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October, 1, 2016

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Extreme showdown in 'Battle of Hip Hopera'

Directed by Lo Sung-Chi (羅頌其), "Battle of Hip Hopera" (終極舞班) begins by introducing five high-school friends — including lead male actor Xiang (阿翔), played by Casper (儲曉祥) — who all belong to a dance crew that competes individually and as a group.

Though the tone of the film is convivial as it portrays high-school life, there is also much more to the story than meets the eye.

Cue the arrival of Chen Jun (陳軍), played by the masterful dance artist David Chiu (邱昊奇), who bursts to the fore at a dance competition and sets up a rivalry between him and Xiang.

It is, as the film later states, a "battle between the hip-hop genius and the beast." The lead female Lin Yu-Chen (林羽辰), played by Smire Weng (翁滋蔓), has a convoluted relationship with Xiang.

Her connection with Chen Jun is much simpler: The pair has a similar pedigree in Beijing opera (京劇).

Both grew up in families with deep roots in the ancient art form, though the two had chosen very different paths.

Confronted by the bittersweet responsibilities of traditional and heritage, one has chosen withdrawal and the other acceptance.

The title of the film, a portmanteau of hip hop and Beijing opera, promises to blend both and delivers with style. In the lead-up to the film's release, a big question had loomed: Would it work? What is the product of blending two styles that seem to be polar opposites?

Mixing traditional Chinese culture with contemporary American hip-hop is a bold and risky move, but these dancers don't disappoint.

From dazzling street dance to mind-blowing mid-air action, all synchronized to rhythmic bass blasts, the choreography in "Battle of Hip Hopera" leaves audiences awed.

But the film is not all about dancing, as it also the story of young people pursuing their dreams against dilemmas produced by reality.

The film is ultimately about what the characters are "willing to give up for their dreams to come true," the director said. "Making this sacrifice is how one grows up and what we call growing up."

When asked what memories of being a 17-year-old had resurfaced during the process of filming, the director said that he himself only had to study for his college entrance exams and that his young adult life had seemed far less complicated than what the film's teens face.

"The 17-year-old kids are not exactly of age yet, but they think they are already adults," Lo said.

One thing to take note of is the depth of Taiwanese talent that the film plumbs and allows to unfold in full force on the big screen.

The dance moves thrill, and Jack Hsu (許凱皓) and Bang Bang (邦邦) give remarkable performances as quirky sidekick and flamboyant antagonist, respectively.

Despite the constraints of acting in a dance-filled romp, the two actors stand out in their movie debut.

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Lin Yu-Chen, played by Smire Weng, practices with Xiang's dance crew for the first time on the stage where her family practices and performs Beijing opera. (Courtesy of Hualien Media)

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