Review: The Way We Keep Dancing (San Diego Asian American Film Festival)

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Title: The Way We Keep Dancing
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Director: Adam Wong
Starring: Cherry Ngan, Babyjohn Choi, Lok Man Yeung
Runtime: 2 hrs 8 mins

What It Is: In 2013, the low-budget surprise The Way We Dance (SDAFF ’13) took street dancing to the Hong Kong mainstream. The buoyant choreography and the fresh faces had audiences demanding a sequel. But by 2020, the Hong Kong streets had lost that indie innocence. Hip-hop may romanticize the streets, but does it own them? Director Adam Wong answers with a brilliant conceit: rather than making a sequel, why not imagine the fallout from trying to replicate one’s breakthrough? The stars are on the cusp of YouTube stardom, dance studio success, and a rap career, and the city bureaucrats and gentrifiers take notice, asking “how about hip-hop branded real estate?” “Why not use graffiti to raise the rents?” – 2021 SDAFF Program

What We Think: A dramatic follow-up to the previous documentary The Way We Dance which follows a dance group from the Kowloon Industrial District of Hong Kong to their infamy. And while the original film was rooted in the story of the dancers, The Way We Keep Dancing is rooted in the misuse of influence for capitalist means. The dancers, now semi-successful in their own right, find their interpretation of Hip Hop culture to be a connecting factor amongst the frustrated population of the Kowloon Industrial District as gentrification takes hold, pricing most of the original inhabitants out. The dancers feel the weight of the privatization and agree to a plan that loans their images to a marketing push, believing that it will help the community. But their images serve as their acceptance of the community cleansing, and their self-perception of artistic revolution is held as a contrast to the original roots of hip hop. The truth causes a backlash, and the dance troupe ends up at odds with their own morals and ideals, lost in a battle played over and over in communities under siege by political forces that utilize their individuality to erase their existence.

Our Grade: A-, The Way We Keep Dancing demonstrates the impact of the American cultural revolution all over the world in communities that are struck by the same Capitalistic ideals. While the adaptation of Hip Hop’s rebellious impact being utilized by entitled influencers in a non-racist setting can be cringeworthy, the film addresses the issue head-on, and in a way that doesn’t pull punches. It brings deep needed perspective to the self-proclaimed activists, who find themselves questioning their place in a system they once reveled in bucking. The adoption of what Americans believe is a U.S. issue, the forcible relocation of entire low-income communities to make way for upscale neighborhoods, is written exceptionally well into the film’s backdrop. The transformation of the dancer’s understanding of Hip Hop’s appeal as demonstrative art, to its usage in America as a way to bond marginalized communities allowed the film’s multilayers to come together in a thought-provoking way. The Way We Keep Dancing didn’t just perform demonstrative art, it forced you to think about why that art is needed, even today, as the same fights for humanity continue all over the world.

Film previewed at the San Diego Asian American Film Festival by your Melanin Gifted Film Critic.

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