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'Pearblossom Highway' Fails to Fully Address the Issues It Raises

Mike Ott's Pearblossom Hwy is meant as a film about a generation of lost youth. Unfortunately, it just can't engage with the concerns that it raises, leaving viewers with no real way to empathize with the film's main characters.


'Pearblossom Hwy' at SFIFF

City: San Francisco
Venue: Sundance Kabuki Cinemas
Date: 2013-04-30

Pearblossom Hwy, director Mike Ott's follow-up to Littlerock, is billed as a movie that champions downtrodden, aimless youth trying to survive in suburban desert communities north of Los Angeles. The film raises many important issues, from the abuse of nitrous oxide to the sorrow of not knowing one's father to the tragedy of prostitution as a last-ditch employment option for immigrants who are awaiting citizenship exams and the right to work in the U.S. without restrictions. While actors Atsuko Okatsuka (Atsuko) and Cory Zacharia (Cory) turn in strong performances, the film leaves too many serious questions unanswered.

As we watch Pearblossom Hwy, we are either immediately drawn to or repulsed by Cory. A jobless young man who dreams of making it big with his punk band, Cory is the epitome of an aimless drifter. In the beginning of the film he says that he always wanted to be "a rebel without a cause," but we have to confront the fact that he can never attain this romantic vision of self. This is actually one of the more problematic aspects of the movie precisely because we sense that Ott wants us to empathize with Cory, but we have a hard time doing so because he just isn't all that likable. He has no interest in taking responsibility for himself as a human being, so why should we be interested?

In one memorable scene, Cory and Atsuko see a stand-up comedy show in San Francisco. The comedienne, who Cory had seen on TV, makes fun of him in that jibing way that stand-up comics often make fun of audience members. Unfortunately, the humor is washed from the scene because the comics' observances are spot on. There is no exaggeration; we realize that we must choose to see Cory as she does (as a loser) or we must empathize with Cory despite the fact that he really doesn't have a grip on his life. We encounter the same problem with Atsuko, though on a smaller scale. She doesn't seem particularly interested in or affected by becoming a prostitute in order to earn money to visit her dying grandmother, so why should we care?

Ott's emotional manipulations in the film are just that: Manipulations. We are supposed to feel for Cory because he has never had a relationship with his real father and we're supposed to feel for Atsuko because she's far away from home and can't see her grandmother, who is very ill. Yet it's difficult to care about the characters because they don't care about themselves in anything other than an awkward, superficial sense. This isn't a film about the ennui or desperation of the lost youth of desert California. It's just a series of anecdotes about individuals whose actions apparently have no consequences.

It's a shame, because Pearblossom Hwy could be a film about the ways in which we try to escape the social pressure to fall in line by sacrificing our very selves. Unfortunately, it never gets there.

4

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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