Sunday, November 19, 2006

NEW RELEASES The Motel ***1/2

The Motel is a film from the producers of Me and You and Everyone We Know, and it's certainly being advertised that way, even with the light shaded colors in posters. But while Me and You had vibrant colors of yellow, orange, and pink, the colors of Motel are greens and blues, and it's fitting: The films feature the same kind of quirky humor, but Motel is very much the darker, raunchier Yin to Me and You's bright and innocent Yang.

The Motel is a fun film, and I really liked it. I like how it captured the opressive atmosphere, the sheer bordom of going nowhere in the middle of nowhere. We can feel the growing frustration 13 year old, chubby asian Ernest Chin (Jeffrey Chyau) and the burst of relief when something interesting enters in his desloate, out of the way world. This something interesting is a Korean buisnessman named Sam (Sung Kang, who gives the greatest performance here) on a downward spiral after becoming seperated from his wife. We see him drowning himself in alcohol and women, and he begins trying to initiate Ernest into adulthood by teaching him to drive, how to get laid, etc. His advice is terrible, and it soon becomes clear that he less wants Ernest to enter adulthood than he wants to re-enter childhood.

But to Ernest, any kind of advice looks interesting. His life: he works at his mothers hotel, and while being pestered by his little sister he cleans up after messy occupants. He tries to watch them having sex and reads the pornography left over. He occaisonally shows it to his crush, a 14 year old waitress nearby facisnated in all things "gross." (Jade Wu, another fine performance) She convinces him to enter a writing contest, in which he gets an honorable mention and is invited to a fancy dinner ("Honorable mention?" his mother asks, "That's worse than losing!").

The Motel is a very funny movie. Some of the scenes are painfully hilarious, like one where Ernest makes an unusual use of one of his sisters toys.

While Me and You was a film that inspired endless freedom, The Motel works in a closed environment, with one or two locations for most of the scenes. This works for scenes where Ernest manages to escape, like one where Sam teaches him to drive. In the middle of the night, they break into a house that will become clear is his wife's. She isn't home. Sam and Ernest reaarange the furniture to the way it was last time Sam still lived there. "I can't understand why she changed it," he says. "It was fine before!"

The film had many, many chances to take small (and some larger) risks at the end, but it took none of them. I couldn't help but feeling it took the easy way out. No one is hurt, lost, and everything is forgiven? I can forgive the filmmakers though. The last 2 or 3 minutes are easily made up for by the first 74.

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