Telling fact from fiction in “Children of Invention.”

Telling fact from fiction in “Children of Invention.” (photo)

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Tze Chun’s “Children of Invention,” which opens in New York and Los Angeles today, is a deceptively small-scale tale of two kids forced to fend for themselves when their mother, a first generation Chinese immigrant, is nabbed for her involvement with a pyramid scheme. “Deceptive” because this isn’t just another indie about abandoned children, something of a theme on the festival circuit in the past year or two. “Children of Invention” parallels the naïveté of its two underaged main characters with the strivings of their parent and others who get pulled in to the scam, lured in by the promise of instant financial success and the American dream.

Here’s Chun speaking for himself on the film, which was inspired by his children:

In making “Children of Invention,” I wanted to tell a story about children that wasn’t necessarily from a child’s point of view. I suppose it falls into that sub-genre of movies that are about children but are intended for adults. I hesitate to call these my influences, because these films are so unbelievable that it’s embarrassing to compare myself to them, but here goes: Bergman’s “Fanny and Alexander,” Mira Nair’s “Salaam Bombay!” and Edward Yang’s “A Brighter Summer Day.” During pre-production, everyone told me to watch “Nobody Knows” — which is superb.

In my film, Raymond (Michael Chen) and Tina (Crystal Chui), two young children living outside Boston, fend for themselves after their mother is arrested for taking part in an illegal pyramid scheme. The film is based in part on my own childhood — my mom even helped actress Cindy Cheung (who plays Elaine, the mother in the film) improvise the pyramid scheme pitch scenes, and my little sis stood on “blanket watch” for seven year-old Crystal in case she got cold during any exteriors.

I wanted to show the effect of the adult world on children, and children’s ability to convince themselves that something that is not real actually is. There’s a number of vérité-style dream sequences in the film — it was important to me to not film these sequences through some kind of “dream” filter.  As the kids in the film progress through their journey, they convince themselves that their dreams can become a reality, ignoring all common sense, and I wanted to show these two worlds bleeding into each other.

It’s pretty easy to make a statement like “Kids can’t tell fact from fiction.”  But I would argue that it’s something that’s endemic to all human beings. People convince themselves of things that aren’t true all the time. All Raymond and Tina are doing in the film are mimicking what they’ve seen. The adults in their world, people who participate in these pyramid schemes, have convinced themselves that something that’s too good to be true is actually not. It’s a blue-collar version of everyone who looked at Bernie Madoff’s returns and were like “sure, that sounds about right.”

I didn’t foresee the current financial crisis when I was shooting “Children of Invention.” When I wrote the film in early 2008, I was writing a personal story about the world I grew up in — a subculture of Americans trying to get rich quick in order to get themselves out of a financial hole.  But with the current economy and foreclosures going through the roof, it seems like everyone’s living through some version of what the Chengs go through. I hope this film can be a reminder that we’ve had bad times before, individually and as a country, but we’ve always made it out fine. America is a melting pot.  It’s made up of immigrants who are, by the nature of their journey here, survivors.  It’s what we’re best at, and it’s what we’ll continue to do. 

Tze Chun’s “Children of Invention” will open theatrically in New York and Los Angeles on March 12, 2010.

[Photos: Michael Chen and Crystal Chiu in “Children of Invention,” Syncopated Films, 2009; the director and his sister in 1988]


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.