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DVD ReviewsRating: 3 of 5 yaps

Year of the Fish

Mixing fairy tales with reality is one of the trickiest blends a film can make. It doesn’t mean being gritty because a lot of the original fairy tales were dark. It’s more about telling a feature-length story that uses archetypes and a more difficult use of dialogue.

“Year of the Fish” has difficulty maintaining this balance. Writer/director David Kaplan starts off really well by using an intriguing form of rotoscoping — animation layered over live action — to paint his world. This has primarily been used by Richard Linklater in his films “Waking Life” and “A Scanner Darkly.” Those felt more like computer effects, but Kaplan makes every scene feel like a textured painting was placed atop each frame. It always looks really interesting, especially when it gets to play with its transitions.

Rotoscoping is something too artificial to forget about when you’re watching the film. It looks like you’re watching two different planes at once. This is not a good thought while the worlds of fairy tale and reality are trying to gel. This film cleverly places “Cinderella” in modern day Chinatown. Ye Xian (An Nguyen) has to work at a shady massage parlor where all of their endings are happy. When she doesn’t want to take part in that sort of massage, Mrs. Su (Tsai Chin) becomes very angry and forces her to scrub the floors and other such tasks.

Mrs. Su continues to be a tyrant and the rest of the employees occupy the evil stepsister roles. All of the acting is inconsistent because it seems that sometimes Kaplan wants his performers to play up their broken English. The only one who does a great job is the underrated Ken Leung (“Lost,” “The Squid and the Whale”) as the Prince Charming. In this case, he is a talented but underappreciated musician. (This is an independent film after all.) He’s able to handle the dialogue in a very earnest, organic way and does a solid job with all of the romantic material.

Near the end, a lot of the plot really bends over backwards to fit itself with the Cinderella plotline. It makes the film feel very awkward and it’s already had too much to draw the audience out of its rhythm. There are a lot of clichés and random elements, like a mystical man with sound effects that seem like a personal laugh track. There is some cleverness and creativity to keep the movie engaging, but more as a worthy attempt at individual ideas, not a cohesive whole.

The DVD only has a few extras. There is an early rotoscoping test they made which looks … fine. The cooler one was showing the difference between a scene before and after rotoscoping. There are arguments both ways on which version looks better. I think the actors get shortchanged a little bit with the additional animation. There is also an okay commentary track with Kaplan, Nguyen, and another actor, Hettienne Park, as well as a trailer.

Film: 3 Yaps
Extras: 2 Yaps

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