b420 (2005)

Written & directed by: Matthew Tang
Producers: Peter Yung, Phillip Lee & Hai Chung-Man
Starring: Miki Yeung, Sam Lee, Ben Hung, Winston Yeh & Lee Fung

Buy the DVD at:
HK Flix.com

Nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2006:
Best New Director (Matthew Tang)

Koey (Miki Yeung) lives with her grandma on the island of Macau. Fooling everyone she's still in school and working on her emigration application that will reunite her with her mom, Koey is living freely but without set goals. Catching the attention of dvd seller Willy (Sam Lee) that seems equally stuck and gravely unhappy, A kind of nursing of Willy takes place even though Koey is a hard girl to get attached to as she steers away from the emotional stuff. Crossing paths with Koey is also the timid Simon (Ben Hung) who is in addition Koey's chatbuddy online, unbeknownst to her. Only thing is, on there he is a she...Jenny.

"You're youths, stand over there and I'll make sure focus is correct. Rest is automatic!" If it at boiled down to being that easy but writer/director Matthew Tang (also writer of Jacob Cheung's excellent The Kid) debuts with belief. Belief that popstars can be immersed into a youth drama but mostly a belief that you can be intelligent about issues of the young. Although Tang loses some of his focus in the he's creating subtlety and final sentiments, b420 is an assured feature debut.

Much spoken of comes down to pursuit, happiness, choices and the age level of 20 seems to represent a critical turning point for the Macau based characters. Now out of school and out of touch with her friends, Miki Yeung's Koey even proclaims on camera for the website b420.com that she'll handle her development as each day goes by. Is that a correct choice or is she one endlessly wandering without that pesky pursuit, happiness thing brewing? Within wonderfully shot surroundings in Macau, the bubbly Koey easily turns gloomy, back to bubbly and even seems damn manipulative in a way that could easily mean hurt towards those infatuated with her. Simon of course lives a lie but Koey's main interest Willy is already torn so why isn't she more careful about the tugging back and forth she sends him on? Much hidden and gradually revealed in Matthew Tang's slow burner of a movie definitely is about Koey's inability to handle emotions the expected way and her constant photography means creating a family of friends when her actual is not near her anymore.

What is in store for any of these youth characters then? Tang keeps quiet after establishing Willy's depression due to losing his girlfriend and probably leading a life devoid of choices. Simon fights to erase his homosexuality status in the eyes of his family while continuing on his deception towards Koey. A simple crush or obsession? More hints are injected by Tang and a lot more unpredictability as themes will continue on throughout but take sharp narrative turns that probably are too ambitious. Mood is gravely changed towards the end but there's overall quite a lovely cinematic take on matters. Choosing obvious stylistic "treats" such as silent movie style flashbacks but also visualizing the world of ICQ or MSN chatting, in Tang breeds confidence to make these excursions vital and again throughout there's no definite questions answered until late or rather unconventionally answered. We're happy to be entertained by the pretty technical bits too, knowing full well there's a purpose waiting to be answered.

It's a bit questionable but choices are bold enough for us to stand up and take notice of the filmmaker that also gets his actors Miki Yeung, Sam Lee and Ben Hung immersed into his Macau movie world without making a star of either of them. I'll take immersed to a fine degree and it's not a compromise. Perhaps Tang will look back at b420 and make the trip to some other age level again because clearly he has the train of thoughts that are definitely connected to the twentysomething's AND even the older as well (who plays a part of mirroring the youth). Perhaps ultimately it is pretty correct to make your choices by the time you feel you should make them but in the meantime, don't deny being. Hopefully Matthew Tang will carry on being and erupt more distinctly on the Hong Kong scene because there's always a need for an intelligence, even if not commercially distinctive intelligence.

The DVD:

Deltamac presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with anamorphic enhancement. Showcasing colours well, featuring little print damage, the transfer scores on needed fronts with a very natural image.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 selection mainly uses fronts when opening up the soundstage and is clear throughout. A Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0 track is also included.

A few errors pop up in the English subtitles at times but they're overall well-worded and comprehensible. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also available. Only extras are the trailer and a music video. Both are set to the same music and basically are differently edited trailers.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson