Anything with drums, and I am there. The beats of drums in any music always appeal to me (no prizes for guessing I'm a drum and bass fan), because I suppose it's fairly easy to express your mood to beats, and this expression can be done through anything that gives you that satisfying clang, and more so when you need to vent frustrations out in a relatively safe manner by hitting out at something inanimate, without personal injury of course.
And I like it too as it doesn't come across in a threatening manner to those who want to pick up the instrument. I mean, there are no complicated chords, complex notes, intimidating keys or confusing hand eye leg coordination that calls for dexterity. What it has essentially is a pulled canvas, a set of drumsticks, and calls for strength, intensity and endurance as you express the beats of any rhythm within you.
The Drummer is the latest movie to premiere from Hong Kong, written and directed by Kenneth Bi, starring Jaycee Chan, Tony "The Lover" Leung and Li Sinjie. Jaycee has been particularly busy this latter half of the year, with 3 releases (including this one), from action in Invisible Target, to arthouse drama in The Sun Also Rises, and now a movie about Zen Drummers. Somehow I find that he possesses this charming quality that comes across as easy going, a little naive, but yet having no lack of serious acting chops when the time calls for it. With the few films of his that I've seen (save for the forgettable debut efforts like the Twins Effect), I'm quite impressed and would definitely be in the queue for more in future to see how he would mature into the different roles that come along his way.
In The Drummer, Jaycee plays Sid in the titular role, and somewhat a departure from his earlier characters, at least initially. A pompous prick who drums for his rock band, he gets into the pants of a mistress of a triad boss (Kenneth Tsang), and without saying gets himself into deep trouble. In trying to shield his son, Dad (Tony Leung, in yet another typical hot headed gangland leader role we're familiar with from the Election movies) sends him packing to a rural part of Taiwan to weather the expected storm of triad displeasure, and in this exile, Sid comes across the training grounds of the Zen Drummers.
It's a basic story about the coming of age of an impatient youth, as he tries hard to gain acceptance to drum for the Drummers, who are of course, in no need for any impetuous hothead. And you know the drill from here, where there's a clash of cultures and philosophies pertaining to drumming, and in teaching him the ways of their own, we get plenty of "wax on wax off" moments, as virtues like patience, discipline, hard work, perseverance, you-name-it-the-movie's-got-it get imparted and appreciated by the newbie, transforming before your eyes from selfish individual, to a valuable team player.
For the most parts, the movie develops at a rather predicatable manner with near cliched sub plots, but the appeal of the characters made it quite enjoyable to sit through, despite its run time of almost 2 hours split between dramatic moments, and those embodying Zen like teachings and quiet, contemplative pieces. I thought that the movie, like the virtue it's imparting, requires patience in order to savor the goods of a delightful performance, as typical stories of such nature you'd come to expect - the big fight, the finale dance, that rewarding end performance. However, to my slight disappointment, The Drummer didn't deliver when it really should. Instead the editing interrupted and intruded on proceedings, and what could have been worth a ticket to witness, felt like spare change.
The romance bit also fell short, and somehow was junked from developing further as the narrative decide to switch gears and focus on father and son instead. Hence, Lin Sinjie's role as Hong Dou became a little sidetracked midway. Which was a pity, given that the potential for some good old fashioned romance didn't make the grade. But what I found really jarring, was the decision to reintroduce triad moments in the last act. Again typical in wanting to provide closure, but done not too subtly that it sticks out like a sore thumb.
All in all, it's still a gorgeous looking film with good acting from the leads, and not to mention the professional performances by U-Theatre, the real Zen Drummers who come alive when they're behind their set of drums. Make sure you watch this in a theatre with a booming sound system. If you haven't had enough of the mesmerizing, hypnotic beats, then head on down to the official website and ensure you got your speakers turned on. And check out the director's blog too while you're at it!