Beyond Our Ken (2004)

Directed by
Nearly a great film
Reviewed by Simon on 2005-03-01

Ching (Gillian Chung) is dumped by her boyfriend Ken (Daniel Wu), which upset her. Ken then posts naked photos he took with her on the internet, which upsets her too. When her employers see them, she loses her job. She doesn't seem all that bothered by this, but I guess it's a negative mark too. She contacts Ken's new girlfriend (mainland actress Tao Hung) and convinces her what a snake she's dating, and the two of them work together to get back the photos and plot a girly revenge. They develop an unlikely sort of friendship along the way.

Edmond Pang Ho-Cheung made a lifetime fan of me with his second film, Men Suddenly in Black, and this was confirmed when I finally tracked down the VCD of his debut film, YOU SHOOT I SHOOT (still criminally unavailable on DVD). I was rather surprised when his third film suddenly appeared on DVD without me having heard anything about it whatsoever - especially with a Twin in the cast. I guess it didn't make too many waves, which is not too surprising because it's a pretty low-key drama with arty aspirations that suggest a desire to be mid-1990's Wong Kar Wai, without the hyperkinetic energy. It has the roving hand-held camera (and some camera setups that are direct "tributes" to WKW & Christopher Doyle moments), but what the camera captures is mostly quite static scenes of the characters talking to each other. We are never treated to a look inside the characters heads, WKW style, either - what we learn about the characters is mostly what they tell each other about themselves - but Edmond Pang does try to show us more through subtle symbolism. I probably wouldn't have realised this, but the Mei Ah DVD has a special feature that's basically a quiz to see how much of this symbolism you picked up on :p

The film is definitely a mature work, and it's nice to see that the success of MSIB hasn't led Pang into the trap of commercial fluff that effectively removed Wilson Yip from the "talented newcomer to watch" list. It perhaps tries a little too hard to achieve artistic credibility though, feeling less natural than his 2 dark comedies. Whilst it creates interesting characters and scenarios for the majority of its runtime, the film effectively blows its head off in the last 3 minutes. First we get the obvious twist, that you may have seen coming already, but then we get a double-twist that effectively undermines the entire film up to that point, and then nothing to really give the twist any substance. Well, maybe if I watch it again I'll see more, but it felt like quite a catastrophic let-down of an ending.

Still, a couple of bad minutes at the end don't render the rest of the film worthless - at least, if you choose to simply ignore them they don't. And up to then, it's an engaging film. Not a life-changer, but an interesting break from the norm. One of the film's biggest virtues is the final proof beyond doubt that Gillian Chung has matured, and turned into quite a fine actress. The film and the role are quite daring, and she rises to the challenge very well. There's no way in 7 hells Charlene Choi could have pulled off a film like this. Ah Gil is also starting to look more like my girlfriend as she matures, happily enough. Actress Tao Hung is just as good in her role too - though her character is a bit of an enigma in many ways. It's the first time I've seen her, but I'd guess it's not her first film. BEYOND OUR KEN in some ways feels like the sort of film you'd expect a female director to make, e.g. Sylvia Chang or Crystal Kwok perhaps. Pang Ho-Cheung is not female, but it's to his credit that he is able to make such a film - especially when you consider the very male perspective of MSIB (though that had barbs inside that could be construed as showing feminist sympathies).

Daniel Wu doesn't have that much to do in the film really, despite being the title character. It's quite a daring role for him too, since his character is such a sod, but it's not the first time he's shown a willingness or ability to do risky roles. Must be a relief after such a dumb role in Twins Effect II anyway. His acting is continuously improving as well.

BEYOND OUR KEN is nearly a great film, let down mostly by an ending that fails to deliver the pay-off we want, and tries hard to take away the satisfaction we'd had to that point by being too clever for its own good. Or wanting to be. Whilst I'm glad that Pang hasn't gone into commercial big-budget FX films, I don't really want him to go in the opposite direction either, and even if it's more mature than his first two films, it's nowhere near as much FUN, and I would rather he be making high quality entertainment than high art. Perhaps he had to make a film like BOK to try it out though, and the result is certainly worth a watch.

Even though you never do get to see those nekkid photos of Ah Gil ;)

ADDENDUM: It's somewhat ironic that after making this film Gillian's career ended up being basically terminated by a very similar real-life scandal involving her and Edison Chen (why why why?)... so the public did get to see those nekkid photos in the end after all!