One day, filmmaker YiYi Han imagined a man and a woman with polar opposite personalities meeting on a beach. Somehow, their lives intertwined. They became inseparable. And, together, they learned to find happiness.It was just a daydream. Until it wasn’t.
Out of it a character named Lea was born. She is narcissistic, insecure, delirious and hopelessly romantic. And she is the protagonist of Ms. Han’s newest short film, “Something About Wonder”—her senior thesis for New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts that brought her on location to the East End last week, from Tiana Beach and Dune Road to the Basilica Parish of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary in Southampton, where passersby may have seen lead actor Rebecca Kiembock dramatically holding a bunch of inflated balloons blowing in the wind on Friday morning.
Working on a $20,000 budget, the 20-minute-long “Something About Wonder” will mark the end of Ms. Han’s academic career, she said, and hopefully open a door to her professional career as a filmmaker. Ms. Han has been passionate about storytelling ever since she was a child, she said, though this project forced her to face a fresh challenge: her two biggest fears.
Loneliness and change.
“‘Something About Wonder’ is not about a personal experience, yet it is in every way personal,” she said, “and I believe it can also become universal. The film may appear to be slightly exaggerated. The protagonist’s irrationality and ignorance are almost embarrassing, yet it is an honest portrayal of the pain and hopelessness we’ve all experienced after losing someone important.”
For Lea’s unlikely partner in crime, Daniel, that sense of loss stems from the death of his only friend, a red-eared turtle named Cindy that his mother gave to him when he was seven, right before she died. Daniel, a socially awkward hearse driver, is on his way to bury Cindy when he is interrupted by Lea, who is scheming to murder her childhood love’s future bride after discovering she is not invited to their wedding.
“She was always an outcast due to her awkwardness and wild imaginations,” Ms. Han said of Lea. “However, on a sunny day in second grade, Lea experienced the meaning of friendship and love for the first time when she met Benji. For the next 15 years, Benji was Lea’s only and best friend ... Now, Lea is willing to do anything in order to win Benji.”
Lea’s sense of loss is palpable. But Ms. Han’s is extremely real.
“I have once lost a best friend, and the feeling of helplessness is something I would never forget in my life,” she said. “As I ponder upon the timeless question of ‘What is the purpose of life when we have little to no control over it?,” I realize that there’s absolutely nothing we can do about it, yet it doesn’t stop life from being beautiful. We need to learn to embrace the losses and to let go. In many ways, writing this film is my way of expressing myself and letting go of someone who has once been very close to me.”
Secretly, Ms. Han always wished during her periods of loneliness and struggle—her parents’ divorce, moving to America and the births of her half-brothers that ended her reign as an only child—that she had a friend who understood her and supported her unconditionally.
Daniel is that person for Lea, she explained. He, more than anyone, is familiar with loneliness, and helps her realize there is more to life than what goes on in her head.
“[The film] is also a fantasy we all have about being resurrected by a kind stranger in despair,” Ms. Han said. “It is my hope that this film will help people understand that change is an inevitable part of growing up, but as we face loss, we begin to understand the beauty behind all the pain. Like balloons flying out of a hearse, sometimes the end marks the beginning of something beautiful.”
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