Children of Invention veers from immigrant story norms

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      Starring Michael Chen and Crystal Chiu. In English and Cantonese with English subtitles. Unrated. Plays Friday to Monday, April 23 to 26, and Wednesday and Thursday, April 28 and 29, at the Vancity Theatre

      Immigrant stories usually travel the space between dislocation and self-discovery. But the quietly revelatory Children of Invention instead focuses on the deceptively assimilated offspring of newcomers.

      Watch the trailer for Children of Invention.

      Sombre, science-minded 10-year-old Raymond (Michael Chen) and his dreamier little sister, Tina (Crystal Chiu), were born in the U.S. They speak only English, and their mother is the displaced person. The well-groomed, ceaselessly striving Elaine (Cindy Cheung) has just been tossed out of her home in the Boston suburbs. The place is nothing to write Hong Kong about, but for Elaine, her ex-husband, and their two heavily burdened sprites, it was a brick-faced corner of the American dream. The bricks are gone now, along with dad and the vitamins Elaine was supposed to sell in a get-rich-quick scheme.

      So she leaves her kids in a nearly abandoned high-rise while she studies for her real-estate licence and hunts for the next big-money fix. When she gets trapped in the latest pyramid scheme, Raymond and Tina grab their latchkey and head into Boston proper, armed with an ATM card and, quite frankly, a better business plan than Elaine has going for her.

      A first feature for writer-director Tze Chun, who grew up in similar circumstances, the film uses silence, terse guitar music, and smart cutting to fill emotional and narrative blanks. Although slightly tentative, the child actors provide much of the rest. Invention loses some ingenuity as it edges toward more conventionally scripted material. But Chun’s observations about materialism’s chokehold on immigrant life are acute, and in the end he leaves you feeling that America itself is lost at the mall.