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Children of Invention (DVD)

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Actors: Cindy Cheung, Michael Chen, Crystal Chiu, Stephen Gevedon, Frank Pando Directors: Tze Chun / Writers: Tze Chun / Producers: Abigail Disney, Adriana Mnuchin, Barbara Dobkin, Dan Cogan, Dave Saltzman / Studio: Indieblitz Releasing / DVD Release Date: 10 Aug 2010 / Run Time: 86 minutes

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      13.05.2013 17:27
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      A well made little movie

      Children of Invention

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      Sometimes a Movie comes along that for some reason you just connect with and it becomes one of those treasured memories. This movie is one of those for me. It hit me in the same way as Sophia Coppola's 'Lost in Translation'. That movie was lambasted and panned as 'boring' by the average Joe, which made me really angry. Maybe it was just 'lost in apparent lack of reality ''stars'' and TV trash'. Again, most people just did not get it and so instead of clicking their brains into gear, opted to jump on the 'must be boring if I didn't like it' band wagon. Unfortunately, I can see this happening with Children of Invention and that is a shame because it is a gem of a movie and the two child actors in the lead roles are immense. So if you are likely to be one of the aforementioned half dead reality fans who wouldn't know cinema if it came up and hit you in the face, I suggest you go and watch the re-runs of Geordie Shore or something equally as tedious and easy on the brain.

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      The Premise

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      Elaine Cheng (Cindy Cheung) is a single mother who is struggling to bring up her two young children, Raymond (Michael Chen) and Tina (Crystal Chiu) just outside Boston. An eviction notice leaves her reeling and faced with the stark reality that she and her two children will be homeless. A friend who runs a property business lets her use an empty apartment to live in. The two children have to keep quiet as the block is inspected each night and day by security guards and they are not supposed to be there. In desperation Elaine gets caught up in a pyramid scam and is promised a good income on the back of how many people she can sign up to the scheme. It means working long hours and dragging the children along with her to wait for hours on end while she tries to close deals.

      The so-called job eventually lands her in trouble and she is arrested. The two children are left to fend for themselves and Elaine cannot say anything for fear of being deported as their visa has run out.

      The children have been left waiting for Mom to finish work so many times that they resort to amusing themselves through the making of quirky little inventions, which they hope to sell in order to buy their house back. They take off on a trip to Boston where Raymond hopes to draw his birthday money from the bank in order for them to eat and buy more materials to make their inventions.

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      My Thoughts

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      Director Tze Chun has based this movie on elements taken from his own life and upbringing. It is a subtle story of just how hard life can be for a Chinese-American family left to fend for themselves. It is hard hitting and bluntly honest but at the same time contains scenes of poignant humour which pulls at your heart strings and tears at the proverbial fabric of your psyche.

      In these times of hard, economic struggle, this movie hits on a very real problem and lets us view it from a human angle. Yes, there are politics stuck behind the premise but in essence it is a story about human nature and the things we do to adapt and survive when under pressure. Chun directs superbly and the movie is a cinematic triumph in both looks and atmosphere. The cinematography is clean and cut to a point where you can feel the tension threatening to break out of the screen. The photography of Chris Teague is one of the reasons for this and he manages to capture Boston beautifully. The movie was shot over twenty days and amazingly only four days of that was actually in Boston, with the rest being shot in New York City. George Chiu (Crystal Chiu's Father) also worked on the photography for the movie and is a keen amateur photographer.

      I saw the movie a few months ago and have been meaning to review it but due to my keyboard breaking I haven't really had the chance. The review now becomes even more poignant after the events at the Boston Marathon recently. May all the victims and their families recover from this ordeal and may all the terrorists in the world fail in everything they do.

      Cindy Cheung plays the hard-working and struggling single parent with verve and drive and is perfect for the role. She deserves great credit for a brilliant performance and a believable one.The two kids are what make the movie though and I daresay Cindy Cheung would agree with me whole-heartedly.Michael Chen plays Raymond with a maturity that belies his age. It was his first film role and he was ten years old when he filmed it. Raymond has to adapt and although he fears his Mother may never come back he has to be strong for his younger sister.

