20 30 40 (2004)

Directed by: Sylvia Chang
Written by: Sylvia Chang, Gc Goo Bi & Kat Kwan
Producers: Hsu Li Kong & Patricia Cheng
Starring: Sylvia Chang, Rene Liu, Angelica Lee, Anthony Wong, Tony Leung Kar-Fai, Kate Yeung & Richie Ren

Buy the DVD at:
HK Flix.com

Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2005:
Best Actress (Sylvia Chang)
Best Supporting Actress (Kate Yeung)

Nominations at the Taiwan Golden Horse Awards 2004:
Best Supporting Actress (Kate Yeung)
Best Supporting Actress (Angelica Lee)

It started innocently enough as a concept album-idea where Sylvia Chang brought in Angelica Lee and Rene Liu, two performers she actually manages. One thing led to another and at the 2004 Berlin Film Festival, 20 30 40 premiered, a story of three modern women of three different ages. What's interesting about this is that all three actresses share story credit as Sylvia wanted each to contribute from their own perspective as 20-something, 30-something and Sylvia herself as the 40-something. The stage is definitely set for something special as a whole host of award-winning acting talent is assembled for this one.

Director Sylvia Chang dives deep into one form of pessimism, the subject of denial, falling apart and an eventual putting together again. Somewhere along the same lines of my liking of Princess-D I walk on for 20 30 40. I.e., a minor pleasure, which also means that Chang's work somewhere halt at a good level only, despite clearly striving for something greater. Admittedly, it's a better film and 20 30 40 really is one where you let it sink in rather than being dazzled throughout. Despite Princess-D being quite high on the visual jazz and dazzle, Chang takes a suitable hands-off approach here and by the way, whoever compared this to Sex & The City surely based their idea on the basic plot synopsis only as 20 30 40 plays out more down to earth and real, thankfully.

For her three subjects, all residing or ending up in Taipei, there exists a number of different traits, yet they are alike in their basic meaning. Breaking them down, Malaysian girl Xiao Jie (Angelica Lee) has high aspirations to be a singer and is paired up with Tong Yi (Kate Yeung) by washed out rock manager Sie Ge (Anthony Wong), hoping to market them as singing sisters (a not so subtle jab at The Twins). Not necessarily naive but still possessing great dreams of fame and fortune, Xiao Jie is met with a minimal nature to that dream and worse conditions. This story differs since it's not immediately about letting the character crash-land, but rather Xiao Jie gradually is on her painful path of discovery. One that involves a playful relationship with Tong Yi and brewing underneath are stronger feelings.

Flight attendant Xiang (Rene Liu, Best Supporting Actress Winner at the Hong Kong Film Awards for her performance in Double Vision) matches her fast and flying job with loose relationships but quickly the Taipei earthquake reveals a fragile little girl. It's soon apparent that her strong form of denial can't be denied anymore as she's clearly hiding a larger depression and a desire for long lasting happiness exists underneath that tough exterior. And it sure hurts to come to that conclusion and realization.

Sylvia Chang herself is Lily, our 40-something, and after a slightly too conveniently scripted setup that leads to her divorce, it really becomes the more complex journey that any character takes as Lily constantly goes back and forward in her approach to her new single-status in life. If it's either working out, having a short fling with her tennis teacher (Richie Ren) or helping along a lone toy salesman (Tony Leung Kar-Fai) in his struggling relationship, Lily always finds herself back at that abandoned state and ultimately, the conclusion for all of these is not greatly surprising but handled in a fresh enough way for us to follow through.

Chang has confidence in her material and certainly her background as an actress allows her to get true performances out of her cast but there sets in enough feelings of uneven pacing here. The concious choice is certainly not that of fast-paced but there is an art in making your slow choices flow well and Sylvia isn't the master of that. Also, some slight forays into comedy doesn't always play put well against the character development, which is particular true for Richie Ren's scenes. None of this really fails to achieve its goals, it's just simply not always the smoothest ride. 20 30 40 certainly exists for selected and patient audiences therefore. Two major strength it does gain at the end is that events feel overall more true to real life than to movie life, and it got fitting performances to boot. By being non-intrusive, Chang immerses herself, Angelica and Rene into the modern world of 20 30 40.

Angelica Lee certainly is young but has proven she can emote both a maturity and proves here that she can tackle the teenage mentality, with truly compelling results. Rene Liu works out a great performance, based on the two contrasting costume choices for her character alone! The professional, flight attendant Xiang seems unstoppable and seems to revel in her fast and loose lifestyle. On the ground however, and in the confines of her own home, there exists a younger and easily hurt girl, something Sex & The City would never approach, going back to that damn comparison. Sylvia Chang deserves a big kudos as well as she's brave and unselfish enough to make her age part of the narrative. Not that Chang doesn't look great for her age but scenes when she's focusing on the fact that she is aging are certainly not something women throw themselves into just like that in movies. Anthony Wong brings humanity to what could've been more of a campy character and if you're wondering how the Chinese version of Old Jay (as in Jay & Silent Bob) would look like, this is it.

20 30 40 still resembles what I think is a factor in Sylvia Chang's work as director, having only seen 2 of her films in that capacity though. While all thematic intentions are good, well-realized, acted and directed, it's consciously not jumping out at you, I get that. However because of it, it's not a drama home run either. On the whole, worthwhile and its portrayal of modern women putting together their lives for the first time or once more is worthy of appreciation.

The DVD:

ERA (Columbia's distributor in Hong Kong) presents the film in a anamorphically enhanced 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Sharpness and colours looks steady throughout and print is clean.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track mainly consists of Mandarin but also some sections are in Cantonese. Being very dialogue-based, the track only comes to life, mainly in the front channels, when larger effects do but does so in a good manner.

The English subtitles are excellent, featuring no spelling or grammar errors. Thankfully they're not the yellow font that Columbia usually goes with but instead a nice white. Korean, Thai and Chinese subtitles are also available.

Extras come in the form of a 21 minute, 12 second making of (with permanent Chinese and optional Korean subtitles only). It goes through each respective character and actress, mixed in with the odd glimpse of behind the scenes material but not much else can be taken away from it for those of us who don't understand the language. Trailers for Passionada, Tokyo Godfathers and Warriors Of Heaven And Earth are also included but strangely none for 20 30 40.

Also included with the dvd is a promotional item in the form of a small, vanilla-scented teddybear. What connection it has with the film? I have no idea....but it's vanilla-scented.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson