Screened at Taiwan Cinefest 2012.
Popular Taiwanese star Blue Lan follows up domestic box office smash “Night Market Hero” with “The Spin Kid”, a fusion of modern and traditional culture with the actor as a dance music DJ and temple performer caught up in drug related troubles. Lan also produced the film, which marks the debut of writer director Joe Lee and was chosen as the opening film of the 2011 Kaohsiung Film Festival as well as playing at Taiwan Cinefest 2012 in London.
Blue Lan plays A-Hao, a young man who has grown up with his temple caretaker grandfather after his mother died and his policeman father (Tai Bao, “Seven Days in Heaven”) proved unable and unwilling to care for him. Although he spends most of his time taking part in religious performances at the temple, A-Hao’s dream is to become a DJ, spinning records as a means of connecting with his memories of his mother. After an audition at a nightclub with his childhood friend Monkey sees him ending up in the middle of a botched drug deal, he finds himself pursued by the police and his estranged father. Things aren’t all bad though, as his music career starts to take off, and he falls in love with a moody beauty called Xiao Ying (Nikki Hsieh, “Make Up”).
“The Spin Kid” is an excellent blend of the old and the new, mixing Taiwanese temple culture with modern youthful angst and energy. What really impresses is the way which Joe Lee manages to pull this off with such a naturalistic feel, the film neither falling prey to the kind of fast and flashy visual techniques that might have been expected given the dance music theme, nor going too far with ponderous symbolism. This makes for some intriguing imagery, and the film does have quite a unique feel, especially during scenes of A-Hao doing his DJ sets, decked out in striking temple demon makeup.
This helps to keep things interesting and moving along at a fair pace, as does Lee’s inclusion of several action scenes throughout the film, with some fast paced chase sequences and the odd flashes of violent brawling adding an occasional hard and gritty edge. The drugs subplot also injects a little tension, with things not playing out quite expected and the film building to a bittersweet, though fitting conclusion.
All of this complements a fairly basic, though well-told coming of age type story, with Blue Lan doing a decent job as the confused A-Hao, a young man trying to find his direction in life while dealing with past problems, emotional issues and drug related danger. Though he doesn’t say much, Lan manages to make A-Hao a believable and likeable protagonist and not simply the kind of typical angry youth figure he might have been. His struggle with his brutal but not entirely unsympathetic father suggests a neat statement on generational difficulties (thanks in no small part to a fine, conflicted performance from Tai Bao), and although the subplot involving his deceased mother does get a bit maudlin and flashback heavy, it still works well enough.
Thankfully, the film’s central romance is similarly handled with restraint, Lee keeping things grounded and portraying A-Hao and Xiao Ying as a pair of people who share an instant connection, but who have to face up to a tough and realistic series of obstacles and problems. Nikki Hsieh is on good form as the sulky but vulnerable Xiao Ying, and the way in which the two come together through their awkward courtship rings true. By never going over the top the film is reasonably moving during its later stages, mostly due to the fact that most viewers will likely want the two to overcome their issues end up together.
“The Spin Kid” is another strong example of the kind of youth cinema being produced by Taiwan at the moment, a film which is both quiet and loud, and that offers an engaging depiction of a young man dealing with a traumatic past and uncertain future. Blue Lan proves himself more than a mere heartthrob, with Joe Lee also acquitting himself well in his first shot at directing, and the film entertains and impresses on a number of different levels.
Joe Lee (director)
CAST: Blue Lan … A-Hao
Nikki Hsieh … Xiao Ying
Tai Bao …