The lives of three disparate modern women get a refreshing
once-over in 20 : 30 : 40, a romantic-drama-comedy
from director Sylvia Chang. Angelica Lee, Rene Liu, and
Sylvia Chang portray the three women of the respective ages
twentysomething, thirtysomething, and fortysomething, and
each had a hand in penning their character's story too.
The conflicts vary, but touch on very basic, common themes,
i.e. identity, belonging, the quest for companionship, and
simply getting by in the mixed-up modern world. All told,
this looks like a film meant to dig deep into an all-encompassing
truth about being femaleor something to that effect.
It's hard to say that the film really succeeds at that,
as it's too uneven and sometimes cursory to register as
anything truly revealing. However, the storytelling is refreshingly
honest, and the actresses imbue their characters with charming,
substantial life. 20 : 30 : 40 won't change any lives,
but it's an engaging film with plenty to offer.
Angelica Lee AKA Lee Sin-Jie
AKA Sinjie is Xiao Jie, a twentysomething Malaysian girl
who journeys to Taiwan with the promise of becoming a possible
idol singer. She's paired with Hong Kong girl Tong Yi (Kate
Yeung) by producer-songwriter Shi Ge (Anthony Wong looking
like Jason Mewes of Jay and Silent Bob fame) with the hope
that they'll be a twin sister pop duo, but the going is
tough. Meanwhile, the girls become fast friends, but their
interaction carries with it possible romantic implications.
Thirtysomething year-old flight attendant Xiang (Rene Liu)
has her own romantic issues: liasons with both a married
dentist and a possessive music producer. Xiang keeps both
men on strings, neither committing to nor fully cutting
ties with either. Finally, Lily (Sylvia Chang) is the fortysomething
married owner of a florist shop. However, when subbing for
irresponsible employees, she makes a floral delivery and
discovers that her husband has a second family! Driven to
divorce, she heads back into the singles scene in a bold,
and somewhat comic fashion.
The women never meet in 20
: 30: 40, though their paths do cross on occasion. Xiang's
flight attendant co-worker dates Jeff (Tony Leung Ka-Fai),
who eventually meets up with Lily, who was her former classmate.
Lily views Jeff as a possible romantic interest post-divorce,
but her trials with him have more to do with getting her
life in order than finding a new man. Lily also has lunch
right next to Shi Ge, who can't seem to get Tong Yi and
Xiao Jie's career rollling. Xiao Jie walks by Lily's shop,
and for the briefest of moments, the two women exchange
glances. Xiang changes residences to escape from her go-nowhere
social existence, and moves right down the street from Lily's
shop. All the while, the women press on with their current
crises, each finding some measure of success or failure
within their lives. Never do they sit down and talk about
their problems ala "Sex and the City",
nor do they ever reach underlined, pronounced ephiphanies
on life's meaning and their eventual destinies. At the end
of the two hour mark, the women have closed some chapters,
and opened others. Life goes on, be it bittersweetly or
with firm, positive finality. It's just like life, or some
well-played facismile of it.
20 : 30 : 40 doesn't
have a very strong narrative, which is to be expected from
a film with three separate stories and no particular driving
force. Basically, this film is a sensitive look at the trials
of women at different stages in life, and that's exactly
what it is: a look. The stories themselves don't reach find
much new ground on which to tread, and sometimes seem somewhat
tired. Xiao Jie's experiences with sexuality are only touched
upon, though Anjelica Lee and Kate Yeung bring youthful
exuberance and believable emotion to their characters. Furthermore,
the entire point of her thread seems to be summed up in
a too-easy connection between the characters around her.
Still, the two actresses bring winning personalities and
naked emotions to their characters (Lee continues to impress,
and Yeung builds upon the promise she showed in Demi-Haunted),
which is enough to keep them engaging. The problem is we
don't spend nearly enough time with them.
The same thing could be said
about the other two storylines, though they're both better
handled than Xiao Jie's. Rene Liu's Xiang struggles to find
stability, while at the same time realizing that's what
she wants. On a more minor level, she confronts old dreams,
and questions her personal desires. Her struggles are nothing
new for cinema, but their mundanity is perfectly suited
for the film's omnibus format, and Liu gives a honest, emotionally
sound performance that's always believable. By contrast,
Sylvia Chang's portion of the film has more over-the-top
situations, and is given to surprising, even bawdy comedy.
There are also some narrative devices that feel somewhat
contrived (Lily's friendship with a comatose woman is a
bit cloying), and Chang's performance is a bit more showy
than subtle. At the same time, her emotional journey feels
honest, and the way it ends is both surprisingly humorous
and heartwarming. Chang gives a somewhat daring performance
(for a Hong Kong actress anyway), and her portions of the
film earn by far the biggest laughs.
The mixture of loose laughs
and poignant pathos ultimately renders 20 : 30 : 40 as somewhat of an uneven film. Without a defining thread
among the three stories, the film eventually stumbles towards
its end, accomplishing little other than a brief glimpse
at three changing lives. Still, that glimpse is a very worthy
one, and speaks to a refreshing honesty of character that
pushes the film past the "woman's film" label.
20 : 30 : 40 may seem like a woman weepie designed
to expound on the trials of womanhood, but the stories and
actors seem to be creating characters more than attempting
any profound truth. Despite the sometimes mundane and even
contrived situations present, there's plenty of character
to keep anyone who cares about such things occupied. 20
: 30 : 40 basically asks us to give up two hours to
get to know three different, but engaging women and the
little trials that make up a small portion of their lives.
Nothing earth-shattering really happens (except an earthquake
at the beginning of the film), but when the film's over,
it feels like time well spent. (Kozo 2004).