Seasoned television director Fung Kai’s (馮凱) Din Tao: Leader of the Parade (陣頭) is edifying for those not familiar with dintao, a type of traditional temple performance troupe. For everyone else, the film is an overly long formulaic exercise in banality.
Performer Allen Ko (柯有倫) plays A-tai, a young man who dreams about becoming a rocker in the US. He quits school in Taipei and returns to his Taichung hometown before following his heart’s desire.
A-tai has never been on good terms with his father, Uncle Da (Chen Po-cheng, better know as A-hsi, 阿西), who runs a dintao troupe. The father and son never make an effort to understand one another, and quarrel each time they meet.
But Uncle Da has other things to worry about. While his company struggles to make ends meet, long-standing rival Wu Cheng (Liao Chun, 廖峻) and his troupe meet with success and popularity.
Irked by Wu’s arrogance, A-tai decides to take the troupe’s demoralized members on a countrywide walk in search of inspiration to revamp the traditional folk art form.
The movie was inspired by the Jyou-Tian Folk Drum and Arts Group (九天民俗技藝團). Founded in 1995 by drummer Shue Chen-rong (許振榮), the Taichung-based troupe is credited with updating folk drumming, acrobatics and traditional dances for contemporary audiences and introducing the performances to international audiences by attending art festivals abroad. The troupe’s last sojourn was a seven-day, 250km-long ultra marathon across the Sahara Desert in Egypt in October, completed while its members carried a 17kg statue of the deity Nezha (哪吒).
The movie has a certain degree of authenticity in its depiction of dintao as an extended family in which the troupe’s leader is more like a father figure to the group’s young members, most of whom are dropouts. It also fares well in the acting department, anchored by veteran actors A-hsi, Liao Chun and Samantha Ko (柯淑勤). Pop idol Alien Huang, better known as Hsiao-kuei (小鬼), deserves special mention for his dintao performances. Yet the movie is little more than a glorified television drama, replete with cliches, stereotypical characters and an uneven narrative.
Directed by: FUng Kai (馮凱)
Starring: Allen Ko (柯有倫) as A-tai, Alien Huang (黃鴻升) as A-hsien, Chen Po-cheng (陳博正) as Uncle Da, SAMANTHA KO (柯淑勤) as Aunt Da
Language: Hoklo [commonly known as Taiwanese] and Mandarin with Chinese and English subtitles
Running time: 123 minutes
Taiwan release: Today
As Taiwanese grassroots culture is a mainstay of local productions of late, movies like Din Tao: Leader of the Parade have come one after another, following what is believed to be a winning formula that blends traditional practices with modern elements. However, without a good story line and emotional depth to sustain it, the enthusiasm for traditional cultural doesn’t last the distance.