Director: Kearen Pang 彭秀慧
Studio: China 3D Digital Entertainment 中國3D 數碼娛樂
Language: Cantonese 粵語
Running Time: 111 minutes
Thirty is a milestone the world over, but in the hyper-competitive world of Hong Kong it carries added pressure. To have a career; to have a relationship; to get married. But Christy has everything on track. She’s got a job as an assistant for a famous fashion designer. She’s got a long-term relationship. And she’s even got an apartment she likes, minus a little mould here and there. But things that take years to build can fall apart in moments.
First, her landlord tells her he’s selling her apartment, and she has less than 2 weeks to move out. Second, her relationship begins to fall apart. Third, her dementia-suffering father falls critically ill.
Faced with these crises, Christy moves into an apartment to home sit whilst the owner is away. Among the owners many Polaroid photos and her pet turtles, Christy finds the owner’s diary. It turns out she, like Christy, is soon to turn 30. But their lives seem to be very far apart.
Wong Tin-Lok does not have Christy’s high-flying career; she works in a small record shop. She’s not fashionable, and she doesn’t have a long-term boyfriend.
What she does have is joy, and a love for life. So when Christy discovers the reason she’s not there, it makes her reconsider everything in her own life…
There’s a very famous saying in Chinese: 三十而立 (a man should stand on his own feet at 30). Like many famous Chinese sayings, it originates from Confucius. It’s a sentiment which many could relate to, but for anyone who has ever lived in a society with Confucian roots, it holds particular weight.
In Confucius’ time, women’s role in society was certainly different to today. Yet, for women across East Asia, to not be married by 30 is still often considered highly undesirable. Consequently, turning 30 can be especially stressful.
Director Kearen Pang’s 29+1 is a warm and genuine insight into the emotions that many women feel as they approach their third decade. Although 29+1 is Pang’s first movie, she is a veteran of Hong Kong’s theatre scene; in fact, 29+1 is an adaptation of Pang’s own one-woman show. As such, it’s clearly subject matter that she has had ample time to reflect upon and consider for adaptation.
And it’s a largely successful adaptation.
The story quickly evolves beyond the seemingly formulaic ‘career woman in the city’, and there is a mystery to the gradual revelations in Wong’s diary that keeps the pace moving along through the middle of the film.
The casting is excellent, no doubt because Pang had such a concrete image of who these characters are, having played them herself for many years. Chrissy Chau 周秀娜 as Christy and Joyce Cheng 鄭欣宜 as Wong Tin-Lok come from very different backgrounds. Chau rose to fame as a model, whereas Cheng has famously battled with her weight throughout her career. In 29+1, their characters are equally different different in appearance and initial impression, but through Wong’s diary slowly grow to know one another.
Where Pang’s direction and 29+1 occasionally stumble is when the adaptation tries to be too theatrical. We have not seen the stage show, but there are clips from the stage show in the credits which show numerous scenes from the film were direct translations. One of the most notable of these is where the ‘set’ opens up to reveal Paris and the Eiffel Tower. Although 29+1 has numerous surrealist elements, this transition feels jarring, occurring as it does near the film’s conclusion.
Nonetheless, 29+1 is a refreshing and understated addition to last year’s releases in a world where Hong Kong cinema is dominated by blockbuster co-productions and established megastars.