tek's rating: ½

Year of the Fish (not rated)
David Kaplan Films; IMDb; Rotten Tomatoes; Wikipedia

First of all, let me say I was torn on whether to file this review in my animation section or not, since I've never been able to quite decide whether I want to really classify rotoscoping as "animation." It is, but it isn't, y'know? Whatever, I've kinda decided not to. (But several years after I saw it, I decided to add a link to this review in the animation section, while keeping the review itself in the "art" section, where I originally put it.)

Secondly, I should say this movie is a modern reinterpretation of an ancient Chinese fairy tale (often compared to "Cinderella") about a girl named Ye Xian. The first time I ever saw a retelling of this story was in an episode of CBS Storybreak, when I was a kid (though it was spelled "Yeh-Shen"). You could watch it on YouTube, if you like. I reckon both that episode and this movie are different than the original fairy tale, but this movie is definitely a lot differenter than that show. The movie is set in the present, I guess (it was made in 2007). It's set in Chinatown, and I believe that's New York's Chinatown, though I'm sure there are places called Chinatown in other American cities that this just as well could have been.

Anyway... there's a 17-year-old girl named Ye Xian, whose mother died when she was younger, and recently her father has gotten sick, and sent her to America to make some money. Her trip and everything is paid for by someone named Mrs. Su, who runs what Ye Xian believes is a beauty salon, where she's supposed to work off her debt. However, after signing a contract, she learns that it's actually a massage parlor... and the girls who work there are required to give their clients, you know, happy endings. Ye Xian refuses to give massages or anything, so Mrs. Su makes her do all the menial tasks of cooking, cleaning, shopping, whatever. I should mention there are a number of other girls working there, though only two of them had any kind of a real role at all in the movie, and I can't recall their names. One of them was mean to Ye Xian, just like Mrs. Su, though another was nicer. Oh, also there was a receptionist whose name I also don't know, but she was kind of important. And there was a guy named Vinnie, who was Mrs. Su's little brother. He liked Ye Xian, but he was pretty creepy... not necessarily such a bad guy, but not a good guy, either. And Ye Xian didn't welcome his attention.

Um... well, early in the movie, Ye Xian meets this witchy-looking old blind woman on a sidewalk, who gives her a goldfish for good luck. Later the receptionist at the massage parlor was telling an urban legend (or maybe a Chinese myth that's become an urban legend) about someone called Auntie Yaga, and from the description, it's clearly the woman Ye Xian had met... but Yaga can be both good or bad to women she meets, possibly putting them to work in her factory (which is actually more of a sweat shop). Anyway, she's scary. But Ye Xian takes good care of the fish, and it grows til it's almost too big for its bowl... and eventually, Mrs. Su will force her to get rid of it.

About the same time she met Auntie Yaga, Ye Xian also saw a guy in the park playing an accordion, and developed an instant liking for him, even though they didn't speak to each other. Throughout the movie, we see some scenes where we get to know him. He's a struggling musician, and a good guy (played by Ken Leung from Lost). And he's got a kind grandmother. And in a bit of foreshadowing, we learn that he may eventually get a gig at a Chinese New Year celebration. Also we learn that the other guys in his band go to Mrs. Su's massage parlor, but he isn't into that. Anyway, eventually he and Ye Xian meet, and she learns his name is Johnny.

There's also a weird old man Ye Xian runs into occasionally, who gives her some crazy-sounding advice, but eventually it makes sense. Sort of. It's about the fish. (Which btw, the fish does some narrating at the beginning and end of the movie, though it's definitely not like the fish from the Storybreak cartoon. It's a good fish, though.) Um... anyway, I dunno. I don't want to give away any more of the plot. It's not really like the cartoon, it's not really like the fairy tale, and it's not really like Cinderella. But... there's definite similarities to all those things, as well as differences. I suppose the main difference is that Ye Xian's Prince Charming isn't a prince at all, which is kind of a nice change of pace, for a fairy tale.

Well, I don't know what to say. I suppose I enjoyed the rotoscoping well enough, though I might have liked the movie just as well or possibly even better without it (but there were occasional scene transitions that were well done). Of course, it's also possible I would have liked the movie less if it had been strictly live-action. I liked the story well enough, though I'm not sure it always made as much sense as it could have. Still, I found it reasonably interesting and occasionally vaguely amusing and I felt bad for Ye Xian as well as for Johnny, which allowed me to be happy for them eventually getting together and sort of "saving" each other. Or whatever. Though she was definitely more in need of saving than he was (his biggest problem seemed to be a cheating girlfriend who we never even saw). So, I dunno... I think some aspects of the story were just too old-fashioned for me, given the modern setting. Although I can't complain too much about the whole "damsel in distress" thing being sexist, since Ye Xian genuinely didn't have any options for helping herself, as far as I could see. But anyway, the best part of the movie was probably the background music, which was amazing, and if there was a soundtrack I'd probably buy it. But there's not. Though some of the music listed in the end credits can be found on other albums, which is cool. Other music... cannot be found anywhere, alas. Um... and also just the general weirdness of the movie was kind of fun, particularly the surreal scenes involving either Auntie Yaga or the Old Man. Yeah, nicely creepy, and kinda neat that just going along with that creepiness was really Ye Xian's only hope. That is some old school fairy taling, right there... not the kind of sweet fairy godmother stuff you see in Disney movies, okay?


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