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MVD Marquee Collection: Watching TV with the Red Chinese (2012) - Reviewed

Posted By themoviesleuth 300 days ago on Entertainment - Romanian born director Shimon Dotan was one of Israel’s most celebrated directors, with such critical and commercial hits as Repeat Dive and The Smile of the Lamb cementing his reputation in the Israeli film world.  Eventually moving to Canada with his wife and business partner Netaya Anbar, the filmmaker’s successes continued with such critical hits as You Can Thank Me Later and the documentary film Hot House.  But after helming the Dolph Lundgren actioner Diamond Dogs, a film which he was replaced by Lundgren for much of it, his career took a bit of a nose-dive.  In dire need of another critical hit, Dotan and Anbar reteamed on his next project which became an adaptation of Luke Whisnant’s 1992 novel Watching TV with the Red Chinese. Set in New York City in 1980, the film follows three Chinese exchange students (James Chen, Keong Sim and Leonardo Nam) eager to see what America has to offer befriend a neighboring young English teacher named Dexter (Ryan O’Nan) and his flaky on/off ex-girlfriend Suzanne (Gillian Jacobs).  Initially a period piece with a curious lack of attention to period details, the film evolves into a cross-cutting ensemble dramedy involving a cataclysmic event which sends the small group of exchange students and the estranged American couple into freefall including but not limited to one of the Chinese students purchasing a firearm. Written for the screen by Anbar and Dotan themselves, Watching TV with the Red Chinese doesn’t have a whole lot in the way of watching television save for a few scenes near the beginning and doesn’t have a whole lot to really say about how a particular point in history affects a small group of friends.  Mostly it is a meandering and occasionally pretentious series of sullen voiceover monologues spoken by Dexter foreshadowing darker things to come.  Tonally the film is all over the map, unable to decide if it wants to be funny or deadly serious and Dotan’s attempts at being Lindsay Anderson with the frequent cross-cutting between color and black-and-white don’t help.   Acting wise, the cast portraying the film’s three exchange students most certainly give the best performances across the board with moments that are heartfelt and genuine.  Ryan O’Nan and Gillian Jacobs are mostly fine though an over-the-top jealous ex-boyfriend harassing Dexter for “stealing” his girlfriend played by Michael Esper nearly sinks the whole thing.  Mostly however, the film’s flaws lie with Anbar and Dotan who have good material on their hands and a solid cast but can’t seem to focus the picture into a plausible or relatable story.  Whatever intentions Whisnant’s novel had, they come through muddled and unfocused here.  Yes Anbar and Dotan are fully capable of delivering another hit as big as the ones that garnered them international attention but for now Watching TV with the Red Chinese isn’t it.  As it stands, the film is a poor man’s Summer of Sam, a film that wants to be about how a catastrophic event affected those living in the immediate area.  While Lee’s film seemed to drive that home with confidence, Watching TV with the Red Chinese in the end doesn’t seem sure of what it is really about and comes up mostly empty handed.  In the end it is a missed opportunity which is a shame considering the pedigree of the cast, crew and material in question.--Andrew Kotwicki (function() { var zergnet = document.createElement('script'); zergnet.type = 'text/javascript'; zergnet.async = true; zergnet.src = (document.location.protocol == "https:" ? "https:" : "http:") + '//'; var znscr = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0]; znscr.parentNode.insertBefore(zergnet, znscr); })();

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