‘Close Call’s’ world of hurt

Times Staff Writer

Like a supermarket tabloid, “Close Call” trumpets the shocking news that a Korean American 16-year-old can go just as wild as any other high school girl, wilder even than the girls in “Thirteen.” Annie Lee’s beautiful Jenny Kim misses nothing on the path of self-destruction. With her it’s not just a case of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll in copious amounts but almost all of their direst consequences: rape, brutality and murder. Jenny has numerous close calls, but this silly, often unintentionally hilarious potboiler doesn’t come close to reality.

Jenny’s downward spiral is, of course, all too familiar in real life, and the role her traditionally conservative Asian ancestry plays in her plight could have given it a sharp, fresh edge. Unfortunately, writer-director Jimmy Lee hasn’t a clue as to how to tell Jenny’s story persuasively. He seems to labor under the impression that piling on all the worst that could happen is heightening his film’s realism, but his tone is so doggedly graphic and sensational that it has the effect of exploiting his heroine. In the mayhem, Jimmy Lee’s valid point that a connection with one’s ethnic culture can be a source of pride and identity is overwhelmed. A lot of uneven acting is also no small detriment to this frequently awkward film’s credibility.

From the time of her birth, Jenny enjoyed the loving concern of her devoted father, David (Philip Moon), but when she was 10 her self-absorbed, ambitious mother, Joanne (Christina Ma), sued for divorce. Because Joanne makes as a real estate agent three times what David makes as a freelance journalist, the judge awards custody of Jenny to Joanne; David’s courtroom outburst costs him visitation rights. In despair, he returns to Korea, and Joanne, even as she neglects Jenny, does everything she can to reinforce the impression that her father deserted her. It’s no wonder Jenny eventually rebels and is hostile when David returns six years later. At this point the picture’s own downward spiral accelerates into laughable melodramatics.


Faleena Hopkins is the film’s one actor who is able to create a consistently believable character as Becky, a lost yet self-aware friend who introduces Jenny to the fast track.

So few Asian American films surface in theaters that it’s lamentable that “Close Call” is no better than it is.


‘Close Call’

MPAA rating: Unrated.

Times guidelines: Strong, brutal sexuality, language, violence, heavy drug use.

Annie Lee...Jenny Kim

Philip Moon...David Kim

Faleena Hopkins...Becky

Jeff Fahey...Elliot

Christina Ma...Joanne Kim

A Prime Media Pictures presentation. Writer-director Jimmy Lee. Producers Jeff Fahey, Jimmy Lee. Cinematographer Luc G. Nicknair. Editor Luci Kwak, Brian J. Cavanaugh. Music Steven Chesne. Costumes Angela Hadnagy. Production designer Karen Ipock. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.

At selected theaters.