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    Robot Stories

    A 'bot face

    "Robot Stories," an uneven collection of four vignettes about people and technology, is best when it's less science-fictiony and more human.


    (Originally reviewed at the 2003 Asian American Film Festival.)

    It's hard to believe the four vignettes that make up "Robot Stories" came from the same person. The four segments — featuring mostly Asian actors but not Asian-specific stories — include two in which wacky robots are basically the obvious punch lines of hackneyed plots. And yet, the other two segments are very successful by making technology the stimulus for much more human explorations.

    Written and directed by: Greg Pak.
    Cast: Tamlyn Tomita, Sab Shimono, Wai Ching Ho, Greg Pak, Vivian Bang, John Cariani, Cindy Cheung, Bill Coelius, Eisa Davis, Ron Domingo, Norma Fire, Rachel Haynes, Rachel P. Haynes, Tim Kang, Julienne Hanzelka Kim, Vin Knight, Glenn Kubota, Oliver Oguma, James Saito, Joshua Spafford.

    Related links: Official site
    To start, as the film does, with the worst first, there's "My Robot Baby," about a couple (Korean-American by the looks of them) who want to adopt a baby but are given a robot instead for a parental trial run. The little thing coos for daddy but seems to have it in for mommy, jabbing her with some sharp protrusion whenever she comes near. What a bad little robot baby. It could just as well be Chucky.

    The third vignette, "Machine Love," features an office-temp robot (played by director Greg Pak) whose sensitivity is misunderstood by his human co-workers. Luckily, he discovers another robot in a neighboring office who can truly understand him. It's the ever-popular robot with human emotions.

    But sandwiched between these two unimpressive installments are two rather moving and seemingly more heartfelt stories that deal with personal emotions more than robotic gee-whizzery. "The Robot Fixer" is about a woman trying reconnect with her comatose son through the thing she remembers most strongly from his childhood — his toy robots. It's an obsession she never shared when her boy was young, but now his imaginary robot world becomes the most real thing she has to hold on to, if she's willing to share his fantasy.

    One can imagine that writer-director Greg Pak's real strength is not in science fiction at all, but rather in the kind of patient, human-sized story that is the best thing about "Robot Stories."  

    Closing the film is "Clay," about a couple on two sides of a technological divide. We see the husband, an elderly architect working on the final project of his life, and his wife, a young, lively woman who talks with him in their living room — until she starts flickering and we realize something odd is going on. As we learn, the wife was long ago digitized for posterity, and her image can now be projected right into her onetime home — or maybe it's more than an image. It not only looks like her, it talks like her, responds to questions and talks about life on the "scanned" side of reality. The man talks with her as if it's her. And yet, he faces a decision himself as his health deteriorates — should he get himself digitized too and live on in computer-data form like everyone else? This technological development has been fully assimilated by the younger crowd — it's no more strange to them than the cell phone is to us today — but he's still not comfortable with the idea that his body could be replaced by immaterial electrons. He's thinking of just dying naturally, the way people used to do.

    The conversations in this last segment are sometimes a little hard to grasp, but it succeeds nicely because it's just a scene from normal life — not a science-fictiony techfest. The architect could represent us fifty years in the future, looking at new technology with the critical eye that comes from having known its absence. It leads one to imagine that writer-director Greg Pak's real strength is not in science fiction at all, but rather in the kind of patient, human-sized story that is the best thing about "Robot Stories."

    DECEMBER 31, 2003

    Reader comments on Robot Stories:

  • How Come?   from Barbara Rodgers, Oct 8, 2005

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