HBO’s 1990s cartoon series Happily Ever After multiculturalized traditional fairy tales, and Year of the Fish—a retelling of Cinderella in modern-day New York City’s Chinatown—may as well be a live-action episode of the now-defunct program. Dramatizing the classic fable with Chinese actors is not, however, the central gimmick of David Kaplan’s film, as its defining characteristic turns out to be its use of the rotoscoping animation techniques previously employed by Richard Linklater’s Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. Unlike those visual groundbreakers, in which drawings not only coated real-world objects but also morphed and spiraled outward in inventive ways, Kaplan’s painterly effects remain doggedly affixed to his cast and environments. This aesthetic lends the action a mildly dreamlike quality, yet it’s otherwise unclear why the story is being told in this manner, aside from the fact that it helps to mask the director’s ungainly framing and staging. Living in America to make money to send back home to her out-of-work father, Ye Xian (An Nguyen) is the girl living a virtual life of cinders, relegated to mopping floors and cleaning toilets in evil Ms. Su’s (Tsai Chin) massage parlor because she’s unwilling to sexually service the establishment’s clients. Though it centers on immigrant exploitation, Kaplan’s film strives to be nothing more and nothing less than Cinderella in a de facto brothel, a risqué setting that—like the Chinese cultural touches sprinkled throughout—fails to make its children’s tale any less engaging for adults. As such, Ye Xian suffers, meets a handsome accordionist Prince Charming (Ken Leung), is assisted by a creepy sweatshop-running fairy godmother named Auntie Yaga (Randall Duk Kim), attends a fancy gala, and lives happily ever after, all familiar narrative elements lacking the imaginative twist that might make them seem new again.
- Gigantic Releasing
- 96 min
- David Kaplan
- David Kaplan
- Ken Leung, Tsai Chin, Randall Duk Kim, An Nguyen
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