Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Local Shorts at the Egyptian: The Red House
must be hard to explain to a young actress she will be playing a six-year-old
sold into a brothel. Doing so in real life is almost unthinkable. That is the
position Fangfang finds herself in. For the first time, she will act as a “Mama”
to a new arrival in screenwriter-director Jiaqi Lin’s The Red House (trailer here), which screens as part of the Egyptian
Theatre’s annual presentation of short films from Los Angeles-based filmmakers.
was a tough year for China. An ill-fated attempt to restore a dynastic monarchy
led to short-term chaos. Of course, that hardly affected Amei’s hardscrabble
rural parents. Still little more than serfs, they only knew how hard it was
putting food on the table. For one hundred Taels of silver, they sell Amei to
The Red House, knowing full well the life they are consigning her to. Her
mother is clearly distraught, but it will take two hundred Taels to buy her
understands just how hard it is to earn that kind of money. The twenty-five-year-old
is on the verge of doing it herself when, much to her surprise, she is put in
charge of Amei’s training. Despite the tough persona she projects, Amei’s
innocence and the similarity of their circumstance entering the brothel moves
Fangfang considerably more than she expects.
might have a general idea where Red House
is headed, but it is still incredibly poignant, partly due to the
implications for the characters and partly thanks to the power of its two
leads. Former Masterchef contestant (seriously,
its true) Felix Fang hits the perfect notes as the tough but compassionate
Fangfang. She is not just another prostitute with a heart of gold. When she
explains to Amei what it takes to survive in their world, it is a lesson for
the audience too. Similarly, distressingly young Makayla Gatmaitan is
absolutely heartrending as Amei. Even though Red House is only approximately twenty minutes, they still forge
some wonderfully nuanced chemistry together.
House is also quite an elegant period
production, thanks to Laura Cristina Ortiz’s lush costuming and the richly
detailed work of production designer Michael Paul Clausen and his team. Lin
helms with tremendous sensitivity, but it is still hard to watch those
foot-binding sequences. Frankly, Red
House could easily play on a bill with Hou Hsiao-hsien’s Flowers of Shanghai, acting as a
corrective to its more idealized vision of “Flower House” life. Highly
recommended, The Red House screens as
part of this year’s Local Shorts program (which also includes the absolutely
insane Chickening) on July 14th,
at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, CA.
Labels: Local Shorts '16, Short Films