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Where EAST meets the Northwest

INGÉNUE IN HOT WATER. Year of the Fish, David Kaplan’s animated adaptation of Cinderella based on the ninth-century Chinese variant of the folktale, was shot in New York City’s Chinatown on live-action video and then painstakingly rotoscoped with an algorithmic painting process. (Photo courtesy of Gigantic Pictures)

From The Asian Reporter, V18, #40 (October 7, 2008), page 15.

Cinderella, ancient China, and New York merge in Year of the Fish

Year of the Fish

Written and directed by David Kaplan

Distributed by Gigantic Pictures

By Pamela Ellgen

Young Ye Xian (An Nguyen) arrives in New York’s Chinatown dishevelled and homesick in Year of the Fish, opening this week at Portland’s Hollywood Theatre. Unloaded from the back of a crowded passenger van, she meets her fate in a so-called salon where she becomes the indentured servant of Mrs. Su (Tsai Chin), who informs the 17-year-old she is to tell clients she is of age. The delicate Ye is slow to comprehend, but soon learns the salon offers its male-only clientele a little more than is advertised by the neon lights outside. More than a massage but less than sex is more than Ye can handle, and she refuses. Enraged at this perceived insolence, Mrs. Su condemns Ye to cooking and cleaning.

The Cinderella story, shot in beautiful rotoscopic animation, follows Ye down the roach-infested halls of Mrs. Su’s, through the streets of Chinatown, and finally into the gnarled hands of Auntie Yaga. With no one else to trust, Ye must discern whether the old woman’s intentions are pure and if her cryptic messages bear good luck.

The film boasts incredible acting, with An Nguyen delivering a beautiful and heart-wrenching performance in her film debut. Acclaimed classical actress Tsai Chin offers a bone-chilling performance as Mrs. Su, contrasted nicely by the tender, heartfelt character of Johnny, played by Ken Leung.

Year of the Fish was shot eloquently in live-action and transformed post production using digital painting. Although distracting initially, this effect is unique and lends to the fable-like quality of the film, making it appear like a watercolor painting come to life.

Unlike its European counterpart, this ancient Chinese Cinderella story involves no glass slippers. Instead it revolves around the magic of a certain fish Ye adopts early in the film from Auntie Yaga. The nameless pet lives at Ye’s bedside and grows, almost overnight, too big for its bowl. When Mrs. Su proclaims Ye’s tiny friend is bad luck, she releases him in a nearby fountain.

"Now you can grow as big as you want," Ye says lovingly.

However, as in the Chinese tale, the endearing relationship is inevitably destroyed by the cruelty of Ye’s captors.

Alone, heartbroken, and abused, Ye is faced with the decision of whether to trust someone who may be even more evil than Mrs. Su, Auntie Yaga. But, compelled by sincerity, hope, and perhaps a touch of fatalism, Ye leaps into a world even more sinister than the one she already endures.

Year of the Fish is at times quite dark. Its realism is gritty and raw, though not obscene. Ultimately the film is redemptive and beautiful, thanks to brilliant writing, evocative performances, and compelling cinematography.

The film has won high praise since its debut at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. It comes to Portland on Friday, when it opens at the Hollywood Theatre, located at in 4122 N.E. Sandy Boulevard in Portland. For more information, including complete dates and showtimes, call (503) 281-4215 or visit <>. To learn more, visit <>.