Taiwanese superstar Jay Chou returns with “The Rooftop”, his second outing as director following his successful and surprisingly accomplished 2007 debut “Secret”. A long while in development, the film is an ambitious affair, a musical filled with songs, dancing, romance, martial arts and more, with the actor-singer not only starring and directing, but having written the script and composed the soundtrack. Although Chou takes the lead, the film is an ensemble piece of sorts, and also stars newcomer Li Xin Ai as his love interest, along with Alan Kuo, Darren Chiu, and veterans Eric Tsang, Wang Xueqi and Kenny Bee.
The film revolves around Jay Chou as Wax, who along with his gang of goodhearted roustabouts hangs around the titular rooftop overlooking the city of Galilee, doing odd jobs for Chinese medicine shop owner Bo (Eric Tsang). Catching the eye of local gang leader Rango (Wang Xueqi), they get involved in collecting rent and debts, leading to a rivalry with unpleasant hoodlum Big Red (Huang Huai Chen). Meanwhile, Wax falls head over heels for Starling (Li Xin Ai), a beautiful actress and model who he follows onto her movie set, finding work as a stuntman in the process. Their mismatched romance displeases her father (Kenny Bee) and wealthy celebrity suitor William (Darren Chiu), who conspire to pull the two young lovers apart, and soon enough there’s trouble brewing.
“The Rooftop” feels every frame a passion project and labour of love, and it’s obvious that Jay Chou poured a great deal of himself into its production. Some six years after his debut, he proves himself again a talented and promising director, and while making a musical is arguably playing to his obvious strengths, the film is one of the better examples of its type of late. Certainly, Chou shows a great awareness of the genre and what makes it work, with plenty of upbeat poppy musical numbers and grandiose show stoppers throughout, most of which are nicely threaded into the film and narrative rather than having simply been thrown in. These are enjoyable enough to make being a fan of his music career non-essential, and are bolstered by some solid choreography and camera work, his experience in music video direction shining through, though thankfully not dominating – the film looks fantastic, and has the feel of a colourful, sweetly natured classic fantasy, and never falls back on the kind of fast editing and flashy visuals that might have been expected. The martial arts scenes and kung fu dance moves are also a nice touch, adding energy and spectacle, and this ensures that for the most part the film zips along at a dynamic pace.
Chou himself is as charismatic and likeable as ever in the lead, and unsurprisingly carries the film to a large extent, though without ever turning it into too much of an ego trip. He and the supporting cast all seem to have been having a good time, and this gives the proceedings a pleasingly amiable air. While the romance between Wax and Starling never really offers anything new and never gets particularly emotionally affecting, it’s diverting enough, and sits comfortably with the overall air of good natured innocence. Chou pays just as much, if not more attention to Wax’s relationships with his friends, and as with much of his work there’s a strong sense of brotherhood and extolling of the virtues of loyalty and of standing by your buddies.
Unfortunately, things do come apart somewhat towards the end of what at just over two hours is a borderline bloated running time, the film diving headfirst into over the top melodrama and rushed plot twists. With the story having mostly taken a backseat to the songs, the script for the last act suddenly pushes a couple of the characters into violent and unpleasant villainy, a move which seems a little desperate and out of place. The final set pieces (including some poor use of CGI) and emotional beats don’t quite ring true, meaning that the film wraps up in slightly disappointing fashion and without the confident verve that marked its early stages.
Though flawed, there’s still a great deal to like about “The Rooftop”, whether a Jay Chou fan or not, proving again that the multi-talented star is equally comfortable and capable behind or in front of the camera – or probably anywhere else for that matter. Bright, fun, and easy on both the eyes and ears, it’s an entertaining couple of hours of musical entertainment that fairly breezes by.
Jay Chou (director) / Jay Chou (screenplay)
CAST: Jay Chou … Gao
Xueqi Wang … Ray
Eric Tsang … Sir Po
Fan Xu … Jasmine
Alan Ko … Haklen
Hsin Ai Lee … Sian