August 27, 2008
Magic Vanishes in Array of Cliches in Fanciful ‘Fish”
By John Anderson
Taxicabs may not turn into a pumpkins and the fairy godmother may sport fins and a tail, but "Year of the Fish" is a Cinderella story all the way, from its abused heroine to its happy ending.That the film is rotoscoped, or digitally painted, is its art house/festival calling card. But the story is so cliched and broadly drawn that few paying audiences will feel compelled to call.
Based on an earlier Chinese version of the fairy tale rather than the better-known European story, "Year of the Fish" features the predictably beleaguered heroine, the sweet-natured Ye Xian (An Nguyen), sent to New York by her ailing father to work at the Chinatown massage parlor owned by the nefarious Mrs. Su (Tsai Chin).
When it's clear that Ye Xian is unable to accept a life of prostitution, she is forced by the cruel and angry Mrs. Su to scrub floors, cook meals and live a life of involuntary servitude.
That the film is animated gives it an appropriately magical feel, but it can't save the story from being drowned in devices and stereotype. Chin, although a terrific actress, is bound by the dragon-lady conventions of her character; Nguyen's Ye Xian is little more than a doe-eyed victim, waiting for Prince Charming -- who comes in the form of the handsome Johnny Pan (Ken Leung), a local accordionist who's been having problems with modern Chinese women, but who will apparently live happily ever with someone as pliable as Ye Xian.
One day on the street, a mysterious, hunchbacked blind woman called Auntie Yaga (Randall Duk Kim) gives Ye Xian a goldfish, which she loves, but which begins to rapidly outgrow its bowl. The enchanted fish provides some commentary on the action (we're the only one to hear it) and becomes our entree into the world of magical realism that roams Mott Street, where hallucinations are as plentiful as dim sum.
The production values of "Year of the Fish" are moot, because rotoscoping is, by definition, an exaggerated, even crude, colorization of live action. Kaplan's direction is overly sentimental, and the soundtrack suggests Douglas Sirk-era melodrama as well as silent-movie piano.'YEAR OF THE FISH'
c-- STARRING: An Nguyen, Ken Leung, Tsai Chin, Randall Duk Kim-- DIRECTOR: David Kaplan-- WHERE: At the Shattuck
in Berkeley and the Kabuki
in San Francisco-- RATING: Not rated-- RUNNING TIME: 1hour,
Originally published by John Anderson , Variety.
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