City Without Baseball (2008)
Directed by: Lawrence Lau & Scud
Award at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards 2009:
Screw Lawrence Lau...who the f*ck is Scud?! At any rate, he's a huge helper on Lau's latest amateur acted affair City Without Baseball, which is an area Lau has never veered away from as movies such as Gangs, Spacked Out and Besieged City didn't come with any name talent. Although securing awards for My Name Is Fame, it's always clear Lau wants to remain close to home, close to the pavement where he sees the human element, despair etc. In City Without Baseball, he's literally enlisted the members out of Hong Kong's baseball team and even acts as a commentator (albeit in text) during the early parts of the movie to make sure we know this. Overly anxious that we'll start doubting the non-actors or an artistic statement of sorts? Uh-oh. Who knows really and full frontal nudity during the opening credits certainly gets our attention. But it will take a whole lot of attention to gather the INtentions of Lawrence Lau and Scud. An explanation why the end product is earthly, felt, real, confusing and muddled is that the film might've wanted to tap into the emotional stream of its subjects. Because there you'll not necessarily find streamlined thoughts and emotions but the subjects knows instinctively it's clear to them. In movies however, it doesn't quite work that way always.
Adhering to the sports movie formula, the teen soap opera and themes surrounding all this, I ultimately admire the approach to City Without Baseball that doesn't take an easy or straight route to any of its intentions. We slowly unearth nugget by nugget of themes and emotions, see the documentary approach literally by director Lau and Scud as they shoot at actual baseball games and throughout hear the re-recordings of famous Canto-pop by the non-actors themselves. Obviously done to heighten emotions for them, we may encounter a team but ultimately two characters occupy our time. Ron Heung is an outsider in the team and occupies his time pursuing dreams as prompted by his parents but also for his sake. Music remains one far away one but baseball is equally far off. No attempted career is a certainty in this Hong Kong, something that speaks to a reality by screenwriter Scud and is not necessarily cynicism. Good choice. Ron's family have even cleared out to an extent which leaves the elders with the balance of wanting their family to learn to fly but stay within reach as well.
Compared to Besieged City by Lawrence Lau, there's little gritty pavement present in City Without Baseball by logical choice but matters are still equally on the outskirt as these characters struggle to define themselves within a sport no one knows exists in Hong Kong. We encounter one of the problems in the film soon enough and that is of many characters speaking of the depth of the film but an effect is rarely achieved as much as the involved wants to. Tangents go off onto aforementioned dreaming, relationship, love triangles, exploration of your sexuality and while for instance the basic love triangle between Ron, Chung and Mei Zhi is quite well-handled, in the end the movie strive for its characters to go deeper within themselves. Something the movie DOESN'T communicate well enough.
You must get it out there to a viewing audience and as much as we know of the longing, the desire to love, win, unite and the unwanted hurt that somehow runs alongside all of this, City Without Baseball makes its point in a muddled sense that probably only is felt within the group that made it. Its unconventional narrative and intriguing bits about Leung Yu-Chung meeting a suicidal teen (Monie Tung) who is also an undertaker underscores the fine intentions to not adhere to a set Hong Kong cinema style however. Still, he hasn't bounced back since the dud Besieged City and Lawrence Lau hasn't been able to fuel his amateurs to great effect for quite some time now.
Panorama presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with anamorphic enhancement. Print is clean, colourful and sufficiently sharp.
The mixed language track (Cantonese, Mandarin, English) in Dolby Digital 2.0 doesn't challenge the front stage heavily but sounds thoroughly suitable for the film. Audio is also available in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1.
The English subtitles have a few minor errors but are fully coherent otherwise. A set of Chinese subtitles are also included. The extras package isn't exhausting but holds worth as it comes with the same subtitle options as the feature. The Making Of (20 minutes, 28 seconds) acts more as a video diary with the actors talking of their first acting experience, how the movie echoes their lives etc. The program never reaches any more insightful height but is a decent insight into this particular process.
4 deleted scenes, in total 15 minutes and 22 seconds, comes next. One just shows a few variations of the opening but with the green screen visible while another is a quiet scene of Ron's inner pain. However the other two represents a completely cut sub-plot about the coach's girlfriend Ping and her twin sister. Almost a little short movie when presented here on its own, coherency isn't at top level and it would've slowed the movie down. Still, its inclusion its worthwhile. Finally there's the trailer and a 28 page photo book with fairly high quality stills and Chinese language quotes. Looks like the makers tried to sum up the movie within these pages.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson