Thursday, May 27, 2010

Zhan Gu (The Drummer)

Here's another good movie from Film Movement.  I have long been a fan of the Kodo Drummers, a Japanese drumming group,but I had never heard of U Theater, a similar drumming group from Taiwan.  The Drummer is a story mostly about one guy, but U Theater is the real star of this movie.  The nominal star is pretty good, too.  Sid, the son of a Hong Kong organized crime boss, is played by Jaycee Chan, son of Jackie Chan.  When his affair with a rival crime boss's mistress is discoverd (yeah, sounds pretty twisted doesn't it?) the rival boss demands that Sid's father cut off Sid's hands.  Loving father that he is (you know how loving mobsters can be), he spirits Sid out of the country to live in a mountain hideaway with his uncle.

Sid's a rebel (rebelling against your organized crime family is a bad thing?) who plays drums in a rock band.  The quiet life in the hills is killing him--until one day when he hears the distant sounds of drumming.  He discovers that a drumming group lives and rehearses nearby.  He sneaks off and spies on them, then demands to join the group.  They accept him, but assign him menial tasks to acclimate him to their culture and mindset.  Ultimately this group is his salvation, helping him find peace with himself and purpose in life.

I can't imagine a better commercial for U Theater.  Like Kodo (and forgive my ignorance, but the two seem much the same to me, but there may be significant music and cultural differences between them.  I am not so ignorant that I don't recognize that the Chinese and Japanese are not too fond of one another.), U Theater lives a monastic existence.  Isolated in their mountain hideaway, they live simply, with no electricity and few modern conveniences.  Their training seems to be more focused on physical discipline than musicianship.  Martial arts exercises play a role, as well.

The story isn't bad at all, but mostly I enjoyed seeing the drummers and getting a taste for the methods and lifestyle of the group.  The drummers in the movie are actual members of U Theater, and the setting is their training compound in Taiwan.  Enjoy the movie, but more than that, enjoy the drumming.  And if you've never seen this type of drumming before, take a look at this video.  It gives you a nice idea of their combination of drumming, performance art, dance, and acrobatics.

Bottom line, 3 stars.

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