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    More Chocolate than Rap

    Last week, the Charles B. Wang Center wrapped up its Taiwan Film series with Chi Y. Lee’s “Chocolate Rap.” The story narrates the tale of Chocko (Hsin Hung Chen), whose breakdancing days end when he injures his leg.

    In his attempt to recover, he realizes that he has to dance for himself and not for competition (“anything less wouldn’t be me”). Besides having such a grand epiphany, he also trains a backstabbing dancer, makes amends with a lost friend and even finds true love. The multitude of themes, although all endearing, come together in imperfect harmony, which makes the movie harder to digest.

    The film is sort of a rehashing of kung fu, and instead of Jackie Chan as the protagonist, it has young blood and Western-fueled music. For all its uprightness, it attempts too much in too little time and is overwrought with morality. Chocko’s overcoming of poverty, setbacks and enemies, without stooping to dishonesty, is too quixotic for its own good.

    Although superficially, the film manages to paint some likeable characters. Most notably, Chocko’s father (Akio Chen), who is an excellent actor playing a modest dockside ice-chopper, turns his drunken stupor into a positive investment for his son’s success. The father’s philosophy on chopping ice (“Pulling ice is like walking a dog. Tug a little and it will follow,”) is stretched a little too much, especially when it guides Chocko into an epiphany at the end of the movie.

    The side story of Ally (Megan Lai), Chocko’s piano-playing attractive neighbor, is somewhat of a distraction. Ally plays someone too mature for her age and doesn’t help the fact that all the men in the film are juvenile. Chocko craves for her affections, which are fixated on his friend, Pachinko (Po Ching Huang). This triangle is an unwelcome distraction to the whole dance theme that is puportedly the film’s focal point.

    The one character that brings some reality to what seems to be Chocko’s fantasy adventure is King Kong (Jian Hong Tong), who trains under him, monopolizes the field and then challenges him for competitions.

    It is unfair to say that the film fails more than works. It manages to generate laughs while delivering a sober story and has some very entertaining choreography. The actors are obviously talented in more than one way. It also manages to capture the popular culture of Taiwan without judgment, but simply as detached observations in the way the camera captures.

    The film is not meant to win Cannes or create dents in Hollywood. In fact, it hardly tries because it is commercial enough for better or for worse. It also might be better received by a non-Taiwanese audience, simply because of the pervasive adaptation of American subculture. But for all its underdeveloped characters, overused themes and bubbly ballads and popular rap, the film redeems itself in the way it sweetly captures a culture that is both youthful and conflicted.

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