, there is a discount for those with student IDs.)

“It’s a small screen. Is it OK?” (Lady, I watch on my iPad some of the time and it’s fine by me.)

“You’re the only one watching, is that OK?” (The screening is pushing through even if I’m the only one, right?)

As I settled on my seat, I thought this ain’t good. Only day 2 and it was a Friday night, and no one’s watching.

There was a single queue at the premiere night but it’s obvious that F4’s time has long passed. No more screaming fangirls waving shiny and twinkling billboards. I guess they all grew up.

Wait, some of them were there.

credit: Road Less Traveled Facebook

I started to get scared for those few seconds after the ushers closed the door and the cinema was shrouded in darkness. I thought of all the horror movies and wondered if I’d find myself within a horror movie myself.

One shallow reason why I wanted to watch this movie is because I wanted to see “Mike” and “Joe”.

I mean, what were the chances that the two lead characters will be named… Mike (played by Van Ness) and Joe (Jimmy Hung)? The rest of the band were named Yi (Dean Fujioka), Taka (the very funny Eric Tu, who was in Why Why Love) and Jason (Chris Lung). It would have been great if they were named Ethan, Mark and Roy… and voila, we’d have a bunch of Taiwanese male idols in one movie.

To be honest, I didn’t really have high expectations of the movie so I can’t say I was disappointed. But I think it could have been better.

The movie is written and directed by Jimmy, who is the son of Sammo Hung. Sammo also produced the movie and has a cameo in it. He’s in one of the memorable scenes in the trailer referencing to F4.

Perhaps some of my expectations are based on the fact that the lead character here was a member of F4, which has paved the road for many Asian boy bands to cross over the region. But I don’t think those expectations are fair because first, this is not a movie about F4, and second, the writer is basing this on an original plot.

If only the original plot had more plot in it, and not just about a guy (Joe) who came to Taiwan from the United States because someone told him he can be part of a band and realize his dreams to be a musician. When Joe arrives in Taipei, he couldn’t find the guy (incidentally played by his real-life father) who promised him fame and instead ran into Taka, who wants to be the bassist and not the guitarist in a band called SMASH. After a huge misunderstanding that ended with Mike beating Joe up, Joe finds himself getting invited to join the band as a guitarist.

And thus begins their journey to their dream.

What follows is like an MTV chronicling the band’s climb up the fame ladder. We’ve seen or read it before… a group goes through hell in order to reach paradise. On the ground, they had to cope with more popular stars–in the movie played by Alan Kuo (like duh, couldn’t they have casted someone more convincing, fo’ sho Van Ness and Jimmy have popular friends who could have done cameos).

When they finally reached “paradise”, then came the problems. Mike gets hooked on the lifestyle, the band starts to crumble and then he discovers he is sick. The melodrama sets in. The problem is, for a plot to really crumble, you have to come from a high point, but you never sense it in the movie. Everything is just tepid. Alan Kuo aside, there are a lot of other unconvincing points in the movie and perhaps much of it could be attributed to the low production value. However, it does not have that feel of an indie production either to be forgiven for such lapses. It looks to me more like a low-budget production with very low ambitions.

That is such a pity because the cast and crew here are all business insiders. They know the business more than the audience they are telling the story to. They should have given more insights, something new that we haven’t seen before. The opportunity to make a compelling movie about the ins and outs of the business, the arduous climb to success in the entertainment world and the downfall if one squanders the privilege of finally making it to the top–it was all lost.

Well, not all was lost really. The cast gave decent performances, except, unfortunately for Van Ness whose mannerisms from Meteor Garden were all carried over here. And that doesn’t have to do with the hairstyle at all. Jimmy gave an earnest performance but I’m not sure if it was all due to acting because he seems to be Mr Nice Guy even in person. Dean Fujioka surprised me. He had a strong screen presence and even upstaged Van Ness in many scenes. But the real winner is Eric Tu, who provided the comic relief. He was such a joy to watch onscreen and I couldn’t get over the fact that this dude played support to another Mike, Mike He, in Why Why Love.

Photo above from the movie’s Facebook page, taken during the premiere night at Ximending.

I’m thinking, if they used SMASH as a title of the film, it would have more oomph. Road Less Traveled just sounds so… lofty and cerebral… even religious (though with Van Ness here, it’s not really a surprise).

Now, who’s making an F4 documentary movie? Now, that is THE story to tell. Bad hairstyle, bad fashion, four guys unprepared for fame, the internal struggles, the aftermath on their lives… that is one compelling story.

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