NYAFF 2021 Movie Reviews — A Leg, The Prayer

A Leg and The Prayer are screening as part of the 2021 New York Asian Film Festival that runs Aug. 6 to Aug. 22.

A Leg

A Leg is a story of dance, romance, heartbreak, mourning, and a lost amputated leg. When her husband (Tony Yang) dies following surgery to amputate his foot, Qian Yu-Ying (Qwei Lun-mei) goes on a days-long search throughout the hospital to find  his removed appendage. As she does so, the film uses flashbacks to fill in the history of her relationship to her late husband.

Yaosheng Chang’s film could be looked at as a darkly humorous take on grief, with Ms. Qian’s running around the hospital with the one-track-mind of finding a foot being a quirky take on the denial phase of the grieving process. But the emotional tenor of the film rarely reaches this state of grief. Qian’s emotions are far often too muted to translate the symbolic importance of this futile pursuit to the audience. And while the flashback structure eventually fills in some of these emotional holes, it takes quite some time for this framing device to gain momentum.

The cinematography in this is appealing, and it does a lot of work drawing your attention in where the narrative cannot. And the two central performances are very strong. In the end, though, A Leg struggles to transcend its offbeat premise and deliver on the emotional story it is aiming for.

A Leg: B-

The Prayer

“A robot may not injure a human being or, though inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.” This is the First Law of Robotics proposed by science fiction author Isaac Asimov. The Three Laws of Robotics form the basis for much of the science fiction which exists surrounding ideas of robots and artificial intelligence.

The First Law, and its potential loopholes, are ingrained within The Prayer, a sci-fi film about AI robots that are bought for the purpose of caring for the sick. This causes the premise of the film to read fairly conventional, and it takes until the final act for the narrative to tread into deeper, more compelling waters. These final 20 minutes are more focused and substantive than anything previous. Given the film’s overall bleak tone, it is difficult to be patient waiting for this finale.

There is something intriguing about a subplot involving a patient with dementia, but it feels too tangential from the main storyline. In a sense, this comes off like two short films with the same concept pressed together to form a short feature. Either are acceptable on their own, but they are somewhat redundant together, effectively slowing the pacing down as a result.

The Prayer: C+

As always, thanks for reading!

—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)

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