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Originally published Friday, September 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

"Year of the Fish" is a retread of the boy-meets-girl story

Newcomer An Nguyen is an appealing presence in the otherwise unoriginal, Cinderella-esque tale "Year of the Fish."

Movie review 2 stars

"Year of the Fish," with An Nguyen, Tsai Chin, Ken Leung, Randall Duk Kim. Written and directed by David Kaplan. 96 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains sexual content and some strong language). Uptown.

Created with a kind of lightweight sincerity, "Year of the Fish" is one of those marginal indie films (shot in 2005) that's already passed its "sell-by" date while en route to DVD.

To be fair, first-time writer-director David Kaplan has done a decent job of translating the oldest known Cinderella story (a ninth-century Chinese folk tale) to New York's present-day Chinatown. But apart from the debut of appealing An Nguyen and a pet fish instead of a magic slipper, there's nothing particularly innovative here, and the film's seedy milieu ensures that it's anything but a kid-friendly fairy tale.

Nguyen plays Ye Xian, who arrives from China, rejects the sex trade she's forced into and is thrown into indentured servitude by a vicious madam (Tsai Chin). When Ye Xian meets a local musician (Ken Leung, from TV's "Lost") in Prince Charming mode, the setup for a happy ending is firmly in place.

Nguyen has an intriguing screen presence, and there's a casual sweetness in her chemistry with Leung. Unfortunately, their performances — and everything else in the film — is coated with a painterly variation of the computer-assisted rotoscoping technique that made Richard Linklater's "Waking Life" and "A Scanner Darkly" similarly annoying. Perhaps "Year of the Fish" will ensure that these pointless techniques are henceforth avoided. We can only hope.

Jeff Shannon,

Special to The Seattle Times

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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