“B420” is written, produced and directed by first timer Mathew Tang, and gets off to a less than promising start by having a frankly hideous title. Mixing letters and numbers in such a lame fashion is always a bad idea, whether as a weak attempt to catch some kind of text-speak zeitgeist, or as some kind of cheeky, hip allusion to the film’s theme. Helpfully explained as ‘before twenty…before too late’, this awkward moniker conjures visions of dreary, angst ridden youth dramas and much pondering of the meaning of life. Unfortunately, this turns out to be very much the measure of “B420”, which is an excruciating affair, basically consisting of interminably long scenes of unlikeable characters engaged in conversations about nothing, punctuated by clich’d montages of wacky modern living.
The plot follows three fresh-faced youngsters trying to figure out their place in the world. Koey (Miki Yeung, ex-popstar and also in the likes of “Dumplings”) is a free spirited brat who has dropped out of school and is now trying to earn a living, her every move shadowed by Simon (newcomer Ben Hung), a boy who used to be in her ballet class. Although everyone seems to think he is gay, Simon is actually obsessed with Koey, to the point where he impersonates a girl in internet chat rooms to learn her secrets. Unfortunately for Simon, Koey starts a relationship with Willy (Sam Lee, a bit part actor, recently in “Dragon Reloaded” and “Divergence”), a down on his luck ex-bike racer haunted by past relationships. Shocking no one, the three form a trio and gradually learn about life, love and loss in wholly unremarkable and uninteresting ways.
“B420” is saddled with a clumsy structure that is further weighed down by an over reliance on voice over narration, which serves only to give the annoying characters a chance to wax philosophical, which they do at great length. There is far too much in the way of exposition, with pointless flashback scenes which do little more than reinforce what the viewer already knows and effectively banish any hints of subtlety or natural character development. Since this is an ‘issues’ film, very little happens aside from talking, and Tang allows the narrative to move sluggishly, making for dismal viewing. Things do pick up somewhat towards the end, when a triad subplot is introduced, though since this has little to do with the actual story, and is quite obviously intended only as a means of providing a conclusion, it causes little more than baffled amusement.
Probably the main failing of “B420” is that its characters are neither interesting nor likeable. Koey is presumably supposed to be cute and kooky, but comes off as an annoying airhead; Simon is little more than a creepy cyber stalker; and Willy, much like the film itself, is lazy and directionless. With such an unappealing bunch, any efforts to introduce romance or emotional drama flounder badly, and the film fails to engage on any level. Matters are not helped by the vomit inducing platitudes which the script reels off at every opportunity, most of which are brain-dead, “Forrest Gump”-style gibberish along the lines of ‘life is like a bottle of coke’.
With the film’s visuals, Tang is obviously aiming for a whimsical and breezy look, with lots of bright colours. Unfortunately, he throws in far too many obvious and tacky gimmicks, such as using home video memories as a backdrop, and painfully symbolic internet chat room scenes in which the characters’ inane dialogue appears on screen. All of this feels horribly forced, and gives the proceedings the feeling of an extremely dull cartoon.
The word which probably best sums up “B420” is ‘nauseating’. Burdened with misconceived notions of relevance and populated by tedious fools, the film utterly fails to connect with the viewer and as such is a complete waste of time.
Mathew Tang (director) / Mathew Tang (screenplay)
CAST: Ben Hung …. Simon
Sam Lee …. Willy
Miki Yeung …. Koey