When Beckham Met Owen (2004)
Directed by: Adam Wong
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Being part of a the huge fan base that David Beckham and Michael Owen has over the world, two of them residing in Hong Kong are suitably called David (Kelvin Lau) and Michael (Eric Leung) then. Best friends day and night, both on the soccer field and even when seemingly fighting for the friendship/love of Winnie (Jojo Yau), Michael will begin feeling things he's never felt before. You know when your body change, reacts and stuff...
Produced independently and supported by Eric Tsang, he had his hand in independent cinema for a while during this time (1*) and When Beckham Met Owen represents fruitful support of director/co-writer/editor Adam Wong who takes us on a journey of age old discoveries with felt results. Being very active with his camera and post-production trickery initially, things calm down after the likes of Tsang and Wong Ching-Po have appeared in cameos and focus begins finding the two boys of the piece. Being obsessed with soccer as you would've guessed by the English title, there's a beauty in Wong's film to not expect the final nails to come any earlier than in the final moments. Before that we have a variety of successful (and some not) threads that starts with the notion of the kids probably being too obsessed with the sport for their own good.
Staying up late and at least Michael losing track of his school- and soccer chores, the duo befriends what turns out to not be wheelchair-bound Winnie and we do think (and enjoy) the journey that is consciously (and correctly) heading down paths of falling in love for the first time. Preserving innocence but neglecting schoolwork pops up too but ultimately Wong and co-writer Isis Tso is heading down worn but felt roads about genuine friendship. Wong continues to tease a little by giving us an abstract sequence of Winnie supposedly choosing a suitor but there is a final seed planted when David showcase one of his many offerings of his playing shoes to Michael (David keeps spares in nearby trees anyway, showcased in a very quirky little bit). But the sensitive Michael is himself feeling something is different, something that will create a detachment from his friends. It's a little thing called sex.
Starting to feel, even going the lengths of reading up on the process of love-making and impregnating, the most heartfelt parts of When Beckham Met Owen shows Michael just feeling so different from everyone else that he of course borderlines on thinking he's unacceptable. A funny as well as tough sequence for young actor Eric Leung sees him dreaming of the joys of football and feelings he doesn't quite know how to visualize so he's forced to continually having to change his pants during one night. After this, director Wong quite skillfully turn to seriousness as he portrays Michael's inner conflicts that makes him turn away.
Good that the film is a story about friendship then and although David is a cocky, ambitious student, there's a tuned aspect to him that notices his friend in need and that anything should be done for him. It's quite encouraging to see this thread in the character never veering away but the fact that he's acting suitably adult in his specific kid shell is a testament to a focused writing and directing. These are kids but growing up comes with all the confusion you can shoot a football at. Getting the utmost best out of his young leads, in particular in the expressive Leung, takes the production to the emotional levels it strives for. And its choice is to underplay it, but done so in a pitch-perfect, balanced manner that it tugs equally perfectly at the heartstrings.
The adult world has a place although the supporting characters become filler in an already short movie. Miu Kiu-Wai as the soccer coach probably resembles the most workable character as it's touched upon that his daughter is being pushed into extreme development already at age 4 but the teachers we catch glimpses of have no true anchor in the overall themes and stories going on. Sheren Tang who plays Michael's mom probably needed some more resolution considering the one we get but somehow Adam Wong's choice to punctuate mildly feels very much correct. Goes with what we can expect and yet it isn't expected so kudos to a fine debut work from a filmmaker clearly being able to handle kids and put them amongst sensitive issues without degrading them or the meaning. Not part of either the Ying E Chi catalogue or Andy Lau's "FOCUS: First Cuts" program, When Beckham Met Owen breathes life into independent Hong Kong cinema and is worthy of being discovered.
Asia Video Publishing presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.72:1 approximately. Shot on video and at times appearing colourful, the presentation is still quite drab, lacks good sharpness and exhibits artifacts. As always if you have a forgiving mind like mine, perfectly watchable however.
The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 track sticks solely it seems to the center channel and although some dialogue is hard to hear, overall there's no true problems with the presentation. A Mandarin 2.0 dub is also included.
The English subtitles fail to appear for a select few lines but are otherwise of high standard in terms of coherence. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. There are no extras.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson