Christine Liao, Lee Chen, Willis Chung, Jason Wang
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
In writer/director Liang-Chun Lin's A Dire Strait, Demi (Christine Liao) has stayed in bed for weeks due to the Chinese tradition known as "Zuo-Yue-Zi," a belief intended to heal the "broken body" of post-labor women and help them produce the most nutritious milk. Demi does everything she can to be cooperative with the tradition, however, after weeks-long confinement and endless amounts of chicken soup she's pushed to her limit. Desperately needing a break, Demi's one misstep spirals into her worst nightmare.
A Dire Strait had its world premiere at Dances With Films, one of the nation's finest film fests for low-budget indies, where it picked up the Grand Jury Prize for Best Short Film.
It's no wonder. A Dire Strait is a darkly humorous thriller, a masterfully constructed short featuring a mighty fine performance by Christine Liao as Demi. Liao seems to understand that this entire scenario does, in fact, have a dark humor to it and manages to play into this without ever turning into a caricature. In fact, A Dire Strait is a rather harrowing film that plays into one of life's most intimate journeys. Lee Chen is similarly remarkable for reasons best left unspoken here. Suffice it to say that Chen takes what could have easily been a one-note character and turns this character into a symphony that is really quite horrifying.
Music by Shao-Ting Chang serves as a perfect complement for the film's unique rhythms. Brandon Ng's lensing is stark, uncomfortable, relentlessly intimate, and occasionally quite playful. Ng clearly knows what he's doing behind the camera and he plays everything perfectly here. Kudos also go Dazzy Shah for an atmospheric, immersive production design and to Apoorva Sankar for precise and imaginative editing that builds both the suspense and the emotional resonance of the 22-minute short.
A Dire Strait is early in its fest run but seems destined to capture some more prizes along its festival journey. Liao is definitely a face to watch for in the future. She's mostly made her name in shorts up to this point, however, her work here is impressive and I can't wait to see where she goes in the future.
Stark and disturbing, emotionally intense and strangely humorous, A Dire Strait is a unique, inspired film that you could check out if it shows up at a festival near you.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic