Cast: Jacky Heung, Keru Wang
Zip up that muscle suit and fire up that pole dance. The ever-devilish Johnnie To is back with the action and ballad-packed CHASING DREAM, a film reveling in genre mayhem and the cinematic feat of twisting two familiar storylines into one, the likes of which we’ve seen (but absolutely never seen) before. This is Rocky meets A Star is Born (meets ghosts of To’s filmography). Throw in MMA, mando-pop, gangsters, fantasy musical numbers, and hot pot, and you’ve got the unlikeliest keywords to be strung together this year. This is pure Johnnie To, letting us know in one glorious movie that there’s no genre he can’t do, undo, and outdo… all at the same time.
Shredded MMA fighter and human exclamation point, “Gluttonous Boxer” Tiger exuberantly wins bloody MMA bouts at night, despite a body clock ticking its way to blindness and death. Cuckoo is a ringside girl with a wimpy voice, determined to appear on a TV singing show to wreak havoc on a celebrity judge. Turns out the judge is an ex-boyfriend who stole her songs and became a huge star, earning him the slyly boring title: “The King of Originality.” As life turns the screws and each must battle “one last time,” Tiger and Cuckoo’s cheering for each other becomes To’s irresistible karmic force, culminating in one of the strangest cinematic palimpsests of all time.
To’s fascination with China’s entertainment culture fills the frame, from a wonderland’ish set to the macabre possibilities of “following your dream.” But because this is To, CHASING DREAM also plays with second chances, redoublings, and the politics of mashups. In a standout moment, Cuckoo sings one song while pivoting wildly on a dime through the styles of Rihanna to Phoenix Legend, her frenzied ventriloquations becoming a masterful whirl of weird. There could be no better symbol for Johnny To’s irrepressible Hong Kong signature, and after his three-year hiatus, we couldn’t be happier to relinquish to yet another mutant wonder.