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Film Reviews Mint Chinese Film Festival

Mint Chinese Film Festival: Competition 1. Food for the mind

The Competition 1 of the Mint Chinese Film Festival is a category that features 5 short films, each of them with its own perspective, theme and message.

The common denominator of these pieces is that they all have female protagonists with stories that needed to be told. If you ever have the chance to watch them, I highly recommend you do so.

Without further ado, here are the reviews of the 5 films featured in this section of the MintCFF.

Fig. 1. The protagonist of Innermost (Caochong Maing, 2022) looking at the sunset with her lover. Source: Innermost (Caochong Maing, 2022).

Sunflower Girl

  • Year of production: 2023
  • Director: Holly M. Kaplan.
  • Producer: Seika Paradeis and Holly M. Kaplan.

Synopsis

A Chinese-American teenage girl has a hard time reconciling the two cultures that shape her. The first one represented by her family, and the second, by her skater crush.

Fig. 2. Rosie (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja) looking at other kids.
Source: Sunflower Girl (Holly M. Kaplan, 2023).

Review

This story brings forth the experience of being stuck between two worlds without fully feeling part of any. Belonging is a key factor in the life of a teenager. Rosie (Malea Emma Tjandrawidjaja), the 13-year-old girl protagonist, tries to find her tribe to avoid this feeling of being an outsider.

Despite the sorrowful undertones of the message, Kaplan manages to transmit through Sunflower Girl a very positive and upbeat message of hope. The narrative doesn’t dwell on the sadness, but rather on the adventure of finding your place in the world and discovering who you are, who you want to be.

Fig. 3. Rosie looking at some plants on a window sill.
Source: Sunflower Girl (Holly M. Kaplan, 2023).

While Rosie seems to have made a decision between these two worlds at the end of the short film, its final scene shows how she actually didn’t choose at all. She decides to create her own path and do things her own way. This optimistic conclusion fits perfectly with the general aesthetic of the film and conveys the message that, despite all odds, you can be ok. An idea that consolidates this film as one of the best you can watch when you are having a bad day.

Daughter and Son

  • Year of production: 2022
  • Director: Yu Cheng.
  • Producer: Yaqi Tan.

Synopsis

Sachiko (Xingzi Wuchen) and Ming (Minghao Li) are two roommates that slip into different characters to talk to each other about their relationship.

Fig. 4. Sachiko (Xingzi Wuchen) and Ming (Minghao Li) looking out the window of a vehicle. Source: Daughter and Son (Yu Cheng, 2022).

Review

This is one of the most confusing short films ever made. If you are unaware of the idea beforehand, you will have a hard time understanding what is going on. Both characters perform different people and you never know who each of them is gonna be at any given time. This makes the film fascinating, bewildering, and definitely one of a kind.

While the idea of talking about their relationship from the different perspectives of their imaginary characters is quite interesting, the lack of development in the story leaves you empty and the pace feels too paused. At the end of the footage, you know you have seen something special, but there is an underlying feeling of disappointment at the lack of impact from the story.

Thirsty Girl

  • Year of production: 2023
  • Director: Alexandra Qin.
  • Producer: Alexandra Qin and Brooke Goldman.

Synopsis

Charlie (Samantha Ahn) is an Asian woman who suffers from a sex addiction. She tries to hide from her sister Nic (Claire Makenzie) during a road trip.

Fig. 5. Charlie (Samantha Ahn) and Nic (Claire Makenzie) on a road trip.
Source: Thirsty Girl (Alexandra Qin, 2023).

Review

Qin manages to showcase a theme as taboo as sex addiction in a brand new way. Her bold perspective clashes with all previous representations of this topic in several ways. Firstly, because it breaks with the traditional representation of the quiet, shy Asian woman; and secondly, because it defies all previous archetypes used for characters with this affliction.

The lack of exaggeration and of constant nudity, paired with Charlie not having a strange or evil personality, makes this woman unique in the world of fiction, but very common in real life. Charlie is one of the few realistic representations of the victims of this addiction, a condition that should not be hidden, stigmatised or sexualised, but understood and solved.

