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The Motel (Unrated)

Release Date: June 28th, 2006 (Film Forum)
The Cast: Jeffrey Chyau, Sung Kang, Jade Wu, Samantha Futerman, Stephen Chen, Alexis Chang, Jackson Budinger, Conor J. White.
Directed by Michael Kang.

BASIC PREMISE: While working at his family’s sleazy motel, Ernest (Chyau), a 13-years-old Asian-American, comes of age when he befriends Sam (Kang), an older Korean man. ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: Although the setting takes place in or around a sleazy motel, The Motel has very little sex and nudity. Ernest, a young, chubby boy hangs out with a slightly older girl named Christine (Futerman). In the first act, he wins an honorary mention at a writing contest, but his mother (Wu) disapproves of his interest in poetry and prohibits him to travel to the awards ceremony. Gradually, he befriends Sam who becomes his role model—a slick, handsome young man who smokes and sleeps with many women (prostitutes). The unique, occasionally awkward relationship between the two is part of what makes this film so fascinating to watch. For the most part, writer/director Michael Kang wisely focuses on character development and builds a realistic feeling through small, true-to-life details as well as naturally-flowing dialogue. Moreover, it’s refreshing that the humor is surprisingly subtle without becoming over-the-top or offensive—refreshingly, there’s no toilet humor, either. In the third act, the plot does feel a bit contrived and cliché when Ernest does something foolish and out-of-character. Still, by the end of The Motel, it’s easy to be thoroughly engaged because you truly care about Ernest as a complex teenager and, above all, an aspiring writer.

SPIRITUAL VALUE: The most profoundly moving moments are between Ernest and his strict mother. Ernest wants to be understood and tries to reach out to her at first, but she refuses to even listen to him—and especially to read his short story. By the end of The Motel both mother and son change in their own unique, subtle ways.

INSULT TO YOUR INTELLIGENCE: A contrived scene in the third act.


IN A NUTSHELL: Touching, refreshingly natural and perceptive.

RECOMMENDED WAY TO WATCH: Movie Theater (1st Run)

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