Truth Or Dare: 6th Floor Rear Flat (2003)

Directed by: Barbara Wong
Written by: Barbara Wong, Lawrence Cheng & Cheung Faan
Producers: Lawrence Cheng & Arthur Wong
Starring: Karena Lam, Candy Lo, Lawrence Chou, Chow Wing-Hang, Edwin Siu, Patrick Tang, William So & Hau Woon-Ling

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Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2004:
Professional Recommendation Awards: New Director Award (Barbara Wong)
Best Supporting Actress (Candy Lo)
Best New Artist (Edwin Siu)

Nominations at Taiwan Golden Horse Awards 2003:
Best Supporting Actress (Candy Lo)

With her documentary, Women's Private Parts, director Barbara Wong received acclaim, most notably from the 2001 New York International Independent Film & Video Festival, who awarded her the International Film Award for a feature film. The purpose of that documentary was to give audiences (male?) a better understanding of women and that same train of thought was applied to her feature film debut, Truth Or Dare: 6th Floor Rear Flat. Only this time, it's not only women but youths in general that is the subject matter. You know, these young girls and boys are in reality not how the American Pie portray them....did you actually know that?

6 friends living in the 6th floor rear flat, on a regular basis, play truth or dare for the fun of it all. After the game turns somewhat sour one night, each of them is challenged to perform a personal dare within a year. That dare has to further yourself in life and if you fail, you'll eat shit...literally.

At the centre of the film we of course find the truth or dare game. A game that reveals, strengthens and even weakens. Life is also about that and it's also life for the youths inhabiting the 6th floor rear flat as face they the challenge of pursuing dreams. Do they all wish to be or do something decisive with their lives NOW? Aren't their ambitions higher than than this? The questions begs to be asked because the ambitions put into the bottles are of very different natures. As you can guess, inserting yourself into the mind process of these characters can be tough, especially if you're older but director Barbara Wong provides a really worthy examination about the trials and tribulations of life ambitions. An accessible one that is.

Dividing her time between drama and comedy, it's the latter that makes Truth Or Dare: 6th Floor Rear Flat uneven initially. There's a whimsical nature to the narrative that is quite funny but it's staying for an unexpected long time, being favored instead of revelation of structure and thus it becomes a little bit of a chore to sit through. There's a slight detraction also in the excessive mugging of Candy Lo's character and ultimately in the end, she sadly makes for the less interesting of the people we encounter. What Barbara Wong absolutely does right by the time she does get on the track of structure is taking 6 characters and actually finding time to develop them. She doesn't spend a huge amount of time with each but gives us the needed distinct aspects to their arcs that works for the 100 minutes that we're spending with them.

While some of the characters such as the nutty Jean (Patrick Tang) and the mentioned Candy are less interesting because their apparent ambition doesn't mean much to us, Barbara and co-writers Lawrence Cheng and Cheung Faan injects real stories into the lives of the other people such as Karena (Karena Lam) and Wing (Lawrence Chou), the two with the greater dreams and greater difficulties. Barbara draws upon her documentary background in the way that she looks closer and brings a sense of reality in style and direction of actors which makes for very appealing and affecting viewing. Style is amped at times, again in regards to the whimsy nature to Candy and some of it's fun but doesn't rank as memorable. Barbara clearly does the best when rooted in reality and the majority of Truth Or Dare: 6th Floor Rear Flat gives us that, with funny results and sometimes touching results. But you know what? None of this is really new, life changing or revolutionary but as they say, when done with care, old themes and messages, in this case the ultimate being responsibility, can very much be made to work.

