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Ryan O'Nan
as Dexter

Leonardo Nam
as Chen

Gillian Jacobs
as Suzanne

James Chen
as Tzu

Keong Sim
as Wa

Peter Scanavino
as Czapinczyk

Written by Netaya Anbar, Shimon Dotan

Directed by Shimon Dotan

Running Time: 1:45

Not Rated



Watching TV with the Red Chinese was a well-made low budget film, but it got lost in a series of camera and editing tricks that took away from the central story.


The story is told mostly in flashback. Dexter lives across the hall from three Chinese exchange students in 1980. While some wonder why the students are really there, Dexter takes a shine to them and they quickly become friends, with Dexter teaching them all about American life. Dexter is in love with Suzanne, who just broke up with the filmmaker Czapinczyk. While Suzanne never falls for Dexter, the two of them do have a connection and sleep together on occasion, which leads the increasingly jealous Czapinczyk to harass Dexter constantly. But then Suzanne meets one of the Chinese students, Chen, and the two of them have an affair. Chen isn't used to feeling this way and when Suzanne starts to play with his heart, he takes it badly, leading to a disastrous ending.


After about ten minutes of Watching TV with the Red Chinese I was really annoyed with the film because it kept cutting back and forth between the present and the past without us knowing what was happening. And they used the same shot of a subway passing what felt like a dozen times and every time that subway rumbled by I got more and more annoyed. There was also a film within the film as Czapinczyk was making a movie called... Watching TV with the Red Chinese. Yes, it was very meta for a 1980s-set film. And the constant cutting between present, past and film within a film was too much. And was completely unnecessary. The film within a film really served no purpose other than having some of the characters engage in the "I'm an important filmmaker who is making an important film" talk that so many new filmmakers get into. Although now that I read his IMDB page, the director has made some other pictures in the past with some reasonably big actors, so I'm not sure what happened here. If he was trying for some kind of highbrow Chinese/American relationship drama, it didn't quite get there.

As the movie moved along, I was able to see a thread opening up - the love triangle (or square). That story made a lot more sense, as you had a girl who was confused, a guy who was new to love, a guy who knew what love was, and a guy who was just psycho. The interactions between the four would have made a great story, especially with the backgrounds given to each of them. But the movie threw in a black family downstairs with a kid who was practicing voodoo, and then of course the film within a film. And then lastly John Lennon is murdered during the time the movie takes place, so he plays into it somehow. What could have been a decent troubled romance film got bogged down in too many other things to make it a really good movie. For a low budget film, the movie looked pretty good and the director was able to get some decent performances. The biggest name in the cast was Gillian Jacobs as Suzanne - as she's now best known for being on the hilarious TV show 'Community'. Sadly I think she's better at comedy than drama, but it nice to see a recognizable face. I also thought the actor who played Chen - Leonardo Nam - did a great job as someone who comes from a Communist country and slowly discovers the American dream, before having it shatter at his feet. I think if this film was re-edited and re-packaged it could be a good film. But as it stands now, there's too much noise that I found very distracting.


So overall, I feel so-so about Watching TV with the Red Chinese. It started out making me feel miserable, but as it went along I got into it more and felt a kinship with some of the characters. But there were too many layers that didn't work which took away from the one layer that did.

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Reviewed 01/22/12

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