Movie Review – Beach Spike (2011)
Beach Spike is a laughably bad film that will have audiences wondering if they can sue the production company for their money back. Yes, it’s not only THAT bad it’s much worse than you can ever imagine with a supremely toxic combination of lousy acting, a brutally inept script, boneheaded direction, abysmal cinematography and a total lack of understanding of the sport in which it attempts to portray. Seriously, avoid this movie as the stench will linger for days if not weeks.
If my opening paragraph isn’t enough to convince you of this film’s crapitude (slang!) then perhaps the rest of this review will. First off, let it be said that there really isn’t any problem in crafting a movie that attempts to combine sexy young nubile women in bikinis punching balls at one another with your standard lighthearted comedy and romance. Heck, it’s basically a Chinese version of Beach Blanket Bingo or other similar raunchy Western teen romances ala American Pie. However, there’s just one problem, Beach Spike isn’t raunchy in the least outside of showcasing young girls in bikinis. Think of it as a G rated version of Risky Business or the aforementioned American Pie where all overt sexual conduct is thrown out and buried beneath a veneer of puppy romance. At the same time replace comedy with stupidity and add a dash of mangled dialogue and you begin to get some idea at how far off the mark Beach Spike misses its intended audience.
As for who exactly is the target demographic the knee jerk reaction would be to say teenage boys due to the copious amount of female skin on display but while this might be true everything else including the parallel romantic plots and beyond lame jokes don’t seem at all suited for this age group. I suppose the true answer is that though the marketing has certainly narrowed in on the, “young women playing ball,” angle that the film itself attempts to cast as wide a net as possible including homage to other Chinese films such as Shaolin Soccer or Kung Fu Dunk that it spreads itself far too thin ending up appealing to nobody in particular save those who worship films that are, “so bad, they’re good.”
Sharon (Chrissie Chau) and Rachel (Therea Fu) are two young amateur volleyball players who live on a particular stretch of beach called Piu Long Bay but as luck would have it the owner, Mrs. Brewster (Candace Yu), now intends to bulldoze the entire area to make way for a sparkling new residential development. This obviously does not sit well with the current inhabitants who rise up to protest forcing Mrs. Brewster to bone-headedly agree to settle the matter with an epic volleyball match between our heroines, Sharon and Rachel and her own two daughters Natasha (Phoenix Valen) and Natalie (Jessica C). Will our spunky duo defeat the maliciously unpleasant daughters and save the beach or will they merely get the heads pounded by many a volleyball?
Beach Spike is the kind of movie where I might as well not even bother to ask the previous question as the ending is assured the moment the narrative construes to force Mrs. Brewster to agree to such a ridiculous request. At the same time, the very fact that her two daughters are selfish and will do anything to win including hiring thugs to beat up our heroines should be enough evidence to inform viewers as to how everything will turn out once the end credits roll. Nevertheless, this is one instance where I ended up cheering for the “bad” girls the moment I realized the heroines and their posse were some of the most inane characters ever conceived showing massive errors in judgement that no one in their right mind would ever approve of.
Case in point is the romantic plot between Rachel and her long time boyfriend Walter (Lam Chi-Sin) who is surely one of the vilest male leads I have ever seen as he spends the entire film not only ogling other women but openly soliciting them even though Rachel is standing next to him. Even as a teen comedy this is not particularly funny in the least and I have no doubt most women will blanch at such a total cad and proceed to knee him in the groin at every opportunity. Having a wandering eye is bad enough yet he’s further “enhanced” with a total lack of intelligence coming across as a juvenile who throws tantrums and insults at every turn even though he is clearly in the wrong.
