AKA Zhan. gu
In movies rooted in music, woe is the man who falls in love with a woman named Carmen. Yet for rock 'n roll bad-boy drummer Sid (Jaycee Chan), the lure of Carmen is as much of a turn-on as the danger itself of seducing the Hong Kong mobster's kept girlfriend and using the bed and tub crook Stephen Ma pays for in Sid and Carmen's torrid affair.
However, even when he's predictably caught by the gangster in question (Kenneth Tsang), Sid's life doesn't end immediately, since as we discover, the drummer's villainous father Kwan (The Lover's Tony Leug Ka Fai) is a mobster of fierce reputation in his own right who fortunately for his somewhat estranged son, had once saved Ma's life.
When Ma tells Kwan that the only way he'll let Sid's heart continue to beat the way his drums used to at the start of the film is by requesting both of the hands of the young man, Kwan sends his son and one of his most trusted men (Roy Cheung) off to Taiwan to lay low in the middle of a sleepy village until word arrives that they can return.
With Cheung spending his days in an adult education course to find himself, Sid stumbles into another approach when an encounter with an order of Zen drummers reignites his passion for the instrument. Slowly but surely, he abandons worldly possessions and luxuries to live among the dedicated group that practices Tai Chi along with the three m's of martial arts, music and meditation.
Equating the beat of a drum to a heartbeat and perhaps the earliest sound we hear inside our mother's womb, Kenneth Bi's exquisitely crafted sophomore feature film The Drummer uses a contemplative narration to relay what the practice of playing means, stating, “drumsticks up, the heart flutters; drumsticks down, the mind awakens.”
And while overall, he is extremely respectful to the real troupe of drummers who inspired him in real life to make the film and had a profound effect on his outlook with their Zen beliefs that nothing including drumming allowed for any shortcuts, the mobster plot-line and some of the familiar underdog sports movie cliches found in The Karate Kid etc. are both not just present but ironically scream "shortcut."
An appealing film nonetheless, The Drummer is one that's sure to strike a chord with viewers who celebrated the moving, rhythmic Asian Oscar submission of Hula Girls a few years back.
However, admittedly it does suffer a bit with the dissonant rhythm in linking up all of the elements from a gratuitous sex scene at the start through intense violence especially where Sid's sister is concerned along with the drumming that made me wish that Bi would've taken another drumstick to the screenplay.
Despite these problems, it's a rich and powerful work that is sure to open your eyes to another side of Hong Kong and Taiwan than usually witnessed in the popular martial arts and cop movie regional exports that have routinely starred Jaycee's father, the one and only Jackie Chan.
Text ©2010, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com
Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.