Watching TV With the Red Chinese


“The medium is the message,” opines a blowhard film director in Watching TV With the Red Chinese, a series of hodgepodge montages that is meant to reflect the thesis-paper story’s belief that America is both the sum of its disparate parts and what you see of it on TV. Adapting Luke Whisnant’s novel, writer/director Shimon Dotan vaults back and forth in time while employing affected aesthetic filters—grainy black-and-white cinematography, movie-camera POV from that aforementioned blowhard director—that fail to enhance the themes of his 1980 NYC-set tale about the relationship between teacher Dexter (Ryan O’Nan) and his three neighbors, all of them students visiting from Communist China, one of whom, Chen (Leonardo Nam), begins dating Dexter’s ex, Suzanne (Community‘s Gillian Jacobs). Nearly every scene is clunky, and the film’s commentary about TV as the unifying glue of American culture is embellished through lame incidents of sex and violence that eventually validate the Chinese tourists’ anti-U.S. critiques. A scene in which Suzanne appears on Dexter’s doorstep, a silent look of longing, need, and remorse burning in her eyes, fleetingly cuts through the pretension. Unfortunately, it’s not long enough to eclipse the many tedious debates about the patterns that govern our lives, as well as Dexter’s on-the-nose in-class poetry readings (Whitman! Bukowski!) that are themselves part of a turgid indie-cliché design.