Starring professional baseball players from the Hong Kong professional league. “City of Baseball” follows the team as they struggle with personal and professional struggles in order to bring legitimacy to the sport.
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The main conflict arises between the main starter pitcher Ron and relief pitcher Chung after Ron injures his arm in a bar fight and the team has to turn to Chung. On top of the team not having much faith in the young pitcher’s skill, they dislike his personality. With Chung being more sensitive, reserved and a romantic, he clashes with the more gruff and hardened teammates. In an attempt to save the team, Ron reaches out to Chung and tries to close the distance. However, Ron’s interest in Chung’s girlfriend soon sees the pair fighting again. The two still push forward through the chaos, in an attempt to bring the team together before the nationals.
“City Without Baseball” has many curious and outlandish creative choices, which, although the execution in all artistic aspects falls pretty flat, they still create an odd appeal within those choices. With the choice of using actual baseball players in, what seems, like an attempt to get more legitimacy and recognition, the acting in the film feels very forced and awkward. A good example is in the lead Yu Chung Leung, whose entire performance is so jilted and hammy that any attempts to make him into a romantic lead are squashed by his limited skills as an actor. Building on top of these awkward performances, the music also seems utilized in such a way that it removes you from the film and instead of bringing a stronger connection, the overly romanticized lyrics more showcase how the film is failing in the genre. Each track also includes birth dates and an end date, which gives the impression of paying tribute to dead musicians, which does not fit in well with the theme or the tone of the production.
On the back of these strange choices, and others not mentioned here, perhaps the oddest choice is in the ending itself. The story builds up to a major tournament and the film cuts, awkwardly, to actual TV footage, so the tournament is not a re-enactment but the actual televised playoffs. Given the outcome of the game not really fitting the narrative of the film, it gives the impression everything was written and shot except for the closing act, and the film completed after tournament results. Perhaps budget restraints lead them deciding not to stage a tournament, but how they chose to film it is very perplexing.
One of the major struggles that most viewers will face comes with the film’s underlying homoerotic themes. Although I would put this movie within the “gay” genre it has a lot of conflicting themes which make it difficult to pin down. Firstly, all the men live a heterosexual lifestyle which exists in stark contrast to their actions and words amongst each other. The use of actual baseball players seems more like a calculated move to get more homo-erotic content in, as a notable amount of conflict takes place while naked in the change room. I also find the prospect of an entire sports team consenting to star in a film which seems aimed at a gay audience rather unlikely and I imagine they were given a different impression into what the film would be. So, although the film’s underlying theme seems apparent to my sensibilities, it also seems a lot of work was done to subvert those themes. This makes the whole production, both frustrating and fascinating at the same time.
“City Without Baseball” is one of the hardest films I have had to review. Granted that the target audience seems extremely niche and I am far removed from said audience. With this in mind, the movie was a very fascinating watch for me and opened up some deeper questions about homo-sexual culture in Chinese film, and in particular how censorship can create a film like this whose underlying message of repressed homosexuality seems painfully obvious. For me, this restriction gives the film and its characters an interesting sense of tragedy based on their desires going unrealized because of social pressure.
In trying to view the film in a more direct approach as a dramatic production with romantic elements, it comes across as poorly written, awkwardly performed, visually unappealing and full of questionable creative decisions. All these elements make “City Without Baseball” a rather tedious film on a technical level. However, the production is transformed by the underscored sexual tension between male characters and the attempt to subvert those desires by using masculine culture as a guise to convey certain themes. This results in creating, what almost feels unintentional, an engaging drama which can lead to deeper discussion. So for those outside the intended audience, I can still see that the film could appeal to those looking for unfamiliar and interesting content.