Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Once again, thanks to first time director Jieho Lee, I am being forced to put on my ‘what does it all mean’ thinking cap and try decipher some dudes ‘deep thinking’ film. Anytime you see a movie based on a Chinese proverb you know you’re headed for trouble since there’s bound to be all kinds of underlying subtext that you are bound to miss, at least the first time around. And since I rarely watch a movie more than once, if I miss it, it’s gone forever. However, despite some oddities and wild implausibility, I enjoyed ‘The Air I Breathe’ more than enough despite the fact that I’m sure that 90% of its hidden meanings snuck behind my back and left out of the side door.

Four shorter stories intertwined into one with the titles Happiness, Sorrow, Pleasure and Love, being the first instance of ‘What does it all mean’ since each story has almost nothing to do with the title it was given. ‘Happiness’ starts things off as Forest Whitaker plays an extremely frustrated stock broker who has just about had it with his extremely mundane and inconsequential existence. He has one particular client, Eddie, (Brendan Fraser), who is ‘can’t miss’ on his stock selections which has our stock broker asking the man why he doesn’t risk more, and the response he gets is a bit cryptic which I think our stock broker completely misinterprets it’s meaning. This leads to a very bad decision and an unfortunate run-in with a mobster named Fingers (Andy Garcia), who as chance would have it, employs Eddie as a heavy. This leads to some more incredibly bad decisions as we proceed to our next little vignette.

‘Pleasure’ features Brendon Fraser from our previous story who has the unique ability to see bits and pieces of the future, which may explain his luck in the stock market. We first meet him bloodied and beaten escorted on a stretcher to emergency surgery by a doctor (Kevin Bacon). By trade he is the strong arm of Fingers the gangster and on this particular night he has the misfortune of showing Fingers idiot nephew (Emile Hirsch) around town. Since this man can see the future and do nothing to change its outcome, his view on life is rather sorrowful until two things happen which will alter his views and change the course of his life forever.

Sarah Michelle Gellar is ‘Sorrow’, a budding pop-star who is Brittney just before she lost her mind as she is well on her way to losing hers. This is largely due to her witnessing the death of her beloved father, who I should note, considering the way he died, pretty much makes him like the dumbest dude ever. To pay his debts, her manager gives her contract away to the ubiquitous Fingers who has designs to work her like 20 dollar whore. But his heavy Eddie has fallen for her and hard and has her hidden away at his lair with plans to take his hard earned money and just disappear. Then something will occur that lets us know that ‘Sorrow’ is just as dumb as her father was. If not dumber.

This leads us to ‘Love’ featuring the Doctor we previously met, played by Kevin Bacon, in Pleasure. He tells us a tale of how he fell in love with Gina (Julie Delpy), the girl of his dreams, but alas he snoozed and she was snatched up by his best friend Henry (Clarke Gregg). Thing is the doctor never stopped loving Gina, though he is far too honorable to betray his best friend in that way. Then Gina gets bit by a snake, it’s complicated, and she needs a blood transfusion in 24 hours or she’s gonna DIE! Thing is she has the worlds rarest blood type and the frantic doc can’t find a single donor. Then, through an incredibly illogical set of circumstances, he finds out that our miserable pop star has this particular blood-type – which you will know if you were paying attention, which leads to another incredibly illogical set of events, and the credits roll.

Ancient Chinese secrets aside, Lee, with the assistance of a very talented and veteran cast, has created a film that weaves a very interesting, if not overly intricate and arguably too ambitious tale. Because his apparent goal was to make these four tales interconnect in some way, he really had to pull and stretch some of the threads of his story, and a couple of times those threads just snapped under the pressure. But his tale starts out so well and gets you so involved early on that despite it’s heavy requirement of suspension of belief in its later acts, it still results in a reasonably satisfying film.

It’s Lee’s actors who really pull the film through, and though all of his actors are highly skilled, he doensn’t place them in roles that required to much ‘out of the box’ introspection. Brendan Fraser is tall and stoic – I had to see actually how tall this cat was since he always seems so much larger than everybody else in these movies he does, but damn, dude is only 6’3", which is tall but not THAT tall. Lots of tiny people in Hollywood. Andy Garcia plays a hot headed mobster – not exactly a stretch and SMG is a young pretty ingénue – again, right in girlfriends wheelhouse. Along with Whitaker and Bacon the cast was uniformly excellent, and this was the best the part of ‘The Air I Breathe’.

It is evident that Jieho Lee has ability as a film director and his skill was quite able in his directorial debut. It may have served the young man better to have kept his freshman outing a bit simpler which would have eliminated the rather large and unfillable holes in the narrative, but ‘The Air I Breathe’ still managed to be an interesting tale, despite the fact I’m certain I only got a fraction of what the story was trying to say.

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