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I’m sure a lot of people will think that I’ve been smoking something illegal as soon as I profess my love for director Shi-Zheng Chen’s Disney-produced Chinese confectionery “High School Musical China”. What can I say — I was kind of swept off my feet. And while I understand that saying something overtly cliche suggests I’ve received some sort of compensation for writing such a tooth-achingly sweet review, I can say with all sincerity that my enjoyment for the flick is true. Did it entertain me in the way it was intended? I’m really not sure. Regardless, I was spellbound for 90 minutes, my mind dipped in a bottomless vat of cinematic glitter and gloss. I’m sure you’ll judge harshly for this one, but at least allow me the opportunity to state my case before you do so.
The film doesn’t deviate from the formula set forth by Kenny Ortega’s 2006 TV movie “High School Musical”, a flick that has been imitated to death by those looking to cash in on its success. Zihan Ma stars as Ning Ning, the new girl at one of China’s most pristine and fashion-forwards schools. The dame is good at everything: math, basketball, impromptu karaoke — you name it, she’s mastered it. It doesn’t take long for her to catch the eye of nearly every heterosexual male in the building. This, of course, doesn’t settle well with the other ladies, who immediately become jealous of the new kid on the block. I mean, you can’t really blame them. Ning Ning just walks in, bests everyone at everything, and steals their guys. I’d probably be pissed off, too.
Suddenly, and inexplicably, an inter-school singing competition is announced, and everyone is excited to strut their stuff. Ning Ning, meanwhile, is busy crafting a musical relationship with the overly emotional Poet (Junning Zhang), though the future of their teenage love is ultimately put into jeopardy. Can they reconcile these issues before the competition? Will Ning Ning and her superficial rival resolve their difference for the greater good? More importantly, will the entire cast gather before the end credits to sing an annoyingly catchy song? I’m pretty sure you know how this one’s going to unfurl, especially if you’ve seen any of the “High School Musical” flicks.
It’s hard to hate on something as goofy and simple as this. The storyline is utter fluff, the performances are over-the-top, and everything in their entire universe is sparkling, garish, and fake. The songs — which, on the Region 1 DVD release, are hilariously subtitled in English — are beyond crazy, tackling such subjects as advanced math, the stock market, and dazzling auras. They also feel a lot like propaganda; the themes of not failing, getting proper exercise, and doing your best even when you’re exhausted are repeated throughout. If you’re interested in bettering yourself through Chinese cinema, this would be the place to start. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll have to appreciate the inherent silliness of the tunes to enjoy the movie.
Judge me all you want, dear readers. I loved “High School Musical China”, and would probably watch it again if given the opportunity to do so. It’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, mind you, though I’m almost positive there are others out there who will enjoy it for the same reasons I do. There are certainly worse things to do with your free time than watching insanely attractive people sing goofy songs about how to navigate the stock market. Do you want to know something else? I’m really not ashamed to admit how much I adore this flick. It’s a near-perfect blend of harmless, Disneyfied weirdness mixed with oddly catching tunes and a charming “Gee Whiz!” attitude. You may hate yourself a little for loving it, but the bitter self-loathing is totally worth it.
Shi-Zheng Chen (director) / Li Lin (screenplay)
CAST: Joe Cheng … Kobe
Yongchen Liu … Skinny
Zihan Ma … Ning Ning
Lin Qi … Yuan Yuan
Gu Xuan … Yang Yang
Junning Zhang … Poet