by Lia Chang
Jennifer Phang’s new sci-fi film Advantageous, winner of a Sundance Film Festival Jury Award for Collaborative Vision, has been a fan favorite at film festivals across the country and recently completed a limited theatrical release at Cinema Village in New York, and at the Roxie Theatre in San Francisco. It is currently available on Netflix and iTunes in 18 different languages.
Independent Spirit award nominated actress Jacqueline Kim co-wrote the script of Advantageous with Phang, and stars as Gwen, the company spokesperson for a radical technology allowing people to overcome their natural disadvantages and begin life anew in a dystopian society that favors appearances over experience. When Gwen finds herself out of a job due to the inevitable march of time and the future of her only child Jules (Samantha Kim) in crisis, Gwen ponders undergoing the procedure herself. Her compromised partnership with her former boss Fisher (James Urbaniak) threatens any chance of her returning to work; while a past indiscretion with her sister’s husband (an almost unrecognizable, dramatic turn for comic actor Ken Jeong) highlights her estrangement from her own family. In this world, Advantageous riffs on the destructive contrast between soaring opulence vs. economic hardship, and the compromises that people like Gwen are willing to go through for a better situation.
The cast also features Jennifer Ehle, Freya Adams, Jennifer Ikeda, Olivia Horton, Sameerah Luqmann-Harris, Rex Lee, Troi Zee, Theresa Navarro, Mercedes Griffeth, Jeanne Sakata and Matthew Kim.
Phang has developed a dual affinity for science fiction and wry commentary as her storytelling stock-in-trade. Her latest effort, Advantageous (an expansive revisit of her 2003 Festival Golden Reel Award-winning short subject) largely eschews the commentary for a incisively-observed story of a career woman, played by veteran actress Jacqueline Kim, who goes to great lengths to insure a future for her only child. Originally commissioned in 2012 as part of the groundbreaking Independent Television Service series, “Future States,” Advantageous sparingly lays on the sci-fi while amping up the interpersonal tension and drama. The result is more French New Wave (Chris Marker’s classic La Jetee comes to mind) than anything else, and demonstrates Phang’s increasing mastery of the sci-fi storytelling form — even more impressively than in her well-lauded Half-Life (2008).
I attended the opening night screening in New York with my friend cast member Jeanne Sakata, at which The Verge‘s Emily Yoshida facilitated a Q&A with Ms. Phang.
What the critics are saying about Advantageous:
The past looks a lot like the present in Advantageous, a science-fiction fantasy in a deliberately subtle key. Manohla Dargis New York Times
As in a lot of good sci-fi, the movie is set in a particular world, but driven by the characters that inhabit it. Jesse Hassenger· A.V. Club
Advantageous presents an offbeat, intimate dystopian vision that is strongly intriguing for a while. Dennis Harvey·Variety
‘Advantageous’ is set in an almost unrecognizable New York, where unemployment and violence have amplified. Jordan Hoffman·New York Daily News
grist.com: In “Advantageous,” society has failed women in a big way
polygon.com: ADVANTAGEOUS REVIEW: DO IT FOR HER
io9.com: Advantageous Is An Insanely Good Movie That Everyone Should Watch
wired.com: ADVANTAGEOUS: A DYSTOPIAN FILM THAT’S PACKED WITH HOPE
businessinsider.com: The best sci-fi movie of the year is here — and it’s not Mad Max
avclub.com: Advantageous finds eerie plausibility in science fiction
mercurynews.com: On screen: Oakland’s Jennifer Phang scores with award-winning ‘Advantageous’
salon.com: Gather around, screwed millennials: You must see this
america.aljazeera.com: The dark future of ‘Advantageous’
LAAPFF alumni Jennifer Phang received the Best Director for her film Advantageous, and the film scored prizes in 3 other categories including Best Music Score (Timo Chen), Best Editing (Sean Gillane and Jennifer Phang), and the special inaugural Linda Mabalot Renaissance Award for actress/writer Jacqueline Kim for her work as the lead actress and co-writer of Advantageous. This award recognizes a multi talented artist who exemplifies the spirit and fierceness of the late executive director of the LAAPFF and Visual Communications, Linda Mabalot. Mabalot died in 2003 just after the festival ended.
Jennifer Phang’s sophomore feature Advantageous won the US Dramatic Competition Special Jury Prize in Collaborative Vision at Sundance 2015. Her award-winning debut feature Half-Life premiered in 2008 at the Tokyo International and Sundance film festivals. It screened at SXSW and was distributed by Sundance Channel. She was invited to Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab and was awarded a SFFS FilmHouse Residency and Sundance Institute Feature Film Grants in support of Advantageous. Phang was originally commissioned to create Advantageous as a short film for the ITVS Futurestates Program. Phang is one of three inaugural recipients of the San Francisco Film Society’s (SFFS) Women Filmmaker Fellowships. A Berkeley-born daughter of a Chinese-Malaysian father and Vietnamese mother, Phang graduated from the MFA directing program at the American Film Institute.
Advantageous is produced by Robert Chang, Theresa Navarro, Moon Molson, Ken Jeong and Jacqueline Kim. With cinematography by Richard Wong, editing by Sean Gillane and Gena Bleir, production design by Dara Wishingrad and Aiyana Trotter, VFX animation by Catherine Tate, Ricardo Marmolej and Jean Elston, original score composed by Timo Chen.
Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon and Taxman. She has guest starred on “One Life to Live,” “As the World Turns,” and “New York Undercover.” She is profiled in Jade Magazine.