Director: Ying Chi-wen
Cast: Ekin Cheng, Catherine Chau, Gladys Li, Chin Kar Lok, Isabella Chan
Released By: Shaw Organisation
Opening Day: 6 October 2022
Synopsis: When her “midnight gymnasium” program for wayward teens is under the threat of being defunded, social worker Yanki puts together a dodgeball team to save it. With the help of an unemployed, has-been star jock as the coach, the motley crew of teen girls learn that dodging from their problems can work temporarily, but they must learn to eventually stand back up and overcome their challenges.
As far as underdog sports comedies go, ‘Life Must Go On’ is as formulaic as it gets.
Leading the charge is Ekin Cheng’s has-been star jock Jones Lau, who is mistaken by his former secondary school classmate turned social worker Yanki (Catherine Chau) for a successful sporting coach.
To save her ailing ‘Midnight Gymnasium’ programme for wayward teens from being shut down by her penny-pinching superiors, Yanki had lied to them that she is training the girls to participate in the national dodgeball competition. In her desperation to find someone to train them, Yanki turns to Jones after running into him at their secondary school get-together, although it is not clear how much help Jones can be to the girls.
Indeed, to no one’s surprise, Jones is in need of help himself. Not only has the former athlete been unemployed for some time now, Jones has been living off his brother and wife (Joyce Cheng), both of whom have gotten increasingly fed up with having to put him up on the couch of their small apartment.
In addition to picking himself up, Jones now has the responsibility of looking after seven teenage girls who have been betrayed, lost hope, or feel abandoned by society at large. Their problems range from having to take care of a diabetic mother, to an abusive parent, and to being wrongfully accused of beating up a fellow schoolmate who happens to be a school board member’s son.
Than reinvent formula, writer-director Ying Chi-wen sticks close to tried-and-tested tropes for his filmmaking debut. Expect therefore that the girls will eventually learn not to dodge but to stand up for themselves and for each other, whether on the court or in life. Expect too that Jones will redeem himself not only as their coach but also as their mentor, with some help from former arch rival turned fellow dodgeball coach Tony (Chin Kar-lok). And last but not least, expect as well that Yanki will prove her naysayers wrong about believing in her clients and her programme.
To his credit, Ying keeps the proceedings light and breezy from start to finish. Avoiding the obvious melodramatic tendencies especially when navigating the girls’ backstories, Ying instead lets their quiet determination, grit and resilience shine through without too much artifice. That said, Ying could do with the same restraint in the humour department; as if afraid that he may lose his audience, Ying overdoses on the slapstick especially in the first third of the film, and while some moments are amusing, there are plenty of others which simply fall flat.
For all his shortcomings, Ying has veteran actor Cheng to thank for holding most of the film together. Those who grew up with the once prolific actor’s movies in the 1990s and early 2000s will recognise his natural charisma instantly, which despite his age, has not dimmed one bit. Yes, there is no denying that the former heartthrob probably looks older than most of his fans will remember him to be, but Cheng is just as effortlessly charming and disarming as he was back in the day.
Thanks to Cheng, ‘Life Must Go On’ is, while entirely predictable, still eminently watchable. One wished that Ying could have been more adventurous with formula, but despite playing it safe, there is no faulting its intention of being an inspirational youth drama. So if it’s a little cheer you’re looking for, you could do absolutely much worse than this underdog sports comedy.
(Playing it absolutely safe by formula, this underdog sports comedy gets by with the sheer charisma of its lead star Ekin Cheng)
Review by Gabriel Chong