After a rip-roaring success in 2015 with the comedy Pancake Man, a superhero parody set in the film industry, the actor, TV presenter and now director, Da Peng, replicated with City of Rock, another exhilarating, manic comedy centred around a group of rock musicians. The film is set in Ji’An – the director’s hometown, in northern China – and is a celebration of the power of dreams and music. The narrative begins with Chen Gong – a disillusioned musician who has taken on a new guise as the agent of a newly formed group that he can’t seem to launch to success – who is contacted by Hu Liang, a young man from Ji’An who dreams of becoming a rock star; he wants Chen Gong’s services for a month to help promote his band, promising him top dollar for the task.
When he arrives in Ji’An, Chen Gong is met with a triumphal welcome at the train station, but he soon realises he has been tricked: not only is Hu Liang a car mechanic who lives a modest lifestyle in his garage, but he is penniless and doesn’t even have a band. Hu Liang has only one dream: to protect the Park of Rock from real estate speculators: it houses the statue of the Grand Guitar, dedicated to the mythical band Broken Guitar, rock royalty. Hu Liang wants to organise an enormous concert to show the local authorities – who are about to knock down the statue to build a residential condo – that the rock spirit is still alive and kicking.
Drawn in by Hu Liang’s enthusiasm, Chen Gong decides to help him get a band together, but only two people turn up at auditions: Ding Jianguo, an alcoholic girl who plays bass and wants to join the band to help her get over a recent heartbreak, and Explosive, a young drummer from Taiwan who insists on playing with his back turned to the public, despite being in the town to find a girl, a tattoo artist he met in Taiwan, and that he hopes he will find in the audience at one of the band’s gigs. In their desperate attempt to find other band members, Hu Liang and Chen Gong end up recruiting a young girl who is learning to play piano in secret, as her mother – a tae-kwon-do expert who in an exhilarating sequence terrorises her husband – wants her daughter to concentrate on science in order to be able to design an atom bomb; there is also room for an old doctor, one of the original members of Broken Guitar, one of the legends who helped spread the gospel of rock in the town. Despite having abandoned music after having fallen off the stage with his guitar, and in hiding from his daughter who then banned him from playing, the doctor keeps a complete set of musical instruments in his office, including his legendary guitar. The band, fronted by Hu Liang who, amongst other things also stammers, chooses a name for itself which perfectly reflects the absurdity of the situation: Sewing Machine, in honour of Chen Gong’s mother, a dressmaker who worked her fingers to the bone to buy her son his first guitar.
To put on the concert fundraiser, which they hope will save the Rock Park, the band have to overcome various obstacles put up by characters who revolve around the band, especially around Jianguo. One of them is the man courting her, rich but a total fool surrounded by bodyguards who are equally ridiculous. The other is her father, the real estate speculator who wants to bring his daughter back into the fold, and who manages to corrupt Chen Gong by telling him that he used to be a huge music fan in his younger days, but that when his wife fell ill, he realised that ‘money, not dreams, can save lives.’ Hu Liang’s dream seems destined to failure, the band breaks up, the statue is taken down, everyone returns to the lives they were leading before this big adventure, but Chen Gong has a sudden epiphany, when he realises that instead of being happy when the day begins, he can’t wait for it to end…
A host of famous Chinese musicians and actors make cameos in this this hilarious comedy, with as tight a rhythm as the music it celebrates, which wears its heart on its sleeve, its epilogue is a tribute to the ideals of a harmonious society, one of the pillars of modern-day Chinese politics: modernisation and economic wellbeing can coexist with dreams, and even with the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll!
Da Peng (1982, Jilin). Actor, comic, TV and talk show presenter, he made his directing debut in 2015 with the film Pancake Man, which met with resounding success.
2015 – Pancake Man
2017 – City of Rock