Spacked Out (2000)

Directed by: Lawrence Lau
Written by: Yeung Sin Ling, Au Shui Lin & Rat
Producer: Johnnie To
Starring: Debbie Tam, Christy Cheung, Angela Au, Maggie Poon & Vanesia Chu

Buy the DVD at:

Award at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards 2000:
Film Of Merit

Director Lawrence Lau ventures in drama territory again but here shifts focus to the youths and the harsher lives of those. Milkyway Productions continues to widen their versatility and in between all his rom/com's Johnnie To maintains respect by producing works like these.

In 1995 Larry Clark raised a few eyebrows with his movie Kids. Those who raised their voices against the movie were probably those not willing to accept that what was portrayed was actually happening. What Clark did well was just presenting his observations but his standpoint remained in neutral territory. Lawrence Lau takes this subject to the streets of Hong Kong and he also doesn't take sides. A proper plot synopsis isn't needed because Spacked Out doesn't really have ONE main plot. The youngest girl Cookie (Debbie Tam) is the one whose story (revolving around her pregnancy and the longing for her true friend to come back) receives the most attention from Lau. The other girls Sizzy (Christy Cheung), Banana (Angela Au) and Bean Curd (Maggie Poon) merely have little plot strands that are touched upon as we follow them throughout the film.

The girls inhabiting the world in Spacked Out are products of loosely connected family lives or in some cases a nonexistent family life. With either of those two it seems natural that you adapt a lifestyle consisting of hanging out or occasionally do drugs or petty crime. The harder edged attitude also results in a total lack of respects for authorities and the teachers are on the receiving end of this in Lau's film. The educational system is rarely portrayed in a positive way in Hong Kong movies and the lack of respect is of course a reason why the teaching is lacking, looking at the statistics. This smaller part of the narrative isn't as dark or depressing as Ringo Lam's School On Fire but apparently much haven't changed since Ringo presented his view. The girls rarely talk about their future dreams just because they don't see a society with opportunities for them. They seem satisfied with their lives and even when the darker side of reality comes knocking we still see no apparent change in thinking. It's only Cookie that tells us that she wants something better but deep inside there lies little optimism in her even. We do come to somewhat like these girls and hope they're just going through a temporary phase that will lead them to brighter futures...maybe.

That Lawrence chooses not to judge and instead presents an honest perspective becomes one of the strong points. Instead of a morality tale it all really is his view of Hong Kong in 1999. It's an insight into a problem people are already aware of but if it's still a problem it deserves to be mentioned yet again. Some may look down at Lau's film because of the fact that it doesn't bring anything new to the table and the absence of a truly visible plot is probably not going to sit well with all viewers.

I like several thing in Lawrence Lau's direction. First, the atmosphere is not depressing as such. The girls remain happy because of their friendship and since they're not unhappy Lau doesn't choose to convey that either. Proceedings do turn darker towards the end when they end up in seedy environments and unhappiness takes over. This section primarily deals with Cookie's feelings regarding her being pregnant and borderlines on surreal when Lau shows the turbulent mind of this young girl. Sound design is great here and a few images in combination with the sounds are rather creepy. Lau is also one of the few filmmakers using a documentary style and actually making it work. The camera floats freely around the events and even goes out of focus at times while following the people. For the handful of flashbacks we go into true documentary mode since these sequences are shot on video.

Spacked Out is blessed with having Award winning cinematographer (shared DP-duties with Andrew Lau on Infernal Affairs) Lau Yiu Tai and he doesn't do much in terms of style with the documentary look, rightly so. Lighting seems minimal when shooting on the streets of Hong Kong and he has nicely captured the pulse of the city with his eye. There are three composers on this picture (A Lee On, Leung Gei Cheuk and Yue Yat Yiu) but it's still a focused score that works well with the different moods throughout. Mostly we hear a slightly pounding techno ambient score suggesting pressure and living on the sometimes dangerous edge of life. In Cookie's flashbacks, that are the most soothing parts, a simple but beautiful piano track is used.

Perhaps the finest achievement is the performances from the four girls. All of them made their acting debut with this film and only supporting actress Vanesia Chiu have previous screen credits. Debbie Tam is more or less our leading lady and along with the other girls she takes on a very natural approach to the material. You do need a solid director backing you up but these young actresses I think knows more of the characters they're portraying than any director or screenwriter does. Not suggesting they themselves live this life but if anything it's closer to them than anyone else, resulting in more real performances.

Lawrence Lau doesn't throw buckets of social commentary at us with his Spacked Out. Instead he's simply honest but not judgmental in his portrayal of youths on the wrong track of life This viewer wasn't depressed afterwards but instead slightly hopeful regarding Cookie, Sizzy, Banana and Bean Curd's future.

The DVD:

Once again there is this screendoor effect imbedded on a Mei Ah Transfer. The transfer is framed around 1.70:1 and the previous mentioned flaw is the one complaint really. Colours are strong and we get decent sharpness.

We get audio options in the form of Dolby Digital Cantonese 5.1 and 2.0 and the same for the Mandarin dub. There's actually a lot of ambiance on this track but dialogue is still evenly mixed. The final section of the movie really opens up the sound stage resulting in a solid audio experience.

The English subtitles are of high quality with no obvious errors in translation. Newer movies usually mean better subtitles nowadays. Simplified and Traditional Chinese subs are also included.

The Mei Ah Data Bank holds the always crappy cast & crew listing plus a plot synopsis. Then there's trailers for Spacked Out and Untouchable Mania.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson