Irene Lee, Girl Detective and the films of Yulin Kuang

Credit: The Perils of Production


   Irene Lee, Girl Detective is as delightful and charming a comic caper as one could possibly imagine.

   Set on a boring Saturday afternoon, in which fun moments seem few and far between, 7 year old would-be super sleuth Irene Lee (Grace Lee) sets out to investigate the case of the missing mysteries. Armed with a magnifying glass, a detective kit, curiosity and imagination, Irene begins to make a list of suspects who may be responsible for stealing the mirth. Could it be her own Grandma? Or the kids at the lemonade stall?

   Shot with the meticulous attention to detail, whimsy and moments of exhilarating earnesty akin to Wes Anderson at his finest, Yulin Kuang's short movie makes for a joyous watch.

   Brian Grider's playful saturation score underpins the ebb and flow of the tale, accompanying Sean Persaud's sing-song poetic narration with fine precision, as we see Lee experience the highs and lows of childhood with incredible nuance - from winsome whimsy through to vulnerable solitude, Lee makes for an engaging and empathetic lead.

   It would take a heart of stone not to feel a twang of sorrow when our hero seems to call an end to the wonder in the world around her; the happiness instantly drains out of frame, replaced with heartbreaking empathy, in a moment of true bravura film making.

   An utterly magical film, one which overflows with exuberant ebullience, Irene Lee, Girl Detective is a celebration (and perfect example) of the elative powers of the imagination.

  The full film is embedded here::


   The movie is the latest production directed by Yulin Kuang and is just the latest of a very impressive oeuvre of shorts which suggests a talent worth keeping a watchful eye on as the film-maker's career inevitably grows.

   First Kiss, from 2012, provides another impressive illustration of wry humour, measured formalism and perceptive empathy for a vulnerable protagonist trying to negotiate through a tricky period of life - whilst Irene Lee showed us the sorrows of solitude in childhood, here we are shown the agonies of adolescence in close-up detail.

   Adam Schoenberger (Cain Alexander) is a sensitive fourteen year old with a penchant for poetry. Upon hearing that a pretty girl wants to kiss him at a mutual friend's spin the bottle party his heart grows a size or two and flutters with intensity. Gripped with the neuroses, fear and excitement of an impending landmark moment of his life, Adam readies himself in the best way he, or any fourteen year old for that matter, can. We wait with baited breath as Adam prepares for a moment he will never forget.

    Alexander, an actor reminiscent of Bud Court, gives a spirited performance in a short filled with the melancholy minutiae or the uncertainty of young teenage life. By the end we want to put our arm around Adam and let him know everything will turn out just fine - delightfully, however, we're quite sure he's on course to figuring this out himself.


   The third of Kuang's remarkable short films, and the longest at 18 minutes, details another period of vulnerability in a young life.

   The Perils of Growing Up Flat-Chested,
 a tender-hearted tale of an A-cupped young adult brimming over with insecurities, radiates humanity as it introduces us to the meek, uncertain and nervous twilight between youth and adulthood.

   Irene Choi stars as Katya Liu, a sixteen year old who holds a candle for her science lab partner. An accidental peak at the adult video content on his lap-top though, suggests his preferences for the opposite sex may be for women on the more voluptuous end of the spectrum. Can Katy somehow win his heart even with her flat chest?

   As well as a thematic continuance which runs a thread throughout Kang's films, The Perils of Growin Up Flat-Chested boasts the same blissful jouissance as Irene Lee and First Kiss too. Tonally the movie is reminiscent of Bill Forsyth's Gregory's Girl - sweet, warm and wise. For those who have ever felt, or feel, insecure in their teenage years, Kuang's film acts like a wise older sister dispensing wisdom, truths and comfort that one need not be alone in their suffering.

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