Saturday, June 25, 2011

NYAFF: Ocean Heaven (2010)

We are less then a week away to the start of the New York Asian Film Festival. We at Unseen Films were not planning on really starting coverage until Thursday with a post that basically reviewed a bunch of the films we'd already seen in capsule form. From there we were going to do coverage of each days events and then we were going to give a week (or two) of full reviews at the end of July.

That was the plan.

The trouble was that between our DVD collections and press screenings we suddenly found ourselves overwhelmed with really good films. Frankly there are just too many good films being shown that there was no way we can do what we planned,namely save full reviews until after the festival, especially since there are a number of films that were going to fall right under the radar if we didn't point them out.

A perfect example is the first film in this series Ocean Heaven. This is a wonderful, if heartbreaking, film that most people are going to steer clear of for no other reason in that there is no violence what so ever.

That's a big mistake. This is a super little film that will surprise the hell out of you.

The plot of the film has single dad Jet Li trying to teach his autistic young adult son how to get by in life. Dad works at the local aquarium and his son loves to hang out and swim with the fish (hence the title). Unfortunately for Li's character there is more than a sense of urgency in his task since he is dying of liver cancer, and if he can't prepare his son, odds are terrible things may happen to him.

I'm not going to lie this is a heartrending film. You will be moved. Odds are you will get misty, perhaps you will even cry. I'm not proud, I got blubbery. Say what you will about the somewhat by the numbers plot, the characters and the performances make this way better than this really should be.

The film is being touted as the first dramatic role for Jet Li, but that's not true, if you saw Danny the Dog (aka Unleashed), Warlords or some of his more recent action films you realize that Li has been trying to stretch as an actor. I would love to say something snarky, as some people have, about how surprising it is that he's as good as he is, but I can't since I've been championing Li's dramatic prowess for years. Simply put Li is one of the most under appreciated dramatic actors working today. Here he does something truly amazing, he takes his super action persona and junks it in order to play just an ordinary guy. The fact that you buy Li as just a dad says volumes about just how good he is.

Its a stunning performance and if there is any justice it will set Li on a new career path as a dramatic actor.

I really like this film a great deal. It's not by any means the be all and end all film, but it's one that manages to take the best ingredients it had at it's disposal and make a wonderfully bitter sweet film out of it.

Go see this film. Yes I know you can pick it up in Chinatown and you can get it as an import DVD, but go buy a ticket and see this film at the Film Festival.


Because the point of a film festival is not just to see the films you expect or know you want to see before the fact. No, the point of a film festival is to find films you didn't know you wanted to see. The point of the film festival is to find films you might never have seen other wise. Ocean Heaven is one of those films. Its a small little treasure of the film, that isn't going to win any awards but is going to move you more deeply then some of the bigger budget and more heavily promoted films.

Trust me, you may not love, hell I don't love it, but you will really like it, probably enough to recommend it to your friends, which is exactly what I'm doing.

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