Yanki, a social worker in a deprived area of Hong Kong, spends much of her time managing the Midnight Gymnasium, a safe space for girls in the area. Each of her charges has a reason to be disenfranchised by the world around them, with some coming from abusive homes or grinding poverty. The Midnight Gymnasium is the opportunity to escape their usual pressures and, with Yanki’s indefatigable help, have something to work towards. Yet the local council no longer sees the point in funding the project, especially as only a handful of very unenthusiastic girls attend, and they seem very indifferent to the location. Yanki, however, is determined to keep the project going and, to buy some more time, rashly suggests that her girls are forming a dodgeball team. The fact that neither Yanki nor the girls have any idea of what this entails is a problem, though: enter returned traveller and former sports star Jones, a man who has fallen on hard times and is not against a little deception to get him out of debt.
‘Life Must Go On’ is one of the few dodgeball films – the only other that comes to mind is ‘Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story’. Of course, knowledge of the sport isn’t exactly necessary for enjoyment of either film as the latter is a very broad (and often very funny) comedy and the former is a Hong Kong film that borrows all of the genre tropes. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that as those trusted sports movie cliches are essential for a reason – and ‘Life Must Go On’ has them in spades. There’s the redemption of the main character, the hope given to a disparate group of individuals, the idea of the underdog, the opposition from the authorities, the last-minute spanner-in-the-works; all of the elements that are demanded of this type of film. Thankfully Ying Chi-Wen’s film is made with enough genuine humour and heart that familiarity never leads to contempt.
‘Life Must Go On’ doesn’t offer any surprises, but that’s kind of the point – you know what to expect. Yet it is executed well, and the young cast brings pathos to the parts (no small achievement as they start off quite insufferable, though this is another genre staple). It was good to see Ekin Cheng once again, an actor who now seems to be settled into a parody of his former ‘Young & Dangerous’ image; Cheng relishes the material and has a fine dead-pan delivery. He is ably assisted by Catherine Chau and, in a welcome supporting role, Chin Ka-Lok. ‘Life Must Go On’ is not a cavalcade of hilarity nor is it remotely original, but it is a pleasant surprise and another reminder of the life left in Hong Kong cinema.