The Hong Kong Coliseum looked impressive as beams of purple light flashed upon thousands of students singing Ode to Joy in an attempt to break a Guinness World Record for most people singing live on radio, each waving a little light for extra effect.
“My arms got so tired,” sighs 10-year-old Selina, one of the nine local youth at the concert that director Cheung King-wai chose to feature in his intriguing yet entertaining documentary, Taste of Youth. Despite the razzle dazzle of the stage, life may not be as joyful as it looks.
Each of the subjects, aged 10 to 24, have their own stories: Hoi Ting, a frequent school skipper, has been bullied for her weight for as long as she can remember; Hua feels immense pressure from his family on the mainland, who sees him as their badge of glory because he lives in Hong Kong; Paul, a clear leader who just cannot get accepted into the Institute of Education, spends all his free time volunteering.
Without a narrator, Cheung and his team of young filmmakers let the youth tell their own stories, opening up about their daily lives, family background, and dreams. He also includes excerpts from stirring poems written by Lok Yan, a 15-year-old cosplayer with family issues. The editing is extremely witty, throwing in a shot of an open-mouthed schoolboy as one interviewee complains about ridiculous school rules, evoking peals of laughter from the audience. Moments like these keep the film alive, and the choice of music, most of which was recorded while the students were singing on various occasions, artfully emphasises the subjects’ sentiments.
A sense of irony is prevalent throughout the film. While a pair of parents dismiss the option of a singing career for their child because it was too risky, Cheung interjects with shots of their home decor, which included a statue commemorating the June 4th massacre, and books on reform by Szeto Wah.
Despite the pressure they face, we see the youth learning to fit the mold. The child subjects speak of becoming musicians and actors, but the teenagers are clearly more pragmatic, accepting that soon they would have to leave the stage to prepare for exams.
Near the end, there is a with a warped shot of the Hong Kong Coliseum. No doubt it will take more than their own efforts to free the youth from society’s traps.