SFIAAFF: The Panda Candy

March 15, 2009 at 9:00 pm | Posted in art, movies, music | 3 Comments
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The Panda Candy
SFIAAFF @ Sundance Kabuki Theater – March 14, 2009

pandacandyA young lesbian girl named Taki wanders the China countryside following a band by train. (Incidentally, how she can afford this or why she is not in school or working is either very quickly or never explained). Although humorous, we disjointedly follow the adventures of Taki (pictured right) as she timidly tries to find soulful companionship – dare I say, love. At each venue, she stares across the room and either faces complete rejection or somehow hooks up with a random female concertgoer, both of which makes her feel lonelier than ever. Interwoven throughout said adventures is Chun Sue (pictured left), a girl who just can’t seem to find a decent man… or money for rent. Chased by an pretentious snob and humped by a possibly developmentally challenged (to put it sensitively) shiftless skateboarder who can be sweet and goofy at times. After sex, the latter pays Chun to attend a concert with him. A concert where they meet Taki. As the evening progresses, Taki and Chun hook up – in a major softcore porn way. The end. Yeah, that’s how it ended. Actually no, it ended with an empty moving train car, implying that neither Taki or Chun traveled away from the final destination? By this time, you really don’t know what the point of it all is. Until you realize… that was it. It was about these two girls finding each other.

Since there was no explanation why the movie was named The Panda Candy, here’s a picture of a Panda pooping candy. lol

Since there was no explanation why the movie was named The Panda Candy, here’s a picture of a Panda pooping candy. lol

As a contender for “Best Film” in the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, the festival’s catalog description had peaked my curiosity: “Young hipsters Chun and Taki are taking different routes to love: Chun through a succession of dorky skateboarders and self-obsessed poets, Taki in a series of brief flings with punk lesbians. When they finally meet, will they discover what they are looking for?” Hmmm, I guess somehow out of context, it sounded more interesting the first time around. I had no idea that it was going to be a semi-graphic lesbian love story and was kind of stunned by the ending and left feeling like “What was that?”

The SFIAAFF preamble to the movie was probably the most jarring of all. The presenter gushed about the uses of color in the digital medium and that he had not seen a more beautiful film in a long time – or something to that effect. He also mentioned the film’s collaboration with the Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project. Since it is extremely rare that a gay/lesbian centric film is produced in China, it was to be considered a groundbreaking world premiere. Supporting world cinema is after all what brought me to the SFIAAFF festival to begin with, so I was pleased to also be supporting the forward movement of international gay cinema. Yay!

Even with that preface, I question whether this movie was really about being gay as much as it was about being lonely. At the end of the day, we are all on a journey towards somewhere, something or someone. How do people meet? Is it philosophical or scientific to say that a relationship is simply a convergence of two paths, whether they are interesting paths or not…?? As film storylines go, I stand by my preference of intricacy and substance. Not to sound bitter or unromantic, I just prefer a little more meat to my storytelling. I do however view the film’s premise and ultimate intention as a sweet, gentle tale of longing and fulfillment.

More Panda Candy!

More Panda Candy!

SPOILER: One last thing about the plot: this movie blows its cover waaaay too early. The opening scene shows Taki and Chun in bed together. Ok, let’s assume that its the first time seeing these characters… its the first scene and they are making out. Something like that stays with you and starts a line of questioning: Who are these girls to each other? Why aren’t they together in the next scene? Who’s that guy? Wait, what? Are we jumping ahead in time or behind? (or am I just a LOST fanatic that my brain auto-pilots to time shifts now? Damn that’s a good show, but I digress.) And right there the film loses me and its barely 10 minutes in… For a movie that’s only 85 minutes, that’s not great news. Once you get to the end, instead of being a nice cyclical moment, you feel like you knew it all along. Even worse news.

Most of the movie seems very haphazardly put together and not just for style’s sake. I’m all for guerrilla style film-making, but at least with Cloverfield you got the sense that these were real people living in real time. As shown by the Youtube trailer above – which gives a good sense of about 6 minutes of the film – the editing was oddly frenetic and the changing perspectives/sideways camera angles happened too often and for no apparent reason. It did, however, compliment the lovely ambient soundtrack created by me:mo. Yes, I realize that statement is backwards and a soundtrack should ultimately accompany a scene, not the other way around. The atmosphere created by this lo-fi eclectic scoring encouraged a fast, perhaps shaky editing style that made the film a little hard to watch. In retrospect, there were a couple of poignant and comedic moments, but you could barely tell what was happening most of the time to really notice. Very distracting. Honestly, if it wasn’t for the preamble build-up, I might have had lower expectations for the cinematography… After all, the last thing I saw that was directed by someone from China was Zhang Yimou’s 2008 Opening/Closing Ceremonies in Beijing. Talk about visually stunning!

peng lei art

Peng Lei, Director+Musician+Artist (click to view illustrations)

View Panda Candy HD Trailer and other work by Peng Lei

The entire movie was shot with a DV Cam by singer-turned-director Peng Lei, best knownpenglei as part of the popular Beijing-based new wave punk band NEW PANTS or 新裤子, the same band that Taki was following. Train scenes must have been very convenient for the band to shoot while being on tour themselves. They didn’t really move the story forward though other than to separate time between booty calls. Several girls who were chosen for the various levels of lesbian activity seem kind of random, even exploitative. A good point is made in an excellent review by mediadiary. “I mean, how did they actually go about this task? Approach good-looking women with the line, “Hey, I’m working on this movie, and we need some actresses who are willing to get naked and kiss another girl. You wanna try out? Why don’t you kiss that girl right there?“” Hahaha. Actually yes, this fact is even confirmed by the SFIAAFF website. While on tour with New Pants, Lei and his band members solicited concert-goers to be actresses in his film. That is a bit crass… I mean, at least have your friends in your indie flick! There was supposed to be a Q&A with the director, but sadly he could not attend. (It’s too bad, really. I would have liked to hear about his experience shooting the film while on tour.)

Since its not likely you’ll get the chance to see it outside the festival circuit, it’s probably safe to say I haven’t ruined it for you. Honestly, it was just okay to watch. The bad outweighed the good in most aspects. Besides the noteworthy soundtrack and a few chuckles and deep thoughts, it could be okay to miss.

RATING: 2stars
Recommendation:  If you’ve seen it, comment if you agree or not. My guess is that this will not get a wide release – only in San Francisco, where the audience will appreciate an artful lesbian love story with a happy ending.




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  1. I bought Oz a penguin pooping candy dispenser

  2. That’s not a comment on the movie, or gay cinema. I expect more from you, turtlelicous!!

  3. where can I watch it??

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