      Chen won numerous awards for new talent for his portrayal of Raymond Cheng and deservedly so. I say he plays the role maturely and by that I mean from an acting perspective. The character is trying to be grown up but his age and immaturity seep through the edges of his attempts at adulthood.


      If Chen played his role with a maturity that belied his years then I can't even begin to describe how good Crystal Chiu was as Tina. She was eight years old when she filmed Children of Invention and boy can this little girl act. She made every cue and does not once look uncomfortable on camera or indeed out of character. In real life she learned to play the piano and has won many competitions and even played at Carnegie Hall! She is schooled in America but also has Chinese lessons. She has won many competitions and spelling bees in Chinese. In the movie you just want to pick her up and cuddle her and make sure she is safe. She plays the role with such vulnerability that at times it is palpable. She exudes screen presence and I can't say enough about how fantastic she is in this role. She deserves every ounce of credit she gets.

      Many fans of Japanese or art house cinema will know that the movie resembles or at least echoes the storyline of Hirokazu Kore-eda's 'Nobody Knows', which also follows the story of children who are abandoned by their Mother, albeit in somewhat different circumstances.

      It is, at times, hard viewing because you know that such things (and a lot worse) are going on in the world but it is one of those movies that I tend to get lost in and to almost absorb and be a part of when watching.
      I loved it and I know it is just my opinion but I also have the opinion that anyone who trashes this film knows nothing about cinema. For a debut, Tze Chun has made a wonderful movie.

      I give it five out of five stars.

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      Awards

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      Grand Jury Prize, Best Narrative Feature - Independent Film Festival of Boston

      Grand Jury Prize, Best Narrative Feature - Newport International Film Festival
      Grand Jury Prize, Best Narrative Feature - Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival

      Grand Jury Prize, Best Film - San Diego Asian Film Festival
      Best Narrative Feature - San Diego Asian Film Festival

      Best Narrative Feature - Ojai-Ventura International Film Festival
      Outstanding International Feature - ReelWorld Film Festival

      Best of Festival - Roxbury Film Festival
      Special Jury Prize, Best Narrative Feature - Sarasota Film Festival

      Special Jury Award - San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival
      Special Jury Prize, Acting Ensemble - Nashville Film Festival

      Special Jury Prize, New Talent to Watch in Acting - Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival
      Special Jury Prize, Emotional Storytelling - Indie Memphis Film Festival

      Honourable Mention, Editing - Woodstock Film Festival
      George C. Lin Emerging Filmmaker Award - DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival

      Puma Emerging Filmmaker Award - Hawaii International Film Festival
      Visionary Award - Austin Asian American Film Festival

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      Critique

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      Here are just a handful of the thousands of lines that have been written about the movie from critics all over the world.

      "Urgent, artful...austerely poetic."--Variety


      "Wonderful...absorbing and deftly played."--L.A. Times

      "Marvellous performances."--NY Post


      "One of the top 13 films of 2009."--Hammer to Nail

      "One of the best undistributed films of 2009."--IFC.com


      "A breath-taking achievement."--David Henry Hwang

      "Powerfully moving and rigorously intelligent."--Boston Phoenix


      "An absolute gem...one that people really should see."--KPCC

      "Two heart-breaking child actor performances."--Spout


      "A flawless independent film."--Ningin

      "Finds delicate moments of beauty and grace."--Filmmaker Magazine


      "Brings to mind the best of the Italian Neo-Realists' work."--Asian Week

      "Both kitchen sink real and lyrically beautiful."--notcoming.com

      "A rueful homage to American dreams both wonderful and warped."--Village Voice

      "As close to cinematic purity as one is likely to see this year."--Film Society of Lincoln Centre


      In summing up I will just say that I loved this movie but as always, each to their own.


      ©Lee Billingham

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