When Lin Yu-hsien (林育賢) returned to his hometown of Yilan in 2003, the local film industry was in a slump and he was out of a job. The aspiring director made Jump! Boys (翻滾吧！男孩), a simple documentary about a gymnastics team of seven boys coached by his older brother Lin Yu-hsin (林育信). Unexpectedly, the film was a box-office hit and stayed in theaters for three months.
Lin Yu-hsien then quickly put together the genre-fusing feature debut Exit No. 6 (六號出口), which was released in 2006 and flopped. With his self-confidence crushed, he took whatever work was offered to him to pay off the NT$1.5 million he had borrowed to make the film.
Now the director aims for a rebound with Jump Ashin! (翻滾吧！阿信), the life story of his gymnast brother. Lin Yu-hsien bounces back beautifully, showing off his hard-earned skill for packing action, romance and drama into a tightly paced, finely executed work of entertainment.
Eddie Peng (彭于晏) plays the title role of Ashin, a young gymnast whose life has revolved around training since he was a small boy growing up in the small town of Yilan. His mother (Pan Li-li, 潘麗麗) thinks Ashin’s sport won’t amount to anything and asks the coach (Hsia Ching-ting, 夏靖庭) to take him off the team. Disheartened, the young man gives up gymnastics and starts to hang out with the wrong crowd. Ashin and his best friend Pickle (Lawrence Ko, 柯宇綸) quickly become the most sought-after troublemakers in town as the former gymnast successfully uses his high bar skills for gang fighting.
Things take a turn for the worse when Pickle gets addicted to drugs. Soon the two have a problem with the son of a local kingpin and are forced to flee to Taipei.
When life in the big city turns tragic, Ashin returns home determined to re-enter the world of gymnastics no matter what obstacles await him.
In the film, director Lin shows he has made significant progress in balancing a story, though the bulk of screen time is spent on portraying the friendship between Ashin and Pickle and their life on the street, making the motivational, later part of the movie feel squeezed.
Despite this flaw, the film is immensely enjoyable and has a playful 1980s feel, manifested through a series of references such as pagers and Dave Wang’s (王傑) iconic 1987 album A Game A Dream (一場遊戲一場夢). The director said that the fight sequences early in the movie are meant to be a tribute to Jackie Chan’s (成龍) works of the 1980s, which mix silly humor with action.
“People clapped and laughed when they saw Pickle and Ashin kiss each other on the lips by accident. It really reminds me of the excitement I felt watching Jackie Chan’s Project A (A計劃) in the theater when I was little,” the 37-year-old director says.
Equally exciting are the performances by the well-selected cast members. Having experienced several low points in his acting career in recent years, pop idol Peng reportedly fought for the role of Ashin and said he had no trouble understanding and identifying with the character. The star deserves praise for the fact that he underwent 12 hours of training a day for three months and transformed himself from a Canada-educated young idol to an Yilan taike (台客) who speaks Hoklo (commonly known as Taiwanese), does backflips and sports six-pack abs.
Ko also earns praise for his fascinating rendering of Pickle. As an experienced actor who has worked with big-name directors including Edward Yang (楊德昌), Stanley Kwan (關錦鵬) and Ang Lee (李安), Ko has remained relatively low-profile and temporarily gave up his acting career when he couldn’t find work in the local film industry several years ago. The actor finally gained the recognition he rightly deserves when he was crowned best supporting actor at Taipei Film Festival’s (台北電影節) Taipei Awards this year for his performance in the movie.
To the director, Jump Ashin! represents a chance in life that he and his actors seized and tried to make the best of.
“Ten years ago, I was just a country boy from Yilan,” he says. “Ten years later after some setbacks, I had a chance to make this movie. I gave it all I had and now I feel I can move on to the next phase of my life. Everything is possible if all of us can jump over the obstacles we now face.”