AKA: Zhan Gu, Zin Gu
Genre: Music Drama/Crime Drama
Year Released: 2007
Distributor: Film Movement
Origin: Hong Kong/Taiwan
Running Time: 113 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 15+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Drumline, The Godfather, City on Fire, As Tears Go By, Traitors, Control (2013 film)
-The Drummer is directed by Kenneth Bi who’s from Hong Kong, but currently based in Canada. He’s the son of two actors (Ivy Ling Po and Chin Han) and has also directed Rice Rhapsody, Gir$, and Control.
-Both Mandarin and Cantonese are spoken in this film.
-This is the second film I’ve reviewed that involves Jaycee Chan. He was in Mulan: Rise of a Warrior, for those that remember. An interesting fact about him is that Jaycee is one of Jackie Chan’s children. They’ve been in the movie 1911 together and both of them have a connection to the Kung Fu Panda series. Jaycee did the Cantonese dub voice for Master Crane, but he did an English-speaking role where he portrayed a younger version of Master Monkey (Jackie’s character, by the way) in the Secrets of the Furious Five movie. Talk about a father/son connection there.
-The lead villain Stephen Ma is played by Kenneth Tsang who was also in Rush Hour 2, Memoirs of a Geisha, and the 007 movie Die Another Day.
-The Taiwanese drummers are played by a real drumming troupe called U-Theatre.
-Film Buff Bonus: One of the drummers in the commune has a Kill Bill poster in the background. How ironic given the idyllic setting with a bloody action movie…
Now, I’m no stranger to Chinese-language films as I’ve reviewed a handful of them over the past couple of years. I’ve critiqued Mulan: Rise of a Warrior, the White Haired Witch remake, The Piano in a Factory, and Please Vote For Me to certainly name a few. However, those films were made in mainland China, so I thought I would try other parts of that nation. Surprisingly, I forgot to check out the cinema in Hong Kong. How ignorant of me.
I guess it’s better late than never when it comes to scoring geography points in Iridium Eye though.
The Drummer is about an entitled punk rock drummer named Sid. He’s busy playing shows, driving fancy cars, and taking it easy in Hong Kong. After one of his gigs, he has a one-night stand with a woman named Carmen who happens to be the main squeeze of Stephen Ma, a high-ranking Triad boss. Once he discovers their love rendezvous, Stephen threatens Sid and his father Kwan (coincidentally, one of Mr. Ma’s subordinate gangsters). Seeing how this spoiled brat is in huge trouble, Kwan sends him to Taiwan to escape Stephen Ma’s wrath with his uncle/bodyguard Chiu. They’re in the countryside which infuriates Sid to no end until he goes up the mountain to find a Zen drumming commune which inspires him to want to give it ago. Things aren’t as they seem as he is told to do everything except drumming in the Taiwanese boondocks with housing conditions that certainly aren’t like what’s back in the bustling and cosmopolitan Hong Kong.
This was an unlikely fusion of genres and aesthetics going on here. There’s a part of me that wants to call this movie “Drumline meets The Godfather Chinese-style”, but that would only be a disservice when it comes to describing the film. The Drummer was an intriguing watch from beginning to end because of this unique combination of Triad crime films, music dramas, and some slice-of-life going on. The production was quite good for this film. You see the flashy urban setting of Hong Kong while also seeing the darker side of that city with the Triad members shooting and beating people up in between. The Taiwanese countryside was certainly Arcadian, to say the least. There was a field of green going on and I would actually like to visit that part of Taiwan with how good it looked. It really captured the peaceful nature. Since music plays a huge role in this film, the audio production was certainly top-notch. There are the typical drumming scenes, but when Sid is focusing on certain parts of the songs, the audio becomes isolated where one only hears one or two drums despite a multitude of them being played. That was a nice creative touch in the sound design department.
Sid does start out as a typical self-centered person who gets whatever he wants, but it was interesting seeing him grow as a character once he joins the drumming commune. Even though he’s an accomplished rock drummer, he’s forced to slow down and learn the aesthetics and philosophies of Zen drumming using traditional percussion instead of a typical Western drum kit. He wants to get good fast, but they won’t let him get ahead of himself. One funny scene involved one of their performances in the local town where he’s subjected to playing one cymbal. It was like the equivalent of seeing a lone triangle player in a giant orchestra who just looks insignificant with all the instrumentation going on. The other characters certainly made it work, too. There’s Kwan who’s the loudmouthed and strict father of Sid who seems to be very rough around the edges where even other gangsters get annoyed with him, but he had his own unorthodox way of fathering Sid and it’s revealed that he wishes he could’ve been a better father in his drumming son’s life. His daughter and Sid’s sister Sina was a good supporting character who works as a vet in town. She has some snarkiness in her personality like how when she’s forced to stitch up someone (not revealing who), she’s asked why she’s doctoring a human since she doesn’t treat them. Sina responds by saying “I know.” That was a sick burn against that person. Stephen Ma was certainly a threatening individual, but it was interesting seeing how cool he handled everything. Any other villain would be a cackling maniac or some emotionless robot, but he is eerily calm whenever he deals with his shady actions and he does some surprising things that I didn’t see coming especially when dealing with Sid’s family which I won’t spoil. There were so many characters who felt like real-life people and I appreciated that.
The Drummer does get off-beat at times. For starters, people watching this film might write off the plot as another entry into the “city guy goes to the country” or “rich/powerful/influential/arrogant guy learns to slow down and be humble” portfolios, and they wouldn’t be completely wrong about it. While it’s not Cars, Coming to America, or even Green Acres, there are some cliched aspects in the storytelling despite the aforementioned fusion of genres going on. Besides Sid, Hong Dou, or the leader Lan Jie, I felt that most of the Zen drummers didn’t have much personality. They just felt like warm bodies to round out the drum corp or they have one-note personas at best. There were also some characterization elements that were a bit baffling to me. There’s one ally of Sid who is revealed at the end to have been working with Stephen Ma the whole time that came out of nowhere. While it made one aspect of the plot make more sense in hindsight, I thought it was delayed too much and not handled that well even if it lead to more character development for Sid.
This Hong Kong/Taiwan-based film was a nice surprise with everything I’ve been watching lately. The Drummer is creative in fusing unlikely plot elements together in a way that actually works more often than not. The main characters and antagonists certainly held up the story. The usage of music and sound design was spot-on in the creators’ approach. I did have some issues with underdeveloped supporting characters and some cliched elements though. The Drummer is a unique film that is worth your time and there are some inspirational elements in it, too. Recommended if you want a movie that can beat to a different drum as cheesy as it sounds.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1-2 points if you’re a drummer/percussionist.
Add 1 point if you like Triad films.
Subtract 1-2 points if you don’t like “city guy goes to the country” movies.
-Unique combination of plot elements
-Great scoring and sound design
-Some obvious cliches in the plot
-Underdeveloped supporting characters like most of the drum corps
-Questionable character motivations for certain individuals
Final Score: 8/10 points
Content Warning: The Drummer might’ve gotten a PG-13 if this were officially rated, but I feel that it would push the boundaries. The movie starts out with a sex scene that’s in a montage of Sid drumming and having a pair of panties thrown at him. There’s no nudity in that opening scene, but it’s certainly not for kids. The language gets quite strong as the F-word is used in both Chinese and English at certain points. There’s also blood, murder, innuendo, and infidelity that happen as plot points.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. The Drummer is property of Kenneth Bi and Film Movement. The movie poster is from Film Movement and is property of Film Movement.