|Index||5 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Singapore writer-director Yong Mun Chee has created a film that wile it
may take some mental adjustments in order to become involved n the
strange story, the work is well worth the effort. The cast is uniformly
strong except for the fact that in three cases the accents are so thick
that they approach not being understood. This is a film that would
benefit form subtitles throughout: the script is strong and deserves to
Very briefly the film's story or series of connected vignettes about four immigrants to Los Angeles) can be summarized as follows: 'Takashi (sensitive Korean American actor Will Yun Lee), a Japanese hit-man who wakes up from a four-year coma, moves to LA to escape mysterious traumatic memories. He strikes an unusual friendship with Blake (Eric Mabius, a strong young actor), the hotel manager of a cheap and sleazy Hollywood hotel, who still mourns the loss of his wife to an affair he ended up regretting. Julio (Mexican actor Fernando Noriega), an illegal immigrant who works washing dishes in an Indian restaurant to provide for his wife and son still in Mexico, befriends Guy (Luke Brandon Field), a young British backpacker who lives off his estranged father's ATM card and sleeps with any girl who crosses his path. The story splices between the blossoming of these two friendships. Takashi attempts to help Blake break from his past, but in the process is forced to confront his own violent memories. Julio and Guy hustle for day to day survival and forge dreams of a better future, but after Julio steals Guy's passport and sells it for a thousand dollars, not only is their friendship at stake but also their lives. What follows are the at times wild and often gut- wrenching adventures of four men trying to survive both emotionally and physically. It slowly becomes obvious that the relationship between Julio and Guy borders on the daring deeds that each is willing to make (with some very sad complications and results) while Blake and Takashi are bonded by past tragedies, yet both want to find something to believe in - a new start. The wrong elements these four men carry end up in the wrong hands and that changes their lives inextricably.
Each of the quartet of men gives a completely credible performance (understanding Noriega's, Takahi's and Field's heavy accents is trying at times): we do identify with their plights and they keep us on their side. The supporting cast is excellent, especially the work of Jesse Garcia, Eric Avari, Laura Ramsey, and Elsa Pataky. WHERE THE ROAD MEETS THE SUN is a bit unpolished - but that gritty feeling of the film adds tot he raw story Yong Mun Chee has created. The title comes form the lyrics of the song by Matthew Perryman Jones and Katie Herzig: 'Angels wings spread over water worn wishes Guarding the dreams and the things left unsaid And when it's done we will walk where the road meets the sun.'
This is a very lyrical film, a character study with very good performances. As it introduces us to the four main characters, it starts out in several locations, and the connections between them are not obvious. Bear with the disjointed structure, however, because the vignettes are strong. The four guys are all flawed, some more so than others. The most apparently sympathetic character is the Mexican busboy who just wants to send money home to his family, and always seems to be smiling. His friendship with the British playboy doesn't seem to make sense, until you realize that they're both fairly mischievous; one just has more permission to be so than the other. The two slightly older guys both seem burned and despondent beyond repair, but each of them also desperately wants to believe in something again, and that something is love.
I surprised myself by liking this film so much. It follows 4 flawed and likable men from the late 90's through the mid 00's. The stories seem disjointed at first, and are, but Yong Mun Chee adeptly brings the 4 main characters together. I found the setting of a residential hotel very believable like many I've seen. I believe this was the first time I've seen such a diverse group of so well portrayed. The acting is excellent, including supporting characters. I was particularly struck by how the film used remembrances of 9-11 as a mechanism to link the 4 main characters. I became invested in the lives of all 4 and wanted them to find what they needed.
There are a number of Singaporean filmmakers who have stretched their
wings and gone out there in the world to make their films, from
documentarians such as Lynn Lee, James Leong and Tan Siok Siok with her
upcoming film Twittamentary, and others such as Pearry Reginald Teo and
Jonathan Lim. with the world being their oyster and playground. The
cinematic road brings writer-director Yong Mun Chee back to Singapore
with her debut feature Where the Road Meets the Sun having premiered in
the USA a few weeks ago, before making it back here to premiere it
during the ScreenSingapore event.
