Beyond Our Ken (Chinese title: Revenge of a Princess)


One complaint with perhaps some merit that has been leveled at Hong Kong film over the past few years is that there have been so few new directors pumping fresh blood and ideas into the cinematic scene. This isn’t completely valid because there have been some directors that have made some intriguingly distinctive films – Barbara Wong (Private Parts, Truth or Dare: 6th Floor Rear Flat), Aubrey Lam (Twelve Nights, Hidden Track), Mak Yan Yan (GeGe, Butterfly), Julian Lee (Night Corridor), Wong Ching Po (Fubo, Jiang Hu), Cheang Pou-Soi (Diamond Hill, Love Battlefield), Carol Lai (Glass Tears, Floating Landscape) – but certainly none of these were in any sense breakout films that captured a large audience or pushed Hong Kong film in new directions . Perhaps the one new director who has had both critical and some commercial success is Edmund Pang.
His name first received some prominence as the writer of the Fulltime Killer novel in 1997, but before that he had been a scriptwriter for radio and television. He had nothing to do with the making of Fulltime Killer into a film, but it allowed him to first make a short film called “Summer Assignment” that was nominated for a Golden Horse and then in 2001 he directed his first feature length film, “You Shoot, I Shoot”. Made on a shoestring budget in fifteen days, the film had little success at the box office but became a favorite of critics and more discerning fans (that would be me!). His next film though had a larger budget and a terrific veteran cast and “Men Suddenly in Black” went on to become a hit at the box office.
With “Beyond Our Ken”, Pang once again goes low budget with a quick shooting schedule (14 days) and a minimalist story. These films are difficult to define or place securely into any genre, but they all have a clever quirky nature about them that is hard to resist. “You Shoot, I Shoot” was a deadpan black comedy about hitmen and commercialism, “Men Suddenly in Black” a tongue in cheek satire on sexual fantasy that humorously skewers triad conventions and this film is seemingly about getting revenge but then not really. What primarily drives all three films is friendship and bonding – the hitman and his cameraman, the men on the prowl and here two women who initially have only one thing in common – a man.
There isn’t much going on in this film and it still manages to do it quite slowly. Yet its accumulation of small sly scenes, quiet moments, subtle humor, understated dramatics, a dynamic musical score, appealing performances and perfect final frames make this an oddly satisfying viewing experience though you aren’t quite sure why. It is like the drip drip drip of water torture except you enjoy it. Much of the film is nothing more than two women wary of each other talking about themselves and the man they both know  – with short little amusing flashback vignettes thrown in. What goes for high drama is sneaking by an old grandmother or hurriedly trying to make a copy of a key – Mission Impossible this isn’t - but underneath the surface is a warm mildly feminist tale of a growing friendship that is tested by the fact that they can't quite shake him out of their system.
While slurping some noodles, Chan (Gillian Chung) gets the hiccups and asks her boyfriend Ken (Daniel Wu) to shock her – he does so by telling her that he is breaking up with her and abruptly departing, leaving her in tears and with an urge to get some flesh back for this. Behind her slightly nerdy demeanor lies a resolve of steel. Later things get worse when her co-workers point out her naked picture on the Internet that Ken has posted (her immediate response "I'm thinner now"). She goes to Ken’s current girlfriend Zhou (Tao Hung) and tells her what has been done and asks Zhou to help her get into Ken’s apartment so that she can destroy the pictures on his computer (when Zhou sees the pictures of Chan her immediate response "You are much thinner now"). This takes some convincing but after comparing notes on Ken over a period of days they both realize what a complete and utter scumbag he is and they put their plan in motion to teach him a lesson. But little really happens – it is a leisurely stroll to its resolution and it becomes more mood than plot – it is flavored like a female French relationship film in which their bonding becomes the real point of the film and the touchpoint behind seemingly aimless scenes of the two of them motorcycling around Hong Kong or going for a massage.
Both actresses do good work here – this is perhaps Gillian’s most mature work and she keeps her cuteness in check – and Tao Hung ("Life Show") is yet another young Mainland actress who impresses with her talent and looks. The film didn’t do well at the box office and that is easy to understand with its lack of structure or narrative, but as Pang says in this interview at Cinespot “Why do we always have to make the same kind of movie that we are all familiar with? Why can't we make something that has not been done before? If I like something, I'd just do it. Sometimes what I find funny is mainstream, sometimes it is not”

My rating for this film: 7.5