Reviewed by Shelly Kraicer at the 2000 Hong Kong International Film Festival.
Spacked Out, directed by Lawrence Ah Mon (aka Lau Kwok-cheung) looks like a standard lost-youth genre film. It shows scenes from the lives of four semi-delinquent girls who live in Tuen Mun, a satellite town in Hong Kong's New Territories. They inhabit, on the periphery of school, a marginal but active life revolving around malls, karaoke, drugs, and one night stands. Spacked Out doesn't glamourize these wayward young women, though. In this respect, it is a bracing and pointedly critical antidote to the male-centred triad youth films of the late 1990s. The film's style is rough and gritty, with lots of jerky hand-held camera work, seemingly improvised dialogue, episodes of video, and frequent jumpy editing. It oscillates, in a particularly Hong Kong way, between a raw, "honest" seeming neo-realism and heightened, hyper-stylized excursions into the characters' subjectivities (a further examination of this hybrid style is provided in this review of Little Cheung).
The four main characters of Spacked Out are all played by first-time actresses, and Lawrence Ah Mon has inspired impressively vivid, spontaneous-seeming performances from all of them, performances that really carry and "sell" the film. Bean Curd (Maggie Poon) is the standout. All blustering tough shaved-headed aggressiveness, she's overly protective of her girlfriend Sissy. The latter is the "femme" of the couple, as well as being an adept at shoplifting cosmetics while chatting with her friends on a cell phone. Banana, who sells phone sex semi-discreetly during class, wields a savvy but sadly world-wise young sexuality -- she's an abortion expert at 16. Cookie is the heart of the film, its narrator, as well as the youngest of the girls. She is introverted, lonely, and lost, and seems to be acutely aware of it. What narrative thread the film exhibits (it is actually a loosely structured series of set pieces) links the gaps in her life, a life in which boyfriends, parents, ambitions, and a sense of self-worth are all notably absent.
The film adopts Cookie's first person point of view towards its conclusion in a series of nightmarish, horror-genre derived surrealistic flourishes as she enters or imagines entering an abortion clinic. But director Ah Mon can't completely eschew two episodes of rather heavy-handed lecturing: moralizing about the responsibility of absent parents, and a showing a drug trip sequence that seems, in its nightmarish denouement, to be conceived as a sort of public service announcement (along the lines of "Kids, don't do drugs, or really bad things will happen"). They feel grafted on, imposed from the outside, and cut against the film's well-earned sense of authenticity. Moreover, they provoke a disquieting concern about the film's agenda vis-a-vis Hong Kong larger post-1997 political situation. Is the SAR itself also at risk, in so far as it lacks appropriate patriarchal supervision? With the departure of its former colonial masters, and the authority of the new/old parent -- the mainland government -- constantly in question, just how closely does Spacked Out want the audience to identify with the anarchic, free wheeling, subversive energy of its charismatic young heroines?
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