Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Princess of Nebraska

This Wayne Wang movie is the companion piece of A Thousand Years of Good Prayers and expands another short story from Yiyun Li that I personally imagine has to be different to the screenplay adaptation by Michael Ray. Why? Because honestly the story in the movie totally feels like written by a man -which I do not generally mind- but as in other women stories written by men in many moments lacks credibility and/or continuity from a female point-of-view and I do not mean me, I mean the main character that definitively is a woman.

The film tells about a Chinese young girl, Sasha, which left Beijing just four months ago to attend college in Nebraska. A one-night stand before leaving Beijing leads to an unwanted pregnancy that generates her to travel to San Francisco where she spends something like 20 hours before facing the decision to do or not do the abortion. What this movie mainly shows is her 20 hours wandering from friends to unknowns and gives you a glimpse of the so-called new Chinese generation of “whatevers” that totally crash with a culture high on traditions from the past. But also gives you another glimpse at the new generations of Chinese living in any American Chinatown.

What I really liked from the story is almost at the end when Sasha has an interesting conversation with the female doctor at the clinic. Not only the dialogue is quite realistic, but also -and especially there- newcomer Li Ling that plays Sasha, has an amazing performance with expressions that totally complement the dialogue. But in general for a non-actor, her performance is quite impressive.

As a movie I find it interesting with handheld digital camera, some nice effects of cellular pictures and nice framing in many scenes; but I really visually loved the finale that made me wish that the entire movie were shot like that. One thing bothered me in the finale and was the song, perhaps the song lyrics explain a lot about Sasha quest but a man with such a loud/grave singing voice sounded so out-of-place at such an intimate moment of the character.

Then I truly do not understand critics’ comments about doing a film with a digital camera that some call it “consumer camera” in a very pejorative way. Think I do relate this kind of comments to those also made about digital photography. The way I see it is that digital is an available technique that gives another choice for a filmmaker or photographer to produce their oeuvre. The end product is not the same as with more traditional techniques, but as proven by many it could become visually arresting.

All the above is just to say that even when I saw the film in my TV streaming from Youtube, many scenes had arresting visuals that suggest that cinematographer and co director Richard Wong (that belongs to a younger generation than Wang) has quite a good knowledge of how to make settings look absolutely beautiful even when using a “consumer digital camera”.

Last, the story is high on “outcast” characters especially because their sexual behavior that includes homosexuality and prostitution; but, I find that characters sexual behavior only spices the story, but are not crucial to Sasha’s story. See, her one-night stand was gay Boshen lover and meeting the prostitute leads to perhaps the only happy moments that Sasha has while in San Francisco, but if the characters where not gay or a prostitute, the story would have work the same.

I enjoyed the movie for two motives, great visuals and the story last minutes. I do recommend the movie to those that enjoy arty cinema done with a “consumer camera”.


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