Movie Review By Casey McCabe
"That's the Way I Like It" is about a young man finding his purpose in life through disco dancing. As if that were not frightening enough, the film is also clumsy, derivative and often so cliche it can make you wince.
Yet there's also something about this first effort from Singapore writer/director Glenn Goei that makes the film maddeningly likable. It not only recognizes its pretense, it embraces it with enough wide-eyed, open-armed innocence to come out the other side as a remarkably unpretentious film.
"That's The Way I Like It" is set in Singapore in 1977 when a young supermarket clerk named Hock, whose obsessions up to this point have been motorcycles and Bruce Lee, is transformed upon seeing the American film "Saturday Night Fever." Though he is not the first guy in the world who suddenly wants to approximate John Travolta's mix of glitz, hairspray and choreographed machismo, he does happen to be our main character so we are obliged to root for his transformation.
At this point the film essentially becomes "Saturday Night Fever," but like the Bee Gees imitators on the soundtrack, just a bit off-label. With Singapore replacing Brooklyn, we see Hock in his going nowhere job, hanging out with his loyal but unambitious buddies, resisting the affections of the ambiguous girlfriend, then coming home to his extended family, including the prodigal brother who has long been the parents' pride and joy, but has now returned in the midst of a profound identity crisis. There is a big disco dance contest looming, along with a more beautiful, more worldly, more talented dancer to lure Hock away from the ambiguous neighborhood girlfriend. Basically, the rip-off here could not be more blatant. It's the film's very reason for being.
But "That's The Way I Like It" does a few things differently, for better or worse. It shifts gears occasionally and steals from "Play It Again, Sam," having John Travolta's Tony Mantera character step off the screen to advise his stumbling protege. Problem is, the supposed Travolta lookalike hired for the movie more closely resembles Bob Saget, and this is terribly difficult to get over. But in replacing the older brother priest who wants to leave the priesthood, with a younger brother medical student who wants a sex change operation, "That's The Way I Like It" finally hits its own note, its emotions quickly becoming deep and genuine and the story suddenly much less frivolous.
Save for Hock's male rival, a cardboard cutout of a spoiled rich boy just begging for a good Kung-Fu beating, the film's characters are likable and not given to suffering major consequences. Even the two women competing for Hock's affections can't muster so much as a catty look when finally introduced to each other. This is an extremely polite movie. Not a very good movie, mind you. But politeness counts for something, and in the case of "That's The Way I Like It" it's good enough to make me feel a bit guilty for not liking it that much.
© 1999 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 10/27/99
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