Eve and the Fire Horse: child's view of the world pokes questions at multicultural dichotomies

Eve and the Fire Horse:

child's view of the world pokes questions at multicultural dichotomies

There is deservedly lots of buzz happening for Eve and the Fire Horse.  Writer/Director Julia Kwan and her crew have just won the Sundance Special Jury Prize.  Film critic Roger Ebert called the movie “the most beloved film at Sundance.”  Pretty darn good for Julia Kwan's first full length movie, shopping itself for a US distributor at the most influential independent film festival.

Many people have said they relate to the film's stories and characters, regardless of ethnicity.  The two sisters speak English to each other and the younger 9 year old Eve also narrates. Phoebe Kut stars as the central figure Eve, and Hollie Lo plays her older sister Karina.  Their parents speak Cantonese Chinese to them, the kids answer in English.  This is not a theatrical device – Julia Kwan says this is typical of many immigrant families. This could be any first and second generation immigrant group as they adapt to wherever they are now settled.

The Year of the Fire Horse is a special type of person born in the year of the Horse.  Each of the 5 elements Earth, Metal, Water, Air and Fire give a special additional quality to the Chinese zodiac animal.  Fire Horse year was 1966, and the children are supposed to be especially spirited and stubborn, and even troublesome.  This personality trait for Eve helps to move the film forward as well as help create a wonderful title, movie logo, and release date for Chinese New Year.

The kids also struggle with making friends, settling in with their peer group, and finding a way to reconcile their family's buddhist beliefs with the Christian elements in Canadian North American society.  The film opens with a Chinese New Year dinner where clashes between superstitions and common sense can be questioned through the children's comments and explanations of traditions.  Along the way we meet a small caucasian girl who is picked on by the school bullies and called “PWT”, explained by the 11 year old older sister Karina to Eve, as “poor white trash.”

“Are we poor white trash?” asks Eve.

“No… we're not white.” Karina answers.

There is something special about how 9 year old children struggle to make sense of the world and it's seeming dichotomies.  Julia Kwan allows viewers into the world of Eve, as she is allowed flights of imagination in her conversations with the Chinese goddess of the kitchen, the statue of Buddha, and their new room mate Jesus, as the girls now start going to Catholic Sunday School. 

“Two gods in the house must bring better luck than one,” thinks the logic of their mother May Lin Eng, played wonderfully by Vivienne Wu.

The film follows a series of incidents such as an uncle going to the hospital after choking because he refused to spit out his “long-life noodles,” the unexpected death of a grandparent, and a hospital procedure for their father.  This allows Phoebe to wonder about how the world works, through reincarnation, funerals, hospitals and Sunday School.

There are so many episodes that I could relate to from my own life: such as being asked in Grade 5 by a school friend to attend a social event, that turns into a education session about Jesus Christ; recalling the funerals and times of passing of my paternal grandparents who always spoke exclusively in Chinese to me – even though I could only speak English.  And then there is the delight of Eve recieving her very first pet – a gold fish!  Eve and her fish – this is one of the most delightful scenes in the movie, as Eve's imagination takes flight.

After the Vancouver Chinatown New Year's parade I hang with my new friends, producer Yve Ma with his daughter on my left, and actor Phoebe Kut and her friends on my right – photo Deb Martin.

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