1998, NR, 105 min. Directed by Chris Chan Lee. Starring Hung, Burt Bulos, Mia Suh, Soon-Tek Oh, Mary Chen, John Cho, Jason J. Tobin, Emily Kuruda.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 24, 1998
Lee's debut feature is a seriocomic look at the pre-graduation jitters surrounding a group of Korean-American high schoolers over the course of two days as the plan for their futures and the world outside of the Los Angeles basin where the live. Taken as a cultural study, it's notable more for the similarities these kids have to their Anglo counterparts than to their obvious differences -- like graduating kids all over the country, they're champing at the bit, eager to break free of their restrictive home lives and get out into the world, already. The Korean-American clash of old world and new is plainly evident, however, in the dichotomy between their staid, conservative, first-generation immigrant parents' viewpoints on life in the U.S. as opposed to those of their children, who have already become as American as that proverbial slice of apple pie. Nowhere is this more evident than with Sin Lee (Chung). Stocky, conflicted, and ambivalent about the unyielding belief of his domineering father Woon Lee (Oh) that he should forfeit collegiate dreams and possible scholarships in favor of taking over the family's grocery. As he is working behind the counter one day, a pair of customers come in to purchase a six-pack, and then politely ask for paper bags to foil L.A.'s open-container law. Woon Lee demands that they pay five cents extra for each bag while Sin Lee tries to vanish into the floorboards. This micro-epic battle between the traditional and the new comes to a head when the grocery is robbed of $1,500 while Sin Lee is closing up alone. Terrified of his father's impending rage once he finds out, he warily enlists the aid of his peers to help him out of the scrape. In a bitingly dark comedy of escalating errors, Sin Lee and his wannabe-gangster pal Alex (Bulos) first try to borrow the cash, then move on to semi-legit car sales, and from there on to a boomerang robbery that mirrors Sin Lee's original travails. Along for the ride are Sin Lee's levelheaded girlfriend Teri (Suh) and a quartet of friends who realize long before Sin Lee that the situation has moved far beyond the bounds of logical consequence. Director Lee is billing his film as a comedy, but the laughs Yellow generates rise more from desperation and outright fear of failure than anything else. It's not slapstick. And although Lee's script (he produced as well) sometimes ranges off into fields of preachiness, relentlessly good performances from Chung, Bulos, and especially Oh keep things grounded in the essential teen reality. Dazed and Confused it's not, but Yellow still manages to elicit nervous laughter from the planet of tortured teens.