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The Heavenly Kings (2006) July 14, 2007

Posted by Cal in : Documentary, Comedy , add a comment

Director: Daniel Wu  Cast: Daniel Wu, Terence Yin, Andrew Lin, Conroy Chan  Territory: Hong Kong  Production Company: Man 5 Productions Ltd

Could a bunch of Hong Kong actors, only one of whom can sing, form a successful Boy Band simply by hype and manipulating the marketing machine?  That’s the question asked by The Heavenly Kings, an occasionally hilarious comedy filmed as a fly-on-the-wall documentary.

The film’s title is an ironic reference to the four “Heavenly Kings” of Cantopop (Aaron Kwok, Jacky Cheung, Leon Lai and somebody called Andy something) and opens with a bleak fact – in 1995, the total revenue from the Hong Kong music industry was HK$1.68 billion, while in 2005 it was HK$700 million.  There’s no doubt that piracy is the main culprit, but there also seems to be a (global) social change in attitude towards music that’s hitting sales these days.  It’s into this world that Daniel Wu and Co enter as the new Boy Band Alive.

I can't see what the problem is, myself.

Daniel sings like a drain, but is clearly the leader, and has the pretty-boy appeal necessary to make a hit with the girls.  Andrew Lin is the serious one, and can often be seen talking to the camera about the problems facing the band.  In stark contrast, Conroy Chan (AKA “Ba Ba”) is clearly just going along for the ride and takes nothing seriously at all (and declares: “I’m the fattest Boy Band member ever!”).  Terence is the ringer; he can actually sing, and once released an album in Taiwan.

Upon entering the studio, it becomes apparent that Alive have got problems.  However, with modern technology (specifically AutoTune, which corrects out-of-tune vocals), these problems are overcome with ease and the band cut their first record and enter the industry proper.  Against all this are real interviews with real pop stars telling real horror stories about the industry and sharing their experiences.  Most of these clips are interesting, but I found it hard to take Jacky Cheung bemoaning AutoTune and saying it was much harder in his day.  His peak was in the 80’s, hardly the dawn of time as far as music goes!

Alive then hit upon the idea of deliberately uploading their tune onto a file-sharing network for everyone to download.  This is a stroke of genius, as they gather together for a press conference to cry ‘foul’ on the music industry and the bootleggers.  The result?  A much higher profile for the band, public support and sympathy in a scene reminiscent of Gillian Chung’s (or was it Charlene Choi’s?) “Bra-gate” scandal.  The group even set up their own website in a blaze of publicity (http://www.alivenotdead.com/– now an “online artistic community” but still with some Alive content).  The cynicism doesn’t stop there though, in a world where “professional fans” can be hired (“F4 use them!”) to scream and wave placards at gigs, and where image stylists can create outfits the Village People wouldn’t have been seen dead in.

'So there I was backstage, adjusting my bra, and the next thing I know it's in all the papers...'

The Heavenly Kings is a mostly great exposé on the music business but towards the latter half the film loses its subtlety a bit, and the illusion is dented.  Furthermore, the ending is a little familiar and predictable.  Nevertheless, there aren’t many films that get me to laugh out loud these days and this achieved that rare feat a couple of times.  It also seems to have achieved CAT III status simply with its use of swearing, which I found bizarre.

You certainly don’t need to know anything about the world of Cantopop to enjoy this film as the issues it addresses are pretty much global.  And although I detest the whole manufactured pop world, I found myself cheering on this bunch of inept but likeable pop stars-in-waiting. 

Where can I get the album?

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