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Puberty sucks, and nobody knows it better than 13-year-old Ernest Chin (Jeffrey Chyau). As he watches guests come and go, Ernest finds himself forever stuck at his family's hourly-rate motel, where he divides his time between taking orders from his overbearing mom, cleaning up after whatever miscreants the motel may attract and longing for the girl of his dreams, 15-year-old Christine (Samantha Futerman, MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA). When charismatic Sam Kim (Sung Kang, PEARL HARBOR, BETTER LUCK TOMORROW, THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS: TOKYO DRIFT) checks into the motel, fatherless Ernest is taken under his wing and hustled toward manhood, for better or worse. THE MOTEL is an honest portrait of adolescence as heartfelt and authentic as it is hilarious.
Winner of the Humanitas Prize at Sundance 2005, The Motel is a charming feature debut by writer/director Michael Kang. Between Kang and producer Gina Kwon (Me and You and Everyone We Know), this chronicle of adolescent sexual exploration shares the clean, contemporary look of Miranda July's film, and also Dayton/Faris's recent release, Little Miss Sunshine. Interestingly, all three examinations of humanity's awkwardness star nerdy, charismatic children. Punctuated by spare dialogue, The Motel follows Ernest (Jeffrey Chyau), a thirteen year-old Chinese American boy whose family runs a roach motel primarily visited by prostitutes and druggies. Ernest's mother and grandfather strictly enforce their depressing traditional family work ethic, squashing Ernest's hopes of winning a writing contest that he has secretly entered, for example. As Ernest cleans scummy rooms, he discovers porno magazines and other evidence of raunchy sexual escapades. Intrigued but shy about his sexual prospects, Ernest casually enlists his semi-girlfriend, Christine (Samantha Futerman) to explore magazine images with him. Funny, touching scenes of Ernest with his little sister's stuffed toy bunny, to name one, remind the viewer of that curious age when sex is mysterious but tangible. When renegade adult, Sam Kim (Sung Kang), moves into the motel to drink and cavort with women, Ernest befriends him and takes tips. Eventually Ernest realizes that he's a gentleman as he begins to understand the subtleties of love. In this film marked by sincerity, one can't help but think of the protagonist's name metaphorically. --Trinie Dalton
- Commentary by director Michael Kang and actors Sung Kang and Jeffrey Chyau
- Behind the Scenes Featurette
- Director's Picks
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The only weakness I think is the end. It needs one more scene I think besides the one with the mom. It's rather sour note to end on what should be a movie about a boy spreading his wings. His submitting completely back to the mom at the end didn't quite work for me but it was in character I suppose.
If, on the other hand, you thrive on being shaken, disturbed, cut into pieces that you have to re-assemble following the film, then you will respect and
nurture yourself by viewing The Motel.
The hero--or anti-hero--of the film, Ernest, experiences attacks on his germinating self from his raw mom, his would-be teen paramour (she scowls
and laughs when he envisions them married), his past-ridden grandfather, his jock teen neighbor, and even his met-by-chance guide through puberty.
Specifically, he endures slaps across the face from his mom; tales of being duped by fake contests from his grandfather; wrestling defeats from his
girlfriend; and being cornered by his puberty guide into smashing him with a baseball bat so that he will leave the motel Ernest's mother operates.
It's healthily unsettling, and shakes you for a reason: to re-assemble a stronger, more seasoned human being.
If that's on your to-do list, then give yourself the 1 hour and 20 minutes to allow the film to seep into you.
You'll never regret it.