Beyond Our Ken (2004)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2009-05-16
“Beyond Our Ken” is the story of a friendship between two young women who connect with each other on a number of levels. It succeeds because it keeps the story simple and streamlined until it ends with a sudden and unexpected twist. It touches on concerns such as truth, authenticity and filial loyalty but only lightly and always in the context of the developing relationship between Ching and Shirley. It takes a look at some of the problems of our technological age—embarrassing pictures will live forever as binary code and can be sent around the world in seconds. Life mirrored art in this case. Unfortunately as we become invested in the lives of the characters Edmond Pang the scriptwriter double crosses Edmond Pang the director with a faux-Hitchcockian climax that calls everything we have seen into question, although not in the post-modern “every text undermines itself” fashion but along the more traditional lines of “what was that all about?”.

The third star of this movie is Hong Kong itself. It is full of cityscapes, lovely shots from many angles and viewpoints, showing a vibrant city and avoiding the clichéd images of harbor and peak. We see aspects of the city as Ching runs through the streets to find a locksmith, while she and Shirley ride a motorcycle, sometimes just to frame a scene with an opening shot that lets us the quintessential urban landscape with its old and new buildings, wide streets and crowded alleys. Stairways are featured in many shots. There are lots and lots of stairs, part of an old city that had to be built upward before there were skyscrapers and elevators.

“Beyond our Ken” is the one of five films on which Edmond Pang worked with his hand picked “what you see onscreen” team: art director Man Lim-Ching, cinematographer Charlie Lam Chi-Kin and lighting designer Chan Wai-Ming. While the movies (at least those I have seen) differs in visual style they are alike in that each has a distinctive look and create a vivid sense of place.

The score features two of the most quoted “Top 40” hits in the western musical canon, both by Mozart: “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”, and the “Dies irae” from the Requiem. They are overused in movies as well as commercials and cartoons with the “Dies irae” used inappropriately as often as not. I imagine their use here is for the same reasons—to underline feelings of despair, foreboding or immanent, harmful change (“Dies Irae”) or just a nice, bouncy tune (“Eine Kleine”).

“Beyond our Ken” has an ambitious structure with flashbacks to the same events from the points of view of different characters but it is generally a straight forward story of loss and betrayal although who is betraying who and what is lost by whom is called into question by the manipulative final scenes.

This is a beautiful movie—every scene is a delight just to watch—but its pedestrian script isn’t on the level of the visuals. Recommended
Reviewer Score: 6