Buy | Rent
I first saw this at the 2007 SFIAAFF and I was really struck by it at the time. The gangster genre is, of course, nothing new to Asian cinema but I couldn't recall an Asian American film that managed to pull one off very well. My first impression of Baby was that Juwan Chung had delivered a stylistically compelling and intriguing film about a young Asian American gang banger growing up in Southern California.
I think one of the most interesting things about Baby is how the Asian American gang he's involved in seems inherently pan-Asian but this is never something that becomes central plot-wise; the fact that the gang is made up of different Asian ethnicities is made to seem perfectly natural. Whether this is realistic or not, I can't say but it seem like a detail that was meaningful, especially for a film set in the polyglot that is L.A.
As a first-time feature director, Chung has some good instincts around filming drama. This film depends quite a deal on suspense and tension and Chung creates the atmosphere he's looking for in most scenes. He's also got decent chops in the action arena too; there's a shoot-out towards the end that has the kinetic force of a Cowboy Bebop episode (and I could have sworn borrowed from one).
However, I think one of the most notable shortcomings of the film has been how derivative its plotlines are from other films in the gangster canon. To compare it to the Asian Boyz N The Hood is fairly accurate - there's a lot in Baby that will make you feel as if you've seen it before and you probably have. Provided, as a genre film, it depends on certain conventions, but on more than several occasions, I wish Baby could have transcended some of the more obvious cliches.
This is especially relevant in terms of the main romantic female lead (Sammy), who is one of the least developed characters in the whole film and basically feels like a prop piece. In a film already so heavy with testosterone, you just wish the sole female character wasn't so marginal. As she's envisioned, Sammy contributes very little to the film as a whole and that's a shame.
Overall, I think Baby is worth seeing (and it's in select theaters right now) but to me, it's another triumph of style and technique over the basics of storytelling and character. This is one of my never-ending rants but I feel that as technological access has made professionally production quality more easily achieved, no editing suite or HD camera is going to teach someone the basics of how to tell a story well or cleverly, nor coax better performances out of the actors. Baby is hardly unique in its shortcomings and that's precisely the problem.