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CONCERTO OF THE BULLY (2018) review

October 2, 2018

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written by: Charlie Choi and Fung Chih-chiang
produced by: Alex Dong
directed by: Fung Chih-chiang
rated: not rated
runtime: 97 min.
U.S. release date: October 2, 2018 (Asian Pop-up Cinema, AMC River East 21, Chicago, IL)

 

Within the first fifteen or so minutes of “Concerto of the Bully” I was won over when it was established that one of the main characters has an aversion to harshly loud and annoying sounds. That’s something I can relate to, something I’ve recently developed an acute awareness of. While its an element that certainly plays for laughs here, what it essentially offers is something surprisingly poignant. What director Fung Chih-chiang winds up doing in this uncanny retro rom-com is remind us of the benefit of slowing down and tune in to a different frequency which can result in finding a new appreciation and perspective of your surroundings.

As the film opens in modern-day Hong Kong, we meet a local thug named Yung (Ronald Cheng), who is prone to fits of rage when exposed to sudden and intense noises. He has to switch off the loud/intense music on his car stereo and winds up throwing the cell phone owned by a nearby young woman across the street after she wouldn’t stop scrolling through her ringtones. This is probably the main reason why he lives by himself on a large makeshift fishing raft that floats on the outskirts of the city. The tranquility he’s established for himself is soon disrupted when he comes home one day to find a body on his floor wrapped up in a sack with a note hanging above it which reads “Please Feed”.

 

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It turns out one of Yung’s gangster pals has kidnapped a young woman in order to receive ransom money that will pay off a debt they owe another local gang leader. Preferring his solitude, Yung is reluctant to go along with this plan, especially considering he’s been chosen to play babysitter, but sees no other way out of their situation. He’s told that Jamie (Cherry Ngan) is the girlfriend of a famous pop star, but soon learns she’s also known as “Hit Girl”, which is the name of the mysterious singer Yung discovered a couple years ago, whose sole demo recording has a rare song that calms his soul. Yung, who confirms himself as “Little Fairy”, the only online fan of Jamie’s song, finds out this detail after he is thoroughly overwhelmed by her grating screaming and panicked yelling due to her situation.

Realizing her predicament, Jamie begins to gradually win over Yung, who eventually starts to see his surroundings in a different light thanks to Jamie’s ability to appreciate the sounds of any environment, utilizing them into something she can incorporate into her own music making. Inevitably, Yung develops an appreciation for Jamie and maybe something more, as he the two begin to use their setting to form an unexpected collaboration on her unfinished song that originally ingratiated her to him years ago. Their time on the raft has an expiration date, considering Jamie has committed to perform at a concert, hoping to perform the song she has finally completed, thanks to Jung’s assistance.

Based on the description, it would seem like “Concerto of the Bully” takes place entirely at one location, but that’s not the case and that’s a good thing. After all, to learn more about these two characters, we have to go back to the mainland since there life hasn’t always consisted of floating on the water. There’s a boat used by Jung and his two pals to go back and forth, to bring essential supplies like food and toiletries, but also to check in on their hostage and to get these characters away from one location. The boat is also used in a someone improbable manner when Jung uses it to transports a dilapidated old piano he purchased back to the raft, since using random objects as musical instruments could only take Jamie’s song so far. It seemed far-fetched for Jung to be able to physically handle a stand-up piano all by himself, but then again, this is a film that relies heavily on the magical moments just happening with no need for explanation.

 

 

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Much of what happens on land is chaotic, resulting in kinetic action sequences that involve Yung, his cohorts and those they owe money. These land visits become more interesting the more time Jung has spent with Jamie, since we begin to see just how she has influenced how he now sees the world. Adopting her philosophy (“Music can make you see another world”), Jung winds up seeing a dire predicament like being trapped and attacked by the thugs who want their money and re-imagining their actions as a choreographed dance scene set to Mozart’s Seranade No. 13 in G Major. Sure, “Concerto” is full of convenient developments, like the fact that Jamie can’t swim and the fact that her pop star boyfriend is a flake, but the creative musical and action sequences counter balance the cliche tropes that have been used in rom-coms ad nauseam.

I get the idea that director Fung Chih-chiang, who co-wrote the screenplay with Charlie Choi, gets his aesthetic tone and energy from his previous collaborations with director Stephen Chow (“Shaolin Soccer” and “Journey to the West”), where he served as a screenwriter. Certainly, the comedic action in “Concerto” resembles Chow’s previous work.

While familiarity may be rampant in “Concerto”, as it incorporates a bit of Stockholm Syndrome with the ‘unlikely attraction’ trope, it still won me over with its deliberate earnestness and sincerity. It also helps that the humor in the film works, never wearing out its welcome and the production design is quite impressive – it found me considering living on a makeshift raft if for no other reason than to escape all the noise. Not to mention the song Jung and Jamie (played wonderfully by the two leads) work on and eventually perform, “An Unheard Melody”, composed by Peter Kam, is quite infectious. Thankfully, there’s no saccharine overdose here and at no time did I feel I was getting hit over the head with what the film sets out to do.

I know not much can be done with the noises that permeate our environment, especially when living in a bustling urban landscape, but “Concerto” helped me to see that if we can’t tune all the noise out, we can try to incorporate what we hear into something of our own creation, finding a place of peace and a greater appreciation of what is around us. It also reinforced my appreciation for the music as therapy.

 

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RATING: ***

 

“Concerto of the Bully” will screen at 7pm tonight at AMC River East 21 for it’s Chicago Premiere as part of the seventh season of Asian Pop-up Cinema with writer/director Fung Chih-chiang and art director Chet Chan in attendance for an introduction and Q&A following the screening

 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Joe Dubowski permalink
    October 2, 2018 1:21 pm

    I am intrigued. Hope I can see it sometime. Thanks for your review.

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