Alone in the Crowd – (626)

Adi Iskandar drops in to check out Yudho Aditya’s film about parachute kids.

‘(626)’, a film by Yudho Aditya, tells the story of a young boy, Justin (Matthew Marzo), who is sent to live in the United States by his parents. Shepherding him on this journey is his older sister Jessica (Dalena Nguyen), who herself will move to New York sooner rather than later. It turns out that Justin’s path is one that is well-trodden, so much so that there is a term used to describe such persons: parachute kids.

I must admit that I was not aware of it prior to watching this film. Then again, I do not feel too bad about it, because the rise in all sorts of different terms to describe such specific scenarios is exponential, making it difficult to keep up without having a personal or professional stake in it. Yudho, aware that this might be the case for many watching the film, made the effort to spell it out on screen before the story begins.

By and large, this is something I am a little ambivalent about. For the most part, I have a greater preference for showing rather than telling, either through spoken words or text. That’s not to say that they are not important, of course; it is merely a reflection that film storytelling is primarily a visual medium, and one that should be maximised as such. However, Yudho’s decision here helps to anchor the film in the appropriate context, without which I would have floated around, wondering where the parents are.

That lack does not necessarily equate to an absence of parenting. The film begins with Justin being awakened by alarms both literal (the bedside clock) and figurative (his sister). The contrast between the two is clear, as Jessica sets the tone for their day with an energy that emphasises his own, more lackadaisical approach to the proceedings. If I am being unkind, a parallel could be drawn between Justin and the dog they keep.

Perhaps that is a reflection of the hierarchy between the two, as seen in their drive around town; though he is keen to listen to talk radio, she insists on flicking back to a radio station playing upbeat music. That constant switching back and forth ticks a few boxes for me: not only is it a visual portrait of their relationship (they did not exchange a single word), but it also highlights the easygoing connection between the two siblings.

Speaking of images, it is on that same route that strangely familiar sights must have been noted. For instance, they drive past a number of Asian shops and restaurants, complete with the respective Chinese, Korean and other characters that denote a particular identity. This got me thinking about the modern-day international experience.

Prior to arriving in any country (perhaps an especially Western one like the United States of America), there must have been at least some trepidation on the minds of many, especially for those travelling to the other side of the planet. Yet what could be found at the end of that journey are familiar signs, in terms of food, language and company. Being far away from home does not mean you need to be far away from reminders of it.

If anything, it might even be too much for some. “God, why do all the FOBs come out to the same place,” Jessica thinks aloud on the Asian community, often referred to as ‘fresh off the boat’. “Why don’t they drive to LA or something?” “Well, we are FOBs,” Justin points out. “Technically, we are not FOBs, we did not arrive via boats,” she retorts. “We came via plane, and we’re hardly fresh anymore.” Perhaps recognising the hierarchy, Justin accedes with a quiet OK.

On that note, it should be pointed out that the film’s title refers to a specific area code in California. Though initially seen as prime white suburbia, since the turn of the millennium such areas have been more populated with Asian-Americans, clocking in at over 50% in some towns and cities. In fact, the area in which the film is made, Rowland Heights, was even known as Little Taipei in the late 20th century.

The discussion above might paint ‘(626)’ as a complicated film tackling complex issues. Far from it. This is a bright and breezy film, with a natural demeanour that makes me think the primary catalyst is Yudho simply grabbing his cinematographer, Andrew Ng, and saying, “Let’s shoot something this weekend.” Of course, I am certain that is not the case, but there is a natural and sincere feel to the proceedings that makes this a fairly easy watch.

A big part of that is the chemistry between both Matthew and Dalena. Dalena’s Jessica has an attractive charm and confidence, while Matthew’s portrayal of Justin as the more contemplative of the two is also successful in drawing us in. The sum that is bigger than both parts is a comfortable relationship for us to slip into and root for.

That, in essence, is ‘(626)’ as a whole. Perhaps it is too short a film to delve a lot deeper into what must have been complex considerations of race, ethnicity, politics, community and more. Nevertheless, this is a good film in its own right, and, much like the written text we see on-screen, works well as a primer into bigger things you can discover on your own, as the parachute kids we may well be.

We previously interviewed Yudho and wrote about his films as well.

Featured image credit: Jeswin Thomas / Pexels

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