20:30:40



Reviewed by YTSL

Some time back, Sylvia Chang got together with the two talents who she manages, Rene Liu and Angelica Lee, to record a music album entitled “20:30:40”.  As the story goes, over the course of doing so, the trio started talking about making a similarly themed film together; whereupon the eldest of the three women laughed and said that they had better hurry and do so, then, since it wouldn’t be long before she would no longer be in her 40s (For the record, Sylvia Chang turns 49 in 2004).  Intriguingly, she also suggested that each one of them write a story for the movie that had as its main character someone who was in -- plus represented -- their age group).  This they duly did, and their tales are what form the narrative base of this interesting primarily Mandarin-language -- but with some Cantonese and bits of Hokkien and English thrown in -- offering which had its world premiere at the 2004 Berlin Film Festival.

“20:30:40” begins with the characters portrayed by Sylvia Chang (who also directed and co-scripted -- along with GC Goo Bi and Cat Kwan -- this undoubtedly female-centric film), Rene Liu and Angelica Lee all on board a flight from Malaysia to Taiwan.  Soon after landing in Taipei, however, the three of them end up going their separate ways; with their paths only ever infrequently crossing in a “just centimeters apart”, “Chungking Express” kind of way (Incidentally, there’s an amusing scene in this similarly “love is in the air”-feeling movie that specifically brings to mind the one in Wong Kar Wai’s 1994 romantic urban offering where a lonely Takeshi Kaneshiro phones up a whole bunch of ex-girlfriends to ask them to go out for one evening with him).
Like with the real-life personality who portrays her, 20(-something)-year-old Xiao (i.e., “little”) Jie (who is played by Angelica Lee Sin Jie) is a Malaysian Hokkien female who left her Alor Setar hometown to pursue a singing career in Taiwan.  Probably unlike the woman who hit the big time by doing such as winning Golden Horse and HKFA Best Actress awards (for “The Eye”) though, Xiao Jie belatedly discovers that the long-haired musician/dreamer (amusingly essayed by Anthony Wong) that she was looking to take as her mentor had this conceit that she and another young singer (Kate Yeung gives a confident performance as Yi Tong, the secret(s)-nursing Hong Konger who Xiao Jie came to befriend in Taipei) could be the Taiwanese version of the Twins.  And if this was not bad enough, the wistful lass soon also has emotional as well as professional heartache to contend with.
Meanwhile, 30(-something)-year-old air stewardess Xiang Xiang (Rene Liu portrays this woman whose name tag states that her name is Rene) tends towards the view that the itinerant nature of her work is majorly responsible for her personal life being the unstable mess that it is.  Alternatively, many a viewer of “20:30:40” might be inclined to think that there is no excuse whatsoever for her concurrently having two boyfriends in addition to continuing to hold a candle for a third man.  Lest it be thought to be otherwise though, here’s making clear that this situation is one that gives Xiang Xiang little real comfort, happiness and solace.  And it is only after she severs her ties with all three of them that she can start to find the solid, responsible and dependable Mr. Right that she would be happy to have as the one man in her life.
In contrast, at the beginning of “20:30:40”, the often surprising film’s third major character was under the impression that she had long found -- and was married to -- Mr. Right.  And it was only after 40(-something)-year-old florist Lily (Sylvia Chang puts in a quite daring plus immensely delightful performance) delivered a bouquet of flowers to what turned out to be her husband’s second home that she realized that her daughter’s father had been a bigamist for some years.  After getting a divorce, Lily appeared to have decided that it was about time she had some serious fun of her own.  However, the more one observes this middle-aged woman’s frenzied attempts to try out new activities and connect with other men (including a very energetic young fellow played by Richie Ren along with the more sedate personality essayed by Tony Leung Kar-Fai!), the more it seems to be that what Lily -- who had not lived alone for what must be decades now -- truly wanted was to learn how to be comfortable with her own company plus self.
As this review should have made apparent, “20:30:40” offers up no small amount of insights; and especially about how life can be for women of the age-groups represented in the film along with its stars (and probably also trio of accomplished scriptwriters).  This is not to say, however, that it is a preachy work or even one that is preponderantly serious and dramatic in tone.  Instead, this Hsu Li Kong and Patricia Chen production was patently fashioned by individuals who are not afraid to have a laugh or two, and often at their own expense.  To wit, Angelica Lee and her character’s conceivably auto-biographical reactions to an earthquake; Rene Liu and the scenes involving a pail of water and stranded fish; and those gasp-inducing sections of this Category IIB-rated movie which had Sylvia Chang dressed only in her underwear.

My rating for the film: 7.5