The script seems to do everything it can to both build up our heroines as well as kick them down in a kind of roller coaster ride where one positive trait is balanced against one ridiculous reveal. Case in point is Walter’s father (Lam Suet) who is a massive uncouth bum who chases tail when he’s not snoring at his makeshift convenience store. No wonder Walter is such a cad because the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Regardless, Walter’s dad hooks up with a floozy and the two brazenly trespass on Mrs. Brewster’s property leading to security guards handcuffing him to a fence. Any sane person will realize that the guards are just doing their jobs yet the story manipulates the situation into total farce by having Walter and our heroines arrive and physically demand that his dad is released by throwing insults at the guards as well as provoking an armed struggle. It is with situations like these that one can’t help losing respect for the intended heroes as they all come off as total toddlers prone to aggressively getting what they want. Thus even though Mrs. Brewster’s daughters are cold-hearted at least they are consistent in their actions whereas the protagonists border on the insane.
At first glance Beach Spike should have it easy in terms of showcasing volleyball as it isn’t the hardest sport to understand yet somehow it botches this completely as it takes almost two thirds of the movie before anyone decides to explain the rules. In other words, anyone who doesn’t have clue about the sport will essentially remain in the dark until the final act rendering all the volleyball action essentially meaningless.
I really have no idea what director Tony Tang was thinking when he edited the volleyball sequences together but whatever was in his head had nothing to do with the sport at hand. I cannot begin to count the number of tight-angled shots that Tang utilizes showing the backside of a female volleyball player as she gives cryptic hand signals to her partner. Now most people will realize that this must be some sort of secret hand movement to relay information yet after seeing hundreds of such shots without any explanation it feels as if Tang wants to either throw more ass shots in there for fun or that he’s artificially trying to extend the running time with filler. It might have been a better idea to at least give some indication what each sign meant such as to indicate where on the court the person wants the ball to go or what type of serve to use but never once is this explained. In a way it’s like watching someone do sign language without knowing what is said which surely leads to much frustration.
Additionally, the movie is a real hoot precisely because it seems that Tang has more interest in showcasing the numerous slow motion shots of each and every single female lead getting hit by a volleyball smack in the face. No kidding. Tang slows the frame speed down so much you can actually see the ripples in the skin as the ball rams into an actress’s face totally deforming it in a nasty ballet of pain. Kudos goes to the female leads for completely ruining their carefully sculpted image but other than that it borders on the sadistic watching all these actresses getting their faces rearranged by a flying ball. Tang isn’t just content with highlighting their faces as the audience is constantly bombarded with a ton of slow motion shots of actresses getting hit all over their bodies, a fact made all the more pertinent with Jessica C who is so thin you’d think she was suffering from anorexia. Watching a seemingly massive ball collide with her arm is actually frightening as you almost expect the ripples alone to pass through her arm and break it in two as she is so skeletal.
While I always loathe to see directors overuse slow motion I can’t help but feel it is at least semi-appropriate here since the individual actresses display next to a total lack of actual volleyball skill and virtually every long shot of the action features a CG ball made all the more apparent since it moves nothing like a real one. At the same time, you can’t help but chuckle watching everyone hit CG balls that aren’t there as the pure kinetics that the real sport exudes is totally missing as bodies flail around like zombie mannequins with rusty joints.
To compensate with everyone’s nonexistent skill director Tony Tang does what every director does whenever presented with a cast which cannot meet the physical requirements by dramatically cutting the footage up into tight angles or a series of oftentimes unrelated shots of bodies flopping on the ground in, you guessed it, more slow motion. Yes, the panacea for everything is indeed slow motion and I wouldn’t be surprised if the movie played in real time that the overall film would shrink by a good 5-10 minutes.
Adding immensely to the fact that no one involved knows the first thing about volleyball, the movie even conspires to film the entire final pitting the heroines versus the Mrs. Brewster’s daughters in a small black warehouse instead of outside on the beach. I might not be an expert on beach volleyball but isn’t part of its selling point the fact that it takes place, you know, on the beach during the day?
