[VFF’15] Exploring China’s Super Boy Contest with I Am Here, A Review

17 Feb

By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

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4:00pm Feb 7
6:00pm Feb 15
The Vic Theatre

Super Boy or Happy Boy (快乐男声) is China’s answer to North American competition television shows like American Idol or Survivor. The cultural impact is huge because the program creates legions of fans pining for their favourite teenaged heart-throb to win, and the marketing potential is high — the winner gets a recording contract, has to tour and generate revenue for the Hunan Satellite Television Network, the broadcaster of this program.

The intimate look that Lixin Fan, director of the award-winning Last Train Home, shows in his documentary I am Here, how tough it is to succeed. His film looks at the competitors of the 2013 season of Super Boy. Instead of having Big Brother cameras on them, Fan follows a group of nine boys as they get whittled down to two. When he interjects moments of them just being playful lads out in the Chinese countryside to showing them at work being groomed to be the next superstars, the comparisons and criticisms about this show is left for viewers to decide.

Unless audiences are fans of the show or are interested in learning about what the popular music culture scene is like in China, this feature will not be for everyone. I got the impression that part of the scene is manufactured.

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The parts of the film that shine are when the competitors talk about their personal dreams, and why they are in this competition. To see them develop as good friends is more interesting than to see them turn into bitter rivals. In the group, only Bai Ju Gang, Hua Chengyu and Ou Hao would make the top three. Not all of them have the necessary talent to rise above and beyond what’s needed to make them a strong stage presence but when they have come this far, they are all guaranteed a recording contract because of all the supporters rooting for that particular person.

According to the coaches who teach them how to sing and dance, talent comes from rigorous training more so than discipline. Both are important, and unless these boys can awaken that Kundalini — that primal creative instinct — within themselves, they are not going to go far during the competition. In the days leading up to the last show, the numbers are whittled down through the fans text messaging in their votes. The judges are there to criticize and just who wins is really more about how the contestant faces adversity versus the popularity contest. Just who loses feels moot because, in the end, what emerges as a message is in how each person in this show has emerged out of the competition as their own superstar. That’s why they are here, so they can succeed.

3 Stars out of 5

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