There could have been slight ruffling of the feathers for Singapore Night given the showcase of two films that weren't made by any of the regular established names in the local film community, but after watching both films, I thought this could spur the entire community forward to realize that we have talent both within and outside our shores, some already establishing a beachhead overseas that perhaps could become springboards for others to follow. Idealistic, but worth a shot in my opinion.
Mun Chee's film tells the story of immigrants in the cosmopolitan city of Los Angeles, which in a way reflects both the reality of the city's make up as well as tapping onto Mun Chee's own real world experience of someone from the outside looking in. This is a character driven narrative in a slice of life fashion that snapshots a moment of confluence, but not before a rather long winded introduction that spanned a fast forward of months to introduce characters from various countries.
There's Blake (Eric Mabius), a man estranged from his ex-wife, and now running a cheap hotel where the characters all find themselves in, the Brit playboy Guy (Luke Brandon Field) being the rascal of the group with a penchant for all ladies, an illegal Mexican Julio (Fernando Noriega) who gets to LA in order to find work and sending back his money to his support his family, and Japanese gangster Takashi (played by Korean American Will Yun Lee) who wakes up from a coma and a steep memory of the woman of his life, but getting himself to LA with a pistol where its smuggling got casually explained away, the quintessential and literal Chekov's gun.
The foursome bond together and in itself creates two contrasting pairs in an opposites attract fashion. Julio and Guy provides the comparison between one carefree and without responsibilities to others, with the other being the all round family guy out to look out for better opportunities in order to make a living and support his family back home. One travels to strange lands for pleasure, while the other out of family necessity. Blake and Takashi are the more deeply reflective type, where they get together over a meal, or over music by the late Leslie Cheung whose Canto-tune The Wind Blows On forms the background of protagonists each searching for purpose and meaning in their lives.
Production values for a first film is superb, and perhaps it's because of the technicians behind the production that hail from a very mature industry, so much so that one's debut feature need not be a cheesy, laughable affair in terms of look and feel. Sure it may look like a typical indie film, but I suppose this will help the creative part of the production to focus on direction and fleshing of the characters, leaving aside the technical aspects to experts. Hence a film that worked on both fronts, with Mun Chee weaving very powerful backgrounds and narratives for each of the four male protagonists that sucks you into their lives and predicament, vesting your interest into what life dishes out to them.
This is a drama through and through with slight comedy that balances out what would be a rather bleak though evocative tale about friendship, hope and the struggles of the emotionally downtrodden, all in search of that magic air in a new environment to look for live-changing directions.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I liked the quality of the filmmaking. Interesting shots and editing. I
liked the characters, although they wandered through the story at
first. It really wasn't relevant 'til we arrived at the hotel. The
chronology jumped a few times early on with insert cards (X later, etc)
but no card at one point where it did jump.
I sympathized with the characters but, like I said, there was no direction to the story. And then, it started to unwind at the end.
Before this, I have to say, that the geography of the film is very muddled. Are we in Los Angeles? Are we in Japan? Poor editing and clarity on that front.
***Spoilers so be warned.
The despondent hotel manager decides to fly to Japan to find the miracle memory-erasing drug. He can't get his car fixed but he can afford a last-minute airline ticket half-a-world away? And enough money to sustain him? After several days or a week (I think) the Hotel's owner wanders in and hires the Japanese guy as the manager on the spot. Nobody else was managing the place? It could have been longer 'cause the despondent manager leaves, arrives in Japan, buys a CD and mails it back to the Japanese guy in Los Angeles.
Also, I was a valet 27 years ago but would imagine that it has not changed much. But this character, working as a valet, goes on a lark and takes a fancy car off parking lot of a restaurant, drives it 20 minutes (if you're lucky) across Los Angeles, picks up his friend and returns to their apartment. As a lark. A blood vessel didn't pop in his head and he goes crazy. He just thought it would be cute to steal a car and pick up his friend. That or the valet thought he would have hours and hours and hours to do this.
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