MOVIE REVIEW: THE LION MEN (2014)

Plot summary (story synopsis): Mikey (Wang Wei Liang) is the number two performer in the Tiger Crane lion dance troupe, living in the shadow of the number one performer Supreme (Tosh Zhang). 

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When they meet a group of dance girls, including the pretty Xiao Yu (Eva Cheng), Mikey doesn't have the confidence to approach her and lets Supreme stake his claim on her.

Other Lion Dance troupes have begun mixing Lion Dance with Hip Hop. Both Mikey and Supreme think that this is a good idea but their sifu, Master He (Chen Tian Wen) has always opposed modifying traditional Lion Dance. 

When Master He finds out that they have been hanging around with the dance girls, Supreme refuses to give up the idea of combining dance with Lion Dance. Master He kicks him out of the troupe and Supreme joins a rival troupe. 

Mikey must now step up as number one, especially since they will compete against Supreme's troupe in the upcoming Lion Dance competition. He has to overcome his fear of heights and dance on the steel pillars in order to win the competition.   
  
***

The Lion Men provides a rare look at the Lion Dance scene in Singapore but is let down by flat characters and a hokey plot.  

I'm not a fan of writer/director Jack Neo but the premise of Lion Men sounded interesting - Singapore Lion Dance and contemporary dance fusion. I'm glad to report that Lion Men isn't full of the normal Jack Neo moralizing and in-your-face social commentary. 

Unfortunately this doesn't mean that Lion Men is a good movie. It's like a hamfisted mix of Step Up and and Bring it On. It looks like Jack Neo had the idea for the concept, and then scrambled to find material to fill it up with. 

So Lion Men is filled with all kinds of cliches and filler. There's a robot lion sifu that may or may not be Mikey's hallucination, Mikey's dreams about being a superhero, fights and rivalries with other troupes, fake outrage from Mikey about being disrespected by society (seriously?), a love triangle, and romance with the boss's daughter. 

Sure, there are no new stories under the sun. Everything is based on what has been done in the past. I have no argument with that. The problem with Lion Men is that the various elements aren't really connected, don't form a coherent or organic whole. 

That's because the characters aren't properly developed, so they don't drive the plot with their own natural actions. They are slapped together with various events and slapstick comedy skits, and we never get a chance to know or like them. It's the old problem with bad writing - the writer arbitrarily decides on the plot and the characters are forced to robotically follow it. 

Some of the Lion Dance sequences are good, but not spectacular. The fusion with Hip Hop or whatever dance, is a disappointment. The dancers just dance in front of the lions. There's no real integration. 

If you're not familiar with Lion Dance, you might be entertained. But for your average Singaporean who has seen Lion Dance his whole life, there's nothing new here. There's no insight into the life, training or business of Lion Dance. It's all cartoonish troupe rivalries and melodramatic posturings about the purity of traditional Lion Dance versus modern fusion. Basically transplanted tropes from a hundred Hollywood movies.

Jack Neo's movies are known for their product placement and Lion Men is no exception. You don't just see the products in the shot, the characters actually talk about them. You can check your guesses as to what is a product placement by looking at the list of sponsors at the end of the movie. 

Oh, and be warned. This is only Part 1, so the movie doesn't end properly. Not advertizing that the movie is Part 1 is pretty misleading and I was pissed.  

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