We Are Champions
t.l. Noi siamo campioni
下半場 (Xia Ban Chang)
Taiwan, 2019, 118’, Mandarin
Directed by: Chang Jung-chi
Script: Tsai Kun-lin, Chang Jung-chi
Photography (color): Chen Ta-pu
Editing: Chen Chun-hung
Production Design: Mingko Wang
Music: Wen Tzu-chieh
Producer: Rachel Chen
Cast: Fandy Fan (Chiang Hsiu-yu), Berant Zhu (Chiang Tung-hao), Tuan Chun-hao (Coach Chen Shu-wen), David Wu (Coach Hsu Wei-hung), Lee Lin-fei (Ko Yi-an), Ricky Chuang (Kao Shih-cheng), Jack Yuan (Three-P), Liu Yu-jen (Teng-Tzu), Wang Hsin-kai (A-Fu), Lawrence Lo (Lin Wei-li), Wang Chi-cheng (Peng Ta-lun), Tuo Zong-hua (Chiang Wen-hsiung)
Date of First Release in Territory: August 23rd, 2019
Premiere status: European Premiere
In Taiwan, the High School Basketball League (HBL) has become the most popular sports tournament outside the professional realm since its launch in 1988. As the first film to officially use the HBL title, We Are Champions carries an awful lot of expectations on its shoulders. Fortunately, director Chang Jung-chi didn’t only just deliver the best Taiwan sports film since Kano, but also one of the best sports films of 2019.
The most intriguing kind of dramatic conflict is one when you root for both sides. At the center of We Are Champions are two brothers who face off on the basketball court as players on rival teams. Chang, who also co-wrote the script, found his premise in the story of the Kao brothers. In 2015, the older sibling, senior Kuo-chiang, led his school’s team on a 20-game winning streak to reach his final HBL championship game, where he faced off against a team that included his younger brother Kuo-hao, who was the league’s most promising rookie at the time.
While the Kao brothers share an amicable relationship in real life, We Are Champions presents a far more dramatic sibling rivalry. With their father away on construction work, Chiang Hsiu-yu (Golden Horse Best New Actor winner Fandy Fan) and his younger brother Tung-hao (Berant Zhu) can only rely on their stingy uncle and each other. The two earn quick cash by playing street games. A video of one of those games goes viral and attracts the attention of the elite Yuying High School.
Yuying’s ruthless Coach Hsu (David Wu) wants Tung-hao, but he refuses to take Hsiu-yu because of his hearing disability. Hsiu-yu ends up at Kuang Cheng High, a small school with an underfunded basketball program led by the passionate Coach Chen (Tuan Chun-hao). It’s hardly a spoiler to reveal that both teams hit their stride in the highly competitive HBL tournament, and the two brothers will eventually play against each other for the championship.
We Are Champions doesn’t deviate far from the playbook of feel-good sports films, but Chang’s dedication to authenticity elevates the film beyond its genre counterparts. Chang recruited real basketball players for his cast and brought on sportscasters and basketball experts as his technical advisors. Every basketball scene in the film looks real because Chang never takes the camera off his actors, who really do know how to play the game.
Audiences will naturally be inclined to root for Kuang Cheng, a lovable underdog team that forms cohesion through silly horseplay. Hsiu-yu’s kinship with his fellow players make up some of the film’s funniest and most enjoyable scenes, but Chang doesn’t demonize Yuying, either. Its players’ competitive nature provides a contrast to Kuang Cheng’s camaraderie, but Tung-hao does finds a friend in a senior player, and Coach Hsu is portrayed as a tough, but fair leader who respects his rivals.
Reminiscent of great Japanese sports comics like Slam Dunk and Rookies, We Are Champions finds the perfect balance between on- and off-the-court drama. The brothers’ personal rivalry (Hsiu-yu’s attempt to balance family life and the game eventually clashes with Tung-hao’s growing thirst for success) is easily as compelling as their athletic rivalry, but Chang and his co-writer Tsai Kun-lin never let one overshadow the other. We Are Champions isn’t just a great sports film because of its well-crafted narrative, likable characters and technical achievements; it’s also because it shows a true love for the game.
Chang Jung-chi began his directorial career with documentaries. In 2006, he won the Golden Horse Award for Best Documentary with My Football Summer. In 2012, his first fictional feature, the Wong Kar-wai-produced music drama Touch of the Light, earned him a Best New Director nomination at the Golden Horse Awards as well as the Audience Award at the Taipei Film Festival. His 2014 high school-set thriller Partners in Crime was screened at film festivals worldwide, including Toronto, Busan and Tokyo. In addition to feature films, Chang has also directed short films, concerts and music videos.
2006 – My Football Summer
2011 – Touch of the Light
2014 – Partners in Crime
2017 – Edge of Innocence
2019 – We Are Champions