Dance movies have their own little niche market. They could be sandwiched in as something of a sub-genre to Musicals, but actually they are probably set apart from their all-singing, all-dancing brethren. Dance movies are generally played straight, taking themselves quite seriously, working the dance sequences into the story as an everyday part of the characters' lives. At the top end of the scale you have movies like Billy Elliot, Flashdance, Dirty Dancing and Coyote Ugly.
And the modern generation of female actresses seem to like to include a dance movie fairly early on into their careers, as if it were some kind of break from their standard romantically slanted comedies and dramas. Perhaps it is no different from male actors who take up a cheesy military boys-with-their-toys roles - Cruise in Top Gun, Jamie Foxx in Stealth, Nicolas Cage in Wings of the Apache - with the likes of Spiderman's Kirsten Dunst (Bring it On), the Bourne Trilogy's Julie Stiles (Save the Last Dance) and Fantastic Four's Jessica Alba (Honey) all putting on their dance shoes early on in their careers.
With the cheesy gaiety and inexplicable popularity of Glee on TV, and 3D technology paving the way for an added twist to the limited but burgeoning genre, in Street Dance 3D and Step Up 3D, it seems like dance movies are here to stay. Understandable really. They do not require decent stories, dialogue or acting. Or even much of a budget. They merely require a few well-choreographed dance sequences to keep their fans happy. So they probably rake in a stupid profit for what they cost. Like reality TV, really. So, this new Hong Kong entry, Jump, with its controversial and protracted production history, is it really adding anything new and special to the genre?
Phoenix is just a small-town village girl, living with her dad. Her father is a martial arts master, and is intent on training her with the same skill-set. Phoenix, however, has other plans, and is aspiring to be a dancer, something which largely benefits from her knowledge of martial arts routines. When given the opportunity to move to the Big City, she leaves her quaint village and humble dad and goes to Shanghai. Landing a job at her dream dance studio, life is not quite what she expected. Her job is as a mere janitor at the studio, left to just watch in green-eyed envy at the dancers practicing on the stage. After a while she catches the eye of the studio owner. Will he see through her cleaner's attire and seeming insignificance and give her the opportunity to prove her skills? And when it comes to performing, will she even be able to pull it off?
Jump is a harmless movie. It's not really offensive in any way. It's just a happy, silly, singy-dancy standard story of a nobody dancer who wants to make it big (isn't that the story of all dance movies?).
Kitty Zhang is a perfectly acceptable lead. Sure, she overplays the wide-eyed ditzy dreamer, and perhaps she does not convince as being a village girl turned secret-dancing-queen-in-her-spare-time, but she's got the moves, and she's got enough energy for the role (and she is much prettier without all the makeup that gets lacquered onto her midway through the movie). Her voice is a little grating (less so in her native Mandarin, her dubbed Cantonese counterpart is truly bad), which does not help because it makes most of her dialogue sound like whining, a particularly harmful effect for the few occasions when she isn't. Her love interest is played by Leon Jay Williams, although he doesn't have to really do anything other than wander around in a suit, and the two or three scenes where his character actually emotes do not spark up enough chemistry to convince either.
Supposedly hilarious cameos by Samuel Pang and Daniel Wu are clearly designed to please their fans, although the humour is totally out of place. They are the kind of scenes you would expect in a Leslie Nielsen movie and are a bit random here. But surely the only people who really pick up this movie are those who like the dancing side of things? So, what are they like?
Well, let's see, it takes the best part of an hour for her to really show her mettle, then we get a training montage, a bit of melodrama and the extended dance finale, a big contest. Her style is like a cross between martial arts and break-dancing, and she is reasonably good, but she spends about 15 minutes of the movie actually dancing. What's with that? The rest of the finale feels like a protracted music video showing you seemingly endless dancers doing their moves. It's interesting for a while, the slow-mo accentuating the 'best bits', but I'm not sure it really works at all. During the climax it is difficult to tell whether, style-wise, they were aiming for Trinity from the Matrix, or Madonna's latest attempt-to-look-younger-than-she-clearly-is music video. And then it's all over.
Produced by Stephen Chow (Kung Fu Hustle), this film is as much removed from his Directorial work as Luc Besson's numerous producer/writer efforts (the Transporter movies, the Taxi movies) are removed from his classics - Leon and Nikita. Sure you can see a little why he was behind the project (the link they try to promote between martial arts and dancing) and you do notice a few Chow regulars popping up (as mentioned) but Chow fans will likely be massively disappointed by this poor excuse of a movie. Furthermore it was directed by Stephen Fung, the guy behind the amazing House of Flying Daggers. Suffice to say, this movie is not a high point in his directing career.
Apparently its production was halted some time back due to a massive sex scandal involving the original male co-star, Edison Chen, but honestly, I can't see why they didn't take the opportunity to cancel the project. It probably wouldn't have been much better with Chen, but it would have been a good excuse to stop making a movie that really should never have been green-lit in the first place.
I've got to round up the review because I think you get my point. I do not rate dance movies. Not because there may not be some crazy cool potential in the genre, but because nobody has come close to tapping it. They largely exist based on the flimsiest of plots and the most clichéd of characters, and largely amount to little more than a ludicrously extended music video. It would be really nice to see somebody do something fresh and original in the genre, or - dare I say it - something that's actually any good. Unfortunately, the producers generally rely on a few nice dance moves to justify the film's existence. All that said, if this had even come close to being of the distinctly average quality of its brethren - the vapid but fun Coyote Ugly didn't exactly set the bar particularly high - it may have made for an enjoyable night in for dance-rom-com aficionados. But with too few dance scenes, peppered across a seen-it-all-before plot, it just does not meet even that fairly low standard.