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Year of the Fish

4.1 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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(Feb 08, 2011)
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

From the producer of THE JOY LUCK CLUB comes YEAR OF THE FISH, a Cinderella story set in a Chinatown massage parlor.

The film stars Ken Leung (LOST), Tsai Chin (THE JOY LUCK CLUB), Randall Duk Kim (THE MATRIX RELOADED) and introduces An Nguyen. YEAR OF THE FISH had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and was named Best Film at the Avignon Film Festival, Best Film at the Asheville Film Festival, and won several other international awards. It was released theatrically nationwide and was a nominee for a 2009 Independent Spirit Award.

The film is rotoscoped - a digital process of tracing over live-action footage to create an animated look; in this case a flowing, watercolor effect that pops from the screen like a painting brought to life.

Extras on this Collector's Edition include:

Director's and Actors' Commentary
Early Rotoscoping Test
Before/After Rotoscoping Shots


An adult fable told with childlike simplicity, Year of the Fish updates an ancient Chinese version of the Cinderella story with imagination, charm and just the right amount of sweetness.

Our put-upon heroine is Ye Xian (An Nguyen), a mousy naïf whose new job at a sleazy massage parlor promises happy endings for the clients, at least. When she balks at fulfilling her job description, Ye Xian is demoted to cleaning toilets and cooking meals for the parlor s wicked madam, (Tsai Chin), and grasping employees. Little does she know that an enchanted fish, a witchy soothsayer and a handsome musician are about to save her from her servitude.

Filmed in New York s Chinatown using a digital variation on the animation technique known as rotoscoping, Year of the Fish straddles the wavering line between reality and its simulation with pleasing calm. Instead of the pulsing images of the Richard Linklater films A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life, you have a more subdued, mellow style that s easier on the eyes and the equilibrium. And the movie's smudged skylines and pearly-pastel streets do much to soften the story's sweatshop-and-slavery grittiness.

Written and directed by David Kaplan, Year of the Fish packs more sadness than the familiar fairy tale but offers its own fantastical delights. Ye Xian s party dress, made of teardrops, suits her and her story perfectly. --Jeanette Catsoulis, The New York Times.

THE age-old fairy tale of Cinderella is updated to New York's modern-day Chinatown in Year of the Fish.

It was shot on inexpensive live-action video, which was digitally painted in post-production. The result is an unusual, and pleasing, painterly look. (Richard Linklater used a similar process in Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly.)

Teenage Ye Xian (An Nguyen) travels to Chinatown to work in a beauty salon to make money to send back home to her ailing father. Ye Xian quickly discovers that the salon is actually a massage parlor, where 'a happy ending' is guaranteed to each male customer.

Sweet but strong-minded, Ye Xian balks at giving massages, so she is forced to do the cooking, washing, cleaning and shopping for the salon to pay for her journey to America.

Modern-day equivalents of a wicked stepmother (the woman who runs the business) and stepsisters (two masseuses) keep her in line. In addition, she has to fight off the advances of a dirty old man named Vinnie who offers to pay off her debt if she'll marry him. The girl wisely says no.

Ye Xian's Prince Charming appears in the person of a struggling musician named Johnny (Ken Leung). There's also an enormous goldfish that narrates the movie, and a frightening witch.

This being a riff on Cinderella, the outcome is a foregone conclusion. But the director-writer, David Kaplan, is able to hold our attention, and the film's unusual look lends a magical feeling.

--V.A. Musetto, The New York Post.

For his debut feature, writer/director David Kaplan created a hefty stack of obstacles for himself. One: he chose to update one of the most familiar and oft-told fairytales in the canon (in fact, he went back to 9th Century China for the oldest version known). Two: he shot his work of magical fantasy on the unmagically realistic medium of digital video. Three: he manipulated his footage by rotoscoping it, turning his low-budget DV drama into a full-blown animated feature. It takes a special individual to not let these ingredients become an overcooked, inedible concoction, but somehow, Kaplan pulls it off. Year of the Fish is that rare low-budget film that casts a genuinely magical spell.

Let s get this out of the way, for it is almost certain that some viewers who watch Year of the Fish will call stereotype! on some of the characterizations. But one needs to remember: we are watching a fairytale here. Revisit any version of Cinderella and the wicked stepmother and stepsisters are, in any incarnation, defiantly harsh, to the point of caricature. Kaplan only embraces this formula for the evil nemeses (namely, Tsai Chin s wicked madam Mrs. Su and Hettiene Park s evil coworker Hong Ji), in order to further align viewers with the plight of Ye Xian (An Nguyen). He also does this with the film s more imaginative characters, such as the mysterious, hunchbacked Auntie Yaga (Randall Duk Kim), but this is done to further establish an air of heightened reality. Truth be told, if Kaplan hadn t animated his footage and had simply presented these performances in naked, flat digital imagery, they might be treading Lady in the Water territory ( Ohhh, Missah Heep, you nah know wuh Narf eez?! ), but unlike M. Night Shyamalan, Kaplan takes the necessary steps to create a convincingly fantastical not laughably farcical world.

To shatter all criticisms in that regard, Kaplan creates a variation on the handsome prince character that isn t just incredibly invigorating; it further grounds the story and adds a sense of realism that makes Kaplan s balancing act all the more impressive. This time around, the handsome prince isn t a prince at all. He s Johnny Pan (the always compelling Ken Leung), a struggling musician who might be Asian, but the way that he acts, you wouldn t know it. He plays the accordion and, though he lives in Chinatown, he seems like another aimless American twenty-something. This makes his discovery of Ye Xian all the more enchanting, and, thanks to the heartfelt performances of Nguyen and especially Leung, it makes us root for them even harder.

