Mouth is a basketball-obsessed 15 year-old living with his single father in Beijing. His best pal is the pint-sized but charming loudmouth Monkey whose rapper cousin from America, Jason is visiting for the summer. When Mouth gets into a fight with high school basketball star Li Wei while trying to protect his girlfriend Xiao Xiao, Mouth's father gets stuck with the bill and Mouth gets grounded. The boys decide to enter the annual 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament to win money to pay off the debt and even they are surprised at how well they compete. But with the championship match looming against Li Wei's team, what will happen when Mouth's dad finds out that he's been sneaking out to play ball?
It’s easy to fault Slam for many of its clichés- think of any underdog sports movie and you’ll pretty much guess where this is headed. But don’t be too quick to dismiss this made in China basketball movie yet. For all its unoriginality, it actually manages to be quite entertaining.
Much of its appeal from its impressively filmed basketball matches. First-time director Johnathan Lim is an avid basketball fan and it shows in the way he builds up the tension in each of the matches. From its opening match, Lim nails the crux of the game down to teamwork and duly emphasizes it in every shot into the basket. Of course, it also helps that all the teenage actors actually know how to play the game, so when you see them on screen, you know it is in fact them dribbling, passing and shooting.
To be sure however, it takes a while before the movie gets to the heat of the action. The first half of the movie is spent developing an altogether pedestrian story of how our three protagonists, Mouth (Lin Xiao Fang), Monkey (Zhang Yi Shan) and Jason (Machi Didi) come to antagonize the reigning champions, the Hawks, leading up to their ultimate faceoff on the court.
Where director Johnathan Lim (who also wrote the screenplay) manages to strike a chord is portraying the struggles of being an adolescent trapped in a competitive academic environment- something which I think is just as relevant as China as it is on our shores.
Despite his obvious passion and talent in basketball, Mouth is torn between spending time with his teammates on the court and spending time with his head in the books- especially since his single father insists he devote more attention to his already flailing schoolwork. Yes, Mouth is a reflection of a sad reality that our narrow definition of success sometimes makes us blind to the gifts our youth possess.
Certainly, this being an uplifting movie, you know how it will eventually work out for Mouth. But thanks to its energetic cast, Slam manages to retain your attention. Especially delightful is Zhang Yi Shan - he steals almost every scene he’s in with his lively performance. Also an undoubted scene stealer (and a head turner) is Zhao Wen Qi who plays a girl Mouth has a crush on. Let’s just say this reviewer can totally understand why Mouth is enamoured with her.
The thing about Slam is that once you get over the fact that it’s going to be formulaic, you realise that it’s actually a pretty well-executed movie. While its predictability keeps it from being a slam dunk, its lively basketball scenes and fairly interesting social commentary still makes it a shot into the hoop.
SPECIAL FEATURES :
Only a Making of Slam Featurette that’s actually a collection of short clips on the different aspects involved in making the movie, from its inspiration to its casting to its shooting. Pretty interesting stuff especially in shedding light on the extensive number of people screened just to get the right cast members for the movie.
Excellent visual transfer brings out the colours of the movie vividly. The Dolby 5.1 audio track is a surprisingly solid delight, especially impressive in the basketball scenes.
by Gabriel Chong