Film Review: Quentin Lee’s “White Frog”

White-Frog-Movie-PosterAsian parents striving for perfect children. Asperger’s syndrome. Drunk driving. Questions of sexual orientation.

Seemingly every sensitive social issue short of abortion shows up in Quentin Lee’s “White Frog,” a sweet but somewhat preachy movie about Nick Young (Booboo Stewart, of “Twilight” fame), a teenager with Asperger’s who loses his brother Chaz (Harry Shum Jr.) in a drunk driving accident and then tries to gain emotional closure by piecing together who Chaz really was.

With the help of his brother’s multi-ethnic group of uncommonly good-looking friends (played by Gregg Sulkin, Tyler Posey, Manish Dayal and Justin Martin), Nick locates the working-class neighborhood community center run by a lesbian where Chaz not only donated his sizable gambling winnings but also much of his time. Along the way, Nick discovers a secret about his brother that would have devastated their parents, but also finds the courage to stand up to them and overcome his social difficulties.

While earnest and endearing, “White Frog” can sometimes feel a bit unrealistic in its eagerness to be all-encompassing and accepting of what society may not necessarily open its arms to quite yet. Representing the mainstream, Joan Chen and BD Wong play stereotypically stern Asian parents who are in denial of their children’s individuality. They are church-going conservatives who instill in Nick a fear of the LGBT community and a sense of shame that he is not “normal” like other kids.

The film then overcompensates by swinging to the other extreme with the social issues it portrays in a positive light. It would have perhaps been better to pick one or two to explore in-depth. However, by not doing so, the movie remained too light in tone for the gravity of some of the problems it tried to address. Its target market of teens could explain the featherweight, feel-good approach.

The young actors of the film lend much to its overall innocence, especially Stewart’s effectively halting performance as Nick. His soft features and dark eyes make him particularly vulnerable-looking, which adds to his character. With room to grow, it will be interesting to see how his career survives the juggernaut impact of the “Twilight” movies. The adults of “White Frog” seem out of place, however. Veteran actors Chen and Wong both falter here, delivering surprisingly stiff performances. However, in a film centered around the naivete and persistence of youth, perhaps the failings of the old guard can be overlooked.

Video: Quentin Lee – 2011 Singafest Asian Film Festival
video by Jim Higgins / Meniscus Magazine

Quentin Lee talks about Asian American films, and his experiences directing the feature films “The People I’ve Slept With” and “White Frog” on Oct. 1, 2011, in Los Angeles.