Fantastic Fest 2012 Review: LEE'S ADVENTURE

Talk about a pleasant surprise. I referenced the new and upcoming generation of Asian film makers a couple of times already (pk.com.cn, Honey PuPu), Lee's Adventure is allowed to join this illustrious duo as the film further underlines my belief that something is definitely brewing over there. If you cling to the laws of traditional cinema you can safely skip this film, but if you want a sneak peek at the future of film making, Lee's Adventure is a definite must see.

Lee's Adventure is a mixed media rework of the cult short film bearing the same name, originally released in 2009. The original was a 20 minute short sporting different kinds of animation styles, the 2011 adaptation throws in some live action scenes to further increase the sensory chaos. Incorporating animation in a more natural and intuitive way is rapidly becoming a trend though, contrasting the stark and almost stand-alone animation sequences that began to creep into more commercially-minded films a good 10 years ago (think Kill Bill, Revolver, Chocolate). An evolution I'm actually quite fond of.

The film follows the life of Li Xian Ji, a 20-something year old guy who suffers from TDD, a rather unique, remarkable (and non-existent) syndrome. The main symptom of the syndrome has Li experiencing serious time lapse episodes at irregular intervals (not quite unlike those seen in Cashback). Sometimes a mere second can last a half hour, sometimes a year passes by in just 30 minutes. The only one who understands Li 's condition is Wang Qian, a girl suffering from the exact same condition.

The two of them hook up, but promise each other that their relationship can only last until one of them gets better. What they didn't foresee was that Wang's condition clears up quickly after that. A small argument leads to a rather tragic accident and Li spends the remainder of the film trying to come up with a way to reunite himself with Wang. Since Li's TDD has messed up his understanding of time, he is convinced he can actually travel back in time to prevent the fatal accident, fixing things once an for all.

Visually the film is all over the place, still there is a consistent quality that runs through the film. The live action sequences are lushly photographed, every single frame looks impressive and detailed. There are quite a few memorable shots too, add to that the snappy and precise editing and you have a very attractive film. The animation sequences pop up whenever things get too weird to handle in live action. The quality of the animation is not entirely up to par, but the art style is cool and the animation sequences are integrated really well with the live action scenes. A true visual adventure.

The soundtrack too lacks coherence, which is not really a surprise considering the fact that the film as a whole shows very few restrictions. The soundtrack is used to good effect though. From the more dramatic sequences to the pretty cool chase sequence early on, the music adds to the atmosphere of the moment and gives the film some extra attitude. I wouldn't care to listen to any individual tracks outside the context of the film, but within the film it works wonders.

The acting is top notch too, with Jaycee Chan carrying most of the film. He's building up quite a reputation, appearing in more commercial projects (1911) to build a name for himself, while doing very cool, differentiating stuff on the side (pk.com.cn). He's definitely one of my favorite young and upcoming acting talents. Fiona Wang has considerably less to do here, but she does it gracefully and the two of them form a lovable couple worth caring for. The rest of the supporting cast is good too, but doesn't really appear outside a select few scenes.

Rating this film is not very hard, recommending it is a different story though. Lee's Adventure resides in a modern, cutting-edge segment of today's film business. It's literally all over the place, shifting tones, moods and artistic styles rapidly and indiscriminately. It truly carries the voice of a new generation. I find the result refreshing, entertaining and even inspirational, but people looking for a conform, well-written, singular story with thematic clarity will probably toss this film aside and mumble something about MTV-style editing. Their loss I guess.

Lee's adventure plays a little like an anthology film, only merged into one single full-length feature. It's only 90 minutes long, but it feels as if there are two or three films packed inside its running time. It's a string of memorable scenes, filled with amusing cultural and pop references (Mario-styled '?' blocks, Windows error boxes, Michael Jackson silhouette, to name just a few) and with more visual styles than you can shake a stick at. It's the kind of film I love to like, executed with lots of love and belief in it's own subject and structure. An exciting trip down a world that isn't quite our own, blending different genres and styles into one chaotic whole.

This review was originally published in March of 2012.
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