October 15, 2004

Shall We Dance?

Directed by Peter Chelsom Starring Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez and Susan Sarandon

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

Never mind the fact that the Aramaic/Latin/Hebrew/Italian-language The Passion of the Christ made more than $370 million U.S. at the box office domestically. Hollywood studios still seem convinced that Americans are a bunch of illiterates incapable of reading subtitles, which is the only plausible rationale behind the recent parade of foreign-hit remakes. including Taxi, Wicker Park, Criminal and The Grudge. Unable to master the originals' steps and techniques, most of these inevitably trip and fall flat.

The 1996 Japanese sensation, Shall We Dance?, is a natural candidate for such treatment. While those unaware of the original may find it somewhat of a guilty pleasure, the remake will strike viewers in the know as lazy, superfluous and borderline offensive.

Richard Gere stars as a married lawyer who becomes intrigued by a dance instructor played by Jennifer Lopez. He routinely spots her gazing out of the studio's window during his daily commute. One day he spontaneously hops off the train and enrolls in a ballroom dancing class, which turns out to be a much-needed diversion.

Audrey Wells' screenplay remains obstinately faithful to Masayuki Suo's source material, down to the minute fact that the class meets on Wednesday nights. The original's cultural observations also stay intact, but here it's as awkward as dancing with two left feet. Many elements at play are peculiar to Japan: a buttoned-up "salary man," an impassively dutiful marriage, and the public's misgivings toward ballroom dancing. Since these are either irrelevant or implausible in America, the remake is basically reduced to a run-of-the-mill story about an upper-middle-class bore's midlife crisis. The film's token stab at originality manifests itself in the ugly form of persistent homophobic humour that denigrates an otherwise adult story.

The star-studded cast here waxes over the charming modesty of the original. Perhaps cast for their fancy footwork rather than acting chops, Gere and Lopez are unable to apprehend the nuance indispensable to their respective roles. Gere doesn't really transform his character from clumsy to confident the way that Koji Yakusho did so charismatically in the same role. Meanwhile, Lopez spends much of the movie conveying melancholy with a blank facial expression. The film comes alive during their dance sequences, but those just seem as fleeting and disposable as the ones in Strictly Ballroom or Flashdance.

While Napoleon Dynamite is burning up the dancefloor, there is just little room left for another geek-to-chic-through-dancing flick.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2004 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.