It's hard to muster up much expectation for a biopic about an aged cookie-cutter Hong Kong pop band directed by one of the band members, but House of the Rising Sons
turns out to be an appealingly amiable and nostalgic film whose overall niceness actually feels right.
Formed by Alan Tam, Kenny Bee, Anthony Chan, Bennett Pang and Danny Yip, The Wynners were arguably Hong Kong's first idol band. The band exploded into popularity in the 70s with feel-good English and Cantonese pop numbers that appealed to a younger generation. By the early 80s, Alan Tam and Kenny Bee had shifted focus to solo careers. However, The Wynners never disbanded. The band has remained intermittently active over the last four-plus decades with concerts every few years, anniversary events and the occasional album.
House of the Rising Sons, directed by drummer Anthony Chan, goes back to the beginning of
the band as a loud crew of neighborhood buddies with unclear futures and disapproving parents. Nat (Jonathan Wong), Bennett (Carlos Chan), Anthony (Ng Hok Him) and Danny (Sing Lam) take form as The Loosers after recruiting clean-cut crooner Alan (Eugene Tang) into the band. Following some youth trials, the departure of Nat, and the addition of Bee (Tan Yu), the band evolves into The Wynners and the rest is Hong Kong music history.
As common with bands in which there are big popularity gaps between the members, separation soon seems inevitable. Amid misunderstandings and bruised egos, handsome in-demand vocalists Alan and Bee go solo and the band goes on hiatus with a vague agreement to reunite in a few years. In those few years, the gap only continues to widen as Alan and Bee build successful music and movie careers, and the other three struggle with business ventures and bit roles. In most real-life stories like this, the band members would probably grow more estranged and only reunite many years later when the popular members are also past their primes. These rising sons, however, get back together as promised in 1983 for The Wynners' tenth anniversary, and continue to do so regularly for many years onward.
In portraying the members' separation and reunion, the script does strike as honest and self-reflecting about how Alan and Bee's individual careers affected the band. Perhaps contrary to expectations, House of the Rising Sons focuses more on the less famous members who kept the band together before they hit it big, and went through hard times during the band's hiatus. Carlos Chan's stubborn and sensitive Bennett is basically the biggest and most complex role of the film, while Alan and Bee's characters are relatively undeveloped. The two stars' significant solo achievements serve as a montage of success to contrast with the other three's down periods.
Though the film's conflict is very tame for cinema – some of the band members kind of fall out without outright fighting, and they kind of make up without needing to say so – it also feels genuine considering The Wynners' long history together. This is a band that has carried on with its original lineup for over forty years despite having a lead singer who is one of Hong Kong's greatest solo artists of all time and members who have otherwise switched industries or even emigrated from Hong Kong. Not all bands and band movies have to be about sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. The Wynners and their movie are all about enduring friendship, catchy pop tunes and a vibrant old-school look back at 70s and 80s Hong Kong.