When I staggered out of the first screening of I AM WHAT I AM I headed to the festival organizers and simply asked when it was playing again. They said it was playing next weekend, which delighted me and a coule of other people who wanted to know the same thing. They then asked why I wanted to know and I told them it was because people had to see the film. It had knocked my socks off and I had to get on to people's radar.
This is the story of 17 year old outsider Gyun, who is living with his grandfather while his parents work in another city.At a festival in the village he falls in love with the lion dance. Given a lion mask by a girl with the same name, and who had rescued him when he was being shaken down by some toughs, he talks his two friends into forming a team to compete in an upcoming lion dance competition. The trio then try and track down a coach and then struggle to get in shape and train. However life has further complications in store for them.
Ye,s I was intentinally vague in describing the plot of the film. I'm doing it because the what happens, after a slightly cliche set up, is a rousing and completely unexpected story and I don't want to give you any clues. In all seriousness the twists and turns that this film take are not what you expect and you should just experience them for yourself.
All you need to know is that director Haipeng Sun has created some killer characters. Yea, Gyun and his friends are a bit cliche to start but they all arc wonderfully. He gives them unexpected depth. For example the relationship between their coach and his wife is not something you see in any film, never mind an animated one. There is a love there few films ever reveal. More imprtantly there is sense of decades of love which results in some unexpected discussions. When was the last time saw a conversation about regret that circled back into an unexpected way?
The various dance/training sequences will leave you speechless. Each is better than the next. I was constantly going "OH WOW" with my eyes wide and my jaw open. The chance to see them on the big screen was magical. Honestly the dance on the roof before the final competition is one of the most magical things I've seen in years. And the bus sequence left me misty. (I told yu I won't give you details, just get a ticket and see the movie)
I also need to mention the music- it is maginificent. A mix of styles it all rocks. I realized just how good it was when an early chase sequence had flamenco in the style of Rodrigo y Gabriela infused into it. It was perfect. As the film went on other styles appeared at the perfect moment. What a delight to see a film that used the right style of music at the right time.
I'm kind shocked that this film is coming out of China since its depictions of poverty and references to Buddhism are not typically things that the Chinese government seem to allow. There is a sly social commentary at work here with clear implications of hard life many experience as well as the lack of safety at work sites. Perhaps they under estimated an animated film.
Ultimtely I love this film.I love that it up ends the underdog film in unexpected ways. I love that that the happy movie world operates inside the real world - or a realer world than the movies normally show us.I love that good things happen in a world that can beat you down, but that we see it's not all skittle and beer in the end.
This movie kicks ass. It is the true hidden gem of this years New York International Film Festival, and one of the great finds of 2022.
Highly Recommended- if you love magical movies, this film is a must.
It is also why NYICFF is one of the best film festivals around.
I AM WHAT I AM is playing one more time at NYICFF March 12. For tickets and more information go here.