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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]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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