Director: Cheuk Cheung
Cast: Tam Wing-lun, Wong Hau-wai
My Way is Full of Fire?
After watching My Way, I highly recommended it to my two friends whose responses were "I'm not interested in the soul-destroying history of Cantonese Opera? and a documentary? It must be boring?. If you have hesitation in watching the film because of the aforementioned reasons, please go watch it because they are simply misconceptions and I don't want you to miss a great movie about how the two friends support each other, combat social prejudices, preserve our dying cultural heritage and pursue their dreams, as well as how a profit-driven society lacking diversity strangles one's prodigious talent. You will also be moved deeply by the two inextinguishable flames of passion for the dying art form and the sacrifices they have made.
My Way is a Hong Kong documentary produced by Sylvia Chang and directed by Cheuk Cheung. It is about two young men, TAM Wing-lun and WONG Hau-wai, who have chosen Cantonese Opera as their profession and want to be male Dans (males playing the female roles) which is rare in the industry. Without the support of family, the industry or the society, the only thing that keeps them going is their passion and friendship. Since they were young, the two have been motivating each other on and off stage. Nowadays, Cantonese Opera is unpopular in Hong Kong. When the road ahead looks bleak, will they give up?
With a prodigious talent for Cantonese Opera, Tam steals Wong's thunder in the movie, despite an equal amount of time spent on the two leads? stories. Tam started acting at the age of four. When the kid was asked whether he wanted to be a male Dan, you can see his eyes sparkling with fire, innocence and hope, which is in marked contrast to the cruel reality in which he is now torn between his studies and interest and so he has become too tired to act. When it comes to gifted education, Hong Kong is lagging behind. I cannot help feeling for Tam, whose talent is strangled by the exam-oriented educational system and the profit-driven society which overlooks the significance of art. Tam displayed a precocious talent for Cantonese Opera. Had he been given an opportunity to receive gifted education, he might have become a greater performer.
As for Wong, he is not as talented as Tam, but I salute his attempt to preserve our cultural heritage. As far as the preservation of cultural heritage is concerned, education is important. However, experienced performers tend to shout at greenhorns and teach their apprentices with reserve for fear that they may lose their jobs when their apprentices outperform them. Another obstacle to the preservation of Cantonese Opera is that it is rare to have an opportunity to learn from great performers. For instance, Hung Sin Nui, a famous Cantonese Opera actress, is very experienced, but her appearances are very limited these days.
The movie has also shed light on the adverse effect of social prejudice and discrimination. Never is Wong spiritually or financially supported by his mother to learn Cantonese Opera. She despises him for singing in a girl's voice because she finds it disgusting. Moreover, other actresses dislike male Dans who compete with them for jobs. However, if it is acceptable for YAM Kim-fai, a famous actress of Cantonese Opera, to play the male roles and MEI Lan-fang, a famous actor of Peking Opera, to play the female roles, why is working as a male Dan a problem in Cantonese Opera? It shows that people discriminate against male Dans, who might be capable of playing the female roles better than real women.
Although Tam is not supported by his classmates wholeheartedly and Wong is not supported by his mother, they support each other and I am touched by their friendship. Wong is jealous of Tam because of his early start as a Dan. At the same time, Wong wants him to succeed because he sees Tam's talent. As for Tam, he encourages Wong by saying that his talents will be discovered and admired one day. They are indeed good friends who share the same dream. In addition, I am moved by Tam's assistant, May. She is a middle-aged woman who is willing to serve as Tam's assistant for free. Although the city is dying, I'm happy to know that good people are out there. The director has made this movie to raise public awareness of the importance of this art form and I hope I can help by writing this review.
Apart from these, it is worth noting that many teenagers nowadays idle their days away, whereas the two young men have made lots of sacrifices to pursue their dreams. That one minute on stage takes ten years of practice is true. Both Tam and Wong practice and rehearse very often. Besides, Tam does not have enough sleep because of his performances and studies. As for Wong, he organizes workshops and classes to educate the public to preserve our dying cultural heritage, despite the meager income. How about the teenagers shown in the movie? Many are not interested in Cantonese Opera and never take learning seriously. They do not behave themselves and are disrespectful to the teacher. The cheeky girl is not willing to listen to advice. The contrast highlights the shining qualities of the two leads and explains why they can outperform others and become winners in the industry.
The most powerful scene lies at the end of the movie. (SPOILER WARNING) Dead silence is wisely employed to create a poignant moment which promotes reflection. In the scene, the two leads are performing enthusiastically on stage, but their mesmerizing voices cannot be heard. When the camera zooms out, we see that there is no audience. The scene will tug at your heartstrings and bring tears to your eyes. This symbolic scene reminds us that Cantonese Opera is dying and forces the audience to ponder whether or not we still want to hear the two leads sing. If we do, we should act now to preserve this beautiful cultural heritage.
At the end of my screening, every member of the audience stayed until the end of the credits and I was surprised and touched by the rapturous ovation. Despite being Cheuk's debut feature length documentary, My Way is full of fire. On the path to their dreams, Tam and Wong may get burned, yet with fire in their eyes, they win our hearts.
Reviewed by: Kenji Chan