Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tribeca ’09: 3 Wheels (Short)

Think driving a New York pedicab is hard? Try peddling a rickshaw around the tropical Chinese island of Hainan. Evidently, the weather gets a bit hot there. However, Huang, a modest rickshaw driver, has more pressing concerns in Tony Wei’s 3 Wheels (trailer here), which is included in the Tribeca Film Festival’s “Means to an End” shorts program.

This is the longest day of Huang’s life. After reporting for work, the boss he secretly loves informs him she will be transferred off the island that evening, leaving forever on the 7:00 boat. All day, Huang struggles to build up the courage to express his true feelings. Simultaneously, he must ferry a young American tourist about the island, hitting all the unsavory attractions along the way.

As Huang explains local culture and customs to the American, the two opposing themes of Wheels emerge: the value of “perseverance,” as exemplified by Huang’s favorite legend, and the desire for a “happy ending,” which happens to be the name of Huang’s tour company as well as a code word at one of the red light establishments the American patronizes.

Chung Lee’s screenplay uses such motifs quite effectively, while also giving the audience a strong sense of the island setting. What really distinguishes Wheels though, is Chung-Heng Chu’s touching performance as the painfully shy Huang. He is a tragic but hopeful figure, nicely counterbalanced by Cary Woodworth, as the brash but perhaps not irredeemable American.

Wheels features an outstanding lead performance and takes full advantage of its exotic locale. At seventeen minutes, it is a very satisfying short film. It screens again this afternoon, and on May 2nd and 3rd, as part of Tribeca’s short film programming.