After their highly successful partnership in the acclaimed boxing drama Unbeatable (2013), Hong Kong director Dante Lam and Taiwanese hunk Eddie Peng have teamed up again for another sports movie - this time exploring the world of cycling.
There is much earnestness on the part of the film-maker and his leading man to capture the spirit of competitive cycling here: Lam appears to spell out every minute detail of the surprisingly complex sport and Peng transformed his body once more to look the part of a professional cyclist.
According to reports, he cycled up to 200km a day for two months to train for the role, a process no less gruelling than the famously intense workouts he did for Unbeatable.
But what this film lacks, compared with Lam and Peng's previous collaboration, is heart.
Peng in Unbeatable had a poignant, believable relationship with his boxing mentor (played by Nick Cheung), as the pair of unlikely friends worked together to get back on their feet, both in and out of the boxing ring.
REVIEW / SPORTS DRAMA
TO THE FORE (PG13)
126 minutes/Opens tomorrow/ 3/5 stars
THE STORY: A trio of professional cyclist friends (Eddie Peng, Shawn Dou and Choi Si Won) find their friendship and loyalty tested when competition on the race trails heats up. Things get complicated when two of them fall in love with the same girl (Wang Luodan).
Here, Peng's interactions with his teammates feel completely perfunctory, seemingly scripted only so that the director can better explain the functions of the cyclists' roles in the sport.
Qiu Ming (Peng), for example, acts mostly as a domestique, whose job is to ride in front of his team's leader to break the headwind for a faster and smoother ride for those behind him.
The leader, or sprinter, will take advantage of this for most of the journey before racing to the finish in the last few kilometers.
It is all geeky, technical stuff, but Lam manages to keep the races exciting enough by changing things up often, putting the cyclists through various terrains and weather conditions, ranging from the sweltering heat of Mongolia's Tengger Desert to the elaborate city routes of urban Hong Kong. There is even a segment set in the seedy gambling dens of Busan, South Korea, where desperate sportsmen race on their bikes in the hope of making a quick buck.
If only the drama between the athletes themselves were just as layered and complex, the audience might actually care to know if Qiu Ming and his buddies are the first to cross the finish line in the end.