Thoroughly likable, character-driven comedy.

A bunch of Shanghai oldsters find it’s never too late to have a stab at fame in “Quick, Quick, Slow,” a thoroughly likable, character-driven comedy about an amateur dance competition in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics. Strong ensemble work, and a September-to-May theme reminiscent of “The Full Monty,” will make this first feature by young Beijing Film Academy grad Ye Kai a popular item in fest sidebars, as well as an attractive item for ethnic webs.

Pic centers on the generation aged 50-70 — of which, per an end title, there are 240 million in China — who grew up during the hard times of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). Close to 100 million of them can be seen in China’s parks every morning, either exercising or dancing, as shown in the pic’s main titles.

The movie starts with interviews of a handful of this generation, describing their hard-scrabble experiences when “sent down to the countryside” during that period. These real-life anecdotes, told without rancor, punctuate the film, adding some context to the fictional characters’ story (which is humorous throughout) but also breaking up the pic’s emotional momentum. Editing these out, however, would result in a running time of less than 70 minutes.

Fictional yarn gets under way with auditions in “an average Shanghai neighborhood” in which every aging or retired artiste struts their stuff, with embarrassing results. Desperate to field a half-decent troupe, organizer Wu Zuomin (Weng Guojun) approaches a well-known former dancer, Lin Yaqin (Gu Yan), to sign on, which she reluctantly agrees to out of friendship with a security guard, Zhou Jianguo (Yao Anlian).

When bossy instructor Mrs. Zhao (Yang Wenfang) alienates Lin, Wu calls in retired eccentric Cai Guobiao (Cai Haosheng) to take over the instruction, which causes further problems. Meanwhile, gossip spreads about married Zhou and about-to-be-divorced Lin spending so much time together. But when local TV zeroes in on the oldsters’ story, the team of six gains the enthusiasm to work together for the common good.

As the security guard and divorcee, both looking for a second chance to succeed, Yao and Gu dominate the going, the former bringing a quiet charm to his role as an honest clock-puncher undergoing a midlife crisis, the latter showing the looks and bearing of a onetime star.

Though made on HD, the pic is lensed and cut like a regular movie, with an emotional big finish that’s entirely predictable but still heart-warming in a klutzy way. Music for the dance numbers is well selected.

Chinese title means “Super 50,” the name spontaneously chosen for the dance group by Zhou, based on their ages. Original director Cheng Liang and his d.p. Toby Oliver (“Waiting Alone”), who were let go a third of the way into the original shoot, get a nod in the end crawl; their footage survives in the opening park scenes.

Quick, Quick, Slow

China

Production

A DFM Films Shanghai production. Produced by Zhang Lanxin. Directed by Ye Kai. Screenplay, Qi Ge.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Ren Yuxing; editor, Fang Yaxi; music, Wu Jie; art director, Lou Zhongguo; costume designer, Dong Guiying; sound, Yin Jie; choreographers, Dong Chengying, Yang Yang; assistant director, Wu Liping. Reviewed at Shanghai Film Festival (New Chinese Cinema), June 21, 2009. Running time: 80 MIN.

With

Yao Anlian, Gu Yan, Weng Guojun, Fu Chong, Zhang Lili, Wei Xiao'e, Yang Wenfang, Cai Haosheng, Wu Mian, Wang Xiaokun, Wang Zhihua, Xie Chengying, Zhao Jian, Zhang Yiyun. (Mandarin, Shanghainese dialogue)

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