Billed as a sports drama based on the experiences of the real-life members of Hong Kong’s baseball team who play themselves in the film, City Without Baseball (無野之城) explores the little-known story of the official baseball team in a city where the game is virtually unheard-of. On the surface, it seems like a melodramatic sports movie. But a closer look shows it to be something altogether different.
Building up to the 2004 Asia Baseball Cup tournament in Pakistan, the film focuses on three characters: Coach Tai (John Tai, 戴于程), who arrives in Hong Kong from Taiwan to train the team for the big game; the team’s starting pitcher, Chung (Leung Yu-chung, 梁宇聰); and his not-so-popular teammate, Chun (Heung Tze-chun, 香子俊). Insecure about his position both in the team and in his relationships with women, Chun starts dating Mei Zhi (Lin Yuan, 林苑) after finding out that his girlfriend has cheated on him. Mei Zhi, however, becomes infatuated with Chung when she meets the macho pitcher. Chung, meanwhile, develops an interest in Kim (played by Monie Tung), who he almost accidentally runs over when she tries to commit suicide by getting in front of his car. And complicating matters considerably, Chun discovers that he has feelings for his teammate and rival Chung.
Amid the tension and excitement built around the matches in the tournament, Chun decides to profess his love to Chung.
Directed by novice Yun Xiang (雲翔), and Lawrence Lau (劉國昌), known for his films that explore youth-related issues in Hong Kong, City Without Baseball is notable for the absence of actual scenes involving the sport. Though there is footage of games and dramatic tension built around baseball-related activities, the film has more to do with relationships and identity issues, existential crises, homoeroticism and repressed sexuality. As the story unfolds, it focuses on revealing the protagonists’ backstories and inner reflections rather than following their drive to victory.
CITY WITHOUT BASEBALL (無野之城)
DIRECTED BY: Lawrence Lau (劉國昌) and Yun Xiang (雲翔)
STARRING: Heung Tze-chun (香子俊) as Chun, Leung Yu-chung (梁宇聰) as Chung, John Tai (戴于程) as Coach Tai, Jason Tsang (曾建忠) as Jason, Lin Yuan (林苑) as Mei Zhi, Monie Tung (董敏莉) as Kim
RUNNING TIME: 132 MINUTES
LANGUAGE: In Cantonese with Chinese and English subtitles
TAIWAN RELEASE: TODAY
Overloaded with too many themes and subjects, City Without Baseball ends up being a hazy mishmash that is less than the sum of its parts. Background music seems to suggest nostalgia for the end of a better era but what that means is never made clear. And certain plotlines, such as the romance between the Taiwanese coach and a young Chinese woman, suffer a premature death.
Many moviegoers, however, will no doubt be delighted by the movie’s full-frontal nudity and scenes of athletes horsing around in the locker room and in the showers. In terms of storytelling, Scud’s script is solid and able to maintain the audience’s attention. And the baseball players themselves come across as natural and uninhibited actors with strong on-screen presences, despite their lack of formal training.