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shorts by James Lee

Posted by martinteller on September 14, 2014

I discovered Malaysian director James Lee when I spotted a DVD at the public library with the intriguing title, The Beautiful Washing Machine.  I picked it up on a whim and was immediately smitten with the filmmaker’s calmly surreal style.  I managed to track down his “love trilogy” — Waiting for Love, Things We Do When We Fall in Love, and Before We Fall in Love Again — and also really enjoyed those.  And I watched the omnibus film Visits: Hungry Ghosts Anthology for which he directed one segment.  And then I hit a wall.  I could see on IMDb that he had other features and a multitude of short films, but I could never find them.  Yesterday I was going through my watchlist and went searching once again for James Lee.  And I discovered that his production company, Doghouse73 Pictures, has a YouTube channel.  Included are 10 of his shorts (most of them not listed on IMDb, which makes me wonder just how many shorts this guy has directed).  I’m going to tackle them a handful at a time.

In All for Love, a high school girl (Daphne Low) takes her camera to a reclusive man (Mike Chuah) who repairs them out of his apartment.  The man is aloof and works slowly, but the girl seems insistent on hanging around and they develop a relationship.  It’s a nice enough film, but very slight and overly familiar.  It’s odd to me that this is a short from this year, when it comes off as much less mature than his earlier features.  Rating: Fair (68)

The same could be said for The Girl from Tomorrow, also a 2014 production.  Joe (Joseph Germani) is tired of getting dumped and plans to kill himself… but he’s stopped by Yen (Koe Yeet), an enigmatic girl who claims to be from the future.  Yen inspires Joe to work on his writing, and Joe falls in love… but the effects of time travel limit their relationship.  Again, this is a perfectly pleasant little film (with some so-so comedy), but it seems like absolutely anyone could have written it.  It’s the kind of thing that feels like something you’ve seen/heard/read a hundred times.  This is not the imaginative, experimental Lee that I was hoping for.  Rating: Fair (65)

Sure enough, going back further I found better results.  2005’s Sometimes Love is Beautiful is much better than either of the current shorts I watched.  A laundry girl (Tan Chui Mui, a decent filmmaker in her own right) is friends with a girl who rides a motorcycle (Mien Lor).  The laundry girl is cheating on her boyfriend and asks her friend to deliver a letter to him.  This short isn’t nearly as on the nose as the other two, and is filled with more reflective moments and unusual touches.  The ending hints at things without spelling them out for the viewer.  Rating: Very Good (81)

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