Din Tao - Leader of the Parade
Starring: Alan Ko You-lun, Alien Huang Hong-sheng, Chen Po-cheng
Directed by: Fung Kai
Category: IIA (Taiwanese and Mandarin)
An abundance of local colour almost compensates for trite scripting in this look at the personal and professional travails of a Din Tao troupe.
For the uninitiated - a condition which director Fung Kai does his utmost to cure - Din Tao is a type of Taiwanese folk performance originally intended as spiritual temple fare. But how times have changed. In an effort to keep the art relevant for a more urbanised and Westernised youth culture, today's Din Tao incorporates the latest instrumental and dance trends.
It is Din Tao's generational rift that is the focus of the story co-authored by the director, a television veteran making his big-screen debut. Based on the real-life experiences of the Jyou-Tian Folk Drum and Acrobatic Troupe, a Taichung group acclaimed within Taiwan and around the globe, the drama centres on the antagonism between a traditional father and his free-spirited son.
The movie opens with would-be rock star A-Tai (Alan Ko You-lun) reluctantly deferring his dreams of American fame to re-enter the ragtag company headed by his dad, known as Uncle Da (Chen Po-cheng, above right with Ko).
Making matters more difficult is Da's taciturn personality, antagonising not only A-Tai but also instigating a demoralising rivalry with a flashier ensemble headed by Wu Cheng (Liao Chun), Da's childhood friend and fellow-apprentice under the same Din Tao master.
Over the course of two hours, the yarn follows a rather predictable course as enemies become friends, disdain metamorphoses to respect, and A-Tai triumphantly guides the troupe into the modern age.
True to the director's television roots, every loose thread is neatly tied up in time for the finale, an extravaganza shot in typical music-video manner, the staccato shots a distraction from the substantial skill displayed by a cast that includes pop star Alien Huang as A-Tai's adversary-turned-ally.
Fortunately, a good deal of screen time is given to presenting an insider's view of Din Tao, taking into account the rituals, arduous training, and challenges involved in updating religion-tinged orthodoxies without crossing into irreverence. Unlike A-Tai and his colleagues, though, the film never manages to break free of routine narrative and stylistic conventions to a degree that would parade Din Tao in a refreshingly cinematic light.
Din Tao: Leader of the Parade is on limited release from June 2, and opens on June 21