“The Heavenly Kings” is a mockumentary which blurs the line between fact and fiction, following a Hong Kong boy band called ‘Alive’, who may or may not have been created solely with the intention of poking fun at the music business. The result is a sharp and at times hilarious expose not only of the cantopop industry, but of fame and the narcissism of celebrities in general.
The film begins with the formation of the band back in 2005 by actor Daniel Wu, along with fellow thespian friends Terence Yin, Andrew Lin, and Conroy Chan, apparently “to have some fun and make some music together”. However, after failing to land a satisfactory record contract, possibly due to a glaring lack of talent, the boys hatch a plan to create an internet downloading scandal and use the resulting publicity to launch the band properly. Although this works wonderfully, the fact remains that apart from Andrew, none of them can sing, and as a woefully incompetent stage show reveals, they still have a great deal to learn about surviving in the image-obsessed industry.
Whatever the motivations behind the formation of ‘Alive’, “The Heavenly Kings”, directed by Wu himself, is very clever, skilfully weaving an apparently fictitious narrative around actual footage of events and mixing in interviews with real popstars (including the likes of Miriam Yeung, Jackie Cheung and Nicholas Tse) and producers as well as with the band members themselves. The film is well constructed, making for a good mixture of comical satire and genuine commentary on the industry, and although not particularly revelatory, it does cover some interesting ground. It certainly helps that with a running time of less than an hour and a half the film does not outstay its welcome, and Wu keeps things moving at a good pace. As such the band’s development plays out quite naturally and none of the film’s critical elements feel forced or repetitious.
Although a mockumentary, the film is actually very believable, and aside from a few obvious gag scenes, on the whole it is quite difficult to tell when the band members are acting or simply being themselves. In this way, “The Heavenly Kings” is certainly quite a brave film, with all four actors allowing their many faults to be explored on camera, some of which cross into fairly personal territory, such as Yin’s frequent flatulence. Wu underlines this through some crazy animated inserts which work well both to reflect the band member’s inner turmoil and to help liven up the film. As a result, the four end up being quite endearing, in an incompetent sort of way, especially Chan, who proudly announces that he is the fattest guy ever to be in a boy band.
All commentary and wry satire aside, “The Heavenly Kings” is genuinely hilarious, in a straight faced, “Spinal Tap” type of way, with the laughs divided equally between the lameness of the band and the insanity of the industry. One scene in particular is a real side splitter, which sees the boys being kitted out in increasingly flamboyant ‘Village People’ style outfits, to their obvious discomfort and shame. Strangely, the film has a category III rating, although it is not particularly offensive aside from some foul language, and the laughs never veer into bad taste or shock tactics.
Perhaps more than anything the film deserves praise not only for daring to criticise and lampoon the music industry, and both themselves and other celebrity actor/singers, but simply for offering an alternative to the usual low-brow Hong Kong comedies. Working well on many different levels, the film is entertaining and interesting, and deserves to reach a wider audience than it sadly probably will, as the points which Wu makes can certainly be applied to the music industry and celebrities of any country in the world.
Daniel Wu (director) / Daniel Wu (screenplay)
CAST: Convoy Chan Chi-Chung …. Himself
Hoi Lin …. Himself
Daniel Wu …. Himself
Terence Yin …. Himself