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Bryan Shu-Hao Chang,
Lun Mei Gwei
An espionage thriller set in the 1950s and adapted from the novel "Year Suan/Plot Against" by May Jia. Tony Leung Chiu Wai plays a blind man who works for a piano tuner. He is recruited for a spy mission because of his exceptional hearing.
It's not everyday we get to see a movie that touches on the inner workings of a Hong Kong music industry, but Heiward Mak's DIVA is one notable exception. While the movie is commercially-friendly where no clichés are left unturned, it's also surprisingly effective and sometimes insightful. And of course, there's Chapman To's scene-stealing performance. More about him later.
Ten years ago, J (singer Joey Yung) is a nobody. But it is not until she meets a manager Man (Chapman To), who finds her potential enough to be a singing superstar. Cut to the present day, J has becomes the reigning pop queen who often stage sold-out concerts at the Hong Kong Coliseum. Much of her huge success comes from her manager Man, who has been working with her for so long. While J gets to enjoy a glamorous life of fame and fortune, she actually feels like a slave who often being controlled what to do and what not to do. She even has little sense of privacy, and it doesn't takes long before she feels intense amounts of pressure until she is losing her voice at a live show. Knowing that this situation may cause an unwanted scandal by the media, Man immediately sends J over to the Mainland for a fast recovery. There, she meets a blind masseur Hu Ming (Hu Ge) where she eventually falls in love with him. At the beginning, she is glad to find a blissful life with her newfound boyfriend. But Man doesn't agrees with her relationship at all because he knows that dating a blind man will cause her a bad reputation among fans and media.
Meanwhile, Man is also grooming a young singing sensation Red (Mag Lam) to be the next big diva like J. While Man is very happy to be discovered that her dream of stardom is about to come true, she is also risked her relationship with her boyfriend Lok (Carlos Chan).
Mak's screenplay is predictable at best, and whatever dark side of the Hong Kong music industry are mostly depicted at a surface value. But as mentioned earlier, it's also effectively told that is undeniably crowd pleasing for mainstream viewers. There are times the movie has its insightful moments of how a singing superstar actually being moulded. Here, we learn it's not the singer who's calling the shots but rather it's the manager that pulls the string all along. Other than that, I personally like the particular question involving the difference between a person who likes to sing and a person who sings for a living that worthy of a debate.
And speaking of manager, Chapman To (who also produced the movie) has delivered one of his most career-defining performances in his career. In fact, he's one of the best reasons that makes this movie compulsively watchable. The way he depicts as a shady and despicable manager who willing to do whatever it takes for his starlets (J and Red) is undeniably engaging.
His top-notch performance aside, it is unfortunate the rest of the cast pales by comparison. With the movie given the title as DIVA, you would naturally expect that it was the lead who should be given the limelight. And that limelight supposed to belong to Joey Yung herself. However, Yung's performance is strangely unremarkable. She is basically being herself, and there's no depth about her character at all. Her supposedly lead performance feels like an afterthought. Another problem is Mak's strange decision not to let her actually performing during many of her musical sequences. Up-and-coming Mag Lam fares a little better than Yung, and that's just about it.
DIVA may have a share of many flaws, but overall it's a crowd-pleasing entertainment that remains worthwhile.
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