Reviewed by: mrblue
1995's Kids showed a thought-provoking, shocking, and/or exploitative view of troubled teens, depending on your view of frank depictions of sex, drugs, and violence as it pertains to those under eighteen. Lawrence Lau's social drama Spacked Out travels much of the same territory. However, despite carrying a Category III (Hong Kong's version of NC-17) rating, there's nothing really hard-hitting or really all that interesting here at all. In fact, at many points, Spacked Out almost comes off at times as a glorified ABC afterschool special, just with a bit more cursing and meth smoking.
Reviewer Score: 5
Reviewed by: Paul Fonoroff
In the dozen years since director Lawrence Ah Mons Gangs began a new chapter in the big screen treatment of Hong Kongs wayward youth, Cantonese cinemaand Hong Kong itselfhave gone through several transformations. Spacked Out, Ah Mons first feature in five years, is as up-to-date as the new millennium, while at the same time showing that things havent changed so much after all.
Whereas Gangs focussed on teenaged boys, Spacked Out concentrates on their female counterparts. Cookie, Sizzy, Banana and Bean Curd (played, respectively, by newcomers Debbie Tam, Christy Cheung, Angela Au, and Maggie Poon) are four Tuen Mun high school rebels without a cause. Their lives lack the authoritative anchor that a close family or forceful school would provide. Ranging in age from 13 to 16, with little consciousness of existence beyond the housing estate tenements and Mongkok arcades, these girls are doomed to drift and slide. They are unable to break away and barely aware that life can be more than karaoke, shopping, drugs, sex, abortions, and an endless, usually fruitless, quest for love and purpose.
The terrain has been dealt with in numerous 1990s movies, such as Girls in the Hood (1995) and Sexy & Dangerous (1996). More often than not, they take a tabloid approach that exploits the sex angles with a healthy dosage of gangster violence thrown in for a good measure. Spacked Out is not without sex, though its Category III rating is due to the frank nature of the dialogue and not to an excess of skin. There is also a small amount of violence, none of it triad-related. What distinguishes Spacked Out from the other teenage girl exposés is the non-exploitative manner with which it tackles its subjects. The sex and violence grow out of the characters and situations, and are not the raison dêtre for making the movie as so often seems the case.
The picture brings to mind Kids, Larry Clarks 1995 look at aimless New York youth. Both provide disturbing portraits of, and imply societys failure towards, todays teens. But Spacked Out isnt merely a Hong Kong version of Kids. Tuen Mun is quite different from Manhattan, and Ah Mons approach differs from Clarks. The message, though, isnt so dissimilar. Both provide ample evidence that something clearly is wrong, and neither softens the blow by tying everything up into a neat little package. There is no pop psychology or convenient answers.
Spacked Out takes an almost docudrama approach, though this in no way lessens the contributions of scriptwriters Yeung Sin-ling, Au Sui-lin, and Rat. The picture is full of humour even in situations which might be considered censurable, yet the laughter does not detract from the underlying gravity. Two instances that elicited audience giggles were Sizzys shoplifting of cosmetics while chatting with friends on her mobile phone, and the girls using those same cosmetics to paint open eyes on their closed eyelids to facilitate classroom naps. Amusing, yes, but none the less effective in highlighting the moral vacuum in which these girls reside.
As entertaining as the film is, it is a deeply disturbing picture. Banana is nicknamed the doctor by her friends for the breadth and scope of her medical knowledge. She is an abortion expert, and treats the operation with a blasé ennui that is sad in a 16-year-old. She picks up and dumps guys before they have a chance to reject her. It is a lesson absorbed by Cookie, the youngest of the group, pregnant at age 13 and barely concealing her anxiety beneath a tough-as-nails exterior.
An interesting contrast is provided by the inclusion of Ah Yee (Vanesia Chu), a girl from the right side of the tracks. She is middle class, educated, and has her life together. She finds Cookies crowd fascinating, and Cookie similarly finds her world strange and wonderful. The scene taking place inside a library is akin to a welcome oasis in the midst of the urban jungle.
Spacking Out is not as potent when it attempts to show the characters inner thoughts through symbolic dream or drug-induced hallucinations. It jars with the films otherwise straightforward realistic style, and takes the viewer outside the proceedings that have hitherto been so involving. But this is just a minor detour in one of the most worthwhile Cantonese cinematic journeys so far this year.
This review is copyright (c) 2000 by Paul Fonoroff. All rights reserved. No part of the review may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.