Beyond Our Ken

"We have more in common than red streaks in our hair..."

Gillian Chung and Tao Hong share a moment in the bathroom.

Directed by Pang Ho-Cheung

Hong Kong SAR; 2004

Starring Gillian Chung, Tao Hong, and Daniel Wu

97 Min.

Highly Recommended (No Star Rating Provided)

In Short: Wong Kar-Wai’s influence looms large over this unorthodox revenge film, courtesy of talented young director Pang Ho-Cheung. By no means is Beyond Our Ken a masterpiece, and some might find the end disappointing, but it’s an entertaining ride that mixes arthouse and commercial sensibilities. The verisimilitude to actress Gillian Chung’s unfortunate involvement in the Edison Chen Photo Scandal four years later is remarkable.

Review: Pang Ho-Cheung has been heralded as one of the Hong Kong film industry’s brightest hopes in recent years. While films like Ip Man and SPL have begun to revitalize the industry’s commercial performance in carrying along the tradition of action and martial arts films, much of the past decade was a low point for a once thriving industry. During these times, Pang served as an exciting new talent with his clever dark comedies. 2004’s Beyond Our Ken is Pang’s third directorial outing, a film that can be vaguely categorized as an art film, a thriller, a revenge film, and/or a romantic drama.

Gillian Chung stars as the heartbroken Chinese language teacher Ching, playing against type in stark contrast to her grinning pop star persona as a member of the group Twins. Her boyfriend Ken (Daniel Wu) dumped her a month ago seemingly out of the blue, and soon afterward a picture of the two of them naked on appears on the internet, with Ken’s eyes blurred out. This catches the attention of her colleagues and gets her fired from her job. Wanting to get back at her ex, Ching tracks down Ken’s new girlfriend Shirley (Tao Hong) and wins her sympathy as the two plot an elaborate scheme to get back at Ken’s sneaky ways.

From the opening shot of the film, Pang shows clear influence from Wong Kar-Wai. We are dropped in the middle of a scene right before intimacy, with handheld camera work reminiscent of Wong’s mid-nineties films. As the camera pulls out of the bedroom and Ken closes the door, Ching delivers a voice-over much like Leon Lai’s in the beginning of Wong’s Fallen Angels. Throughout the film the visual style stays reminiscent of Wong’s: the camera is often held behind objects, transitions between scenes have Ozu-like exterior shots, editing structures that differ from Hollywood continuity style, reliance on available light, etc. The theme of heartbreak isn’t exactly uncommon in Wong’s work, either.

One of the strong suits of Beyond Our Ken is how effortlessly it uses nonlinear structure to enhance its narrative. Scenes appear and reappear again, often revealing different aspects of the original situation than had been revealed before, similar to Hong Sangsoo’s Oh! Soo-Jung. Never does the nonlinearity feel like a tacked-on device, as is often seen in many films which seem to employ it as a last-ditch attempt to make the narrative more interesting. Pang’s usage of it plays with the viewer’s knowledge in a delightful way, and invites viewers to take a second view to see how many more visual cues they can catch than on their initial watch.

Pang also has a few excellent “hide-and-seek” set pieces. One of the most entertaining moments of the film involves Ching and Shirley running around a grocery store trying to find each other without being seen by Ken. While these “stealth” sequences are by no means a completely original idea, especially in Hong Kong, its execution is almost as exciting as similar scenes from classics like Peking Opera Blues and Chungking Express.

While the ending might not be to everyone’s taste, Beyond Our Ken is a very worthwhile experience from a lesser-known director that has yet to gain any real recognition outside Hong Kong. It might not be the easiest film to find in the West, but tracking it down might be worth the effort for curious audiences.

Bonus: Gillian Chung wears glasses in some scenes of this movie.

Fact: A woman is always her most beautiful while wearing glasses.

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About Adam DiPiazza
I love Peach Snapple.

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