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Running Into the Ground

China Lion Film

Never Stop (2021)

China’s box office champion over the dragon boat festival long weekend, “Never Stop” seems to be emblematic of that nation’s contemporary cinema. Its plot revolves around two track stars, both with corny, clichéd names. Hao Chaoyue (Ryan Zheng), which means “surpass” in English, is a washed-up medalist who finds himself in financial ruins for peddling counterfeit sneakers. Wu Tianyi (Li Yunrui), which literally translates to “adding wings,” is a current titleholder and qualifying for the Olympics. In a desperate bid to salvage his business, Chaoyue reaches out to Tianyi, his former underling, in hopes of securing an endorsement deal. Meanwhile, Tianyi’s A.D.H.D. symptoms spiral into a full-fledged mental breakdown.

While those who don’t speak Mandarin will glide past the ridiculous character names, other problems with current Chinese cinema on display here are much harder to ignore. Like “My Love” and the Oscar-nominated “Better Days,” “Never Stop” takes place over the span of a decade as characters mature from teens into adulthood. While cast members in the former two films miraculously pull off this feat both through makeup and nailing some childish mannerisms, Mr. Zheng misses the mark. Mr. Li is slightly more convincing, though he doesn’t deliver on the cheap-shot bromance the script calls for.

Overall, these films are highly polished, with impressive production values and stylish direction. They commit the screenwriting textbook cardinal sin of employing extensive and prolonged flashbacks, and somehow manage to get away with it. But director Han Bowen’s liberal use of slow-motion montages in “Never Stop” magnifies the deficiencies in Jia Zifu’s screenplay. Further, Dong Dongdong’s execrable score for the film is disruptive to the point that it downright cheapens the proceedings. And that’s a shame, as the film contemplates very worthy topics such as triumph and failure, the limited career spans of athletes and the media circus’s effect on mental health – which is especially timely with Naomi Osaka exiting the French Open.


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