Casting Cantopop queen Joey Yung as a Cantopop queen bemoaning the inconvenience of fame, “Diva” puts its protag on a pedestal and leaves her standing lifeless as marble. Emerging Hong Kong helmer-scribe Heiward Mak brought a sassy attitude to “High Noon” and “Ex,” but that’s sorely missing in this MTV-style music-industry whitewash; only the character of a talent manager, played with diabolical charisma by Chapman To, gets at the bling and bitchiness that make the milieu so intoxicating. Though fan support helped cushion B.O., this intermittently engaging pic won’t top the charts in ancillary.
The relationship between pop diva J (Yung) and her reptilian manager, Man Kin-sum (To), is briskly established with their first meeting and impulsive decision to partner up. The yarn then leaps forward 10 years, by which point J is already a pop sensation.
Man pulls a dirty trick, enabling J to go onstage in a $50,000 designer outfit originally commissioned by rival Fi (Fiona Sit). Singer-thesp Sit sets the screen ablaze in a four-minute cameo, her Fi guilt-tripping J and attacking Man with venom. It’s a combustible scene the film can’t top, and the tension fizzles after Sit’s exit.
J goes to South China to give a concert, but loses her voice after a traumatic accident, and requires the probing fingers of blind masseuse Hu Ming (Hu Ge) to relieve her accumulated stress. Conveniently (but improbably), Hu does not recognize her. The rest is all too predictable, and J’s rebellion, along with Man’s retaliation, generate less heat than intended.
In a parallel plot, Man spots a budding talent in singer Red (Mag Lam), who’s torn between her needy boyfriend, Rocky (Carlos Chan), and her thirst for success. Sizzling with sex appeal from the moment she picks up a mic, newcomer Lam proves quite a discovery.
It’s easy to read Red’s loss of innocence as mirroring J’s career arc, since both must weigh their passion for singing against the voracious demands of a cynical industry. But Mak doesn’t belabor the connection, granting them separate identities. Regrettably, the last 20 minutes weaken the impact of their dilemmas with a cascade of decorative montages and a mawkish romantic ending.
Yung comes off as the least developed personality in her own star vehicle. She’s proven herself a competent thesp, particularly in light comedies such as “Crazy N’ the City,” but in straining to present her character as a paragon of virtue, the film robs her of her real-life charisma. Even her meltdown is too graceful, with no raised voices or smashed objects. Oddly for a film ostensibly about music, she only sings two songs.
Like his chameleon character, To is the one who runs the show. Tossing off insidious remarks and double entendres with unctuous relish, Man wears his sliminess like a badge of professional honor. To heightens the complexity of his role by suggesting he’s genuinely hurt by his charges’ resentment, but leaves the truth intriguingly ambiguous.
The ritzy production package sports tony interiors and a pleasing palette of aquatic imagery. Live footage of Yung’s concerts are mixed in to little dramatic effect, while the background score offers a heavy serving of Cantopop. Other tech credits are fine; the pic’s Chinese title means “After the Glamour.”