In Lawrence Lau’s Spacked Out (2000), four wayfaring teenage outcasts drift through the colorful grime and sludge of turn-of-the-century Hong Kong. 13-year old Cookie has so much on her mind but no one to talk to. She confesses her deepest insecurities into a public telephone hotline — she’s estranged from her parents, her boyfriend Wing is an absent deadbeat, and one of her best friends has been sent away to reform school. Cookie also fears she may be pregnant but can’t decide if she wants to visit an abortion clinic.

She joins her other friends, Sissy, Banana, and Beancurd on a series of detours through their chaotic lives — whether it be getting into trouble at school, getting into fights with other kids, or having a blast jumping around at karaoke.

As social dregs, they have no where else to go.

Lau captures Cookie and company’s subaltern world with intimate and hand-held-like camera work. Shots meander with the frenetic banter between the four girls and we are passengers along for the ride. At times, a subtle industrial and electronic soundtrack peeks out of the background, not all too distinguishable from the motor traffic and neon nightlife.

Between the reality-grounded scenes, there are also moments of dreamy surrealism punctuated by nostalgic karaoke-like tones.

Despite everyone being involved some kind of petty crime, romantic turmoil, or small-time gang activity, the film reminds us they’re only kids barely coming into the world. Flip phones adorned with stickers charms and Y2K fashion should be instantly recognizable to many of who grew up in the late-90s, early 2000s.

Spacked Out dives into all the emotional turbulence of marginalized adolescence. There is humor, playfulness, fickle betrayal, disappointment, and raw suffering. Brightness can quickly turn dark in the gritty world of the four companions.

A point of criticism: Spacked Out sometimes meanders in subplots, and keeps you wondering how the plot will develop. At the same time, isn’t that also authentic to how we experience real-life? The film goes down sudden fits and starts and detours before going into overdrive. Overall, it is a worthwhile watch that touches on serious themes around outcasted and abandoned youth.

Spacked Out, remastered and restored, is playing at the Northwest Film Forum on August 9th through August 18th. 

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