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FilmsAsia: Asian film reviews
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   Truth or Dare  


Truth or Dare: 6th Storey Rear Flat

Reviewed by sieteocho

Chinese Title: Luk lau hau joh
Director: Wong Chun Chun
Writing Credits: Lawrence Cheng, Fan Cheung, Wong Chun Chun
Cast: Lam Kar Yan, Candy Lo, Roy Chow, Lawrence Chou, Patrick Tang, Law Koon-Lan, Wong Chun Chun
Genre: Comedy
Country: Hong Kong
Language: Cantonese
Year Released: 2003
Runtime: 102 min

I don't know why but it seems that Hollywood just isn't capable of coming up with something new. Or perhaps it's the novelty factor. You can't have all your movies coming out of just one small town in America. You'll get bored shitless. You can't watch a Hollywood film without going out of the theater thinking, "yeah, but it's been done before, and probably better."

The new Asian cinema, though, and I mean East Asia because I don't really watch Bollywood stuff, is ... well there is a lot of stuff on the generation gap, which is really relevant. What the west called the 60s, we're going through them right now. Except that while their 60s was an incredible period of social change and prosperity, we're much more like it's two steps forward, one step back. We're being bombarded by western influence / Japanese influence on all sides, but we choose our own way of adopting it, so when the westerners see us it's like seeing themselves in the hall of mirrors. Except that we're us, and we always keep a part of ourselves no matter what. And the people who debate about the positives and negatives of western influence often forget about that point. But I'll have more to say on this later. What I'll say for now is that our 60s will last a long time. Probably 30 years or something.

This, with "July Rhapsody" and "Take Care of my Cat" form the three Asian movies which have made an impression on me of late. By some strange coincidence all three are directed by women. The guys? Maybe they don’t like all these touchy feely stuff. These three also happen to deal with one of my favorite themes: the passing of time, the fleeting moments that make up your life, made all the more fleeting because they are about to disappear.

The road movie cliche is really true: you do most of your growing up when you're stuck in an unfamiliar place, when you see new things and examine your reactions toward them. When things are happening almost too quickly for you to realize. When you are not in a settled pattern, when you are bustling and hastily making do, just trying to keep up with things around you. This could be the inside of a bus, or a student dormitory. When you have to move house every one year or so and are rudely reminded of your mortality by the shocking sight of an empty house, and the consequent reminder that all things are transient. In the words of Neil Tennant:

Now I sit with different faces in rented rooms and foreign places. All the people I was kissing, some are here but some are missing in the 1990s.

"Youth is like a sugar cube, isn’t it? It has edges, and it breaks easily. It’s absurd, but it’s sweet. And this sweetness must be melted with the warmth of your tongue in order to be tasted. You have to experience it up close. Everybody has this phase in life, a happy phase, a truthful phase. These people are laughable and lovable: laughable because we were once equally absurd, and lovable because we have also tasted this sweetness." And this sums up the heart and soul of the movie.

These are not words lightly uttered. If you can put an epilogue like that in your movie and get away with it, it must be an excellent movie, which it is.

Youth. They say that youth is wasted on the young. The carefree wild living, the innocence, the wealth of energy and good fortune. If this next movie I’m about the review, of "Truth or Dare: 6th Floor Rear Flat", doesn’t make it abundantly clear that it is about youth before the last scene, it spells it out in the epilogue to the show, and if you still don’t get it, the closing credits interview the various cast and crew members about what it means to be young.

I have come to like this movie, from the vantage point of a 26-year-old who knows that he is more or less halfway through that part of his period known as "young adult", having a few good memories, and a few regrets to balance them out.

I was struck by the honesty in this movie, or maybe it wasn’t that honest, how realistic is it that a bunch of jobless Hongkongers can live in an apartment together and live together without having a proper job, especially during these bleak times for the Hong Kong economy?

The film traces the events of the 6 residents of the aforementioned apartment after one particularly raucous game of truth or dare, where everybody takes up a challenge to fulfill a secret mission by the end of the year, or else eat an old lady’s crap. Naturally youngsters being youngsters, most of them set themselves unrealistic targets, and fail in the end, but the heart of the movie is in the trying.

WARNING: Spoilers

I don’t know the names of the 6 characters. There is Candy Lo, some tarot card reader who changes the fortunes of two policemen for the better and hence they are both in love with her. There is Karena, latterly of "July Rhapsody". This is the second time she is in a movie directed by a woman where she plays a talented writer who falls in love with an older man, an editor she has never met but flirts with on the phone and gets hung up on in more ways than one. The guys do not get that much spotlight, since after all the director is a woman: Candy and Karena are the heart of the movie. Of the four guys: there’s the one who wants revenge on a junior high school girlfriend who dumped him, another one who wants to strike it rich, another who dreams of making a record but faces opposition from his strict parents. The last one is a nerd who has an unrequited crush on Karena.

There are many humorous moments, like when there was a confrontation between the musician’s mother and the rest of the people in the apartment, or the get-rich-quick guy’s ill-conceived means of achieving his goal of earning $100K. But these are balanced out by the tension of Candy’s two-timing, and the tragedy of Karena’s unrequited crush. No matter what, this is an energetic, exuberant movie which employs both bold colors and daft humour in equal measure.

It’s always very sad when somebody says, "that was the happiest day that we spent together." It means that something has come to an end. In a large way, this movie is elegiac, because very few of their harebrained schemes ever turn out to be of any consequence. They live in a run-down place with nothing but their exuberance to get them by. They party hard, but they strive hard to achieve their goals in life. The game of truth or dare is the central focus of the movie, both as a plot device, and as a comment on the condition of youth: a time of great energy and vigor, where honesty and courage are not lacking. It’s a heroic period of one’s life, yet it lasts for such a short while. It’s a game, but all games come to an end anyway and it’s only what you learnt from the game that matters. It’s also about the courage to pursue all your dreams and hopes because that’s what you do when you’re young.

Their lease is running out. There used to be a hole in the wall that leads to the next apartment but it gets sealed up. Time is running out for these fellas to not eat shit. It’s the standard trick in the movie book. You create a world that the audience comes to love, and then you proceed to tell them that it doesn’t last forever.

Youth is a game of truth or dare. Which is basically dare, because the "truth" part is just daring to tell the truth, and facing up to yourself. It is the courage to make your way in this world, and face the emotional trials and tribulations, that is the most touching part of this movie. (Character) I like ensemble pieces, particularly those that are executed well. Candy and Karena get the benefit of having their characters more fleshed out, wish the director had concentrated more on the guys as well. The nerd and the vindictive guy who got dumped as a youngster (he subsequently swore himself off all women and became gay) are OK. The musician and the guy who likes money need more work.

I waxed lyrical over Karena Lam in the entry on "July Rhapsody". I first saw her in this movie. I know that most people preferred Candy Lo. But what really caught my eye was Karena, mainly because of an uncanny resemblance between a part of my life and the character that she plays in the film. She made it so real that I felt that I was going through it all over again. And anyway she's the one that I resemble the most in the film too. Well apart from the nerd who had a crush on her. It hardly seems fair that the dreamer Karena who spends much of the movie moping around like a loser eventually ends up as one of the few who doesn’t have to eat shit. The affair probably is more Karena’s fault than anybody else, though the editor, a married man in middle age, really shouldn’t have flirted with her in the beginning. But her editor does like her and publishes the book. He is never seen in the movie, although he even writes the epilogue, which shows him, like most of the viewers, to be a patron saint looking back upon his youth with tender fondness.

[This review first appeared in sieteocho.]