Jimmy Zhan’s excellent adventure
Locally made short film debuts this week at Pageant Theatre
Seems that pretty much everybody has some half-finished screenplay languishing about the house, gathering dust until the day that some famous film producer drops by for coffee, and then casually mentions that he’s looking for a new project. To give San Francisco State grad Ryan J. Graham his due, he skipped the coffee and made his own damned movie.
Shot in Chico over the course of five weekends on a miniscule budget, this incongruous tale of star-crossed love made its way from the late-night stage at Blue Room Theatre to its debut as a video short at the Pageant Theatre this Saturday, the first stop on the way to attempting to infiltrate the film festival circuit.
A 20-minute ode to non sequitur, Jimmy Zhan, The Flying Mortician is a morality tale devised by a cowpoke (Brett Edwards) to keep Brandon’s (Edward Wicks)—his slightly tetchy (and side-saddle ridin’) companion—nattering yap shut as they settle down by a late-night campfire. As his story goes, seems that there was this mortician over in Stalinist Russia called Jimmy Zhan (Slim Barkowska) that once filled his time moonlighting as a wrassler on the pro circuit, kicking down with his collection of deadly moves for the edification of the peasants. But with the end of the Cold War, Jimmy is forced to abandon his first love and return fulltime to the cold ware.
Unfortunately, business down at the stiff plantation gets bad one season because some of the dead refuse to lay still and be properly attended to. During the course of this idle time at the mortuary, Jimmy comes across the love of his life in the still form of one of his customers. For some reason, she’s stubborn and refuses to remain ambulant. And even though he reads poetry by her gravesite, lovely but cold, she doesn’t reciprocate his advances. A dream sequence ensues.
Unfortunately for those of crasser tastes, despite the premise implied of a land where the dead don’t sleep, there is no zombie gut-crunching action involved. Fortunately for those of a more poetic disposition, Jimmy Zhan is more along the lines of the classic Ray Bradbury short story, “The Reaper,” in which Death takes a holiday. Although the short only uses it as a plot device, and never really explores the matter much more after it is brought up.
Granted, it may seem a little non-linear for some tastes, but Jimmy Zhan still holds some charm in a WTF sort of way, although some of the humor may be a bit too insular for many (I did get a kick out of the subtitling of the King of the Dead Lew Gardner’s dialogue)
As a vehicle for the titular character, Chico theater vet Barkowska (himself en route to another venue at L.A. improvisational school for Saturday Night Live aspirants, The Groundlings) shows a steady hand at the wheel.
With his character resembling a hybrid of Peter Lorre in Mad Love and Tor Johnson ala Plan 9 From Outer Space, one is left with the hope that the adventure of Jimmy Zhan could be expanded into a feature that would tie together all of the avenues that the short film brings up, but neglects to further explore.