Filmed in Hong Kong in 2002, Just One Look recently received a few theatrical bookings prior to its U.S. DVD release. Although marketed as a vehicle for the Twins (Charlene Choi and Gillian Chung), a ridiculously popular Hong Kong Canto-pop duo, the film is actually a moving coming-of-age story focusing on an orphan in a poor but tightly knit 1970s island suburb of Hong Kong. Subtle, and with a surprisingly melancholy aftertaste, it proves that Hong Kong films don't have to be all action to be good.

Writer-director Riley Ip centers the story around a movie theatre, and occasionally uses clips to tie his characters' lives to the films they watch. Seventeen-year-old Fan (Shawn Yu) sells sugar cane from a stall outside the theatre; his best friend Ming (Wong You Nam) works in an adjoining fish stall. Fan was a youngster when his policeman father committed suicide inside the theatre. He blames his death on Crazy (Anthony Wong), a local loan shark and bully. Fueled by kung-fu films, Fan dreams of avenging his father by killing Crazy.

That's one reason why he enrolls in a martial-arts school, but a more pressing excuse is Ming's crush on Nam (Choi), the daughter of the kung-fu teacher (Eric Kot). Nam would rather go out with Fan, but he's drawn to Yew (Chung), a quiet girl who lives in a convent a ferry ride away. With all four pursuing the wrong partner, it's likely that at least one heart will be broken.

Like most coming-of-age stories, Just One Look is ultimately about disillusionment, about learning to cope with defeat and disappointment, and learning how to compromise. Ip casts his lessons gently, in modest vignettes that have the feel of truth to them. Fan and his friends explore the Cheung Chau waterfront, smoke cigarettes, spar with rival gangs, copy love letters from billboards, and dream about becoming adults. They won't realize until it's too late how idyllic their world is, or how much they'll lose when they leave it.

The Twins (who aren't actually related, and who cover The Bee Gees' "Melody Fair" here) have gone on to bigger films, like The Twins Effect, a "Buffy" rip-off that received an imprimatur from no less than Jackie Chan. Their work here, especially Chung as someone too afraid to admit she's love-struck, is much more impressive and moving. Veterans like Eric Kot and the estimable Anthony Wong add real depth to roles that could have been mere clichés. Newcomers Shawn Yu and Wong You Nam hold their own, but the lion's share of the credit for the success of the film belongs to Riley Ip. His lovelorn characters and evocative reconstruction of the past make Just One Look an unexpected delight.
-Daniel Eagan