It's still in the early days, but while Hong Kong has its rivalry set up during the Lunar New Year period with Raymond Wong versus Eric Tsang in pitting their All's Well Ends Well with the I Love Hong Kong series respectively, in Singapore all signs point to a similar rivalry with Jack Neo's J-Team going up against Raintree/Boku to corner the local box office this lucrative season thanks to the extended holidays. And Kelvin Tong takes a back seat this time round from his box office champion of 2011 It's a Great Great World, to follow in the footsteps of other production houses in allowing their proteges an opportunity to helm a feature of their own. Taking on producing and co-writing responsibilities with Marcus Chin, the baton got passed to Kat Goh, with Dance Dance Dragon marking her feature film debut.
"Long Zhong Wu" is the auspicious, phonetically similar term of "having everything" in Hokkien, and fits the theme in this auspicious period to welcome the arrival of the new Zodiac to rule over the next 12 months. The trailer plays on this term and touts out loud that it has every conceivable genre under the sun included in the movie. Granted that "He Sui Pian", or films designed for family friendly mass entertainment during this period, may be excused for its wafer thin plotting, and tendency to stuff as many stars as possible into the film, you can sense the weight of expectations coming from this Raintree/Boku production from living up to its standards set from last year, but alas it had too much of everything running for Kat Goh to handle adequately, resulting in a very scattered focus, where certain aspects inevitably shone while others ultimately got sacrificed, and some scenes included in quite bewildering, unnecessary fashion if not to pad the film to feature film length.
Given it's a dragon year, the animal which is most revered in the Zodiac, you can bet your last dollar that everything's going to be dragon-related in any way they can. And this movie goes along the same line as well, obviously blessing itself with the word "Dragon" in both its Chinese and English title, with the story revolving around a lion/dragon dance troupe of the same name, as well as a baby that's born under the star sign who's so desperately wanted by all quarters, one that's given by the gods - children dressed in white and organized in very corporate like fashion. But if it's blessings that's requested by the film, it certainly needed a lot to gloss over its many flaws, He Sui Pian blind-eye notwithstanding.
The veteran Malaysian actress Lai Ming, already a very familiar face in the local movie industry, plays Mother Loong (#345 dragon reference), the matriarch of "Long Zhong Wu" the troupe who had failed to live up to the family's ancestors expectations of producing a male dragon-zodiac heir to continue their family bloodline and business. All she could muster is Lucy (Dennis Chew in his Auntie Lucy drag getup) as the oldest of three children, followed by twins in the tomboyish Ah Bee (Kym Ng) and Ah Long (Melvin Sia) the latter who unfortunately was delivered when the clock ticked into the Year of the Snake some 36 years ago. So the pressure is on with Mother Loong wishing for a baby dragon heir to appease her ancestors to befall her children, but Auntie Lucy is only interested in ballroom dancing, Ah Bee is all rough and tumble, and Ah Long is facing marital problems so he has returned from Kuala Lumpur.
The laughs come when a baby mysteriously appears at Long Zhong Wu, with everyone taking in to the little one, and frankly some of the best, heart-tugging scenes involve this little one with the filmmakers just nailing it in casting Baby Nigel in the role, making it believable why everyone takes to him, as well as the villains in the movie who felt that his presence mean a threat to their wish to takeover the Long Zhong Wu troupe. Headlining the villains are Bryan Wong as the relative Uncle Teck, who in full over-the-top fashion I felt was ridiculous funny with his lisping lines, and son Ah Beng (Benjamin Heng, a Kelvin Tong film veteran) whose rival lion dance troupe seeks deliberate trouble with Ah Long given the latter's rusty skills. Then there are the employed bumbling thieves played by Mark Chin and John Cheng who have some of the best lines in the movie, with natural chemistry and repertoire that make their on-screen partnership work for a number of local movie outings already.
Being a Boku film, you can sense Kat Goh digging into its past films for some inspiration, and one cannot shake away the references such as Eating Air's faux pas Kung-fu inspired moves that make an updated appearance here during the Lion/Dragon dance fights between Ah Beng and Ah Long, which could have been more energetic and extended rather than to be given the extremely tight shot treatment you suspect is to cover up their lack of training and realism. And the food references and scenes as well that this film like others in the filmography almost always taking their time to highlight and showcase, that your stomach will growl if you haven't had anything to eat prior to the movie, brought to you by Adrian Pang's very random character who got tasked to whip up a reunion dinner meal for Long Zhong Wu and its invited guests.
Kyn Ng and Adrian Pang once again continues from where they left off in Wee Li Lin's Gone Shopping in playing a romantic couple here, but not without the initial bickering starting from her saving his skin from loan sharks, and the very, as mentioned, random treatment in which she brings him back to the troupe. The film continues to play up on their stereotypes unlike their first film outing, with one continuing in her tomboyish persona and the other the natural comedian, that while they may look good on screen together, I guess the time has come to get them out of their comfort zones. And speaking of comfort zones, Auntie Lucy should be retired, with her constant head shake being a distracting annoyance, so much so that her entire story arc including that unrequited love for an Indian man called Mahendran (also played by Chew) could have been written out altogether. I'm not sure how matronly women in the audience will take to the constant ribbing of their age and demeanour by the young and more beautiful (ok, this was relative in the film).
But this being the welcome of the new Lunar Year, I would still endorse Dance Dance Dragon as a fail-safe family film sans grotesque violence, nudity and sex, with wholesome ingredients and themes suited for everyone. It has clean production values with elements to entertain from slapstick to drama, but I suspect it won't hit the nostalgic heights of It's a Great Great World so soon. Thankfully though the film was miles better than the trailers made it out to be. Here's hoping that Raintree/Boku can come up with a stronger offering after this blip for next season's He Sui Pian. Huat ah!