It’s been nearly twenty years since the New York Times declared that 1998 was the year of Generasian X filmmakers (http://www.nytimes.com/1998/07/22/movies/a-film-festival-focuses-on-gener-asian-x.html), following an uptick that year in narrative feature films by Asian Americans. Since that time uncountable Asian American filmmakers have released narrative features, including Justin Lin’s BETTER LUCK TOMORROW, Gene Cayajon’s THE DEBUT, and Jennifer Phang’s ADVANTAGEOUS, to name just a few. So by now Asian Americans have pretty much mastered the art of the commercial narrative feature film.
So what separates Randall Okita’s feature film debut, THE LOCKPICKER, from the pack? While there are certainly Asian American features that are more artistically innovative, too often they simply rehash Hollywood filmmaking conventions. I like seeing Asian Americans in romantic comedies or horror movies as much as the next person but I want see some filmic inventiveness in the mix as well. On that count THE LOCKPICKER delivers, as it differs in both style and execution from a lot of the product coming from Asian American directors these days.
Okita created the film, which follows the everyday experiences of a solitary teenager, in collaboration with students at a Toronto-area high school and most of the performers are first-time actors. This includes the film’s lead actor, Keigian Umi Tang, whose performance is as emotionally true and vibrant as anything I’ve seen on screen lately. Okita’s collaborative and improvisational filmmaking style leads to a textured and nuanced portrait of teen despair that rings truer than most cinematic depictions of adolescence. The film’s somewhat unstructured narrative also echoes the mercurial rollercoaster of teen life, where every event is potentially calamitous and every encounter can explode into violence. Yet despite its fraught subject matter the film is understated and finely drawn. Okita brings a layer of sensitivity and subtlety to a potentially overwrought subject matter that’s rare and notable, especially for a debut feature. The film represents a step forward in the development of Asian American filmmaking.
NOTE: I use the term Asian American filmmaking as a genre, not a geographic locator, since Okita’s film is set in Canada.