JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

 

 

 

Spacked Out

In a stark contrast, the Hong Kong alienated youth film Spacked Out (d. Lawrence Ah Mon , 2000) treats abortion with a direct frankness. Shot in a casual neorealist style, four mildly delinquent young teen schoolgirls (with absent or inattentive parents) hang out and pal around. Their behavior ranges from shoplifting cosmetics and skipping school to hanging out in malls, having casual sex, and doing drugs. They make a little money by smuggling mobile phones across the border to the Mainland, posing for softcore pin-ups, and engaging in phone sex (during history class). The narrative center is Cookie, 13, who is pregnant from her first experience with a boy (who told her you can’t get pregnant the first time, so there was no need for contraception). Abortions are easy to get in the city, her 16-year-old friend Banana says, apparently from experience. Her mother has run off and only phones her occasionally; her best girlfriend is now in reform school. With the other girls, she goes from her hometown, Tuen Mun, a new high rise development in the Hong Kong New Territories, to Mong Kok, in central Hong Kong, hoping to find her boyfriend. When she does, predictably he’s not interested in her.

Along for the adventures are Banana and Bean Curd, a butch dyke, and her femme girlfriend, Sissy. After doing heavy drugs, Sissy flaunts the overprotective Bean Curd and decides to run off with a boy. In anger, Bean Curd starts cutting herself and the trio end up at a clinic to patch up the cutter. Cookie uses the occasion to get an abortion. The sequence has a dream/nightmare aspect to it, including fantasy-coded music track, with flashforwards and flashbacks. As Cookie wanders around the office suite, grotesque objects appear, as well as peculiar items such as a peddle driven sewing machine in one room that seems to be used for making doll clothing, and inserted shots. The scene culminates in the abortion procedure which includes the female doctor as a grotesque and a foot operated vacuum pump which ends with a close up of a glass jar receiving the bloody extraction. Fade to black and then the waiting room where a nurse presents Cookie with a specimen container with the fetus.

The gal pals join a friend who supplies hard drugs. L-R: Banana, the dealer, Sissy, Cookie, and Bean Curd. They begin to make bongs for a party, but Cookie remains withdrawn, having just been dumped by the guy who got her pregnant.

Joined by boys, the party is underway when Cookie sees several baby dolls in a refrigerator, a symbolic vision of her own unwanted pregnancy.
Wandering in the clinic before her abortion procedure, Cookie sees inexplicable two plastic legs on an exam table: artificial limbs? mannequin parts? Cookie continues her dream-like exploration of the clinic.
She sees the female MD at her desk eating Mo Yan Ka Sai, a rice pudding with red beans on a stick. A reverse shot close-up makes the action especially grotesque. A back room contains an old fashioned treadle sewing machine and tiny doll clothing.
A flashforward shows Cookie and girlfriends on a bus after the abortion (indicating the procedure was done, without complications). A layered image shows the many neon signs of Kowloon (present) and the MD’s medical instruments (flashback). From Cookie’s POV in the stirrups of the exam table, she imagines the MD laughing maniacally. The soundtrack complements this strange subjective imagining of the procedure. [The shot is a non-diegetic insert in the sense that it isn’t “really” happening, but it is, within the sequence, much like scary shots in Hong Kong ghost and horror films, as if Cookie’s re-imagining of the transpired event is shaped within other popular culture images.]
The abortion procedure begins. The MD pumps a foot pedal for vacuum extraction. In Cookie’s imagination she sees feet actively operating the treadle sewing machine
We see blood flowing in the vacuum tube, and then an active splatter of blood across Cookie on the table. Later we understand that this was a fantasy shot, not an actual event, as with many other shots in the clinic. A shock cut ends the abortion procedure sequence with a close up of a vacuum jar and the arrival of the extracted fetus to the container. Fade to black.
Recovering in the waiting room, the nurse gives Cookie a specimen container with the extracted fetus. Back home, Cookie goes up a hillside and buries the fetus along with one of her earrings and a small doll. She speaks to her ex-boyfriend, saying their child is dead, and that she’s learned boyfriends are not important, your friends are everything. Without the traditional Buddhist incense burned to the dead (the smoke rising to Heaven), she lights a cigarette and places it on the small dirt mound.

At the intersection of childhood (the doll), teen style (the earring), and womanhood (the fetus), Cookie is a tiny figure in the grand landscape of a New Territories town as she plaintively asks when and if the mother who abandoned her will ever contact her.

What seems most remarkable about the sequence from a U.S. perspective is precisely its frank realism (though framed with dream or surreal elements). Free of a moralizing discourse, the abortion is presented as “matter of fact” rather than as “this is a terrible thing.” It does, along with the next sequence, of burial, evoke pathos, largely around this child-woman on the cusp of change. Cookie deserves better, but anyone deserves better or everyone deserves better.

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