Beyond Our Ken
Hong Kong 2004
Directed by Edmond Pang.

Ken (Daniel Wu) is a sturdy fireman who has no trouble with the ladies. That is, until his ex girlfriend Ching (Gillian Cheung) shows up one day at the nightclub where his current girlfriend Zhou-lan (Tao Hong) is a waitress, to inform her that Ken has posted nude pictures of Ching on the internet after they broke up. Needless to say, Zhou is somewhat ruffled by the relevation, as she considers that Ken has pictures of her, too. Zhou agrees to help Ching get the rest of her pictures back, before any more are put online, and by degrees the two become friends as they realize that Ken has played them both, using a lot of the same pick-up lines, and that he never seems to care much about anything but sex. In short, he's a pretty typical guy.

This is writer/director Edmond Pang's third movie. In each, he takes a basic premise, and plays it out until the idea is exhausted. In his previous films, You Shoot I Shoot and MEN SUDDENLY IN BLACK, he did this to produce comedy. Basically, he uses the same technique that is used to develop most situation comedies. His comedies were a novelty in Hong Kong, mainly because they contrasted sharply with the Wong Jing-style comedy, which throws everything together in a mad blend without regard to theme. The more even-keeled approach is now in ascendance in Hong Kong, more's the pity. The movies are still funny, but I miss the madcap insanity.

Happily, Edmond Pang has taken a break from his celebrated comedy style to produce something with a bit more substance. The humor is gone, replaced by simple, "real-life" reporting, with the occasional hand-held camera and out of focus shot. In some shots the artistry is reminiscent of some of Wong Kar-Wai's earlier work.

BEYOND OUR KEN has been heralded as "Gillian Cheung's breakthrough performance," and it is, without a doubt, the best she has ever done. It didn't hurt that she was playing opposite mainland actress Tao Hung, who was just as good. The two actresses had a powerful chemistry together, making their strange friendship seem not only possible, but inevitable. "Two girls who are dated by the same guy have a lot in common and could probably be friends," one says at last.

A surprise twist at the end of the film spoiled BEYOND OUR KEN for many viewers, a sour note in an otherwise delightful melody. But happily Edmond Pang is smart enough to steer towards the cliff, then break before going over the edge (unlike the thriller Koma, which takes its surprise twist at the end, though you wish it wouldn't, and plunges straight over the cliff into a bramble of tacky cliche, dragging the whole film with it). Pang offers the expected "twist," the one which, had you been awake throughout the picture, you would have already guessed. The twist essentially throws the relationship between the two girls off balance. Then a second twist, unexpected but satisfying, brings their relationship back to equilibrium. In that moment, just a couple minutes, it is as if they have grown up and are meeting each other again, older but wiser. A smart ending to a smart movie. BEYOND OUR KEN is Pang's most accomplished work yet.

Rating: Recommended (Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on March 02, 2005.


Gillian Chung, not Cheung

Posted by: Jasmine at December 29, 2007 05:20 AM
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