Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Maya Indie: Where the Road Meets the Sun

People who live in hostels are generally there for a good reason. Most are broke. Others are hiding from their pasts, while a few are simply head-splittingly annoying. Tenants from three different countries represent each particular profile in Mun Chee Yong’s Where the Road Meets the Sun (trailer here), which screens for a week in New York as part of the traveling Maya Indie Film Series.

After waking up from a long-term coma, the mysterious Takashi is still trying to forget the trauma that precipitated his accident. With nothing tying him down in Tokyo, he sets off for Los Angeles, crashing at the hostel managed by Blake, a transplanted New Yorker. The grizzled proprietor is also haunted by memories of the one that got away or more precisely, the wife he dumped. Definitely counting as broke, Julio is in the U.S. illegally, trying to raise enough money to bring over his family. That leaves Guy, a British party punk, as the obnoxious one.

As somewhat kindred souls, Takashi and Blake become fast friends. Despite his better judgment, Julio also finds himself hanging with Guy. Things will work out far better for one pair of improvised friends than for the other. While women play an important role in the film, few are seen save for fragmentary flashbacks, except for the bright and attractive Sandra, who seems too grounded and together to be staying in Blake’s dive.

In truth, the storyline involving Takashi works considerably better than the other intertwined strands. While the character taps into the archetype of the disgraced wandering warrior (or yakuza), Witchblade’s Will Yun Lee (technically Korean-American, but so be it) still expresses genuine human remorse and regret. Conversely, Julio’s storyline is often awkwardly didactic, but Fernando Noriega nails some pointed scenes dressing down Guy for playing the dilettante illegal alien. Indeed, if Luke Brandon Field was going cringe-inducing irritation, his Guy succeeds spectacularly. At least his character knows where to take a lady for a memorable first date (see picture).

Sort of like a skid-row version of Grand Hotel, California-based Singaporean filmmaker Mun Chee Yong deftly balances her ensemble cast in Road, perhaps displaying a slight favoritism towards Julio and Guy. Still, despite the politicized naturalism of the former’s tribulations, she never lets the proceedings get too maudlin. Ultimately though, it is Takashi, a finely drawn character memorably brought to life by Lee, who redeems the film. While hardly required viewing, Road has its moments of merit for those who wish to check it out during the Maya Indie Film Series, kicking off this Friday (7/29) in New York at the Quad Cinema.