Directed by Tsveta Lozanova | Written by Elizabeth Vasquez | Starring Orian Lee, Rae Lim, Dave Wong
Cindy Wei’s room is an ornate hodgepodge of color; the walls are liberally collaged with magazine cuts and uplifting quotes. Clothing pours out of partially closed dressers that are adorned with heart stickers. There’s an emphasis on pink; it is like the inside of a teenager’s heart: honest and messy. Just as you ease into the unicorn poster that says “Believe!” And the crowned fuzzy rabbit with the words “everyone has potential!” Cindy Wei disarms you herself with a direct stare, “do you wanna fuck me?”
The room serves as a stark contrast to her bleak existence. In the second scene, while biting into a cracker, Cindy peers blankly through a window to watch other (mostly white) students socialize; the lack of expression on her face makes it transparent that this is a daily ritual— even when one of the students notices and yells, “cracker girl!” and everyone laughs, her face remains unmoved. The window, a glass barrier— sometimes protective and sometimes not, becomes an ongoing motif that signifies the distance between Cindy and the things around her.
Cindy comes home from school in a bright yellow jacket and red backpack, matching the awning of the building. Home is Yum Yum Oriental, a restaurant owned by her family. As her cousin folds napkins, Cindy’s father communicates with her through orders and sternly delivered proverbs— the type of Asian parenting that relies on pragmatism rooted in care over gestures of love and affection. He reminds her of a phrase her mother used to love saying, “A fall in a ditch makes you wiser.” The camera cuts to a framed photo of her mother— untouchable, behind a glass barrier. The next day in school, when she stumbles upon a teenage couple in a make-out frenzy, she’s told to, “get out of here, you fat bitch!” The fact that the incessant bullying has much to do with her race is transparent, but not heavy-handed.
Later, Cindy peers through her glass fish tank and repeats these words to herself, again with that same empty expression. Her aloof mannerisms, those chubby cheeks, thick round glasses, and soft voice form something so adorable it almost makes you overlook the dreariness in her life.
Actor Rae Lim wears Cindy Wei like skin. She is effortless. What makes this film so special is the filmmaker’s abilities -- Tsveta Lozanova serving as director, and Elizabeth Vazquez serving as writer respectively -- abilities to make a narrative about teenage alienation and cultural/racial dissonance so light, easy, and funny.
Tucked into bed, Cindy tries to masturbate to the poster of a popstar, but fails. The failure leads her to the kitchen in search of a drink— where she overhears sudden, dramatized moaning. The feigned moans are coming from her cousin who, ordinarily dressed in a white t-shirt beneath his apron and blue jeans, is donning a sequined dress, 80s wig, metallic eyeshadow, and the pinkest of lipsticks. He is entertaining a client during phone sex while looking back at the clock with impatience. When the call is finished, the cousin leaves the room temporarily, leaving a deeply confused Cindy to pick up the next client’s call. This hilarious exchange with a sado-masochist shows us the charming extent to Cindy’s innocence and naivetee. When the client, begging to be told to slap himself, calls her a bitch, Cindy Wei finally loses it.
“I hope you hurt yourself with those nipple clamps, you fat piece of shit!” The client climaxes and thanks her, furthering her confusion.
The cousin re-appears, posed in feminine contrapposto. In this form, her name is Suzy; confident and flirty— she is everything Cindy is not. Suzy’s got a date with the club and is on her way out. Cindy pleads and pleads to come along, and she reluctantly agrees. In the final scene, after a night of fun, Cindy is dropped off to school in a van filled with other partygoers, all in glittery drag. The sun is beaming off her face. She steps out of the van in that bright yellow jacket and red backpack, lively against the backdrop of bleak British architecture and white students all dressed in either navy or black. She looks up to the camera and smiles; it is her birthday, and she is ready to fucking take over.
Review By Riya Hamid
Happy Birthday Cindy Wei was selected and screened for our VOL. I Series, September 26th, 2018