THE MOTEL (Michael Kang) Rating: NNNN
There are plenty of films about confused, horny adolescent males, but none of them features anyone quite like Ernest (Jeffrey Chyau), the hero of Michael Kang's assured Real Asian Film Fest opening-night gala.
Overweight, fatherless and 13 years old, Ernest is miserable working for his tough-as-nails mother in a seedy motel in an unnamed town, where one of his duties is cleaning rooms littered with cigarette butts and condoms. Taunted by his Caucasian peers, he spends his free time sitting on a dumpster outside the town's only Chinese restaurant, where he can feed his obsession with a snappy Chinese-American server who works there.
Ernest's life changes some when a loud young Korean-American man named Sam (Sung Kang) drunkenly checks into the motel for an indeterminate stay. The two strike up an unusual friendship, with Sam - when he's not drinking or bedding women - teaching Ernest how to play ball, drive and, eventually, pick up girls.
The script, adapted by director Kang from a novel by Ed Lin, breathes new life into the coming-of-age story. The motel setting provides glimpses of a number of marginalized people, and a plot line about an autobiographical story Ernest has written is deftly interwoven without being precious.
Kang gets relaxed, natural performance from his cast, including Chyau, whose deadpan look hardly shifts even when he's jerking off with one of his young sister's plush toys. (Don't worry, it's not gross.)
Kang finds an eerie, banal beauty in the anonymous small town. Best of all, he knows that smart filmgoers don't need a lot of explanation or backstory. Images suffice.
Wednesday (November 23) at the Bloor Cinema.