Chinese Burns (2013) – By Duane L. Martin

Oscar (Julian Lamoral Roberts) is an aging film actor who grants an interview to a girl named Lily (Lara Lemon) who claims to be interested in his past film career. During their first meeting in a coffee shop, their conversation is overheard by a young sound recording engineer named William (Chris Grezo) who becomes fascinated and eventually follows them back to Oscar’s home to record the rest of their conversation without their knowledge. Later, when she leaves, a cab driver attempts to rape her on the way home, and William happens to be passing by at the time and helps her. In the ensuing conversation she finds out that he’s a recording engineer and asks his help in secretly recording her next interview with Oscar.

Lily’s primary interest isn’t in Oscar’s film carreer however. She’s more interested in an actress he worked with named Marlena, who rumor has it, he had gotten pregnant during the filming of a film called Palace of Blood that they had worked on together. Unhappy with her deception, he eventually tells her that Marlena did in fact get pregnant, but there were three potential fathers, and she wouldn’t tell them who the father was, so they all chipped in to send her to a fancy clinic to get an abortion. As far as they knew, she went through with it. In fact, she didn’t, and as it turns out, Marlena is Lily’s grandmother and Lily, who doesn’t have much in the line of family, is trying to locate her grandfather. Rather than being happy however, Oscar is upset by the deception and by the dredging up of so many unpleasant memories of his past, including Marlena blackmailing him out of a huge sum of money, which at the time seemed like greed, but apparently was really used for raising the child she supposedly aborted. Now it’s up to Lily and Oscar’s much younger wife Lobelia (Natalie Milner) to convince him that despite the deception, the important thing is that this sweet young girl just may just be his granddaughter, and that’s more important in the here and now than the painful memories of his past.

Written by Julian Lamoral Roberts and directed by Alan Ronald, Chinese Burns is a very professionally made independent film that really has a lot to say. First and foremost we have the themes of dealing with painful memories of the past and feelings of betrayal by Oscar, but beyond that we have a need to find roots and family by Lily, the need to find acceptance by William, the somewhat unhealthy relationship Lily has with her overprotective boyfriend Nelson (Danny Idollor Jr.), rape, revenge, forgiveness, love and more.

So what’s the deal with Chinese Burns? Well, to be honest, I have no idea. A chinese burn is when someone grabs your arm tightly with both hands and then twists their hands in opposite directions. Oscar does it a couple of times to Lily, but to be honest, I didn’t really understand the significance of it. I never really got if it was supposed to be some sort of an erotic thing or if it was more of a trust thing with him or what, but I didn’t see where the importance of it would lead to it being the title of the film. In any case, it’s a small matter, and doesn’t seem to be overly important to the story. That is, unless I’m totally missing something, which is entirely possible. I have been known to be a bit dense from time to time about the subtleties of symbolism.

What I love about the film is that the characters are all people you can identify with. They’re all different, and have different needs and motivations, but likely you’ll be able to find yourself, or parts of yourself in one or more of them. They really cover a wide spectrum of personality types, and to write that variety of characters all into one film, and to make them fit together well, is quite an accomplishment. I personally could see aspects of myself in all of the main characters, and I really think that’s what makes this film work more than anything else. People will be able to identify with these characters and their wants, loves, needs and desires on a very personal level.

Something else that makes this film work is that it’s so professionally made. The production quality is excellent, with well thought out camera work, nice editing, great lighting and good sound work. I love seeing independent films with this level of production quality, because this is what independent film has always aspired to be. I started reviewing back in the days of film makers with standard def cameras who used the camera mic to capture the sound, and that was it. Little attention was paid to lighting, sound quality, visual quality or anything else. Back then it seemed as though it was more important to them to get the film made than to focus on quality. Nowadays with the prices of incredibly professional production equipment within the reach of most independent film makers, the production quality has improved to the point where it’s reached television, and sometimes even Hollywood film quality. Not only does that make independent films like this far more accessible and desirable for the average viewer, but it allows the film makers far more freedom to tell their stories in a stylish and professional way. This film is a shining example of that, and is simply professional quality from start to finish.

This film tells a good and relatable story in a stylish way and has characters you can really identify with on many levels. What more could you want in a great film? I believe that at the moment, the film is being shown at various film festivals. If you get the chance to see it, make sure you do. It’s well worth your time.