Monday, May 22, 2017

HIFF ’17: Yellow Fever

If MTV’s Daria Morgendorffer had been adopted in Korea, she would probably express many of the attitudes held by Asia Bradford. Yes, her parents named her Asia—clearly without consulting her first. She is so tired of the whole model minority, find a rich older white boyfriend thing. Nor has she any use for ethnic identity or the Ktown scene. However, an unlikely friend of the family might help her reconnect with her roots, or possibly poison her forever on all things Korean in Kat Moon’s Yellow Fever (clip here), which screens as part of the 2017 Hoboken International Film Festival (in New York).

Bradford lives with her Asian-obsessed, compulsively inclusive white-bread parents Michael and Li, along with her manga-addicted younger brother Taro in a tony Upper Eastside townhouse. Believe me, they are doing well if they have the room to put up her father’s prodigal best pal John Smart while he sells late mother’s suburban Jersey house. For years, Smart lived in Korea, trying to recover from a broken heart. It was Li Bradford who broke it.

Somehow, Smart and Asia Bradford recognize each other as kindred brooding souls. When he drags her to a real Korean restaurant she is stunned to discover she kind of likes it. He even manages to interest her in the language too. However, various jealousies and misunderstandings within the Bradford family will force Smart to move out before his closing.

Strangely, Moon shows a better handle on her WASPy characters than the abrasive Asia Bradford. Being sardonic is all well and good, but Bradford can really be a pill. On the other hand, Li and Michael are silly Upper Eastsiders, but in acutely human ways. Frankly, the film picks up in the second half, as their subplots expand.

In fact, Nahanni Johnstone and Michael Lowry are so good as the Bradfords, we care more about whether they will save their marriage than if Asia finally starts to find herself. Still, nobody can deny Jenna Ushkowitz has a facility with snark. As Asia, she also develops some effective chemistry with Scott Patterson’s deadpan world-weary Smart.

Despite some creepy awkward bits, Fever is a genuinely likable film that ties up all its loose ends in an entirely satisfying manner. In some ways, it is like an updated John Hughes movie for our times. It is worth noting Moon set the film in 2000, to take into account Korea’s late 1980s restrictions on international adoptions. It is not nearly as fun and nostalgic as Benson Lee’s Seoul Searching, but it is pleasant enough. Recommended for fans of hip UES coming of age dramedies, Yellow Fever screens this Wednesday (5/24) as part of the Hoboken International Film Festival, logically in Greenwood Lake, NY.