While there’s no shortage of seize-your-youth, go-for-your-dreams motivational films featuring talented teenagers in Taiwan’s cinema scene, most of them try too hard and end up with ridiculously trite dialogue, over-the-top sappy scenes and an implausible script with plot holes the size of the Pacific Ocean.
It’s even harder not to fall into cliches when the featured sport is the hugely-popular basketball — especially when pretty much every variation has been made already in the past decade. What more can possibly be done after 2008’s Kung Fu Dunk (功夫灌籃)? Dunking aliens? Wait, Hollywood already did that with Space Jam.
But while We Are Champions (下半場) doesn’t deviate much from the standard high school sports flick formula, somehow it works. First of all, the plot is solid and covers its bases instead of running amok with the emotional material, and the actors deliver heartfelt, believable lines that stop short of being cringe-worthy.
Photo Courtesy of atmovies.com
The action is also handled well, edited in a style that’s realistic yet exciting, making the audience feel that they’re on the court rather than the stands. While it’s a treat for basketball fans, one doesn’t necessarily need to understand the sport to enjoy this film. What carries the story is the poignant and often contentious relationship between two talented brothers from a struggling family, Hsiu-yu (Fandy Fan, 范少勳) and Tong-hao (Berant Chu, 朱軒洋), who end up squaring off against each other on rival teams.
Indeed, believability is what director Chang Jung-chi (張榮吉) was aiming for when he began production, telling the media that this film would be nothing like Kung Fu Dunk. Although Chang has been producing feature films for years, he first made a name for himself by co-directing the award-winning 2006 documentary My Football Summer (奇蹟的夏天), featuring a group of up-and-coming young Aboriginal soccer players. Now making fictional films, Chang still strives to make his work as realistic as possible.
For example, he drew the premise from the real-life news story of basketball players Kao Kuo-chiang (高國強) and Kao Kuo-hao (高國豪) who clashed while playing for different high schools, and spent two years doing field research with numerous high school basketball powerhouses, constructing the dialogue and plot from these interviews.
Chang was adamant that his lead actors have actual basketball experience, and he rounded out the cast with actual high school basketball players. Despite the actors already being quite skilled, he still puts them through six months of gruelling basketball and acting training before commencing shooting. It paid off.
Chang also makes another potentially cliched device work in this film — Hsiu-yu is partially deaf and wears a hearing aid. Many directors would bank on his disability to make him more sympathetic and his story more remarkable — a tired portrayal that is overdone and is now frowned upon by activists as “inspiration porn.” Instead, Hsiu-yu’s hearing issues don’t actually hamper his daily life or basketball prowess, but they do result in him having fewer opportunities than his equally talented younger brother, which puts them on different teams, and is the whole point of the film.
Interestingly, Chang’s 2012 debut feature Touch of the Light (逆光飛行), also featured a talented teenager with disabilities, based on the true story of blind pianist Huang Yu-hsiang (黃裕翔), who plays himself. This film garnered Chang a Golden Horse for best new director and also represented Taiwan in the Oscars’ international feature film section
Chang clearly is drawn to the theme of teenagers chasing their dreams, which is nothing new or unique — but fortunately, he knows how to do it right.
We Are Champions
Directed by: Chang Jung-chi (張榮吉)
Starring: Fandy Fan (范少勳) as Hsiu-yu, Berant Chu (朱軒洋) as Tong-hao, David Wu (吳大維) as Coach Hsu, Tuan Chun-hao (段鈞豪) as Coach Chen
Running Time: 117 minutes
Language: Mandarin with Chinese and English subtitles
Taiwan Release: In theaters
Over a million years in the making, the outdoor playground that is Kaohsiung’s Shoushan (壽山), commonly known as “Monkey Mountain,” is a rich geological and ecological resource that visitors to the city should be sure not to miss. Many are familiar with the area’s hiking trails and resident monkey population, but even locals may be surprised to learn of the extensive system of caves here, full of classic examples of speleothems like stalactites, stalagmites, draperies and flowstones, as well as cave-dwelling fauna. These caves are the result of hundreds of thousands of years of erosion slowly dissolving the mountain’s limestone.
April 12 to April 18 Hsieh Hsueh-hung (謝雪紅) stuffed her suitcase with Japanese toys and celebrity photos as she departed from Tokyo in February 1928. She knew she would be inspected by Japanese custom officials upon arrival in Shanghai, and hoped that the items would distract them from the papers hidden in her clothes. Penned with invisible ink on thin sheets, it was the charter of the Taiwanese Communist Party (台灣共產黨, TCP), which Hsieh and her companions would launch on April 15 under the directive of the Soviet-led Communist International with the support of their Chinese, Japanese
The Brave Girls were losing courage just weeks ago, on the verge of breaking up and abandoning their dreams of K-pop stardom after years of going nowhere. Then a pseudonymous YouTuber called Viditor uploaded a compilation of them performing on South Korean army bases — and saved their careers. Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’ rollin’/I am waiting for you/Babe just only you, they chant, as wildly enthusiastic uniformed conscripts dance and wave glow-sticks. It went viral and struck millions of chords across the country. Less than a month later the song reached number one in South Korea and topped the Billboard K-pop 100 in
It’s official: Trees are good for the mental health of city dwellers. According to a study published in Scientific Reports at the end of last year, individuals living within 100m of a high density of street trees in Leipzig, Germany, were prescribed antidepressant prescriptions at a lower rate than those who didn’t have many trees in their neighborhood. The study noted that more distant clusters of street trees didn’t appear to have any impact on antidepressant use, and that, even at 100m, the correlation was merely “marginally significant.” However, the researchers found, for individuals with low socio-economic status, trees no more