City Without Baseball
Starring: Ron Heung Chi-chung, Leung Yu-chung, Monie Tung Man-lei
Directors: Scud and Lawrence Lau Kwok-cheung
Category: IIB (Cantonese)
The unlikely combination of Hong Kong and baseball makes for one of the most original local features of recent years. With a cast consisting mostly of ball players apparently playing themselves, and a script which uses their real-life experiences in an expressionistic and not entirely reality-based manner, director Lawrence Lau Kwok-cheung and producer/scriptwriter/co-director Scud have created a movie that defies easy categorisation.
The narrative concentrates on three members of Hong Kong's under-acknowledged international baseball team: a rookie (played by Ron Heung) who also aspires to be a punk musician; a new coach from Taipei (John Tai Yu-cheng); and a pitcher (Leung Yu-chung) whose macho exterior masks an unexpectedly empathetic heart.
Apart from the finale, filmed at the Asian Cup tournament in Kuala Lumpur, the interaction between the jocks, both on and off the diamond, is of greater concern than the nuts and bolts of the game. There is perhaps an overabundance of subplots involving the principals and the quirky women in their lives. The female characters are played by professional actresses, and their acting styles blend well with those of the athletes.
More intriguing than the pitcher's encounter with suicidal Kim (Monie Tung Man-lei, above) or the coach's affair with a gutsy mainland immigrant (Yan Weisha) is the gay sensibility that underlines the ostensibly straight subject matter. It's not just that the movie displays far more male flesh than any picture in the history of Hong Kong cinema, but that the rookie expresses an ambivalent sexuality in a way that is non-stereotypical and non-judgmental.
The script also touches on the weighty issue of mortality, but in an unpretentious mode reflected in the soundtrack comprised 1980s-90s songs by deceased gay and gay-friendly Canto-pop stars such as Danny Chan Pak-keung, Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing, Roman Tam Pak-sin, and Anita Mui Yim-fong. Like the tunes, the movie is firmly rooted in Hong Kong soil, yet is also very international, with the team travelling to Malaysia to battle players from Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Thailand.
Thematically, stylistically, and spiritually, City Without Baseball covers a lot of territory. While the ride is not always a smooth, it's a provocative journey.
City Without Baseball opens on June 19