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Sunday, June 09, 2013

One Sexy Mashup: Review of Brayden Yoder's short Breakdown by Don Wallace

One Sexy Mashup

Breakdown is a sizzling Indian intrigue by a local director.

BY DON WALLACE | JUN 5, 2013

A squeal of brakes. A thump. A white face behind a Plexiglass visor appears in the darkness. An angry crowd forms around a dead man, an old man, in Pune–surely someone of no consequence in an Indian city of three million. And, in fact, when an English-speaking nightclub owner, Rajesh, appears at the elbow of Shane, the American whose motorcycle hit the man, the price he offers to clean up the mess seems downright reasonable.

Shane is afraid, disoriented and surrounded by an angry mob. He allows Rajesh to guide him into his nearby establishment and into even deeper trouble. Breakdown, the 24-minute film by Kailua-born Brayden Yoder, similarly escorts us through the chaos of India by using the tropes of genre film.

“It’s a big mashup of a Hollywood noir and a Bollywood film,” says Yoder, back home in Hawaii after five years in Pune and now teaching summer school at Punahou. “So there’s song, there’s dance, quite a lot of regional flavor, also the American protagonist and some of the noirish elements we think of when we see Chinatown or the films of the 1940s.”

The film’s start goes noir one better by immediately going meta with some sharp dialog that points up the reality of being a First Worlder in a Third World country. “They don’t care that I’m an American,” says Shane. “They should care. That I care.” Well, guess what, Shane–empathy and a quarter won’t even get you a cup of chai these days.

Similarly, his response to the nightclub owner’s brisk, “What are you doing here?” is our national whine: “It’s not my fault.” Whatever, Shane.

It was at this point that I had the thought: Folks, we’ve got a movie on our hands. And: We’ve got a talented new local director on the scene.

Played by Rob Tepper, who recently made the most of an auxiliary role in Argo, Shane is only beginning his journey when he leaves the scene of the accident. With those magic words, “I’ll pay you,” he’s headed down the rabbit hole. And so is Breakdown, as Yoder ushers Shane into a magical, seedy, musical grotto of swaying women–the Bada Bing Room without a pole and nary a Soprano in sight.

The moment Shane lays eyes on Janki, the featured dancer, he can’t stop looking; and neither can we, as film and television actress Amruta Sant embues her role with steam and style. Without a single word in English she evokes a complex character, on the one hand a powerless sex worker held in thrall by her birth, gender, poverty and marriage to Rajesh–but also someone who’s determined to make the most of the situation that Shane has created.

Yoder’s path to Pune is fascinating and follows in a directing tradition forged by military veterans Samuel Fuller and Oliver Stone. A history major at Santa Clara University, Yoder accepted an ROTC scholarship to pay for his studies. He was stationed in Germany when 9/11 changed everything, and ended up in Iraq in the second wave of the 2003 invasion. For 15 months he was a supply officer, often exposed to attack while moving materiel for Coalition forces in temperatures that reached 140 degrees. “I remember thinking, ‘If I survive this, I can do whatever I want to,’” he says.

With money saved from his service, Yoder took a masters in writing at the University of Technology, Sydney. “I decided to go into directing because I wanted to be the author of my own films, which meant learning the language of films, which meant going to film school,” he says. Following the advice of East Asian friends he made in Sydney, he enrolled at the Film and Television Institute of India. He’s only the second American to do so; the first, an actor, plays all the villainous imperialist/colonialist roles in Bollywood.

Part-Indonesian, Yoder bears a resemblance to the young Obama (a comparison he must hear often, judging from his cringe). But to judge from Breakdown he’s a unique and driven talent. A garden of forking paths, the film’s story cleverly leaves us guessing about the shape that Shane and Janki’s lives will take. It’s an ideal strategy for a short film intended to lure backing for a full-length feature. If the rest of the story follows through on the first 24 minutes, Breakdown will be Yoder’s breakthrough.

Yoder will host a 30-minute Q&A after screenings at Coffee Talk’s Film Friday series on June 14 at 7 and 8:30 p.m. Admission is free, the gingerbread recommended.

Coffee Talk, 3601 Waialae Ave., 737-7444

NOTE: This will be my last movie review for the Honolulu Weekly until further notice, as it has suspended publication. Thank you for reading these posts.

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