20-30-40

20-30-40

Taiwan (2004) Dir. Sylvia Chang

This portmanteau film takes a look at the lives of there different women whose ages are all ten years apart, exploring both the differences and similarities that features in their romantic endeavours.

20 year-old Xiao Jie (Angelica Lee) arrives from Malaysia with aspirations of being a pop star. She hooks up with musician/producer/manager Shi Ge (Anthony Wong) who introduces Xiao to another wannabe Tong Yi (Kate Yeung). With nowhere to stay Tong invites Xiao to stay with her.

Ten years her senior is air stewardess Xiang Xiang (René Liu) who is stuck between two men, married doctor (Hung-Liang Chang) and a younger wannabe rock musician (Bo-Lin Chen) who wants shot of both but can’t live without them! Finally life is about to again for florist Lily (Sylvia Chang) who discovers one day when making a delivery that her husband and father or their teenage daughter is a bigamist with another family. Lily divorces him and hits the singles scene with aggression.

Sylvia Chang is a one woman film making machine having written, produced directed and starred in numerous projects over the last thirty years. 20-30-40 is Chang’s suggestion that while age may be just a number it can mean something when dealing with affairs of the heart. Ironically the only storyline that is less driven by sex and romance is Xiao Jie’s, the one person who is at the age where getting down and dirty – as movies would have us believe – is a prerequisite!

Perhaps somewhat lazily, there is an air of immaturity surrounding the escapades involving the duo soon to be pop music mega flops the Sunday Girls. They giggle and lark about a lot, take very little seriously and of course have stars in their eyes. But there appears to be a trouble on the horizon when Tong Yi hooks up with a young man after their failed showcase and Xiao is suddenly the shelved third wheel. The reason behind this tension however comes from an entirely different place.

However her two older counterparts are no better. Xiang may be struggling to decide which one of her to suitors is her true love but she wants to eat her cake as well as have it, which doesn’t sit well with the men in question. The younger of the two is more aggressive and thinks ringing Xiang up at all hours and throwing water over her will make her want to marry him while the more mature and noble doctor puts himself out of the picture by having a family and being busy saving lives.

She may be the oldest of the trio but Lily’s arc is the most amusing and the most touching. It is with some irony that her job would lead her to discover her husband’s infidelity but Lily refuses to play the wounded ex-wife. Lily’s first foray into the modern singles scene shows that her stamina wasn’t what it was which she endeavours to address. Lily finds herself in the arms of a younger tennis coach (Richie Ren) who soon wears the forty year-old out! However a trip to the gym sees Lily reconnect with old school chum Shi-Jie “Jerry” Zhang (Tony Leung Ka-fai). Could a romance brew from this?

The three arcs intertwine in the subtlest of manners with no direct interaction between the three leads – such as Lily eating lunch at a table where Shi Ge is trying to get a gig for the Sunday Girls – but this is unnecessary since the connecting theme is substantial enough.

Chang’s script cleverly depicts life and love at these three significant stages in life four three protagonists – Xiao is free and reckless with no thoughts to the future while Xiang is at that stage where perhaps she wants to think about settling down but feels she has some youthful years left in her; and Lily now has had the reset button pressed by her divorce and trying to be catch by behaving a she did at aged 20 isn’t working anymore, dreading having to concede her best days may be behind her.

Xiang is the least likable of the three women, her rather selfish and somewhat childish behaviour and the fact she has two lovers on the go doesn’t make her any better than her married doctor lover or Lily’s philandering husband! René Liu (34 at the time) seems to have resigned herself to playing someone the audience may not sympathise with, but underneath this rampant ego is a woman desperate for some kind of direction in her love life and Liu is able to turn the character around by the film’s end.

Angelica Lee is a protégé of Sylvia Chang’s and like her co-stars was older than her character by a startling eight years! Defying this age difference with stunning ease Lee is infectiously bubbly as Xiao and delivers the most natural performance of the whole film. She leads Kate Yeung into a believable relationship that is typically girly, with much of their chemistry unspoken and surprisingly could pass the Bechdel Test! The only flaw in this arc is the sight of legend Anthony Wong sporting along hair wig, shades and beanie hat to play a “trendy” music producer.

Sylvia Chang may give herself the most screen time but she isn’t afraid to work hard for her role, determined to make Lily comes across as a strong woman for the audience to root for and that we do. At a sprightly 50 years old at the time Chang possesses as much energy and a sparkle in her eyes as her younger co-stars yet her seniority as both an actress and a character is an essential part of the film’s dynamic.  

Perhaps it could have done with a trim on the run time 20-30-40 is a slick, rousing fanfare for all women, that probably does more to encourage being single than being in a relationship!