Thursday, April 3, 2014

Film review at ReelWorld Film Festival: Millions

Writer/Director: Andrew C
Producer: Christian Peterson
Cast: Hubert Tran, Andrew “Pyro” Chung, Ben Brillantes, Jasmine Chen, Stephan Kim, Lee "Lethal" Pham, Tanya Mok, Eric Regimbald, Ins Choi
Indie drama
1 hour, 34 minutes

Review by Allan Tong

This year's Asian-Canadian films at ReelWorld, a festival showcasing racial diversity on screen, includes three Toronto filmmakers: Johnny Vong whose short, The Marvelous Girl, premiered at Cannes, Austin Wong's short Gaysian, which challenges queer stereotypes, and Andrew C's feature Millions.

Millions actually collects episodes from its web series of the same name.  The movie and the series is an ensemble piece about a bunch of 20somethings in modern T.O. trying to strike it rich before they hit 30.  Brandon (Hubert Tran), who is frustrated working a dead-end 9-to-5 call centre job, is the movie's/show's anchor.  He still lives with his folks who are stuck in the Old Country, still eating rice for breakfast while resisting Western gadgets like the internet.

Mercifully, Millions avoids mining this generation gap for conflict, which has been done to death in countless Asian-Canadian films.  Instead, Millions follows Brandon's circle of friends who range from a penniless tomboy to a flaky DJ whose lives turn when one of them perishes in a car crash.

Altogether they are not the stereotypical Model Minority, but Asian kids who roam nightclubs, bang chicks and hang with drug-dealing scum. The writing is strong, successfully interweaving several storylines.  The acting varies, but is led by stage veteran Ins Choi (Kim's Convenience) who plays Ron, an older, tougher nightclub owner.

The web series format is both a virtue and disadvantage.  The tight webisode format forces Millions to maintain a crisp pace and clear story.  The writing and editing are lean, because there's no time for fat in the web world.  Conflicts abound, characters clash.  However, because webisodes are so short, the overall film sometimes loses momentum, while there are moments that can be milked for more drama with, say, a music cue, or by placing the characters in even deeper jeopardy.

That said, Millions does offer a realistic taste of modern Canadian life that is rarely portrayed on screen, big or small.  Everybody's hustling in this show, and the energy of these twentysomethings is tangible and infectious.

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