Saigon Electric opens with a young man breaking in a shallow puddle. As he goes into some downrock moves it is undoubtedly an impressive display of both b-boy skills and photography. It is one of many flourishes of impressive dancing and filmmaking that dot an otherwise standard dance film that plays to type and offers little more than a cultural interpretation of popular American dance films like the Step Up series and You Got Served.
The story of Saigon Electric is the very familiar theme of the girl who moves from the countryside to pursue her dream. Mai is sweet but naive. She has no formal training in dance, her mom taught her traditional ribbon dancing, and her insecurities get the better of her and her first audition to the national dance academy does not go well. Too ashamed to return home she stays in the city and she meets Kim in a restaurant. Kim's street wise and sexy. She's also part of a local dance group that calls themselves Saigon Fresh. Mai quickly becomes friends with everyone in the group, especially their leader Doboy.
The group faces a number of issues that stand in the way of them achieving their dreams. There are the generation gaps and class issues. Conflict arises within the group as pride is hurt and street cred is dissed. Then there is the rival dance troupe that stands in their way from fortune and glory. This dance group from Hanoi, in Northern Vietnam, call themselves the North Killaz which seems a little insensitive given Vietnam's history. But hey, that's 36 years ago and kids will be kids. They are also the current three time champion of the hip hop dancing championship in Vietnam and stand in the way of Saigon Fresh winning and going to the world championships in Korea. Then there is the developer that wants to turn the community centre where Saigon Fresh trains into a hotel. Can Saigon Fresh regroup, win the hip hop battle against North Killaz, and save their community centre? Do I even have to answer that?
As hip hop culture has travelled the globe the desire to emulate idols and styles follows suit. The collection of dancers in the cast are impressive as anyone I just wish that writer/producer/director Stephane Gauger had done more to showcase them. The shots never seem to be cropped right, just too close to really appreciate the skill and athleticism on display. I can live with the simple story and predictable plot but found the direction during the dance sequences lacking. So much hard work is being done on the dance floor only to have the camera up close and in their face. There are these flourishes of real creativity in and throughout Saigon Electric. Not enough to make it awesome but enough to certainly enough to keep it entertaining. I wanted more from it, more 'wow'. I hoped it wouldn`t stand on par with American dance films but would rise above them and offer something different. However, this is a product for a young Vietnam, something for this burgeoning young generation to call their own and identify with.
We've been spoiled rotten with hip hop film and television over the past few years here in North America. I welcome any international interpretation of the medium. My only quip with Saigon Electric is that you don't always get to see and appreciate the skill of the dancers Gauger has gathered for his film.
Saigon Electric screens on Friday November 11th @ 8:45 PM @ THE ROYAL