Review: ‘The Princess of Nebraska’

Wayne Wang's low-budget "The Princess of Nebraska" looks more like a dashed-off sketch than a thoroughly worked portrait.

>“The Princess of Nebraska” is Wayne Wang’s low-budget, stylistically antithetical companion piece to “A Thousand Years of Good Prayers,” which was filmed immediately before it. A wispy tale of an aggressively modern 18-year-old Chinese girl who hits the streets of San Francisco intending to get an abortion, but whose experiences make her think twice about it, this digitally shot mini-feature looks more like a dashed-off sketch than a thoroughly worked portrait. Brief life in theatrical situations, where, given the short running time, the film can barely stand on its own, will quickly give way to a modest homevid career.

This is the third time Wang has paired two of his indie productions into loosely defined double-bills, following the “Eat a Bowl of Tea” and “Life Is Cheap” combo and, later, “Smoke” and “Blue in the Face.”

Like “Prayers,” “Princess” is based on a short story by Yiyun Li, but the films focus on very different types of women, the first on an independent-minded professional tethered to the old country via a fractious relationship with her Mao-era father, the second on a Whatever Generation sprite without a moral compass whose only profound link would seem to be with her cell phone.

Whereas “Prayers” is anchored by formal, quiet compositions, “Princess,” which was shot and co-directed by Richard Wong (“Colma: The Musical”), goes wild with hand-held, off-the-cuff-style shooting. Approach is mannered in the way it apes current fashion, and yet pic builds a certain interest via the shorthand fashion in which it presents its protag. Sasha (Ling Li), a student from China who’s recently started college in Omaha, arrives in San Francisco with the idea of aborting the fetus conceived on a one-night stand back in Beijing. Her text messages to the man responsible go unanswered, however, and she’s got to deal locally with a gay Yank, Boshen (Brian Danforth), who was also her lover’s lover.

After considerable wanderings, Sasha meets a walk-on-the-wild-side bar hostess named X (Pamelyn Chee), with whom she indulges in a tentative and desultory same-sex tryst while still pondering what to do with the baby. Best single shot very simply allows one to gaze at the host of implied emotions that sweep over Sasha’s face while she looks at the ultrasound images of the fetus inside her.

Wang and first-time screenwriter Michael Ray, who is editor of Francis Ford Coppola’s literary quarterly “Zoetrope: All-Story,” seem primarily concerned with aspects of being a modern, post-Tiananmen Square Chinese youth. As the film presents them, these kids have no moorings, no borders, no history, no morals. What’s left is fuzzy and undefined, much like this watchable but featherweight portrait.

Music-loaded soundtrack is often arresting.

The Princess of Nebraska


An Entertainment Farm presentation of a Center for Asian American Media production. (International sales: The Match Factory, Cologne.) Produced by Yukie Kito, Donald Young. Executive producers, Yasushi Kotani, Taizo Son, Stephen Gong. Directed by Wayne Wang. Co-director, Richard Wong. Screenplay, Michael Ray, based on a short story by Yiyun Li.


Camera (color, Panavision widescreen, HD), Wong; editor, Derdre Slevin; music, Kent Sparling; art director Amy Chan; sound (Dolby Digital), Jim Choire; recording mixers, Lora Hirschberg, Sparling; casting, Heidi Levitt, Sarah Kliban. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Masters), Sept. 9. 2007. (Also in Telluride, San Sebastian film festivals.) Running time: 77 MIN.


Sasha - Ling Li X - Pamelyn Chee Boshen - Brian Danforth James - Patrice Lukulu Binaisa

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