Dance of a Dream (2001) Movie Review

When it comes to ballroom dancing, I’m an ant working around an anthill — re: I am clueless. Having said that, I couldn’t tell you if the actors in Andrew Lau’s Dance of a Dream actually knew what they’re doing or if they were butchering their ballroom dance steps.

Dance of a Dream stars Andy Lau as Lau, a Hong Kong dance instructor with only two dreams: get a new dance studio and win an upcoming ballroom dance championship in England. But first Lau has a more immediate problem: his current dance studio is about to go under. In order to keep the studio afloat, Lau and studio partners Shirley and Faye (a man), ropes a hotel magnate (Anita Mui) into taking dance lessons, while at the same time convincing the magnate’s brother (Edison Chen) into paying them a hefty fee. You see, Tina Cheung, the magnate in question, is not the happiest woman in the world, and her little brother Jimmy wants her to be happy, and dancing with handsome dance instructor Lau seems to have done the trick. Now the brother is willing to pay any price to keep sis smiling.

The trio’s plan is going smoothly until Plain Jane Kam (Sandra Ng) enters the scene. Kam is in love with the whole fantasy of ballroom dancing and infatuated with Lau, who soon finds himself drawn to the plain Kam. But if Lau is being drawn to Kam, what about Tina, who is starting to fall in love with him as well…?

The surprising thing about Dance of a Dream is that it follows the conventions of a Romance film very faithfully. That is, all the way up to the point when it stops and goes completely into left field. For much of its running time, I was able to predict each situation and “twist” that came up. For instance, the introduction of the unhappy and too-serious Tina, who falls for the flippant Lau; the in-love-with-life Kam who pines for Lau and does everything to get his attention; the in-love-with-himself Lau who ignores Kam and doesn’t know she exists; and then finally Lau’s realization that Kam is something special, and begins to pay attention; etc. etc. It’s all been done before, and Dance of a Dream seems to be going exactly as planned — that is, until the Third Act kicks in.

Not only does the inevitable Love Triangle between Lau, Kam and Tina take a weird twist — Kam and Tina actually likes each other! — but Lau’s final decision is quite unexpected. The movie also unceremoniously drops Lau’s dreams of winning the England dance competition — in fact, in the movie’s last 20 minutes the whole competition subplot is not only not followed up, but is completely discarded and never mentioned again.

I’ve been told that lead Andy Lau (who I believe has no relation to director Andrew Lau, hence the different variation on the first name), who is a noted pop star in Hong Kong, has been trying to make a movie where he can show off his dance steps for a while now. It seems he’s finally chosen the right movie, since Dance of a Dream is filled with all manner of ballroom dancing. As previously mentioned, I have no idea if the dance steps are correctly being done onscreen or not, but it seems that Lau has some talents as a dancer. So too does his co-stars, Anita Mui and Sandra Ng. At the risk of sounding like an insensitive jerk, neither Mui or Ng are especially attractive women, so it is probably a reasonably good guess to say that they were both cast for their dancing abilities. (I only mention the appearance of the women because Hong Kong movies are notorious for casting beautiful women with very little acting ability in lead roles.)

Director Andrew Lau keeps the film moving at a good pace. For the most part the director must have realized this is a movie to show off his star’s dancing prowess, so the camera rarely moves unless absolutely necessary. Many of the scenes are shot with wide angles to assure us that the actors are doing the actual steps.

The movie also has quite a few problems, one of which is female lead Sandra Ng’s Kam, who sometimes makes me wonder if she’s utterly in love with life or just mentally challenged. Kam’s incessant laughing is of course supposed to be her one instinctive defense mechanism — that is, she uses laughter to keep herself safe, to ward off the evils and criticisms of those around her. (Re: she laughs when she wants to cry.) Still, Kam sometimes got on my nerves with her laughter, which surprised me because the Kam character is entirely affable and easy to sympathize with. In the end, I suppose Ng overdid the character, choosing to go over the top.

The movie also makes the mistake of slipping into mean-spirit territory with a sequence toward the end, when everyone gangs up on Kam for no apparent reason. Of course the whole sequence ends with a payoff for Kam, but I couldn’t help but wonder if all the mean-spirited attention towards Kam was necessary because it brought the movie down, and my spirits as well. The whole sequence could have been done better, and with more sensitivity.

There is a fantasy dance sequence halfway through the movie that epitomizes much of Dance of a Dream. In it, the characters do an elaborate sing and dance routine reminiscent of “West Side Stories.” It’s a very pleasant and smile-inducing scene, and I wish there were more scenes like that in the movie.

Wai Keung Lau (director) / Wai Keung Lau (screenplay)
CAST: Andy Lau …. Lau, Namson
Anita Mui …. Cheung, Tina
Sandra Ng Kwan Yue …. Kam
Edison Chen …. Cheung, Jimmy
Ka Tung Lam …. Wong, Faye

Buy Dance of a Dream on DVD