Tuesday, June 22, 2010

City Without Baseball (2008)

This is one of the films that made me want to start this blog. This is a film that is so different from any sort of film from either China or from America that I can't believe that this film has barely registered anywhere at all. This is a solid film that is unlike almost any other film, even if its about subjects we know well in the US. Its not the best film in the world, but its film that really deserves to be seen.

Looking at my IMDB review I find that it says what I wanted to say so here it is:

Atypical Hong Kong film about a group of die hard baseball players in Hong Kong, a city where no one really plays baseball. It's based upon the players own stories, with the players effectively play themselves with none of their names changed. Its life and love in the big city as the group train for international play.

I picked this up because I was interested in how a baseball movie might be filmed in a place "without baseball". What became clear almost from the start even though this is a "baseball" movie its not about baseball. Yes, we see the guys training but until the final 20 minutes or so we see no games (and even then the games have no one in the stands-clearly these guys are playing for the love of the game). And how we see the games are not even remotely like how we see them in an American movie, its bits of the game with inter-titles about what happened. Its a bit strange, at least to my western eyes. Mostly the film is the stories of the guys, of the women they meet (are confused by), the love they find and lose.and how they give everything else for the game.

In its way its unlike almost any Chinese film I've ever seen and almost any Western film either. The first thing you'll notice is that the film loves the guys in a very erotic way. These are good looking hard bodied guys and they are in various states of undress frequently. There is full frontal male nudity which is is rare in western cinema and something I've never seen in Chinese. cinema at all. While there is no "need" for it, they could have shot it to hide things, its not whole gratuitous in that where we see it is where we'd see it, ie. in the locker room. Is the film specifically homo-erotic, I don't think so, but if you're bothered by naked men filmed as almost gods, I'd stay away.

There are quotes on screen from various sources and occasional narration, well not so much narration but observation from one or more of the characters. The use at times seems random and at other times comments on whats going on. I found the choices always intriguing if not always relevant to what was going on and was always looking forward to the next piece.

The film uses music to great advantage. Clearly the songs being played are of some importance to the story because of how the songs are used. As each song ends the person singing is identified on screen with their birthday and death identified. I wish that the lyrics had been subtitled since its clear that the music is importance. It should be pointed out that even though I can't understand the music, the melody does create a mood.

The performances by a cast of non actors are surprisingly good. Actually there isn't a bad one in the bunch, and if there is any flaw its more in how the characters are drawn rather then how they are performed.

I'm kind of at a loss about what to say about the film or how to describe it. I do like the film. Its a good little film, but much of my admiration for the film comes from it being so completely different then anything that I've run across in a good long while. Here is a film that was made by some filmmakers who wanted to make a movie and make it their way and they have done so with style and originality. Yes, of course the stories of the guys on the team are similar to things you've seen before but at the same time how it all come together isn't, it doesn't do what you expect and thats both refreshing and infuriating. I'm sorry I'm being obtuse about the film but this is a film that really needs to be seen. If you see it I have a feeling you'll know why I'm not being more specific-its a film that should be discovered on its own and not explained (actually the trailer that was included on the DVD made the film seem completely different then what it was. Watching it after the film I was like, that wasn't what I just saw).

Is this a great film? No. But it is a unique one, one that really should be seen by people who love movies with different points of view. Honestly I don't know why this isn't on the festival circuit since this is the sort of "independent film" that everyone clamors for. Its not a story we've seen before, or if it is its different enough in the telling that it makes it worth sitting down again. If nothing else pieces of the film still haunt me, the images of the empty fields, the player standing in the middle of the crowded street, some of the heart break, the nonchalance about"why are you late", because one player threw his phone away.

Is it a great film? No, but it is a good one. Its film that boldly has its own point of view and as messy as it is at times still demands to be seen by anyone who wants to see something that is the cinematic equivalent of the Far Side cartoon where one indistinguishable penguin from all the rest steps up and "sings "I gotta be me".

If you love films that are not completely run of the mill see this movie.

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