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Beyond Our Ken
Chinese: 公主復仇記
Year: 2004
Director: Pang Ho-Cheung
Writer: Pang Ho-Cheung
Cast: Gillian Chung Yun-Tung, Tao Hong, Daniel Wu, Jim Chim Sui-Man, James Wong Ka-Lok, Candy Hau Woon-Ling, Tyson Chak Hoi-Tai
  The Skinny: A rather simplistic payoff doesn't prevent Beyond Our Ken from being an excellent film, as well as another assured effort from director Edmond Pang Ho-Cheung. Gililan Chung and Tao Hong are excellent, and the emotions the film conveys are remarkably felt. Not much occurs, but the road travelled makes this one of 2004's better films.
 
Review
by Kozo:

Gillian Chung of Twins reveals hidden depths beneath her squeaky-clean popstar persona in the refreshing and darkly emotional Beyond Our Ken. Directed by Edmond Pang (Men Suddenly in Black), the film details the burgeoning friendship between two obvious romantic rivals: Ching (Gillian Chung), spurned girlfriend of the eponymous Ken (Daniel Wu), and Shirley (Mainland actress Tao Hong), Ken's current flame. The two girls meet when Ching approaches Shirley needing help. Ken took some nude photos of Ching and posted them on the Internet, and she wants them back. Since Shirley currently has an in with Ken, she's the obvious candidate for help. Yet why would the current girlfriend wish to help the ex?

Simple reason: Ken is an out-and-out snake, a fact proven with enough evidence to fill a congressional committee report. Once Shirley receives proof of Ken's Internet activities—Ching shows her the photos online—she agrees to help Ching get the rest of the photos. The problem is how. Ching has a key to Ken's place, but there's Ken's somewhat ailing Grandmother to deal with, and a new obstacle shows up at each and every turn. The girls plot and plan, and their efforts make for some engaging, energetically-told cinema. Beyond Our Ken is told largely in handheld, verite-style camerawork that resembles Wong Kar-Wai from his Chungking Express days—except with a much more loaded plotline and less engaging emotions. The film does have emotions that speak to us, but they're darker and even more perverse. Ken may be a snake, but the girls' duplicity isn't much to clap about either. On one hand, their camaraderie is affecting stuff, but since its mired in rather sordid emotions (jealousy, anger, resentment), you're always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Which it does.

The Chinese title of Beyond Our Ken translates as "Revenge of a Princess", which is probably a bigger spoiler than anything written in this review. Getting back nude photos seems to be justice, but revenge requires a whole other level of human darkness—which Edmond Pang is only happy to dispense. People are more—or perhaps less—than they seem, and that complexity makes for a compelling narrative. One of the strengths of Beyond Our Ken is how it gives understandable, minute reasons for why everything is the way that it is. Ching and Shirley compare notes on Ken's deplorable habits (he apparently used the same pick-up line for both), but the camera keenly captures other details, like why Ken might have dumped Ching. Ken is not a good guy, but even he can have issues of trust in a relationship. He's still a snake, but the world created is complex and real enough that he's not entirely at fault.

Still, that reality is both refreshing and problematic. Pang goes to great lengths to portray the world in greys, but too much grey can become a little muddled. When Beyond Our Ken eventually reveals its darker underbelly, it creates a whole new set of issues that aren't entirely answered. Ching reveals darker edges beyond her victimized exterior, but Shirley shows that she wasn't born yesterday, either. The girls take on added dimensions, and Pang reveals them in a way that almost seems be screaming for attention. Rather than let the actresses and the emotions punctuate Beyond Our Ken, Pang seems determined to prove just how clever he and his script are. Thanks to numerous flashbacks and criss-crossing reveals, more is gleamed of the narrative, but the ultimate payoff is a pearl of wisdom that can fit in the palm of your hand. By providing the final verbal summation on his intentions, Pang seems to be doing the whole film a disservice.

However, the actresses are excellent, and make the film's journey all the more compelling. Gillian Chung brings both a charming girlishness and an opaque resolve to Ching, and handles her despondency with believable vulnerability. Chung occasionally gives off the same sweet likability that has characterized her earlier performances, but shows far more than that here. Charlene Choi has previously been referred to as the "more talented Twin"; maybe Beyond Our Ken will change that. Tao Hong is just as impressive, though her character is more problematic. Shirley's credibility as a character suffers when the film starts with the minor plot twists, but Tao never makes her seem less than real. Daniel Wu brings loathsome self-absorption and a real charm to Ken, and never appears to be a caricature. If a Best Supporting Actor award had to be given to Daniel Wu, it should have been for Beyond Our Ken and not New Police Story.

The best thing about Beyond Our Ken is it demonstrates Edmond Pang's willingness to tell different stories and adopt different filmmaking styles. After two witty and exaggerated black comedies (You Shoot, I Shoot and Men Suddenly in Black), Pang attempts a stylish, yet emotionally real drama that relies less on dialogue and more on action and actors. The end result seems a mite self-satisfied, but this is an assured, admirable effort by a director who should be allowed to make whatever Hong Kong film he wants to. Hopefully Pang won't get sucked into the commercial machine like Wilson Yip (a director who once possessed Pang's knack for offbeat emotion and intelligence), and will continue to turn out films that possess wit, style, and smarts. Beyond Our Ken may not be the best film of 2004, but really, there weren't many that were much better. (Kozo 2005)

 
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Mei Ah Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
"Making of" featurette, Audio commentary
 

image courtesy of Mei Ah Entertainment

   
 
 
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