Unmade in China: Film Review
Friday, April 19 (Seventh Art Releasing)
Tanner King Barklow, Gil Kofman
An American filmmaker finds that quality isn't the first priority for Chinese producers who've hired him to direct a thriller.
The story of an American filmmaker who signs on to direct a slapdash Chinese thriller and is shocked -- shocked! -- to discover quality isn't the producers' highest priority, Gil Kofman and Tanner King Barklow's Unmade in China begs the question, "What did you expect?" Anecdotes that make good cocktail chatter at a film festival don't add up to much of a documentary here, and attempts to position the film as an insight into Chinese culture won't add much to negligible commercial prospects.
Kofman, whose sole directing credit is 2007's The Memory Thief, is tasked with adapting an American story inspired by the YouTube "Lonelygirl15" hoax into a Chinese thriller titled Case Sensitive. Red flag No. 1: Nobody seems to mind that he doesn't speak Chinese. Friend Barklow, who says he "could almost hear the train derailing" when he learned of the assignment, comes along to document the production.
But can a train that was never put on a track really derail? From a nonsensical script translation to a location-scouting expedition that gives a green light to a location next door to a massive construction site, there's never a hint this will be anything but a disaster. Kofman may enjoy being indignant when producers fire his competent DP, cast a lead actress without consulting him, or saddle him with a production manager who seems likely to steal the camera package, but he has little grounds for presenting himself as an artist at the mercy of sleazy moneymen.
From a doc standpoint, Unmade fails to capture the production's many pitfalls onscreen: Instead of witnessing them, we hear about most second-hand, with Kofman complaining to camera or (in flash-forwards to a film-fest screening of the finished product) to sympathetic American audiences.
Impressively, the movie does get finished, though Kofman has as many troubles in post as he did in the other two production stages. The doc's sole real highlight is a last-act twist involving bootlegs and international commerce that, for once, turns piracy into an artist's (or deluded would-be artist's) best friend.
Production Company: The International Art Consortium
Directors-Screenwriters: Tanner King Barklow, Gil Kofman
Producer: Francis Krow
Music: Phil Geronimo
Editor: Brian Davis
No rating, 89 minutes