Yellow Fever officially marks the first movie I’ve seen at my first ever film festival I’ve attended (Sonoma Film International Film Festival). Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what you’re gonna say. ‘Well how can you be a film critic then if you’ve never been to a film festival?’ *Uses Italian finger gesture* One: I can—although it is shameful, ha. And two: Well now I officially am, so I could care less about what you think, Brandy, Johnny, Cassandra, or whatever generic named-person is reading this 😃 ANYWAYS, onwards to the plot, fellow hobbits! Hoozah!
Directed and written by Kate Moon, Yellow Fever is a coming of age dramedy centered around 18-year-old Asia Bradford (Jenna Ushkowitz). Asia, having been adopted from Korea by a white family (Nahanni Johnstone, Michael Lowry), abhors being Asian and continuously surrounds herself with white social circles. And life doesn’t get any easier for her when she struggles in coming to terms with a cultural identity, her relationship with her family, (including her anime-obsessed brother), college, and love. And with the arrival of her mother’s old friend John (Scott Patterson), (who spent a decade in Korea), things continually take an interesting turn in a world where everyone seems to catch a dash of yellow fever.
To open things up in this week’s review, we’ll start with the comedic aspect of the film—
which was hilarious. What makes it hilarious is that Yellow Fever’s comedic angle of Asian culture is crude, a bit taboo, yet completely relatable and realistic. Moon isn’t afraid to break the wall between taboo and the things people actually say in real life out of fear of losing her audience—and because of this, her comedy passes the mark at being a decent comedy. Allow me to elaborate in case you might be a bit confused: the film is flooded with Asian culture jokes left and right that people normally would be too afraid to portray in film out of fear of being too culturally insensitive. Example: “What? I should’ve gotten into Harvard just because I’m Asian?” Furthermore, the comedic aspect of the film does great in demonstrating the issue of how white people try to show their acceptance of other cultures by resorting to a cringe-worthy overindulgence of love for that opposite culture. Example: *Dresses up in foreign culture outfit, only listens to cultural music, only eats that culture’s meals, etc.* “OMG, I LOVE (whatever culture you’re faking)” …Alright listen, while we certainly appreciate your adoration of our culture, you’re overdoing it to the point of near-fakeness. And Moon integrates this well into the film, with dialogue aiding it in its endeavors—which brings us to our next point.
Dialogue. The delivery of dialogue is just as important as the delivery of comedy in order to help the aspect of comedy succeed, (we know, a bit of Inception brain-twisting here). Moon skillfully writes Yellow Fever to be quick, snappy, witty, yet realistic in its dialogue and its varying dynamics between characters–especially that of Asia and her brother. It isn’t overly complicated; it’s how people speak in real life yet it still manages to reveal character depth with its subtext. And of course, we have to also thank our characters for this. But having said that, the characters in this film are *Patrick Bateman voice* …interesting…
The main star of the film is Asia Bradford. The one thing that stood out with her character was her comical snarkiness. Right as the film begins, Asia’s already dissing her Asian culture, arguing with her parents, and pouting like your typical teenager. Yet we come to tolerate Ushkowitz’s character because of her sassy one-liners. But that’s the thing: notice how I said ‘tolerate?’ That’s because the character’s initial façade of radiance unfortunately gets old fairly quick. One thing I quickly noticed as the film progressed was her unrealistic character that the viewer soon picks up on. One issue I had was that Ushkowitz looks way too old to play an 18-year-old, (she’s now about 30). And if you want to call me petty for calling someone out on their age—fine. 🙂 But another (more important) problem that intertwines and manifests itself is her petulance that’s increasingly overdone and visible to the audience.; it’s way too in-your-face. We understand that she isn’t a big fan of her Korean heritage, however, Asia is overdone with her unrealistic hatred towards her ethnicity in which she continuously finds an opportunity to insult it nearly every minute of the film. *Example: Why? Cause I’m Asian. Yup. Asians loooove that.* In short, she acts more like she’s an overgrown six-year-old rather than 18. And yeah, I get that 18-year-olds are anything but fully mature. But I mean while watching the film, my hand started itching to slap that annoying little pout off her face and teach that brat some discipline. And because of this, the film loses an aspect it was originally well depicted in because they overdue it–bringing it up nearly every minute of the movie. I understand that the issue of cultural identity is a main theme of the film—especially with its relatability— however, the execution of the theme in this way is poor—as it should be more integrated into plot.
