The Motel

The coming-of-age story gets a slight twist in The Motel, Michael Kang's adaptation of Ed Lin's novel Waylaid, which tells the story about a young Chinese boy growing up.  What makes it a bit different is that this is an Asian-American film, so not only does the kid have to deal with all the typical things that kids deal with, but he also has to grapple with issues of culture and identity.  What makes things worse for young Ernest Chin (Jeffrey Chyau) is that he lives in an area that is predominantly Caucasian.  Aside from another family in the area, there are no Chinese people around.

Kang never reveals where The Motel takes place, but it looks like an out of the way place in the mountains.  It could be in Washington, or it could be in the South.  Ernest's mother Ahma (Jade Wu, She Hate Me, Dick) owns a seedy motel along the highway.  People can live there month-to-month, or rent a room for a few hours.  Ernest goes to school, then comes back home to clean rooms,  Then at night he has to stay up and tend to the front desk.  It's a pretty difficult life for him.  His father left years ago, and he's a bit chubby, which incurs the wrath of a bully.  He has a crush on Christine (Samantha Futerman, Memoirs of a Geisha), the daughter of the other Chinese family.

The Motel works as a coming-of-age story because Kang realizes that he doesn't need to do something earth shattering.  He simply drops into the lives of his characters, finding humor and sadness in their everyday lives.  For Ernest, everything changes with the arrival of Sam Kim (Sung Kang, The Fast and the Furious:  Tokyo Drift, Antwone Fisher).  Kim rolls on in with an expensive car and hooker.  He's flashy, handsome, and Asian, something Ernest is not used to.  He immediately takes to Kim, who is charismatic, and honestly, a bit of a jerk. To Ernest, Kim is a father-like figure, something missing from Ernest's life.

Together, the two form an unlikely friendship that plays out in the wee hours of the morning over friend chicken, driving lessons, and awkward silences.  Kim represents freedom for Ernest, who feels trapped in a life going nowhere.  He wrote a short story and received an honorable mention, but his mother will not let him go to the awards dinner. Ernest wants to express himself - to stand up to his mom, to tell Christine how much he loves her, to beat up the bully, but he cannot.  He's just a kid who's a bit on the dorky side, yet well meaning.  Kang picks up on Ernests' quirks and pokes fun at them without mocking him.  At some point, every kid felt like Ernest, and Kang deftly puts this sense of alienation into the movie.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 16 minutes, Not Rated but contains language, some nudity and sexual situations, an easy R.

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