Drum It Up!
Our censorship guideline rears its ugly head yet again, and imposes our draconian, incomprehensible requirements onto Taiwanese cinema, and rather than celebrating the diverseness of languages found on the island, we do what Beijing will probably be proud of, turning all the characters here into Mandarin speakers only. With The Soul of Bread, the Taiwanese dialogue got butchered everywhere, so instead of doing the same here, we went one up, and dubbed over ALL Taiwanese dialogue into Mandarin. Well Done!
Does that spoil the film? I would like to say no, unless you scrutinize everyone's mouths, and wonder what expertise in ventriloquism they had mastered in making the sounds coming out of the mouths not in sync with their pursed lips. The dubbers don't even attempt at acting along with the mood of the characters they have taken over, and unless one is performing in a mime, language, tone, and sounds are intricately linked to one's performance. And everything just felt too artificial here.
Which is a pity, because Din Tao belongs to the class of films that would have earned a place amongst my favourites, because music played a large part in it, and its evergreen zero to hero formula got delivered well, just like how Japanese film Beck, and Thai film SuckSeed managed to draw you into the characters' plight, and make you root for them from start to finish, and capped it off with a rousing, memorable performance. I would have preferred to witness an unadulterated version of that finale though, rather than having to frequently cut to a whole host of supporting characters and their flabbergasted reactions to how much their loved ones in the troupe had grown. Perhaps the home video release may have that as an extra feature.
While a glimpse of that big Nezha, or referred to as the Prince, puppet costume was seen recently in The Soul of Bread, Din Tao introduces one of Taiwan's traditional performance that takes place prior to religious processions. Centering around the troupe known as Jiu Tian (literally translated as Nine Skies, and is a real life troupe that provided inspiration for the movie), it's a classical father-son rivalry story, and here we have two sets of father-son relations that got explored. The first involves Uncle Da (Chen Po-cheng, entirely dubbed over) a failed troupe leader, and his son A-Tai (Alan Ko), a failed musician in Taipei who returns to his hometown in Taichung. The other deals with their collective rival and Da's fellow disciple Wu Cheng (Liao Jun) and his son A-Hsien (Alien Huang, who was in Michelle Chong's Already Famous).
The main plot gets kicked off with a do-or-die challenge thrown by Wu Cheng and accepted by A-Tai, who has 6 months to whip his Jiu Tian troupe into shape and defeat Wu Cheng's competent troupe. The usual zero growing to hero antics get put on display, with the usual motley crew of usual suspects having to get their acts together, and in the meantime putting aside character differences for the greater good of the troupe. They embark on a training tour around Taiwan, and learn how to bond together, getting fair attention of the media and having their profiles raised, much to the jealousy of their rivals.
Din Tao has shades of Kenneth Bi's The Drummer, but of course that film was focused on drumming, whereas in this one, drumming is just a part of the entire performance experience, and one gets a sneak peek into something traditionally practiced. But as mentioned, what made this a bigger film is its examination into the themes of tradition and the challenges faced with tradition keeping up with the times, and how sometimes we cannot blindly follow something just because. A needless romantic triangle got thrown in toward the final act of the film that was really inconsequential, but thankfully didn't slow down the narrative one bit, which was a bit of a stretch for the first half with its repetitive sequences involving training of the Jiu Tian troupe members under the new leadership of A-Tai, and its constant interruption and lack of respect given by the members.
Don't get me wrong. Din Tao: Leader of the Parade has ingredients to be a very successful and moving film, which the Taiwanese box office can attest to. Except that it should have been given the cultural respect and have its entire, original language track version played here. The irony is of course the themes it's trying to preach in having one not accept tradition lock stock and barrel, but certainly all these got lost with the censors here who prefer not to look and think outside the box, but find solace within the confines of unsound man made rules. And I weep.