Speaking of plot, the plot is err…a complicated aspect of this film as well. But let’s break
it down first with the character development in regards to the plot. The characters are mediocore because what could have made them better, (aside from making Asia less annoying), was character depth and development through showing rather than simply telling. One of the problems in Yellow fever is that it’s as if the film assumes you already know about the characters’ issues and conflicts. The film just tells us what problems without showing us exactly what they struggle with. For example with Asia’s parents, sure, they show us they’re having some problems, but they don’t show us what is the essence of that problem; they don’t show us the defining factor or even provide us some background information about their initial falling out. Because of this, many of the characters feel very generic despite having established depth—which results in the lack of proper emotion that the supposed character development is meant to invoke from its audience. Rather, it feels forced at times. But this is also connected to the plot progression.
The inciting incident of the film takes a while to happen and while the audience is fed on the comedic aspect of the film to hang on in the meantime, its progression ultimately does not improve as the plot progresses. The film itself is slow—which may unfortunately lose the viewer’s interest every now and then. Furthermore, it lingers on dull moments that make the film seem like a one long dreary dream. But it isn’t just the progression of the film that causes this—the direction and focus of the film do as well.
Yellow Fever initially begins out great with establishing the intended direction of the film. However, as the plot progresses, the focus of the film seems to fizzle out into a myriad of fillers and subplots. Obviously, there weren’t intended fillers in the film, but I certainly did feel as if quite a number of scenes were merely placed in the film for the sake of being there rather than for driving the plot forward—big no-no. Sure, they get a few laughs. But the problem is that you gradually get bored of them. Furthermore, some ‘fillers’ are interestingly meant to establish a developing key to the film, yet they fall flat because of the numerous subplots included in the film which make it feel scattered and episodic rather than having a lovely line of developing emotion. I mean we have the cultural identity crisis, parental marriage problems, love life, college, and some sibling issues. It would have been fine to have this many subplots if it were a Love Actually-quilt-story themed film. But the problem is that the opening scenes did not establish that; the director made it seem like the film’s focus was only on Asia. Because of this, many of the subplots feel very forced and some scenes/revelations do not invoke the emotion that are meant to get invoked; they fall flat—especially when proper set-ups and pay-offs in the film are substituted for clichés.
Cliches: Hate ‘em, love ‘em, whatever. (Anyone else remember Meg from Hercules when the word cliche pops up? No? …Forget I made that pop culture reference -___-) What makes clichés work is the integration of a film-maker’s own twist into that cliché. In Yellow Fever, the film is overrun with them, but not in a good way. From running to a room and crying into one’s pillow to being a rebellious teenager, Yellow Fever marks quite a large number of clichés off its checklist. And while it could’ve worked for another film with a twist or a phenomenal storyline, clichés unfortunately do not do the film any justice here. And it’s especially painful when the wrap-up of this film is based on a quick, cheesy family cliché that gives such a simple answer to the supposed complicated conflicts the film had established—especially when it’s ***SPOILERRRR**** based on the ‘whoops-guess-everything-was-based-on-a-miscommunication’ cliché…Like—no. Please don’t do this to me. ☹ On one hand, life is so much more complex than that—especially with the struggles Moon’s characters endure—so not all of the issues surrounding the characters should have been solved this way. And two: it’s too easy of a wrap up. It’s also pretty painful too for the viewer because it’s obvious that miscommunication is a huge issue in this film and could be easily solved, (for some problems), yet it’s played off as being a climactic ‘no-way!’ scene. I understand that miscommunication happens in real life and that people never say exactly what they mean. But nevertheless, it feels like the audience has been cheated by this simplistic resolution—which unbelievably still leaves some threads hanging. You’d expect that a resort to that kind of a resolution would at least provide closure for everything—but does it? If you count unrealistic and no, then the answer is still no.
I LOVE the theme of search, connection, communication, and cultural identity because nearly anyone can relate to any of these problems. However, the theme, comedy, and dialogue aren’t enough to make this movie memorable. The film isn’t bad nor good, but it is mediocre. After watching it, you’ll think ‘meh’ before going on with your day. Don’t expect something amazing out of Yellow Fever; it’s more of a bored-and-pop-a-film-in-and-watch-only-once kind of day. It had so much potential to work and should if it had taken the right turn, it would have excelled. Nonetheless, I can’t wait to see what Kat Moon has next in store! 🙂
Genre: Narrative ; American Indie; Comedy + Drama
Running Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Verdict: B- / 6 out of 10