Fig. 6. Charlie smoking outside of a bowling alley.
Source: Thirsty Girl (Alexandra Qin, 2023).

The feminine point of view of the story is very clear and only makes the tale more satisfying. Seeing a woman so into her sexuality without actually becoming sexualised is a breath of fresh air.

The portrayal of a sisters’ relationship, as well as the female experience with “Chads”, are so relatable and on point that they become the perfect comedic material to balance out more serious themes like addiction and suicide.

Fig. 7. Charlie seducing a man. Source: Thirsty Girl (Alexandra Qin, 2023).

The lack of privacy or personal space that one has when they have a sibling of the same sex is shown in the most hilarious of ways. This “being one” relationship is exemplified through a common occurrence (no spoilers) taken to the extreme.

As for the male characters, their personality and cluelessness about what just happened is not only accurate to a T, but also a humorous buffer for their racism. Another example of the flawless equilibrium between fun and serious achieved with this story.

Its construction and message make Thirsty Girl one of the best short films made in the last few years.

Wena

  • Year of production: 2023
  • Director: Natalie Kung.

Synopsis

Wena (Katrina Dalino Toomalatai) is a domestic helper who works for a middle-class family to support her child and husband. She has a great relationship with Natalie, the young girl of the family she works for, much to her mother’s dismay.

Fig. 8. Wena meeting her daughter. Source: Wena (Natalie Kung, 2023).

Review

Wena is the equivalent of a reality punch on the nose. The realistic nature of its story hurts badly, especially if you are a female spectator.

The short film shows both the reality of a domestic helper and that of the mother whose family she is working for. While they have very different economic status, they both share the feeling of being alienated and borderline ignored by their families. However, they both deal with their feelings in a very different way, which is where the class contrast shows at its strongest. Wena needs to swallow her frustration, despair and anger in order to keep her job, which is the only thing keeping her family afloat, but the woman she works for uses her as an outlet for her frustration, being unnecessarily cruel to someone who can’t fight back.

Fig. 9. Wena doing laundry for the family she works for.
Source: Wena (Natalie Kung, 2023).

This is only one of many injustices that break the audience’s heart and remind them of the situation of many women around the world, females that are constantly overlooked and mistreated by their families, partners or employers. The last scene delivers the ultimate blow to one’s good mood with a hopeless ending that serves as a reminder of the unfairness of the world and the huge distance the human race is from any sort of real equality, both of class and gender.

Innermost

  • Year of production: 2022
  • Director: Caochong Maing.
  • Producer: Echo Ni.

Synopsis

In a future where cyberpunk and martial arts meet, an old lady fights a pair of strangers that are trying to steal her magic lyre.

Fig. 10. The protagonist of Innermost fighting to save her magic lyre.
Source: Innermost (Caochong Maing, 2022).

Review

Innermost is insane in all the right ways. The stop-motion technique complements the fighting scenes and each of the characters’ intentions exquisitely. The colour palette and lighting configurations are absolutely gorgeous, not only they mix complementary colours, but also merge steampunk style with that of martial arts’ audiovisual art. The saturation of hues reflects the intensity of the circumstances like each colour does with the emotions that plague the space.

Past the technical aspect, the story itself poses the thrilling question of what happens to feelings and relationships once the artificial making of life is conquered. The narrative is full of twists and mind blowing flashbacks, creating a tale so intricate and appealing that it is hard to believe it only lasts fifteen minutes.

Fig. 11. The fabrication of a body with life out of a single organ.
Source: Innermost (Caochong Maing, 2022).

Advice to take from these short films:

  • Men can be assholes or clueless, neither is a valid excuse for bad behaviour.
  • Injustice is part of this world and it is up to all of us to eradicate it.
  • Just because a woman is old doesn’t mean she can’t kick your ass with martial arts.
  • Sometimes it is up to you to create a third option.
Fig. 12. Charlie smoking. Source: Thirsty Girl (Alexandra Qin, 2023).

What’s your take? Did you go to the Mint Chinese Film Festival? Which of the short films did you enjoy the most? Why? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below, in my contact page or through my Instagram! For more reviews and cinema-related articles check out the rest of my blog! 😀

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