Directed by: Dax Phelan
Cast: Jason Tobin, Byron Mann, Sarah Lian
This year’s string of enjoyable indie flicks continues its expansion with Dax Phelan’s emotional murder mystery, Jasmine. At the mid-way point of 2017 a few really inspired independent productions have found the space and audience to shine, and Phelan’s new picture may very well join the buzzing ranks in which films like A Dark Song, Peelers, Chicago Rot and Aaron’s Blood occupy. In many ways, it’s a more powerful picture than the aforementioned pieces, but stylistically it may not work to please as broad a crowd.
Jasmine moves slowly. It’s about character, loss and obsession. As I understand it, Phelan himself was dealing with the loss of some family which inspired a complete re-edit of the film. I don’t know what the film once looked like, or if it moved at a speedy clip, but I think this cut – as unfortunate as the inspiration behind the changes may be – is a mighty fine film. The fact that it’s not an action-packed, frenetic flick doesn’t bother me in the slightest. In fact, I think to tell this story slowly is the only way to truly tell it.
Jasmine was the wife to Leonard To, but a year ago she was murdered, and Leonard has been lost ever since. Immediately following the death of his wife, he disappears for months on end. We’re not really afforded a precise answer as to his whereabouts during this time, but we’re led to believe he’s been off living a Hell he’s trying to rise from. When he returns to Hong Kong he immediately begins to obsess over the loss of his wife, and he takes up detective duties on his own. It isn’t too long before he’s pin-pointed what appears to be a very real and viable suspect. But the eventual confrontation these two have produce a grim conclusion that leaves the viewer feeling as hopeless as Leonard looks throughout the picture.
I enjoyed Jasmine quite a bit. It’s clearly a film with a lot of honest and straight forward emotion invested. Leonard is a sad, sad case, and it’s hard not to imagine Phelan seeing parallels in his own life to that of his fictitious character. It’s a shitty thing to realize that the man behind the helm of this film was forced to endure tremendous tragedy before finalizing this piece, but I’m hopeful that the picture serves as a breakout effort in regard to his directorial abilities. He really gets this film right, and he does so by siphoning emotion not just from himself, but also from us, the viewers.
Jason Tobin carries the story on his back, and he does an impressive job. Sometimes he’s hard to read, sometimes his pain is pronounced and resonating. It’s the questionable moments, when we’re not entirely certain of what we see in his eyes, that really make the character so unique and magnetic. It’s easy to be curious about this guy. He’s trapped in an existence no one would ever ask for, and he stands on the constant precipice of emotional collapse… before he reels it all in, and picks up his pursuit of the man he believes murdered his wife. Tobin really does a solid job of getting the audience engaged, which could have been a problem for the film; it’s not heavy on discourse and Leonard is mysterious enough to generate an air of ambiguity. We should never be certain of anything a mystery offers, and Jasmine leaves us in a state of constant uncertainty. That’s another sizable plus to the pic.
This looks like an inexpensive picture with some fairly inexperienced performers that rise to the standard that a powerful narrative demands and totally and completely crushes expectations. It’s intense, it’s eerie and it grows into something particularly disturbing. I’ll comfortably call Jasmine an annual standout and a likely long-time winner for both Dax Phelan and Jason Tobin.