Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

I had almost forgotten what a challenge being thirteen years old was, until director Michael Kangís little darling of the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, ĎThe Motelí was very effective in bringing all those strange, odd and horrific insecurities a rushing back. 


Thirteen-year-old Ernest Chin (Jeffrey Chyau) isnít having the best go at it.  He lives in one of those Ďthree hourí motels that are off the side roads where his belittling and verbally abusive mother (Jade Wu) makes him clean the absolutely filthy rooms, semen stained sheets and all.  His sister is typically bratty, heís a bit overweight and near sighted, has a unrequited crush on Christie (Samantha Futerman), the cute waitress at the Chinese restaurant down the street, and he is mercilessly bullied.  Yep, that all sounds about right. 

Enter Sam (Sung Kang) into young Ernestí life as the fast talking, hard drinking, Korean American with the sweet BMW and the bevy of beauties he brings to the dive.  Sam takes a liking to Ernest and becomes somewhat of a father-figure to the fatherless boy.  Not a good father figure mind you, but a father figure nonetheless.  But then I suppose that is entirely subjective.  Since I actually had a functioning father, I can say with some certainty that he never once offered me a drink or a smoke, allowed me to drive his car at 13, accompany him while he spied on his girlfriend and not once did my dad ever promise to Ďget me laidí.  My dad also never advised me that amateur porn was the way to a womanís heart and he probably would have told me, if were to have such a conversation,  that the line ĎI wanna f**k youí is pretty much an all or nothing proposition and once uttered, itís either a go, or you gotta go.   But then upon further delving into the recesses of my alcohol depleted brain, I would have to say the character of Sam was more like an older brother figure than a father figure, because my older brother certainly did his best to make all those things available to his side kick.

Thereís a lot dysfunction going on at ĎThe Motelí, with most of us left to figure out what the problems with the characters are, with very little being explained.  Sam we can assume has been kicked out his wifeís house for what is probably severe infidelities.  Young Ernest is probably fatherless because nobody could possibly live with his mom for longer than a day or two.  Lord only knows what his mothersí problem is.


The Character Study is the staple of independent film and thatís what 'The Motel' is.  I canít say that I particularly liked this film all that much as it really didnít move me, and being a character study, I didnít care too much for the characters all that much, but it did have its moments.  To actually hear the character of Christie read aloud a blurb from the accompanying text beside the nudie pictures in a menís magazine called ĎOriental Womení was pretty damn funny in its complete absurdity.  I should note that Asian porn starlet Kaylanni Lei was on the cover of that magazine.  Now why do I know who Kaylanni Lei is?  Thatís a damn good question that I sadly have no answer to.  I wonder do they have to pay Ms. Lei for using her likeness? 


Even though the film was relatively short, clocking in at around 75 minutes, it packed a lot of emotion within its brief running time, and I am sure anybody who was ever awkward and 13, whatever your ethnic background, can relate to a lot of what poor Ernest is going through.  Take me for instance, because you know it has to always be about ME.  Sure, I was reasonably popular, athletic, bully proof because any bully who messed with me would have picking his teeth out of the wall.  Not to mention, good looking, loved by the girls, and brutally intelligent as a youth, but I had some insecurities too you know.  I canít think of what they could have been right now, but Iím sure they were there.


This was an interesting film from director Kang, uneven in spots, insightful in others, and very uncomfortable in others.  I recommend it because its plusses outweigh its minuses, despite the fact that I didnít have the best time watching it.  If that makes any damn sense.

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