The short film Cowboy Joe certainly has its heart in the right place. Unfortunately, the execution is too dull and unremarkable to make any sort of emotionally significant impact.
As we meet the titular character, Cowboy Joe (Conder Shou), he is strutting confidently down a New York City street. Finishing up his short jaunt, Cowboy Joe meets his father (Lei Zhou) at what looks like their family restaurant for a chat. His father becomes, not unreasonably, horrified when Cowboy Joe makes the declaration that he wants to move to Texas and become a full-time cowboy.
I must say that, in this particular circumstance, I don’t blame the father too much. If my son showed up in full cowboy regalia and proclaimed out of the blue that he intended to move halfway across the country to become a professional cowboy, I’d give pause. Consequently, it’s here that the movie lost me. Instead of following any sort of dramatic arc wherein the father might come to understand, however reluctantly, his son’s desires, the father simply berates his son, shouting at him and calling him stupid and ugly. Never mind, that’s not going to stop Cowboy Joe from realizing his dream.
“…Cowboy Joe makes the declaration that he wants to…become a full-time cowboy.”
Living your life on your terms is an important theme, and film is a medium uniquely suited for the conveyance of such a theme. We need to see characters triumph in the face of adversity and live to conquer another day. This is the central thesis of Cowboy Joe. However, because the father character is so one-note and there are no other characters in the movie that might provide some neutral perspective, there is no nuance to the story. The father just writes his son off as a lunatic. Full stop.
The acting is fine by both men throughout the short. Writer-director Jingjing Tian uses language to effective measure in that Cowboy Joe speaks English, and the father answers him in Chinese. This underscores how both men are coming at life from different angles: the Americanized teenager versus his old-world dad with his old-world values. Shou owns the role of Cowboy Joe and seems to understand that he is smashing Asian as well as cowboy stereotypes, especially during a rhapsodic dance down a New York City street.
Cowboy Joe is all heart, and the film bleeds good intentions. I just wish that the story had a bit more heft to it that would truly cause me to root for Cowboy Joe rather than, in many ways, agreeing with his father.
"…certainly has its heart in the right place."