The Motel Movie Review
Ernest (Jeffrey Chyau), age 13, is a chubby Chinese-American boy who lives in his family-owned motel with his perpetually angry and demanding mother (Jade Wu), his aged grandfather, and his bratty but cute younger sister. A rundown lodge on the edge of suburbia, the motel rents rooms by the hour and attracts a mix of hookers, travelers, and poor folks who have lost their homes. After school, Ernest serves as the housekeeper, pushing a cart from room to room and picking up used condoms and girlie mags off the floor.
The brightest spot in his grim life is Christine (Samantha Futerman), a slightly older girl on whom he has a crush. The two hang out together by the Dumpster outside her family's Chinese restaurant, and lately their frequent wrestling matches have started to make Ernest feel, you know, funny.
The motel livens up with the arrival of Sam Kim (Sang Kung), a hard-drinking guy who's been thrown out by his wife and now entertains a string of hookers in his room. He takes a liking to Ernest and soon becomes a sort of surrogate big brother and debauched father figure, introducing Ernest not only to baseball but also to cigarettes, driving without a license, and the fine art of convincing chicks to have sex.
Of course Ernest's attempt to use Sam's tricks to woo Christine fail miserably, he gets beaten up by a young teen who lives at the motel, and his mother mocks the honorable mention he earns in a writing contest, saying that second place is worse than losing outright. The poor kid... he just wants to get through the day, but the world seems to conspire against him, and the adults around him either verbally abuse him or lead him astray.
Chyau, a non-actor, nails the halting and tongue-tied embarrassment of adolescence. He rarely smiles (braces!) and is always looking at his feet. Sam does light a fire within him, a passion we see most clearly when the two go out for a nighttime drive and scream at God, demanding He explain His actions and give them what they want. Kang is captivating as well. Drunken lout though he may be, his Sam is an easy guy to like.
DVD Note: Don't miss the making-of featurette, if only to see the cast interviews, which were recorded more than two years after the filming. Jeffrey Chyau has gone through a complete physical teenage transformation. He looks and sounds absolutely nothing like he did in the movie. Clearly he eventually did make it through puberty just fine.
I said bring extra towels.
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