As for the animation itself, while Kaplan admits to having rotoscoped his DV footage to spice up what would otherwise be a flat visual presentation, it also makes conveniently perfect thematic sense. This modern variation on the Cinderella story is a daringly graphic and mature one it takes place in a smutty massage parlor, after all. In that context, we need a constant reminder that this is a fairytale and not a gritty low-budget drama. In a more immediate sense, however, the animation puts us in the mind of Ye Xian, who is arriving in New York City for the very first time. The mere visceral shock of her arrival is enough to make her see the world through such wildly visual eyes, not to mention the consideration that her conception of America has probably been shaped by a lifetime of fantasizing about this special place.

Kaplan makes another wise decision by not over-rotoscoping his imagery. At times, certain shots feel only slightly manipulated, to keep the story grounded. It is this decision, and so many more, that make Year of the Fish such a refreshing low-budget gem. --Michael Tully, Hammer to Nail.

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: An Nguyen, Tsai Chin, Ken Leung, Randall Duk Kim
  • Directors: David Kaplan
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Animated, Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
    Not Rated
  • Studio: Gigantic Pictures
  • DVD Release Date: February 8, 2011
  • Run Time: 96 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00474NXWC
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #142,450 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kenneth C. Mcguire on December 23, 2009
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful film, produced by David Kaplan. A live action fairy tale shot in New York City's Chinatown, it is a Cinderella story unlike anything released by the major cartoon studios which includes, in addition to significant adult themes, many recognizable folk and fairy tale elements - a talking fish, a character based on the Russian witch Baba Yaga and the essential "They all lived happily ever after." Newly released on DVD, this is a must see movie.
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"Cinderella" has always been my favorite fairy tale. I really enjoyed this Asian version that was filmed in NYC.

As a previous reviewer wrote, it is wise to realize that "Year of the Fish" is filmed with a digital painting technique. For some people, I could see how this aspect would not be appealing. However, I found it especially touching when the director would focus distinctly upon the faces of our heroine and her "prince". This technique displayed so well the confusion, appeal and eventual realization of how the two characters connect with a gentle smile touched with tenderness.

I was also especially impressed with the actress playing Mrs. Su as the "stepmother" element. Her final line in the movie shows the sadness/bitterness that can come from falling in love and its real-life consequences. It fleshes out a slight subtext beyond what lies behind her hard and cruel exterior.

Ye Xian as Cinderella and Johnny as the "prince" have beautiful chemistry together and truly were well cast in their roles.

I recommend it to "Cinderella" fans and for those who have interest in Asian culture. The commentary from the director helped me understand what was "authentic" about certain Asian scenes of the film and what he had borrowed from other ethnic cultures.
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Adult themes. Not for children. Uniquely done using the amazing Studio Artist application (one of my favorites), this is an emotionally engaging film. Although filmed, the entire film was then painted. It did not get an adequate public release, which is disappointing. I can't quite give it five stars, but I'd give it over four. Some fine acting, especially by Randall Duk Kim who played three great parts. It took me forever to find a version I could watch. I was finally able to find a rental copy through AppleTV. As far as I know, this film is unrated. Some nudity. Adult situations. No sex. Rare language. Some violence, though not close to other films. I would suggest it might be a PG-13, though a good argument could be made that it should be an R. From several perspectives, this is art. Though a low budget movie, its story holds its own against movies costing far more to make. I am hoping to be able to find and purchase a copy.
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this was a beautifully told film about a very relevant social issue. trafficking in the sex trade is a ongoing disgrace in today's society where we emphasize 'freedom' and Democracy. yet many still live in literal slavery and servitude. young woman, like the protagonist in this film, are often told that they "owe" their captors money and have to work to pay a "debt".
so much of this movie was depressingly all too real. however, it is strangely told with a lightness of touch and is often very whimsical and other worldly. it's very look brings a new meaning to the term film as a art. it is literally a film that is done in bright, splashy, painted colors. this is due to it's being done in a rotoscoping, color process similar to 'A Scanner Darkly'. the process is used here with more purpose and effectiveness. the film is supposed to look much like a water color painting and it justifies it's colored look more pointedly.
David Kaplan is a brilliant film director. so far he always works on a modest budget and manages still to capture so much fantasy and vision that other film's can only hope to achieve with their over-blown, multi-million dollar budgets. like his 'Red Riding Hood' masterpiece, this film digs deep into our collective folklore, re-creates it and fashions it into something that is traditional, but even more humanized and with more complexity than the original source material.
i only recently discovered Kaplan and i'm so glad i did. his cinema is rewarding and enriching and very intelligently conceived. they are also fully loaded with exquisite surrealism that is both entertaining and often mind blowing. this is a really great little movie.
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What a wonderful, thoroughly charming tale. This is a Chinese adaptation of Cinderella and its just as endearing too. This version takes place in Chinatown, NY and its carried by a cast each of whom deliver a sincere performance. I fell in love with the main actress Tsai Chin, who is so delightful she kept me engrossed from the moment she enters. The tale is heartwarming, simple and filled with Chinese magic.
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Really a lovely retelling, not for children, but for adults. The story was original and the characters engaging. Some of the effects with the "roboscoping" were weird, but it did render live action into a half-animated look that had a certain charm. The Cinderella story translated well into urban Chinatown in NY City.
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