A Foundling (2010)
Directed by Carly Lyn
[screener provided by Carly Lyn]
The moment I saw the premise and trailer for Carly Lyn's film A Foundling, I was completely mesmerized.
Was this a Western film that had sci fi elements?
Were the leads both Chinese American actresses?
Was this a film about 2 Chinese American women in the way back West finding an alien?
Yes to all these questions. The beauty of independent cinema is your not constrained by a formula. You can write any story you choose, cast any leads you want and throw in a hook that nobody has ever done before.
Carly Lyn does all of these in A Foundling. It's a beautifully crafted film that tells a story that for once in my long film viewing history I've never ever seen before. That is both refreshing in a way I can't describe. I've seen only a few others indies (like Ink) that have made this happen. But never have I seen a movie that follows Chinese American women in a sci fi western.
A Foundling breaks the handcuffs of the conventional indie film. It's a serial Western with a twist and though follows such a simple story of 2 sisters reunited, it's even smart enough to comment on the world around them.
Virginia (CINDY CHIU) - a young Chinese woman in the Old West - rescues her long lost sister, Mattie (NORA JESSE), from a brothel in Arizona. On their journey home to San Bernardino, they discover the strange, steaming wreckage of an otherworldly craft. Inside the vehicle, Mattie finds a very mysterious baby.
Simply, A Foundling is about the reunification of Virginia and Mattie as they trek home to Virginia's home. Both have lived different lives and try to find common ground. To not point out that the lead actresses are Chinese Americans would be wrong. Clearly, any Asian Americans are not in many films, Hollywood or indie. To see both Cindy Chiu and Nora Jesse play strong, evolved female characters was very refreshing to see. The stereotype for Asians in films is they are either A.) skilled in martial arts B.) skilled in swords C.) An evil enemy in organized crime D.) All of the above.
Oh yes, and they speak broken English. This is clearly not the Asians in America I know. And it should be reflected in film. Chinese Americans have been in America since waaay back when. We've often heard they built the railroads. I'm no history buff but I'm sure Wikipedia can verify that. To see Chinese Americans break these stereotypes and be portrayed as Americana as can be is to be applauded.
But I digress. As both make their way home via single horse, the film introduces some wild alien lore to the mix. A crash landing brings in a mysterious alien to which the women have no idea of what this is. But they take a liking to the strange child and bring him along on their journey.
Soon the women encounter food shortages, a sick horse, white men who may have a different agenda and a illness befalls one of the sisters. The movie is not an action packed John Wayne flick here but a slow, sun drenched tale of woe. Within their journey, the women experience the world of the times. Racism, sexism and classism are all commented on. Clearly, Chinese women in America in the 1800s were the bottom of the barrel and we see trust and loyalty are challenged when the world is full of inequality.
Chiu and Jesse give excellent performances and play off each other perfectly. Chiu, playing the disciplined straight shooter seems to have a solid presence onscreen while Jesse goes all anti as a prostitute with a change of heart. If any of them faltered in their performances, the movie would have suffered greatly. But they don't and they help the film reach it's potential.
The gripes are small but they should be acknowledged. This film clearly could have been a stepping stone to explore issues of the time. I would have liked to have seen the plight of what Chinese Americans endured during the 1800s. But that may have been asking to much from an indie. The cinematography is fantastic but some scenes felt mostly filler in some instances. Somehow even the sci fi element felt a little SyFy-ish mixed in with a Lifetime movie of the week. But these are minor picks.
Lyn has carved a Sci Fi story into a Western that challenges the conventions of films you've seen countless times. I don't know why we think all alien movies need future tenses. I kind of dig these films that invade our notions of the past and blend in two genres into one.
Carly Lyn's A Foundling is that rare film that wants you to see that all the tales we've heard before can be rewritten in a new way. A Western, a Sci Fi or a travel drama can all be intertwined into a film that explores our humanity by seeing what we would do when introduced with something unimaginable.
And sometimes, we don't need a spaceship to do it.
Whoa! That's some funky alien child
The Jaded Viewer's Final Prognosis
I challenge you to watch something different, something new and something that's not a remake of a remake. The joys of watching indie cinema is experiencing stories and characters that never get seen. A Foundling is one of many that are part of the new frontier of independent film.
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