The word dream is probably heard most frequently from people in showbiz, where everyone dreams of standing under the spotlight and being somebody. But the brutal truth is most end up being nobody. Hong Kong director Derek Yee’s latest drama I Am Somebody pays tribute to these anonymous extras in the film industry.
To ensure his film’s accuracy, Yee spent three years making this extras-take-the-lead drama. He did extensive research, talking with over 1,000 Hengdian drifters to learn their personal stories and integrate what he learned into the script.
In the film, Wan Guopeng, son of a woodcutter, comes a long way from Dongbei with only 1,000 yuan in his pocket to the dream factory of the East to become an actor. In real life, when the earthy and diligent young man was chosen by the director to play the leading role, he had only 20 yuan left but still hadn’t considered giving up.
Distinguished Hong Kong actor Tony Leung recalled in a review that 30 years ago, he was a salesman but knew that’s not the kind of life he wanted to live. “Wan is exactly like me back then ... Only when I was in an acting training course did I realized that what I wanted to be was an actor, not a star winning the best actor awards, only being an actor.”
Yee chose real nobodies to play themselves in the movie, even using their real names. Their strength was their deep understanding of the feelings of the characters they portrayed. But the disadvantage was also obvious: They lacked of acting skills. When performing scenes required their emotional intensity, their expressions and moves seemed exaggerated and unnatural.
Inspirational movies about underdogs pursuing their dreams are nothing new. But the entertainment industry is special. It might be the field with the most broken hearts and most efforts gone in vain. Here luck, opportunity and physical appearance are probably much more crucial than hard work and persistence.
In the film, Qin Peijun, a survivor from a coal mine collapse, goes all out to seize every possibility to get his face in the lens of the camera, even if only as an extra. However, his dream of becoming a professional actor is obviously much less promising than Wang Zhao, who is a cynical slacker with a pretty face.
Some critical comments are directed at the sudden inversion in the last part of the film. The two protagonists’ happy ending seems discordant with the film’s realistic tone. But anyway, this movie is not a documentary but a way to reinforce that every bold heart deserves to have their dreams realized.