SIFF '09: DADA'S DANCE Review

When Li Xinyun comes on screen as titular character Dada in the very first minute, you could almost hear a collective gasp amongst the audience. She looks like a cross between Vicky Zhao and Shu Qi, more the latter thanks to those bee-stung lips that assisted her titular character very much in dripping sensuality in almost every frame she's in. Helping too are a fitting tank top and a short pair of shorts to accentuate her fair limbs.

Yes I may sound like a dirty old man, but that's precisely how the male population in Dada's neighbourhood feel every morning when she turns up the temperature around her estate. For her mum's potential suitor, Dada offers a very powerful, visual distraction, and to her neighbour Zhao Ye (Li Xiaofeng), nothing beats peeping at Dada going about the household chores in the morning, thanks to her self-designed dance she grooves in to the tune of Remedios.

Director Zhang Yuan, with inputs from his leads Li Xinyun and Li Xiaofeng, had crafted incredible teenage characters who are somewhat lost, and perpetually looking for something to hold on to, and to make sense of life with. And I guess more so from the former since the movie's titular character is played by her, hence instilling some sense of personal ownership in coming up with a memorable character who lingers long after the end credits roll. To a certain extent, I feel that had succeded, and also because of the rouge like charisma Dada exudes, that bad girl whom everyone likes to gossip about, but whose genuine niceness is only seen by those whom she opens up to.

For the most parts, the story's a road trip movie, with the duo Dada and boyfriend (or so he wishes) Zhao Ye going to an unnamed town to search for the Dada's biological mother. Insert comedic situations, red herrings, and little filler scenes about going through public records and the seeking of help from the police, it's a search for that unattainable needle in the haystack, but that's what this film is about. The search for something that cannot be grasped, and being always on the look out for anything that would provide that sense of satisfaction and happiness, without which will lead to some self-discontent with life as it is.

For Dada, it's a search for her biological mom because she's unhappy with her mom's choice of companion (to be fair to her mom, Dada didn't voice this out), and probably didn't like not told about being adopted. This despite her mom always treating her just like her own. And there's the search for love too, especially for a man she constantly turns away. Her life is one on the path of destruction, before that reconciliatory effort with both mom and Zhao Ye come calling. Granted there was a turning point in the film that provided that wake up call, but it did suggest that here's one woman who will take her chances, though answering to and facing the music in an attempt to turn her life over.

The cinematography here is wondrous with beautiful scenery aplenty, be it the cramped quarters of the working class, the vast outdoors or the opulence of rich folks. And more importantly, to me at least, the score by Andrea Guerra also provided an added dimension to this Chinese film. Dada's Dance may not be perfect, but it does have moments which engage, and as mentioned, her dance just lingers effortlessly, and I'm grooving to it already as I write this!

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