I guess in movies with sports themes, it is never really much about the goal and the destination, but rather the journey the characters take in finding strengths amongst themselves, shore up weaknesses and collectively present and mount a challenge, that makes it compelling viewing. And it's little surprise that Slam fits into this mould and what resulted is a thoroughly enjoyable film on schoolyard pride, camaraderie and 3 on 3 basketball.
It is almost a no brainer to want to compare Slam with the other recent basketball movie effort from Asia, Kung Fu Dunk. While the target audience might be different with the latter appealing more to fans of Jay Chou, Slam has a more universal appeal and easily identifiable themes that don't pretend to be anything more than they are. There are many aspects in Slam that makes it a far more superior basketball / sports themed movie, and I'd probably incur the wrath of many fans if I were to state that the music here by Machi Entertainment outscores Jay Chou's rap on tofu (Swordsman Chou by the way) from the 3 point line (check out "Nothing is Impossible" to keep that adrenaline pumping, from the official website).
The relationships between the characters here also felt more down to earth, probably without the "star appeal" factor to take the attention away from the collective, with the relatively new protagonists given almost equal opportunity in a sport that emphasizes on teamwork, rather than the sole fixation in executing a particular move in the various permutations possible. In that respect, the moves here were sans Kung Fu and wire work stunts, keeping it very much grounded to reality, and of course, believable, while at the same time, entertaining with nifty executions. However, those who cannot tolerate MTV-styled quick edits might find something to gripe about here, but I thought those handheld shots employed fit the premise of the game, not the standard court games that you watch on television, but the quicker in pace 3 on 3 street game, giving it a feeling of raw energy somehow, especially coming from a team of youthful exuberance.
At its core, Slam contains a simple losers versus bullies storyline, and one between the haves and the have-nots. Mouth (Lin Xiao Fan) is your typical introverted kid who's having major troubles with his non performance in his schoolwork, while nursing a high school crush on the prettiest (and smartest too) girl in school Xiao Xiao (Zhao Wenqi). But his passion for the basketball game sees him train by walking around with weights attached to his legs, and shooting hoops with good friend Monkey (Zhang Yi Shan), whose cousin Jason (Andrew Chou aka Machi Di Di from the Taiwanese hip hop group Machi) completes the trio. And as you may have it, the one-dimensional bullies, led by Li Wei (Wang Wei) of "The Hawks", take every opportunity to stir trouble with our motley gang, inside and out of the basketball court.
Sound quite familiar? Yes it does, and in any self-respecting sports movie, there's a well made training montage to inspirational, beat-pumping music too. But what shines here are the earnest portrayals, and not for one minute I felt that the actors were trying too hard to act their roles, but were quite natural in fleshing out their respective characters, so much so that they endear and are likable enough for you to root for them all the way, and not only when the time came for it, like the big games. Needless to say with teenagers in the brew, parents too come into the picture, and there were some subtle reminders on developing the potential of a child, and that need not necessarily come from books alone. And furthermore, to do so by teaching them to combat self-doubt.
Succinctly put, Slam is a simple to follow story with excellent delivery that worked remarkably. It took a while for the main action to come to the foreground, but when it did, for casual / non-basketball players like myself, you'll probably find yourself wide-eyed at the level of energy exuded, and wanting to shoot some hoops with friends too, replicating the moves being an optional. Should Goal be used as an epitome of a good football movie, then Slam will be in my list as one for a good street basketball film. Highly recommended!
The World Premiere for Slam was held at GV Vivocity's GV Max, and the turnout was fantastic, with local celebrities gracing the occasion, and plenty of local basketballers in the school leagues being invited as well. After all, the protagonists are students themselves, and their struggles on the court can easily be identified with by the target audience!
I think nobody expected some really cool giveaways like jerseys hidden under the seats, or that autographed jersey that this fella got to walk away with!
And here's writer-director Jonathan Lim and producer Christian Lee (in red jacket) to introduce the movie!
More pictures from the Gala can be seen over here!