The Unusual Youth (2005)

Written & directed by: Dennis Law
Producers: Dennis Law & Herman Yau
Starring: Marco Lok, Race Wong, Yan Ng, Ronnie Cheung, Raymond Wong, Sammy Leung, Kitty Yuen & Helena Law

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HK (Tai Seng)

Remembering Dennis Law's name among the producers of Johnnie To's both Election movies, online reviews also revealed that he's a chairman at To's Milkyway as well as a building developer NOW turned director! While the fan community are now putting full focus on the third feature of his, Fatal Contact (starring Jacky Wu and by the way, who is REALLY focusing on the director of that movie....?), The Unusual Youth is the debut from what I can only assume is the Dennis Law/Herman Yau headed production company Point Of View.

Featuring extensive use of cinematographer Herman Yau's eye for frame depth and how to use dollies, cranes etc in a non-intrusive way, Dennis Law does open his coming of age story in probably the most off-beat way you can think. Making reference to the conflict Marco Lok's Big Chick has with his grandma (Helena Law - Bullets Over Summer), part of the opening is straight out of Ultraman (or any Japanese series of this kind), suggesting monstrous things ahead. Helena Law is a good sport I'll tell ya but it does eventually lead into a youth study of multi-character status where Dennis Law showcases important things like sincerity, a feel for the real and why a new director shouldn't tackle this much at once.

Our youths of Cheung Chau island are certainly in a transition where responsibility young adult looms ahead via choices of career, love and a understanding of life. By design, their exaggerated and loud bonding turns awkwardly surface-like only though as we see later for instance Big Chick's rather unsympathetic and cruel side, not knowing how to possess his particular shell. Sure you should be allowed to be you to a rather big extent but pressure mounting from the grandmother's side for him to achieve something is in fact her own hidden, selfish agenda. Old ladies must be able to speak highly of their grandsons at mahjong, yea?

Dennis Law evidently lacks experience but being a new filmmaker and nailing certain things is still encouraging to see. While his particular focus on for instance Yan Ng's May May, Raymond Wong's Biggie and Ronnie Cheung's Dragon very much means they are supporting characters, they're not so much supporting but unfortunately filling instead. No, this is more Marco Lok and Race Wong's picture, embodying the coming of age aspect that does work sporadically well. Law gets felt results when letting his characters vent their insecurity about sex, love and the future (Race Wong's mirror shots during a particular section in the film means the obvious but is effectively played) and the responsibility angle gets paid off even when dealing with the supporting character's in Big Chick's family. Granny learns a little something, the record setting young parents realizes a thing or two about themselves (father of Big Chick is played by Sammy Leung, barely older than Lok seemingly but this is a conscious choice) and somewhere in there, even the bullied little brother does. Maybe and then Law goes on to kill some intentions cleared nicely by featuring a puzzling end reel montage of clips that may concern a sequel or a closure to events (including a lesbian subplot!) but what it does represent is the insecurity on Law's behalf as writer/director.

Choosing to go quirky and off-beat at quite inappropriate times occasionally (Simon Yam's cameo is capped with a totally out of place violent gag), The Unusual Youth partly has the problem that it does say nothing new but mainly it's about saying the things so out loud that it becomes a bit disconcerting to the audience. Also Law goes a few steps outside of his main frame and creates some ill fitting moments for his theme, set in China. But with poor to sufficient to promising performances from the cast (Race Wong is in the beginning stages of achieving splendid cinematic presence), one can never argue against Dennis Law's felt and sincere intent of The Unusual Youth. Protesting against the notion of the USUAL youth, we are fed the questions of: Where is the ambition? Where is the intent? Where is the responsibility and where is the pleasant movie they're apparently making? It's apparent and Point Of View Productions should start by clearing out notions of voice-over, Canto-pop drowning OUT emotions and simply go for the real. Then they have a bigger chance to matter.

The DVD:

Universe presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with anamorphic enhancement. The new film receives a dependable presentation in all areas.

Audio options are Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 5.1 but as I'm not equipped with such a system, my assessment of this disc aspect will be left off this review.

The English subtitles curiously drops certain words that are about summing up totals in dollars for instance and even other words at beginning or end of sentences. This doesn't happen very often thankfully and while the grammar sometimes leaves a lot to be desired, the translation is overall very coherent. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included.

Extras merely includes Star's Files (nothing more than filmography listings in this case) for actors Race Wong, Raymond Wong, Sammy Leung, Kitty Yuen and a 20 page Photo Gallery (with a handful of behind the scenes shots mixed with movie stills).

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson