Although filmed entirely in New York and in completely US production, Ximan Li’s debut feature “In a New York Minute” qualifies for being considered as an Asian film based on its milieu: the Chinese diaspora in the US. Think of last year’s global hit “Crazy Rich Asians”, but without the “crazy” and “rich” parts and “In a New York Minute” offers its patient viewers a glimpse into the world rarely seen in both Hollywood mainstream and indie movies. However, the film is also quite an American one and its world premiere took place at Newport Beach Film Festival. Some further festival exposure should ensue before the film hits the video-market, but chances for wide theatre distribution are quite slim.
Structured in the manner of “hyperlink cinema” of the 90’s, “In a New York Minute” tells the interconnected stories about the lives of three Chinese-American women of quite different class backgrounds which all connect around some shooting (television, not guns) in a new restaurant and through the plot device of a single pregnancy test. Amy (Amy Chang) is an influential food critic whose recent breakup left her with a specific easting disorder – every bite she takes, she will throw up. While her mother pressures her to date the men she finds for her in order to get married, her boss has a brilliant idea to do a publicity stunt in a show with a famous Chinese actress, with her colleague Peter (Jae Shin) as her partner. Will the flaming love hit them in an unexpected place?
The other story follows the aforementioned actress Angel (Yi Liu) who feels stuck in a loveless marriage with a slightly older, but filthy rich American businessman. While not exactly suffering, she still feels pretty entrapped in that kind of life and she finds some comfort in her work and her passionate relationship with a young writer David (Ludi Lin) who has, however, announced that he will go back to China soon. The third story follows the employee of the restaurant, Nina (Celia Au), who moonlights as an escort in order to earn money for her father’s medical expenses. More than anything, she wants to break free from the family’s firm grip over her and she might find the chance through her relationship with Ian (Roger Yeh), a young and ambitious entrepreneur who does not judge her based on her work.
“New York minute” is an expression for a short period of time (less than minute) that solidifies the stereotype about New Yorkers as extremely busy types whose lives seem uncontrolled and uncontrollable. Having that in mind, it has to be said that those 102 minutes of screen time do not feel like “New York” minutes, but much, much longer, even though Li’s idea to examine the challenges that Chinese-American women are facing (busy and materialistic lives, expectations from themselves and from the others, deeply rooted patriarchy, gerantocracy and conservativism in the community) is undoubtedly noble and her perspective feels genuine although she walks the road walked countless times before and her characters sometimes seem like collections of clichés.
Part of the trouble is the structure relied on three separate acts, each one centred around one of the heroines, followed by an epilogue of sorts that neatly connects them all, which results in reduced viewer’s involvement once the first story is abandoned in the favour of the second one. But the biggest issue is the screenplay itself, written by Li and Yilei Zhou, that pushed hard for too much, almost soap-opera-like melodrama, both in its plot points and especially in its over-explanatory dialogues in which the protagonists are forced to use grand statements and to wear their morality on their sleeves. All of that puts the actors in awkward position, but they try their best (and sometimes succeed) to breathe some life into the characters. On the other hand, the visual side of the film is quite appealing, shot with a sense of poetry by Mego Lin and the New York locations are definitely a valuable asset.
In the end, “In a New York Minute” is a film that works better with very special demographic amongst the audience that can relate to the specific issues that are proposed, but never fully developed in the script. On the global level, however, it gets too drowned in melodrama in order to involve the audience, which is a pity.