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Length: 98 minutes
Director: Han Bowen
Cast: Zheng Kai, Li Yunrui, Cao Bingkun, Zhang Lanxin, Sandrine Pinna
Language: Mandarin with English and Chinese subtitles
Release details: In theatres 17 June (Singapore)
3 out of 5 stars
Produced by and starring Zheng Kai as Hao Chaoyue, Never Stop is a comedy sports film that throws light on the emotional turmoil that athletes experience, especially after they retire. The story follows Chaoyue who was once an outstanding runner, and his junior Wu Tianyi (Li Yunrui), who suffers from attention-deficit disorder and aspires to be like Chaoyue after seeing his competition.
However, owing to his injury and age, Chaoyue cannot seem to improve his 100-metre running time, no matter how much or well he trains. He spirals into a whirlpool of negativity, and eventually gives up running and sets up a running shoes business, only to see it crumble after falling for a scam.
On the other hand, Tianyi progresses to become a top athlete, after learning the ropes of running from Chaoyue. Before Chaoyue retires, Tianyi is still unable to overtake Chaoyue in a 100-metre race. Years later, with hopes of challenging Chaoyue again, Tianyi makes a trip back to his hometown, but Chaoyue is no longer the person he idolises.
Never Stop begins as a light-hearted drama, with Li Chen, Zheng Kai’s co-star in Chinese variety show Keep Running, taking up the role of comic relief. The 42-year-old Li Chen, who was given a hilarious bowl cut makeover, portrays Chaoyue’s 17-year-old junior Niu Tieju. Another amusing character to look out for is Chaoyue’s niece, portrayed by comedic actress Jin Jing.
But as the story goes on to illustrate the miserable Chaoyue, the tone of the film turns serious and loses all comedy elements. To a certain extent, this imbalance of tone feels awkward, which makes the whole film neither very entertaining nor very encouraging (to never stop running).
The ending could also have been better if they show how Chaoyue takes on the role of a coach to guide future athletes. A message to keep running even if on a different path, and leaving a legacy that will last forever may have been more impactful and rewarding.
Although Never Stop is not as inspiring as expected, the actors had put in a great deal of effort for the film. Specifically, Zheng Kai had put on about 24 kilograms of weight, just to portray the image of an overweight, retired athlete — something that is usually done through special effects (think fat Thor).
In an official trailer on YouTube, Zheng Kai revealed that he ate five meals a day, and occasionally even had to force himself to eat, like an emotionless eating-robot. This is also the first time the actor had changed his body so drastically for a show. He said that it was all worth it as it would be more realistic than special effects, a crucial move in helping him shape the character.
Through the character of Chaoyue, we can indeed catch a glimpse of the untold stories of actual athletes. At one point of time in their lives, they stand in the limelight of glory, but their journeys after that are often overlooked, especially after they retire from the scene. It is eye-opening to see a career where physical capabilities will always lose to time, and there will always be someone younger and better. It is something that is so straightforward but does not usually come across your mind.
Never Stop may not be the best comedy sports film, but it is still worthwhile, given the amount of effort put into it. Besides, both Zheng Kai and Li Yunrui were Chinese national second-level athletes — the scenes of them running and training are not to be missed!
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