SLIFF 2009 Review: THE DRUMMER (Zhan gu)
The sound of drums can penetrate the soul and resonate deeper than any musical instrument if performed by a true master, which I think is why it is an art and a discipline older than any other musical pursuit. This concept lies at the core of THE DRUMMER, a powerful new film from writer and director Kenneth Bi (RICE RHAPSODY). This is a story of one young man named Sid whose love of the drums developed at an early age out of anger and frustration. Sid plays drums for a rock band, but his life mimics his music as he is drawn to mischief and chasing women. One night, Sid is caught fooling around with the youthful girlfriend of Stephen Ma (Kenneth Tsang), a powerful suited gangster. With his life in danger, Sid’s father (Tony Leung Ka Fai) also a small-time gangster, sends him away with his best man while he attempts to appease his old friend and partner in crime.
Sid and his escort travel into the rural mountains outside of Hong Kong where he finds the remote camp of the Zen Drummers, a group of monks devoted to the drums. Fascinated by their music, Sid decides to join them, but he quickly learns that there is more to the drums than he ever imagined. Sid finds himself struggling, inward and out, with the methods of teaching imposed upon him, reminiscent of those employed by Mr. Miyagi in KARATE KID. Sid simply wants to play the drums, but the patient monks help him to learn how to “play the drums without playing the drums”.
THE DRUMMER is a film that that is both ancient and modern. Sid is pushed from the chaos of urban Hong Kong life filled with crime and violence and finds himself absorbed into the centuries old customs of the monks, discovering meaning and serenity in his life for the very first time. The images and scenery of Sid’s time in the mountains, learning valuable lessons about himself through the drums, are breathtaking. Throughout the story, the audience is given an incredible look inside the inner working of such a discipline, allowing us to witness wonderful moments of concentration and devotion. The monks not only study and practice the drums, they also study martial arts and consider everything from cooking to common daily chores a meditation not separate from their musical study.
THE DRUMMER is an uplifting story, but it is not without pain and suffering. Throughout Sid’s journey with the Zen Drummers, he also realizes an awakening in his relationship with his father. Sid draws on the firmness of his teacher and the compassion of the Zen Drummer’s master to overcome his own stubbornness and become one with the drum, maturing as a human being in the process. Jaycee Chan, son of the international action star Jackie Chan, stars as Sid and delivers a quality performance with depth and emotional precision.
The scenes in which the Zen Drummers perform are captivating, surely not doing full justice to the experience of witnessing a live performance, they are still deeply affecting. THE DRUMMER is not necessarily the most original story, wrapped around age-old themes seen time and again in so many martial arts film, but it’s the heart of the movie that carries it’s weight in polished stones. As an audience, there should be a part of one’s self drawn into the experience Sid lives in the mountains with the Zen Drummers that calls upon one’s soul, that part that yearns to accomplish something great and meaningful. If it does not, then I would ask just how committed one was in fully experiencing this film.
THE DRUMMER will screen at Frontenac on Sunday, November 15th at 9:15pm and on Monday, November 16th at 4:30pm during the 18th Annual Whitaker Saint Louis International Film Festival.