Nothing like their delightful DIY tuner “Colma: The Musical,” director Richard Wong and co-scenarist/editor/composer H.P. Mendoza’s “Option 3” is an elliptical nightmare, sans conventional narrative logic, that swerves from Kafkaesque thriller to genre parody and beyond. It doesn’t all work — in fact, it rather exasperates in the end — but Wong’s strikingly individual command of image, sound and mood on slim means confirms his place in the front ranks of younger Amerindie talent. Highly personal project, apparently inspired by a depression-inducing breakup, is more cutting-edge fest fare than a commercial prospect.
Protag Ken (Preston Conner) is seemingly on the verge of estranging g.f. Jessica (Theresa Navarro) when she suddenly disappears one evening. He then gets a series of cell-phone calls saying he’ll “never see her again” if he doesn’t race to various locations around an unfamiliar-looking San Francisco.
All-night journey that follows is an urban labyrinth not intended to make sense on a literal plane (although at San Francisco Asian-American fest premiere, Wong said some dialogue was rendered unintelligible by a not-yet-final sound mix.) Ken runs, runs, runs around the city, nose-led by Jessica’s alleged captor to find one colored key after another, each opening a crucial door. Every step frustrates, however, as flashbacks recall the mutual happiness Ken might have blown with his insensitivity and aloofness.
D.p. Wong’s superb eye and a highly worked sound design create very ominous atmospherics with some quasi-horror jolts. Insertion of a musical sequence midway through is likeably quirky.
But later on, pic gets too goofy to be taken seriously — particularly once Ken fights his nemesis, “the mysterious Phobos” (Charlie Fernandez), in a manner deliberately aping cheesy ’70s Hong Kong martial-arts pics.
Accepting a violent, tragic, ambiguous end after such deliberate silliness is just too much of a stretch for viewers, though to an extent, pic’s echoes of Godard’s 1960s mash-ups make its genre-hopping palatable.
Asked to complete a triathlon as much as play a character, Conner is impressively intense, though a tad more psychological insight from the filmmakers would have been welcome. “Option 3” is cryptic to a pretentious fault, particularly since the my-girlfriend-left-me-cuz-I’m-a-jerk-and-now-I’m-sad emotions that seem to ballast the whole exercise aren’t as resonant as the film’s often striking aesthetics would suggest.
Nonetheless, said packaging is indisputably that of a gifted filmmaker. “Option 3” makes it clear Wong could deliver a very scary horror movie if he wanted to, and that his embrace of genre and technique is expansive as well as experimental by nature.