Then again, the reason why this is done is precisely because it allows director Tony Tang to highlight his “ball to the face” style of filmmaking by removing the spectators completely from the frame leaving each actress in front of a black backdrop, perfect to see all the sweat fly off their faces as the ball buries itself into their nose.
The film is a real howler when it attempts to show the rival teams’ training regimen as director Tony Tang basically decides now would be a good time to introduce martial arts into the mix thus, in a nod to Steven Chow’s vastly superior Shaolin Soccer, the heroines have to endure extreme schooling in some truly hilarious sequences where they are shown underwater where their goal is to grab a massive chain with one hand and proceed to use so much strength that it breaks it into pieces building up the muscles in their arms. Once mastered they can now swat volleyballs with ease flinging them into a concrete wall that proceeds to crack and shake as if a Tyranosaurus Rex suddenly appeared.
Just when you thought that the film couldn’t get sillier it proceeds to prove everyone wrong by showing how the evil sisters train. How in the world are they supposed to compete with a team that can hit volleyballs with such force as to break concrete? Use African American men that’s how. No, seriously, the coach gives them a bunch of volleyballs and a simple instruction to hit them with all their might at two African American muscle men until they keel over in pain and fall unconscious to the floor. This movie just doesn’t jump the shark it jumps over the moon and around the sun as the total lack of logic and blatant racism is just outrageous.
As befits such as cinematic masterpiece the film tries to be “cool” by forcing most of its cast to constantly lapse into English dialogue, more so from the evil sisters who use it as the primary tongue. Let’s be frank here, using a different language is fine as long as it’s articulated well but alas it is as mangled as can be with either bad delivery or just outright dreadful pronunciation. I just can’t decide if the actresses speaking English are just not good performers or if director Tony Tang has little idea of the intricacies of proper elocution. Regardless, it makes for an intensely jarring experience to have half the cast speaking fluent Cantonese and then suddenly someone lurches into English for no apparent reason other than to be fashionable.
However, the pain doesn’t stop there as even the blasted subtitles are infected with garbled English with some truly hilarious typos that will make anyone keel over in laughter. Doesn’t anyone bother to do some quality assurance?
About the only thing that can be worse than mangled English is mangled French which thankfully isn’t present here…oh wait a minute, it is! Yes, not only does Beach Spike feature some truly awful English pronunciation it also has the gall to butcher not only French but Spanish as well. Heck, it might as well have every character speaking a different language so as to compete for a spot in the Guiness Book of World Records for the film with the worst elocution of all time.
Beach Spike is so unintentionally funny that I would recommend it to be shown in every film school as a prime example of what not to do. It’s so absurd that it simply defies logical explanation. Even the actual cinematography is botched beyond belief, none more presciently than the final shot which goes from totally underexposed to overexposed as the cameraman using a steadycam walks from a dark to light area of the set. Didn’t anyone properly test the light here? Apparently not as it is yet another example of the film’s shoddy construction. I’ll say one thing for sure, Beach Spike is going to be a prime headliner at any, “So bad it’s good,” movie marathon as only this miniscule slice of the population would ever desire to endure this mess. It’s a good thing that many of these attractive young women are models as they at least have something to fall back on now that this monstrosity is over with.
Zero out of ****
2011, Hong Kong, 98 Min, IIA, Edko Films/BS Films Production/Goodman Bond International
Directed by Tony Tang
Written by Tony Tang & Davina To
Produced by Peggy Lee, Bey Logan, Charlie Wong Wing Fung
Executive Producer Man Cheuk Kau
Original Music by Noel Quinlan
Cinematography by Chan Chi Ying
Film Editing by Yau Chi Wai
Chrissie Chau: Sharon
Theresa Fu: Rachel
Jessica Cambensy: Natalie
Phoenix Chou: Natasha
Alex Lam Chi-Sin: Water
Lam Suet: Water’s Father
Law Chung Him: Tim
Leon Hill: Project Manager
Yeung Pan Pan: Mrs. Tao
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