LocationAlhambra , CA United States
“For Izzy” is a new film about two neighboring families in the San Gabriel Valley who become friends despite their very opposite qualities. It will be screening Saturday, August 4, at 7:30 p.m. as the closing feature for the Taiwanese American Film Festival, at the Downtown Independent.
Going against all movie conventions that exist, “For Izzy” defies in structure, its treatment of subjects and evocation of mood as it centers on two neighboring Chinese American families living in the 626. More specifically, the families live “in those single family homes just off of Valley Boulevard — that neighborhood between the Atlantic Avenue and Del Mar exits along the 10,” according to writer/director Alex Chu.
The movie starts with Dede Cheung, a meth addict. She’s hip, she’s an artist with blue streaks in her hair, who, due to her addiction, has lost both her job as a photojournalist at the “Los Angeles Times” and her engagement with her black fiancée, Chloe. Dede’s mom, Anna, who works in finance in Hong Kong, flies in to intervene. Living across the street from Dede are Laura Yip, a high-functioning autistic adult obsessed with taking pictures, videos and drawing with color pencils; and her tax accountant dad, Peter. Laura quickly takes a liking to Dede and asks to be her intern. An unlikely friendship blossoms.
What did a number on my brain was hearing rhymes in four very different contexts from the mouths of four very different people. The first rhymes are heard in spoken-word poetry from the voice of Dede (played by Emmy-nominated actress Michelle Ang, from “Fear the Walking Dead”). Then, we hear rhymes uttered in the poetry of Laura (Jennifer Soo), who delivers an intellectualized expression of frustration and happiness. Then, in the Cantonese language, we hear rhymes from Anna (Elizabeth Sung) and Peter (Jim Lau) when they speak in prose in documentary-style confessionals, and while playfully reciting ancient Chinese poetry and traditional songs to each other. Anna and Peter speak in English, too, and it’s a delight to hear them code switch between the two languages. Hearing rhymes used in four very distinct contexts makes for a very aurally (and philosophically) diverse experience, but we aren’t sledgehammered by these differences — they come across subtly.
Coming through very sweetly and authentically is just how vulnerable each of these characters are: Dede, having lost everyone and everything important in her life, trying to recover from addiction after multiple failed attempts. Laura, needing friends, wanting to learn and experience new things, but getting overloaded and breaking down because of her condition. Anna and Peter, older adults who by conventional standards are considered “past their prime” for romantic opportunities, fighting through embarrassment, shame and old habits.
What’s beautiful is these Asian American characters are different from the types we’re typically forced to repeatedly see. I have yet to see other Asian American movies that center on a Chinese American lesbian photojournalist meth addict with a black fiancée or a Chinese American adult autistic woman not searching for romantic relationships. And what’s special is the romance story gets to go to the two older adults. The structure of the movie is its own creature, using documentary confessional-style interviews, pictures and video footage, interspersed with drawings and animations from the point of view of an autistic person’s experiences. While the documentary framework has been used quite a bit in movies, “For Izzy” does it in an original and unique way (I won’t spoil how here), with a gentleness and honesty that comes through. Elizabeth Sung, most known for her work in “The Joy Luck Club” and “The Young and the Restless” passed away in May, making “For Izzy” her last released film.
The movie garnered the Varsity Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at the 17th Ashland Independent Film Festival in April. It won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature in North America at the 34th Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival in May, and it won the AT&T Audience Award for Best U.S. Narrative Feature at Frameline 42, in June.
It premieres in New York City at the Asian American International Film Festival on August 3, and screens at the Taiwanese American Film Festival in L.A. this Saturday, August 4.
Writer & Director Alex Chu
Stars Michelle Ang, Jennifer Soo, Elizabeth Sung, Jim Lau
Producers Michelle Ang, Jennifer Soo, Michael G. Gray
Cinematography Irvin Liu
Editor Peter Roberts
Animation Director Natalya Serebrennikova
Production Designer Ester Song Kim
Running Time 84 minutes