Posted by trueversy
Young Chinese girl comes to America with dreams of a better life, but her dream quickly turns into a nightmare when she’s forced to work in a “massage parlor” against her will. Her only hope of salvation is for a gallant American man to rescue her.
This is a scenario we’ve seen played out countless times in American film (including the upcoming Shanghai Hotel) and TV (any random Chinatown-themed episodes of shows like Law & Order) and writer/director David Kaplan’s new film Year of the Fish doesn’t diverge far from this formula.
Newcomer An Nguyen stars as Ye Xian, who comes to New York to make money for her ailing father back in China. But she learns she is indebted to toil in a massage parlor run by the domineering Mrs. Su (The Joy Luck Club’s Tsai Chin). Refusing to work as a sex worker, Ye Xian is forced to perform menial chores. Her only hope of salvation is a struggling, local musician named Johnny (Lost’s Ken Leung) and a mysterious fortuneteller named Auntie Yaga (The Matrix Reloaded’s Randall Duk Kim).
But Year of the Fish does several things to set it apart from others in this genre. The story is based on the Cinderella story, but not the European version American audiences are familiar with. Kaplan goes back to the original ninth century Chinese tale that includes a fish whose magical bones help the heroine find true happiness.
While this approach adds a freshness to the story, the screenplay doesn’t effectively use it for any real impact. Take the fish bones: It’s unclear what real purpose they serve except as a plot device to bring Ye Xian to Auntie Yaga. There’s nothing magical about them, and they are quickly forgotten as soon as Ye Xian finds the fortuneteller.
Kaplan also chose to use the “rotoscoping” animation, a technique where animators trace a live-action film frame-by-frame, transforming it into an animated one. Moviegoers will be familiar with this technique from past works like Waking Life and the recent Half-Life.
Some of the animated sequences are lovely to watch. It’s clear the artists who worked on Year of the Fish brought a care and artistry to the project that shows in every frame. But this does not make up for the film’s inadequacies and its “been there, done that” feel. “Rotoscoping” is as ubiquitous in indie films now as Parker Posey was in the ’90s. (Blogger note a lot of real animators say that this style of animation is not animation and is really crap)
The film is also helped by the presence of some very fine actors. Although Nguyen is too inexperienced and lacks the charisma to fully portray the lead role, the supporting cast is rounded out by some very effective performances from veterans like Chin and Kim, and Hettienne Park and Corrine Wu’s take on Ye Xian’s massage parlor co-workers provides the film with its most entertaining moments.
But the real revelation is Leung. He has demonstrated in everything from Keeping the Faith to The Sopranos that he is a talent to watch, and he grounds this film with an authenticity that the clichéd script can’t provide. Someone give this guy a leading-man performance in a film worthy of his talents.
Year of the Fish opens August 29 in the Bay Area at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Landmark’s Shattuck Cinemas and others TBA. For more info: yearofthefish.com
Philip W. Chung is a writer and Co-Artistic Director of Lodestone Theatre Ensemble.
Lodestone’s production of Suddenly, Last Summer runs until August 24 at GTC Burbank, 1111-B W. Olive Ave, Burbank, CA. For info: www.lodestonetheatre.org or www.myspace.com/suddenly_lodestone. To RSVP: (323) 993-7245.