by Larry Ratliff, San Antonio Express-News
Published: October 17, 2008


If you’re keeping up with exciting emerging filmmakers, please add New York-based David Kaplan to your list.

“Year of the Fish,” Kaplan’s provocative, animated twist on the centuries-old Cinderella story, is a must-see for anyone who appreciates innovative, quality filmmaking.

Kaplan, who featured Christina Ricci in his short film “Little Red Riding Hood,” resorts to the old Chinese version of the “Cinderella” tale.

Here’s the twist. Kaplan sets it in modern-day Chinatown in New York City. In a massage parlor, no less. So don’t bring the kids. This version is for adults.

Using the updated rotoscope animation process similar to what Richard Linklater used in “Waking Life” in 2001, Kaplan combines a fairy tale with gritty reality and stylizes it beautifully.

An Nguyen, a newcomer who had a small role in “Definitely, Maybe,” heads the cast as Ye Xian. She has come to New York from China to make money for her ailing father. A naïve 17-year-old, Ye Xian has no idea she has signed on to work in a sleazy massage parlor where sexual favors are expected.

When she refuses, Mrs. Su, the massage parlor madam/wicked “stepmother” stand-in played with proper menace and greed by Tsai Chin (“The Joy Luck Club”), orders her to scrub the floors, do the laundry and fix meals to pay off her “debt.” There are evil stepsisters in the form of massage parlor girls, and even a prince charming.

Ken Leung (“Lost,” “X-Men 3”) provides romantic hope as Johnny Pan, an accordion-squeezing jazz musician who locks eyes with mystery girl Ye Xian on the street.

Even though the human element is one-half step removed via the animation process, the grim reality of an innocent girl tricked into a seedy environment who fights to maintain her dignity shines through with flying, vibrant colors.

“Cinderella” fans shouldn’t expect a dropped magic slipper or even a carriage that magically transforms from a pumpkin (as in Disney’s 1950 animated version).

Instead, “Year of the Fish” features a magical goldfish given to Ye Xian by a sightless sidewalk fortuneteller. The fish even narrates this enchanting tale, beginning with “So many people, so many stories.”

This is one that shouldn’t be missed.