Aided by slick but in tune cinematography by the ever so reliable Arthur Wong (also co-producer), Barbara does well with the actors on display also. We have some bigger names here like July Rhapsody's Karena Lam and Candy Lo (Men Suddenly In Black) but they blend into a very natural acting atmosphere where these young people clearly work off their youthful chemistry to achieve believability in performances. Faring the best clearly is Karena Lam as the writer finding her inspiration and love with the editor she's never met. One that she's so dependent on, she can't even write without his advice and her struggles to find strength without being in love with him is a touching segment of the film. Lawrence Chou of The Eye, in a role he seems to fit better, surprises as a young musician who finds a bond with the old neighbor of the flat, Susie (Hau Woon-Ling in a supporting turn worthy of a nomination at least). Barbara Wong herself appears in a cameo as Karena's agent as does Richie Ren, as a cop.

The film may start with a vomiting scene and the premise is gross but you won't find any frat boys humping pies here. Barbara Wong achieves nice things here in her examination of pursuing of dreams in much different ways and Hong Kong cinema again demonstrates the strengths it has in simple, affecting drama. Barbara went on to begin directing the recent Protege De La Rose Noire but apparently left the project unfinished. That's not a film we want her to jump on already! In my opinion, some director's, for as long as they can anyway, should work in small films. That working method won't generate box office surely but by god, it's more worth the movie fan's time. If that counts...

The DVD:

Universe presents the film in a 1.84.1 aspect ratio approximately. Print damage is absent and the transfer handles details and colours well. Contrast seems a tad high on occasions but this is a strong effort by Universe nonetheless.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 Cantonese track is mainly dialogue based and presented well in that regard. Some huge booms and explosions come when the fantasy sequences hit, which makes the track lively also. A Dolby Digital Stereo and a Mandarin 5.1 dub is also included.

The English subtitles are well-written without any obvious mistakes in grammar and spelling. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. Stupidly enough, Universe has put the language- and subtitle options under the special features menu, where we also find other extras, starting with the making of (9 minutes, 38 seconds, no subtitles). The only highlight in this by the numbers program is the many snippets of unused footage (see below for more information).

The Photo Gallery gives us 19 movie stills, presented in full screen which is a suitable choice. Many companies fail to fully highlight even this feature and instead they bury it in surrounding graphics that do little to help this type of extra. Once again, this has stills of deleted footage. Star's Files has one excellent entry and that is for director/co-writer Barbara Wong but the ones for Karena Lam, Candy Lo, Roy Chow and Patrick Tang are just some quick facts and filmographies quickly put together by Universe. Trailers for Truth Or Dare: 6th Floor Rear Flat, If U Care..., July Rhapsody and My Wife Is 18 finishes the first disc....

(left, director Barbara Wong being interviewed and right, directing actress Candy Lo, from the making of)

...yep, we get a 2nd platter of extras that really are a mystery all up till the point when you push the On Air button on the main menu. Entitled Show Room: 6th Floor Rear Flat, on offer is a 34 minute, 22 second collection of deleted and extended footage (mainly deleted). Presented in letterbox and quality equal to that of the main feature, Cantonese and Mandarin stereo tracks and optional English subtitles (in addition to traditional and simplified Chinese ones), this is perhaps THE best extra Universe has ever come up with, for Western viewers that is.

No explanations as to why any of this footage was removed is provided though. (only a chapter index from A to H is). It's presented in chronological order and the first 3 segments concern the finding and moving into the 6th floor rear flat. The feature basically cuts right into this but Barbara shot a long opening that earlier on set up certain characters. That character set up was nicely dealt with as the feature moved along so the footage here, while fun, is not a huge loss. Lam Suet appears briefly here as Jean's father.

Furthermore, we watch more of the youths at work, including Jean with his fragrance oil scheme, and more character moments already firmly set in stone during the main feature. Arthur Wong also stops by as a triad boss. The deleted scenes with Sammy meeting his ex-girlfriend prior to the big truth or dare confrontation take on a little bit more weight but what's seen in the feature is enough to carry that plot strand. Finally, the same outtakes end credit sequence finishes this section. Strangely, it's not subtitled like it was during the film.

12 minutes and 31 seconds of NG Footage as well as an additional Photo Gallery (16 stills relating to the deleted footage) rounds off this 2nd disc.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson