J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, June 29, 2018

NYAFF ’18: The House of the Rising Sons

The list of artists who have performed “The House of the Rising Sun” includes some truly impressive names, like Leadbelly, Josh White, Nina Simone, and the Wynners. You would know the latter if you grew up in Hong Kong during the 1970s. They actually started out as “The Loosers,” with a second “o” for extra fun. Their “Behind-the-Music” triumphs and mostly tribulations come to the big screen in The House of the Rising Sons, directed by Wynners drummer Antony Chan, which screens during the 2018 New York Asian Film Festival.

It started out as a garage band despised by their working-class neighborhood, especially by Ah Kin (a.k.a. led guitarist Bennett Pang)’s tailor father. He and Ah Keung (a.k.a. bassist Danny Yip) and drummer Ah Yau (Chan) were going nowhere until the band’s charisma index shot up dramatically with the addition of lead vocalist Alan Tam, and vocalist-rhythm guitarist Kenny Bee. However, there was always a bit of a divide between the pretty boy singers and the grudge kids rhythm section.

Regardless of Tam and Bee’s star potential, the Loosers’ early days were full of scuffling, as you would expect from a name like that. Just when they would make a little progress, they would fall back again. Of course, when the band finally hits, Tam is almost immediately pressured to go solo.

Rising Sons should be an upbeat, candy-colored nostalgia trip, similar in vibe to Tom Hanks’ underappreciated That Thing You Do. However, the tone is just all over the place. It is not exactly clear what Chan was going for, but he makes most of the band look like thoughtless jerks and gives the impression he is an anti-social space-case. Frankly, it is rather unpleasant spending time with the Fab Five.

Still, Kara Wai is terrific in her brief scenes as Keung’s mom. Simon Yam gives a characteristically expansive performance as Kin’s dad, but seeing him play an insecure father figure in a period setting brings back memories of his exceptional work in the beautifully bittersweet Echoes of the Rainbow.

There are plenty of amusing haircuts and awkward fashions, but it seems pretty clear throughout Rising Sons you really had to be there. Chan cleverly stages some after-hours jams, but by and large, he really doesn’t make a case for the Wynners’ enduring musical significance. Even its appeal to sentimental fans is questionable. It will keep you distracted, but it is a cold fish of a film that is hard to fall in love with. Unless you are a Wynners diehard, The House of the Rising Sons shouldn’t be a priority when it screens Monday evening (6/29) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYAFF.

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