By V.A. MUSETTO, The New York Post
Published: August 29, 2008

Rating: ★★★☆

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.