Before continuing, I’ll admit bias here: I’m a sucker for dancing movies. Yes, they’re schmaltzy and formulaic, but they’re also fun. When Antonio Banderas finally shook his booty in Take the Lead … aah. It was one of those moments of fleeting euphoria that only comes at the movies. Cheesy? Hell, yeah! Bring it.
So it was with an open mind I sat down for the long-delayed Jump, the latest by budding schlockmeister Stephen Fung (Enter the Phoenix). Columbia Pictures Asia’s co-producer status hints at parent Sony’s belief that they have a transnational product on their hands, which is justifiable in theory. Hong Kong cinema sentinel Stephen Chow’s name above the title will peak cinephiles’ interest, the linguistically mixed cast signals multiple voice dubs and the curiosity factor will be high: much of Jump was re-shot following original co-star Edison Chen’s, er, PR issues. However, this bastard hybrid of Flashdance, Step Up, Strictly Ballroom, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo and any Bumpkin-In-The-Big-City film isn’t going to linger in theatres much longer than, say, a snow cone in purgatory.
In the press notes for the multi-levelled debacle that is Jump, Chow states, ‘Stories about youngsters striving for success have always been a subject I am very interested in. That was the reason that I wanted to make a film about young people overcoming the odds in life and pursuing their dreams.’ That, evidently, begins with assembly line work in a mainland factory making cheap shirts for Wal-Mart. Amusingly (perhaps creepily) the factory is bright and well ventilated; staff get clearly delineated meal breaks and free housing. There’s a glorious harmony among the workers, and they all appear to be happy to have one of these cool manufacturing jobs. Uh … yeah. Clearly Chow has been drinking Beijing’s Kool-Aid.
Phoenix (Kitty Zhang) uses an offered factory job as her ticket to Shanghai, and once there she discovers her latent dance aptitude (evidence of which I failed to locate). While working her mad cleaning skillz at a studio to learn without paying the high fees she catches the eye of Ron (Leon Jay Williams), the studio’s scheming owner, and then they fall in love. She teaches him the value of that which you can’t buy, blah blah, they have a misunderstanding blah blah, she drops out of the big competition versus the Koreans blah blah, she refuses to be cowed. Blah blah blah.
Ostensibly a dance-comedy, Jump has no transportive dance sequences or anything remotely funny in it. Hip hop culture moves at the speed of light, and the ‘cutting edge’ choreography here is both embarrassingly ‘80s and low-impact. Phoenix’s so-called gift is her ability to fuse hip hop with her awesome kung fu (!), and when she busts out her moves it looks like … kung fu. The humour is largely slapstick or physical, and it’s all just tired – Phoenix has a moustache, her best friend is fat, the factory forewoman is a homely hardass. There’s no conflict; Phoenix and her requisite arch nemesis are BFF after about twelve minutes and one minor confrontation, and even the competitors are gracious and mutually encouraging.
Impossible as it seems, Zhang is even less engaging than Chow’s last great ‘discovery’ Cecilia Cheung. Her performance is less overwhelmed country girl in the city than village idiot sprung from the barn. Flailing arms and unleashing an inner simpleton do not make a character, though Fung should also bear some of the responsibility for this. Zhang’s derisory performance, a predictable script and two too many training montages (she’s a maniac!) that pad out the running time will have you racing home to the safe haven of your Dirty Dancing DVD.