November 7, 2019

SCREEN | Finding Romance – 'In A New York Minute' x VAFF 2019

For a film with its setting in the title that doubles as a famous song lyric, first-time Beijing filmmaker Ximan Li's In A New York Minute—not to be confused with the similarly titled 2004 Olsen twins comedy—feels like it could take place anywhere aside from various obligatory NYC establishing shots. Focused on three separate but interconnected love stories about different immigrant Asian-American women, Li's romances tragically fall apart, because they potentially have too much to offer.

Things start off awkwardly with Amy Chang's Nina as a lovelorn food editor who cannot stop vomiting. Her story is easily the weakest and least developed thanks to Li purposely withholding what her central character is actually about and the introduction of an extremely offputting, problematic relationship despite Chang's mostly charming performance.

The second story starring Yi Liu as Angel, a wealthy but bored married actress, and Ludi Lin as her sexy lover is by far the most compelling, fully-formed, and least overwritten tale. Yi's layered role and connections to the greater film's intentions work the best by focusing on simple, universal themes of dissatisfaction.

Celia Au Ximan Li | In A New York Minute

The last story starring Celia Au as a sex worker with strained family ties feels emotionally resonate yet it relies too heavily on clichés and tired romantic conventions. It's the most rushed and underdeveloped story despite featuring the heaviest subject matter. Au, however, makes for a compelling figure but how the men around her treat her (both good and bad) feels severely half-baked.

When things try to wrap up and we learn how basically all of our characters live and work in what seems to be a few square blocks somewhere in New York, it's ghastly. One particular reveal comes out of nowhere and recontextualizes what we've seen for the worse. It shows, despite so much talent and some really fine work dramatizing the romantic and familial experiences of the Asian diaspora, the storylines rush to connect too many unnecessary dots together that never should have ever been anywhere near each other.

There's so much good in In A New York Minute, but Li does too much to artificially pack in three separate hyperlinked romances—each potentially worth their own feature-length running time—together into an unsatisfying resolution that's strangely both hopeful and tragic. However, her promising talents behind the camera capturing her actors' performances work enough to make the stories fairly compelling.

In A New York Minute screened at the opening gala of the 2019 Vancouver Asian Film Festival.

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