Being toted around the festival circuit as an Asian American “Boyz n the Hood,” director Juwan Chung’s film “Baby” stands alone as it makes an attempt to showcase that Asian American street gang life is not as glamorous as most movies would make it seem. These characters don’t know martial arts. They don’t have full-body tattoos. They don’t wield Katana swords, and they suffer the same consequences that anyone else who chooses that life does.
Set in anywhere town, Southern California, “Baby” follows the exploits of the title character, as he has just gotten out of juvenile hall. He has spent the last seven years of his life there because he murdered someone when he was just eleven years old. As Baby is trying to readjust to his new life, he can’t seem to escape from the one that he left behind. Baby continues to spiral downward as the choices he makes keep making life worse for him.
Newcomer David Hyunh does a good job of playing the confused lead. Mostly playing through a tough exterior, Hyunh never lets go of the scared child that starts out the movie. Veteran Asian actor, Tzi Ma does an excellent job of playing a drunk, poet father who is completely detached from his son’s life. The one who steals the show here is Feodor Chin, as Benny. His portrayal of the villain in this story is spot on. He’s the guy you absolutely love to hate, and he does an excellent job in this role, while allowing the other actors a great deal of room to play off of him. Unfortunately, this villain has a much bigger character arc than the main character does, and makes for a much more interesting and empathetic character.
The poor lighting of the film unfortunately overshadowed the great acting. I’m not sure if it was the theater I was in, but some of the key dramatic scenes were completely lost due to the fact that I couldn’t see the actor’s faces. Some of the best scenes of dialogue take place in the darkest of offices. There is one scene in the film, in which this was so distracting, that I couldn’t tell which one of the characters had been killed.
Despite its lighting issues, “Baby” is an interesting take on one side of the Asian American culture that is rarely seen. Director Juwan Chung and co-writer Felix Chan obviously grew up with these kinds of stories surrounding them. I remember seeing stories on the news about shootouts in pool halls, and knowing there were certain Asian communities you didn’t want drive through at night. These were no less scary than any of the stories we heard about Compton or East Los Angeles. The tale in “Baby,” is just as tragic as any other regardless of Race. Though it probably would have played better in the early 90’s, it doesn’t make the story any less relevant.