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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Beyond Our Ken
Beyond Our Ken
World Video and Supply // Unrated // July 19, 2005 // Region 0
List Price: $14.98
Review by Joshua Zyber | posted May 8, 2005 | E-mail the Author
C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
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P R I N T
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The Movie:
For a Western viewer, Chinese comedy can often seem unapproachable. There's a culture gap between what is considered "funny", and the linguistic puns and cultural references don't always translate. That's not to say that Chinese comedies have no crossover appeal, but in general the broad slapstick performances and intentionally shrill pitch of many of these films seem to carry over best in action-comedy pictures from the likes of Jackie Chan or Stephen Chow, and less so when it comes to the situational humor of families or personal relationships. Director Pang Ho Cheung (of the screwball gangster parody Men Suddenly in Black) skillfully bridges the gap with his dark relationship comedy Beyond Our Ken. The film is hardly at all what you'd expect from a reading of its premise, and should be fairly accessible to viewers from any cultural background.

Karaoke bar waitress Shirley (Tao Hong, The Red Violin) seems to be pretty happy with her boyfriend Ken (Daniel Wu, New Police Story and One Nite in Mongkok), a charming guy we first meet throwing a surprise party and treating her sweetly. Things go sour one day when Ken's ex-girlfriend Ching (Gillian Chung, Twins Effect) introduces herself and begins telling Shirley stories about the less appealing side of Ken's personality and the petty, vindictive actions he took during their break-up. He may act kind and loving now, Ching warns, but just wait until all those naked pictures he took of you start showing up on the internet. Did he mention that he has Hepatitis B while he was convincing you to have unprotected sex? Suitably disgusted, Shirley takes heed. The two women so different in personality (Shirley is bubbly and extroverted while Ching is almost painfully shy and introverted) bond over their mutual and growing anger toward their common boyfriend, plotting their revenge. All the while, poor Ken has no idea what's going on and thinks Shirley is as in love with him as ever. Further surprises are of course in store, both for Ken and the women, as everyone's hidden agenda comes to light.

While it could have gone for obvious gags and goofy slapstick, Beyond Our Ken is instead a low-key, thoughtful examination of conflicting emotions. The humor is based not on clich├ęs or plotted set-ups, but on subtle nuances of behavior and keenly observed details of how real relationships function. The movie has no nudity, but features a very frank depiction of sex that feels totally real and honest. Its characters don't always do the right thing or have the perfectly-scripted comeback line for any situation. The story gets a little confusing and almost breaks apart in the end, but this intelligent, even literate comedy-drama (we learn in the end credits that its title refers not just to the women's need to distance themselves from their boyfriend, but is also a quote from War and Peace of all things) speaks directly to anyone who has ever been in a relationship, especially one that didn't last. By that measure, just about everyone, no matter where you come from, should find something to identify with in it.

The DVD:
This DVD release of Beyond Our Ken comes in a nice all-region NTSC disc that will function in any American DVD player.

Video:
The anamorphically enhanced 1.78:1 video transfer is very sharp and colorful, with almost no visible edge enhancement artifacts. The source elements have a few errant speckles here and there, but hardly enough to be distracting. Black level doesn't extend very deep and the image does not exhibit much depth, but this seems more like a stylistic choice than a DVD transfer issue. The photography is mildly grainy in spots, but digital compression quality is solid throughout the movie except for the end credits, which are rather shimmery. Minor flaws aside, compared to many other Chinese releases this is a fine-looking disc indeed.

Audio:
The original Cantonese-language soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The default volume is set surprisingly loud and may require compensation. The movie's sound design is not terribly showy. The surround channels are hardly used at all aside from ambient noises and music bleed, but the front soundstage has clear dialogue and nice musical fidelity. Some of the music even includes satisfying bass presence.

The studio also offers a DTS edition, but it was unfortunately not available for review. I imagine that any differences between the sound formats would be marginal given the uncomplicated nature of the soundtrack.

A Mandarin dub track is also available in Dolby 5.1. Optional English subtitles are provided, along with Traditional and Simplified Chinese. The English translation is acceptable but unfortunately does contain a number of annoying grammatical problems.

Extras:
The disc starts with an unskippable Dolby trailer and has some truly frustrating menus, with English text written vertically in a dark red font that blends into the black background. I had to walk directly up to the screen and turn my head sideways to tell what options to select.

Director Pang Ho Cheung supplies an audio commentary, presented in Cantonese with English subtitles. His comments are very sparse, amounting to little more than a sentence or two at the start of each scene, with long gaps in between. From as much as I could stand to watch before giving up, he didn't seem to be sharing much valuable insight. The commentary is hardly worth the effort.

Two minutes of Tokyo Film Festival footage feature interviews with the shockingly young director and his cast. English subtitles are thoughtfully provided. The two deleted scenes, unfortunately, are not translated for English-speaking viewers. The disc menus claim that the deleted scenes have a director commentary, but it didn't sound that way to me and I was not able to access any alternate audio tracks.

The Secrets of "Beyond Our Ken" section of the disc presents a small handful of trivia questions about the movie, with answers that help to flesh out the story's plot. The menu navigation is extremely irritating, however.

The theatrical trailer and TV spots don't offer subtitles, but have so little speaking that you hardly need any. A photo & poster gallery, a text synopsis and some cast & crew bios (available in Chinese or English) finish off the disc.

No ROM supplements have been included.

Final Thoughts:
Beyond Our Ken is a surprisingly disarming dark comedy that should be easily accessible to most Western viewers. The DVD has nice picture and sound quality, even if the menus are irritating and the bonus features don't add up to anything significant. The disc is well worth at least a rental, or perhaps a purchase for Chinese cinema fans.

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