In the divided town of Galilee, Wax (Jay Chou) lives a carefree but happy life with his friends at the Rooftop district, a poor but vibrant area where neighbors treat each other as an extended family. When he meets his dream girl, an up and coming actress named Starling (Li Hsin-ai), the budding romance between the two is threatened by street toughs, her jealous co-star, and the overbearing media.
The second feature film to be directed by Chou, he puts his stamp on the film with additional credits in music composition, producing, and writing. Seemingly a passion project, the film carries with it a vibrant energy and life that serves it very well. There are numerous musical numbers and while some are better than others, they do serve the story and keep everything flowing nicely for the 2+ hour running time. The film does seem to abandon the musical bits once it hits the final act but it isn’t jarring since the characters are developed nicely by that point. A renowned musical talent, Chou here crafts an ear pleasing and toe-tappingly fun picture that I was more than surprised to enjoy as much as I did.
Chou is not an actor who I regularly follow, his lack of facial expression and poor role choices usually leave me in the cold. His performance in The Rooftop however, showcases a great talent that is clearly capable of some solid entertainment. His musical numbers are well sung and his dance numbers carry a feeling of Bollywood style fun and energy. I suppose with much more control over his performance as a director, he is able to bring to the fore his strengths and enthusiasm much more clearly than in his last few films. Newcomer Li Hsin-ai brings an attractive but somewhat annoying shyness to her character of Starling. She isn’t a conceited sort but her coyness and naivety border on stupidity. She does have a good voice and her scenes with Chou are believable enough in terms of chemistry. The supporting cast is good as well with comedic performances by A-Lang and A-Ken standing out. The film also features a number of small roles to the likes of Eric Tsang, Andrew Lau, and Kenny Bee, though I have to say it does sound odd to hear Tsang speak Mandarin, it sounded more than a little unnatural.
Set in a somewhat fantastical world which draws influence from the 60s and 70s, the film’s art aesthetic is eye-catching and memorable. Neon lights sizzle and the brilliantly colored clothing and houses further embellish a postcard-esque setting. Art direction helps with era-accurate cars, electronics, and products which fully populate the sets.
In the end, The Rooftop is easily one of the most fresh and endearing films I’ve seen from Asia in the last year. It’s sense of humor and great music promise multiple viewings while ensuring Chou’s next foothold on the way to his global domination. Fun and quirky, The Rooftop deserves a visit.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Grease, The Secret, and A Melody Looking
Special Thanks to Well Go USA for providing a viewing copy!