What DSE Does To Us (Film review on "Distinction" 《非同凡響》2018)

22 Nov 2018 | Ashley

Nothing is more exciting than a local Hong Kong film. "Distinction" (《非同凡響》) (2018), a recent local film directed by Au Man Kit Jevons (歐文傑), explores issues such as education, class, disability and prejudice in our current society. As a local Hong Konger, I see myself identifying with a lot of the phenomenon presented in the film. Yet, I find it difficult to establish a relationship with the characters.

Similar to "Tomorrow is Another Day" (黃金花)(2017), it is a film that touches on mental issues. But their major difference is their focus. For "Tomorrow is Another Day", its plot evolves around a working class family, more specifically, the mother who takes care of her autistic son. Since they have only a few characters, the audience's attention could concentrate on the story of a few people. In this case, I find it easy to achieve a profound understanding of the protagonists, the mother, the son, and the cheating husband, why they react to one another in certain ways, etc. This helps establish sympathy for all characters and to see them as human beings.

"Distinction" film poster outside of cinema

On the contrary, "Distinction" gives me the impression of having too many characters who could possibly tell a story of their own. Although we seem to follow three main protagonists, the teacher at a special needs school, a Band 1 student (from an elite girl school) and a Band 3 student (from a low ranking school). Their stories seem to intertwine in a clichéd and forceful way only to complete one whole story to make one film. I find it difficult to engage with any characters on a humanly level because there are so many stories going on at the same time, and only a few characters who seem to suggest an interesting storyline the mentally handicapped girl, for example, who asks the elite student for a cake recipe etc. Where should place my focus? While there seems to be an indefinite potential in these characters, the film fails to articulate each of them all-roundedly in an engaging and authentic manner.

With that being said, I still enjoy moments when characters echo people in my own life, or events I have been through. If you are familiar with the Hong Kong education system, you would not be surprised that most secondary school students work their bottoms off for a public exam called DSE, which basically determines your chance of getting into a university. As a former student who came from a Band 1 school and as an art lover, I sympathise with both 錢思穎 (Band 1 student) and 吳珈豪 (Band 3 student). While the former secretly aspires to be a chef and enjoys visual arts, the latter wants to become a photographer. Both of their dreams do not require necessarily a university degree, but vocational training, which is looked down upon. They do not only not get support from their parents, but also the society which weighs upon them the superior idea of capitalism and elitism. This reminds me of all the conflicts I have had with myself, my family, and the society, until this very day.

This is a film that needs to be made. Collaborating with Hong Kong Council of Social Service, this film's ultimate purpose is to shed light on mentally handicapped people and their related sectors. I could only say that the lack of depth, authenticity and focus in their storyline contributes to giving this film an easygoing content to advocate for a cause. Ultimately, I am glad that this film attracts attention from the locals, and hopefully international audience in the long run. Perhaps this is an opportunity to rethink what our education system might do to our divide.

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