Beyond Our Ken
Director: Edmond Pang (2004)
Even if you watch this film twice, it may be still difficult for you to find something appropriate to say about it. That's not because it's a bad film: it isn't. But it is a film that defies pigeonholing, like an extremely knobbly peg in any sort of hole.
For starters, there's a lot here that's reminiscent of other directors. The opening credits, block characters on hot pink background, inevitably bring Wong Kar Wai to mind. The masterful use of music conjures up Johnnie To: a mournful Italian lament underscores the wandering with broken heart scene early on, melancholy classical music adds an air of disquiet during bus rides, while the sublime tragedy of Mozart's Requiem slices through the most emotional scene like a knife to the heart. The handheld camera in many scenes is reminiscent of many inferior directors who use it to simulate action, although its purpose here is very different.
His first, the black comedy You Shoot, I Shoot, was precisely on the mark in every detail, combining good characterisation with tight story and plentiful laughs. His second, Men Suddenly in Black, seemed to try a little too hard, but was still very much a comedy, and recognizably Pang. This one, while maintaining the consistency of story and depth of characterisation, feels very different.
Perhaps this is the sensible film that Pang had to make. Or perhaps he's developing his skills in another direction, away from comedy. Or perhaps, like the Vogon captain of Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, he's just had an unhappy love affair and wanted to get it off his chest. Whatever the case, he paints an interesting, albeit rather pessimistic, view of human relationships. The friendship that the two girls develop looks a lot like young love, to the extent of exchanging meaningful glances while dining with Shirley's parents. You would be impressed that Pang resisted what would have been an irresistible temptation for others, namely to carry this to a more physical resolution. But Pang is a better man than that, and we're spared any soft porn in the name of art.
Mind you, art does get a bit of a look-in, although Pang employs it for a purpose. The hand-held camera, employed far more often than is justifiable, here makes viewers the voyeurs watching these girls' lives. The point of view is that of a sneaker, a peeker, a furtive observer of others, and it's extremely effective.
Daniel Wu, as Ken, shows his charm and his rather lovely physique, but doesn't get much of a chance to strut his dramatic stuff. This is probably because Ken isn't really the focus: he's simply the pivot around which the two girls build their friendship. He is a bit of a cad, but otherwise harmless, although using the same pickup line on both girls does show a distinct lack of imagination.
This is very much a fractal film: the closer you look at it, the more you'll see. The thoughtful viewer will find themes of friendship and love, betrayal, trust, and the prevalence of greys in a world many believe to be black and white. Others will find this film boring and pointless. Still others may see it as a triumph of spite over love, or as illustration of the resourcefulness of women united against the common foe (men). There's all this and more, if you give it the time and the mental attention. And above all, avoid trying to categorise it.
(CRI July 28, 2005)