20 30 40 (2004)    4 Stars

“They were looking for love… but they found each other.”


20 30 40 (2004)

Director: Sylvia Chang

Cast: Sylvia Chang, Rene Liu, Angelica Lee

Synopsis: Three women in different stages of their lives – 20, 30, 40 – face the hardships of the female existence.




20 30 40 is a film that examines how women’s experiences and expectations of relationships and love alter as they mature and develop as people. It’s more than just another chick flick — it’s too good to be so glibly categorised, even if it doesn’t provide any particularly original or thought-provoking insights. I don’t think that’s this film’s intention anyway — it’s not designed to inform or to draw conclusions about what takes place on the screen, but merely to reflect the kind of experiences encountered by women in probably every country in the world.

The film comprises of three stories that run parallel to each other and occasionally overlap in subtle ways that we recognise but the characters do not. The three women, whose ages roughly correspond with those in the title don’t know each other and never really meet (although they might share a passing glance or sit at neighbouring tables in a restaurant). This sometimes gives the film an episodic feel due to the inevitably fragmented narrative structure, but the individual stories hold well enough together to keep the viewer absorbed as they take centre stage. Angelica Lee plays Xiao Jie, a Malaysian 20-year-old in Hong Kong to try and make it in the pop world. Her long-haired producer (a miscast Anthony Wong) teams her up with a Hong Kong girl (Kate Yeung) and the girls develop a close relationship that borders on sexual without ever quite going there. The 30-year-old is Xiang (Rene Lui) an air hostess who juggles various relationships while struggling with a mass of insecurities that threaten to deprive her of everything she desires. Writer/Director Sylvia Chang plays the 40-something recent divorcee who struggles to cope with her loneliness as she ventures out into the unfamiliar singles world.

The three stories pretty much traverse the stages of a woman’s attitudes toward relationships, from the first confused steps of a young girl, through the more confident but no less turbulent emotions of a woman whose painful journey towards commitment is fraught with difficulties, to the consequential risk, experienced by the older woman, which that commitment holds for any person who enters into it. The stories are all appealing in their own way, but there is a noticeable, if slight, unevenness between them. The younger woman’s story strays into soap opera territory with a late revelation that adds nothing to the story or to our understanding of anything that has taken place between the two girls and which seems unnecessary. Xiang, the air hostess’s story is perhaps the most satisfying in terms of possessing a complete story in itself whereas the other two are fairly open-ended; Xiang’s character is nicely transformed from a selfishly demanding madam to a caring and happy woman who finds happiness in the fate she had previously railed against. Lily’s story is at least as poignant as Xiang’s, although in different ways; its protagonist is the most sympathetic of the three, and her story contains some welcome humour — especially her panic-stricken flight around the apartment from her amorous and sexually-demanding younger lover. Her relationship with a comatose woman may be slightly cliched but provides Lily — and the film — with an oasis of calm in which all that has taken place can be reflected upon and made sense of.

20:30:40 is a film that won’t receive a wide audience because it is a foreign language film. It’s a shame, because a lot of people who enjoy intelligently staged and written stories will miss out on a wonderful film — or, even worse, only get to see a terrible Hollywood remake.