The summer of 2013 saw a group of young boys enter a Chinese TV talent show called Super Boy, hoping to be catapulted to fame. Here we accompany the young candidates on the grueling run-up to the grand finale. The intensive preparation, culminating in a two-month boot camp, tests their self-image as well as their singing and dancing skills. Standing at the cusp of adulthood in a highly competitive society, the competitors wrestle with some tough questions: What kind of person are you? What do you want to be?
Lixin Fan, director of the award-winning Last Train Home, takes a very different look at contemporary China with this documentary that follows the eager young hopefuls who audition for the country’s most famous televised singing competition.
Every week, millions of viewers tune in to China’s most popular singing competition, Super Boy. Tens of thousands of aspiring male singers audition every year for this prestigious talent show, but only ten make it into the months-long competition. Fan Lixin’s documentary I Am Here immerses us in the finalists’ gruelling, adrenalizing experience, even as it raises provocative questions about the social context of such a phenomenon.
The world of these young performers is a glossy fantasy, all-consuming and almost too good to be true. Overnight they’ve been elevated to demigod status, and are now recognized everywhere they go by herds of screaming teenagers. This fame comes at the cost of their identity; vocal coaches, dance teachers, and tyrannical producers exploit easily digestible aspects of the young men’s personalities and backgrounds, grooming them in the images of archetypes that audiences can root for. But in a scenario where there can be only one winner, the boys band together, attaining a mutual harmony that extends beyond the singing contest.
Fan, director of the multi-award-winning Last Train Home, gives us a very different look at modern China in his second documentary feature. This time he tackles popular youth culture — the tech-savvy generation armed with smartphones and disposable income — and its palpable obsession with fame. Fan’s pitch-perfect editing subverts the conventions of reality-TV techniques, juxtaposing quiet sequences of China’s rural landscapes with montages of vibrant youthful energy. With a soundtrack of hits that will be familiar to Chinese and North American filmgoers alike, I Am Here is at once a vivacious ride through the world of modern celebrity and a sharp commentary on the changes occurring in contemporary Chinese culture.