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City Without Baseball
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by Jay Seaver

"You love what you love."
4 stars

There's a part of me that wishes the posters, packaging, and other art for "City Without Baseball" played up the sports angle, entirely so that some of the people who watch it on that basis get a genuine shock over just how much it is something else, even if it's not necessarily quite so queer as it appears from the other angle. It's a genuinely odd film in a number of ways and one which often highlights its own eccentricity so that it can have an easier time noodling around the edges of various stories.

Hong Kong is not, as the title may imply, entirely lacking in baseball, but there's no professional league, and the national team, such as it is, is a group of amateurs, led by starting pitcher Chung (Leung Yu-Chung), catcher Jason (Jason Tsang Kin-Chung), and captain Jose (Jose Au Wing-Leung); 19-year-old Ron (Ron Heung Tze-Chun) has just recently joined. The team has recently hired Taiwanese coach John Tai (John Tai Yu-Ching) to help them prepare for the Asian Baseball Cup. Tai is lucky enough to meet a nice girl (Yan Wei-Suo) at a seaside bar, and while Ron has recently broken up with his girlfriend, he's met someone new in Meizi (Lin Yuan). Like a lot of girls, she soon develops a crush on Chung, although he's drawn to a suicidal girl (Monie Tung Man-Lee) whose phone he discovers when he nearly hits her while driving drunk.

The film opens with "they are not actors... they are ballplayers" with the usual disclaimer at the end of the credits is reconfigured to say that the characters in the film "are not necessarily fictional", and while one would not mistake <I>City Without Baseball</I> for a documentary, writer/producer/co-director "Scud" Cheng Wan-Cheung does have the 2004 Hong Kong baseball team playing themselves in a film based on stories they told him. There's a certain shagginess to the film that might not work if Scud and co-director Lawrence Lau Kwok-Cheong weren't so brashly up-front about the way the film was made - the footage from the ABC is clearly a repurposed sportscast and the scenes around it are a mess, continuity-wise, and there's an early joke about someone making a movie about the team that winks at the audience so hard it might cause actual eye damage. The subplots are cliched as heck and mashed together in fairly haphazard manner.

And yet, the very simplicity and messiness of it may explain why so much of it rings true; it plays like a collection of jumbled remembrances that are not shaped too perfectly around any specific theme. The cast of (mostly) non-actors similarly seldom seem to be trying to steer a scene but just doing a fairly good job of getting across genuine personalities, if not overly-complex ones, rather than forcing out lines or looking like they're the only dozen people in the city who can fake baseball convincingly. It's especially useful as Ron has his story move toward the film's center; a student and would-be musician on top of being a ballplayer, and the film often reflects his combination of big dreams (that likely outstrip his talent) and slightly-panicked uncertainty over everything. Knowing how the film was made means that the real-life Ron Heung is laying all that out there in the same way the fictionalized version is - as is Leung Yu-Chung, to a lesser extent - and between their openness and natural charisma, it's not hard to feel that connection.

It's one that is inevitably of its time and place, as well, with Scud and Lau often noting that the musical acts on the soundtrack, folks like Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui, had recently passed on, while the songs Ron writes are in English and his roommate is on the ethnically ambiguous side. It's a set of circumstances and signals that notes how the old Hong Kong is disappearing and that moving forward that the things these kids have been devoted to are not necessarily going to be useful, or that they are chasing something that is ultimately small potatoes. By the same token, though, there's something beautiful in the very smallness of their ambitions once one reaches the tournament; Scud and Lau don't do much to sell the audience on the game, or present the footage in a way that tells a story even for fans. It is all about the delight Chung, ron, Jose, and the rest take in playing even though there are no fans in the stands.

In the years following "City Without Baseball", Scud would go on to write and direct a number of films that were more overtly LGBT-themed, almost as if in making this broadly-themed film would have him discover where his storytelling passions lie, even if they're of niche appeal. For a film so invested in its meta-appeal, what could be a better result?

link directly to this review at https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=33588&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/06/20 03:05:02
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USA
  N/A (NR)
  DVD: 17-Dec-2019

UK
  N/A

Australia
  N/A


Directed by
  Scud
  Laurence Lau

Written by
  Scud

Cast
  Yu Chung Leung
  Tze Chun Ron Heung
  John Tai
  Jason Tsang
  Jose Au



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