will be no singing in the rain in this musical. The children have inherited the
world, but it is a drought-parched post-apocalyptic wasteland. To survive,
children work as slaves in provincial Chinese sweatshops, so it is not very
different from today’s reality. However, one young woman will raise her voice
against oppression and she might start inspiring others in Karmia Chan Olutade’s
strange movie musical The Remnant (sample tune here), which screens
during this year’s Harlem International Film Festival.
either perished in the doomsday or locked themselves away in bunkers, leaving a
lost generation of youngsters to fend for themselves. Tired of the crushing
struggle to survive, Rumi and her brother Ty voluntarily admit themselves into
an orphanage, only to learn it is an exploitative factory that reprocesses precious
waste water. They must subsist on two handfuls of water each day and endure the
abuse of their sell-out overseers. Despite the bleak prospects outside, Rumi is
not inclined to put up with such servitude. On the other hand, Tokyo is a true
millennial, who will not countenance talk of freedom, preferring the questionable
safety of the meager but regular water drops provided by the factory.
with a set-up like that, who feels like dancing? The Remnant has to be the most unlikely big screen musical of this
or most any other year. Frankly, the symbolically charged staging might work
better in a conventional theater setting. In terms of tone and visual
aesthetics, think of it as three parts Brecht and one part Norman Jewison’s
adaptation of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Olutade is certainly not shy about making her points, they still have
tremendous resonance. We are talking about big themes here, like the power of
faith and sacrifice and the temptation to opt for degradation and servitude
rather than freedom and dignity. There are also clear parallels between the children
of the water-reprocessing factory and the well-publicized cases of child labor
in China today (Foxconn and the like). Sadly, there is no shortage of
contemporary slavery in our pre-apocalyptic world.
real problem with The Remnant is the
one-note nature of the score. Like so many rock opera-y musicals, every number
sounds more or less the same. Look, there is a reason why the classic book
musicals still endure. Masters like Cole Porter knew how to mix up a program
with flag-wavers, comic numbers, romantic ballads, and show-stoppers.
is a shame all the tunes blend together musically, because these kids are just
loaded with talent. Even though the mushy score isn’t particularly helpful, Kayla
Cao gives a knockout, heart-breaking performance as Rumi. She also develops
genuinely touching sibling chemistry with Tenzin Low’s enormously charismatic Ty
that should pretty much wear down even the most resistant viewers. The entire ensemble
is quite remarkable, with Sylvia “Niumao” Niu, Julian Chien, Julie Lee, Rendolm
Qian, Asuka Kosugi, and Annika Tanner excelling in their solo spots. Just
imagine what they could do with more distinctive tunes.
Despite the sameness of its sound, there is something
disconcertingly compelling about the film’s vibe. We definitely care about
these kids and quickly buy into their deliberately exaggerated world. In any
event, if you ever wanted to see Solarbabies
set to music, this is probably the closest you’ll ever get. Recommended on
balance for its young talent, The Remnant
screens this Saturday (9/17) at MIST, as part of the 2016 Harlem
International Film Festival.
Labels: HiFF '16, Movie Musicals, Post-Apocalpse movies