Wednesday, May 30, 2012
"Sunset Stories" is an off-beat tale about a nurse who faces a dilemma when a "cooler" containing life-sustaining bone marrow that she is assigned to deliver is stolen right out from under her nose and the trials and tribulations she encounters in retrieving it.
The filmmakers elected to follow the "precious cargo" and its topsy-turvy journey which results in an insightful (at times thought-provoking) glimpse into the lives of the individuals whose hands it passes through.
The idea is somewhat reminiscent of one about a $20 bill (in circulation in a bustling city) which I caught at an Art Revival House a few years ago.
In that short, the writers weaved a fascinating tapestry which went this way 'n that in a vastly entertaining fashion.
In "Sunset Stories" the focus is on people of "color" and how they co-exist within the restricting confines of a cramped overcrowded city without much privacy.
The filmmakers treated Los Angeles like it, too, was a "character" in the independent feature which recently screened at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival (at the DGA).
Frankly, neighborhoods like Echo Park never looked so good on celluloid before, trust me!
In one segment, the directors rustled up an enchanting night scene under a canopy of stars, where a troubled female artist ponders her life and career at the edge of a picturesque lagoon.
The cast of characters, by the way, were an intriguing mix of personalities and consisted of a Drag performer, a young female cancer patient, a struggling musician, a dyke mechanic, street thief, and what-have-you.
In a handful of off-beat roles, bit characters fleshed out the underbelly of the city considerably.
Although the actors all turn in natural seamless performances, for the most part, a couple of the performers fell short with characterizations that were not terribly believable.
The individual who played the transgender woman in the Nightclub scenes was out-of-her-depth, for instance.
Others in a similar challenging role in high-profile projects of yesteryear, fared much better, in my estimation.
And, the woman who played the lead - Monique Curnen - was also unconvincing.
When a character is expected to carry a project, that means trouble, bottom line.
On the other hand, the pretty young actress - Cameron Protzman (who played a cancer patient) - was terrific.
At the after-party I was fortunate to meet the young lady.
What a charmer (and a beauty)!
Cameron's parents were also delightful people.
If Protzman continues with her acting pursuits, I expect she'll do very well in the biz.
Sung Kang (Fast & Furious) was excellent as a struggling musician trying to survive in the mean streets of the city.
Kang has a great screen presence which resonates with audiences.
I'd be remiss if I did not mention that the actors in "Sunset Stories" won the award for "Best Ensemble Cast" at this year's Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
The novel use of animation and illustrations throughout the film boosted the project considerably in my eyes - as did the directing - which was first-rate (Ernesto Foronda).
Though the budget was small - and the production schedule was just a few weeks in length - the flick does not come off as quickie cheapie.
At the Q & A, I questioned the director(s) - yes, there were two of 'em - about the wisdom of not tailoring their project to meet the tastes (and demands) of a mainstream audience.
For some, after all, the characters - and subject matter - may be a bit too "off-the-beaten track".
"The thought crossed our minds," was the response.
But, in the final analysis, they producers opted to go with the scripted material and introduce the characters without tinkering or explanation.
"Because Los Angeles is a diverse community with people of color, we didn't feel we had to explain who a person was or why," one of the directors was quick to note for the record.
"We raised the funding ourselves, and used the resources at our disposal, so we could make the kind of film we wanted to," the producer was quick to pipe up on the uptake.
Because of it, did not have to kow-tow to suits at a studio, or compromise their integrity.
In one scene, a well-known star actually makes a cameo appearance, within the production's budget.
"How did you pull that off," one filmgoer prodded from below the footlights.
"He's a friend of mine. When we approached him - he took a look at the script, liked it, and then agreed to take on the role," was the response back.
It's great to have friends like that, eh?
I expect "Sunset Stories" will find an audience around the country at Art Houses.
As to the mainstream?
Well, that's a different matter, altogether.
I wish 'em well, however.
2 1/2 Stars!
Sung Kang stars!