Director Ruby Yang doesn’t even try to upend the clichés that practically define the kind of inspirational documentary she’s made about art transforming the lives of at-risk and disabled students. She embraces them while pushing the film toward an eye-misting ending you’ll see coming from the opening moments. Hong Kong teenagers from schools for poor or low-achieving students, including a school for the blind, are brought together for six months in an arts program in which they’re taught to sing, dance, and act, all culminating in a musical they’ll mount for family and community.

Yang’s camera quickly zeroes in on a handful of kids to follow: Swaggering, cigarette-smoking pretty boy Ah Bok; shy, insecure, and recently blind Tsz Nok; Tabitha, a chubby girl ashamed of where she goes to school; Fat Yin, a wannabe tough guy who treats his parents horribly and loves to be the center of attention.

They’re shoehorned into narratives familiar from both fiction and nonfiction films on the same subject matter. Overseeing the program is Nick Ho, the playwright and play’s producer, a tough but kind leader (natch) who sounds as if he’s filling out an arts grant when he speaks: “We focus on building character and artistic skills.”

The film is a co-production from L Plus H (Love Plus Hope) Creations Foundation and the Lee Hysan Foundation, and plays exactly like what it is: stealth agitprop churned out by philanthropic organizations that reduce art and life to shamelessly manipulated emotional experiences and facile learning tools while courting public support.

But damn if a few of the kids don’t milk your tear ducts at the end.

My Voice, My Life
Directed by Ruby Yang
Opens August 28, Cinema Village

Village Voice 2015-08-25 

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