World, Meet Jack


A man sits in a field of overgrown weeds and wildflowers. He turns a video camera on himself. A patch of sunlight spotlights him, singling him out. Is it a trick of the light or a celestial signal?

The man is Jack Lee, the protagonist of the new film East Bay. Jack's frustrated. He's 39 years old. His ancestry is Korean, and his family holds themselves to a high standard, which Jack falls short of. "Success gives one's existence a meaningful narrative structure," he bemoans, due to his lack of either. What does his life add up to? When someone asks him, "What are your long-term plans?" Jack answers, "Death."

Jack works a menial job at a Silicon Valley software firm, performing "the custodial work of the digital world." He wants to be a filmmaker. He's made a few goofy and sardonic bits he wants to be considered "good bad," but he suspects they are just "bad bad." Undaunted, he enters the East Bay Film Festival. One of the festival planners, Sara, gets his jokes. She campaigns for the film to be accepted, and Jack's story arc begins.

Writer/director Daniel Yoon was born in Chicago and is now based in Toronto, Canada. His first feature was Post Concussion, shot in 1999 on 16mm film, and he's lived all sorts of lives between then and now. He's worked as an Outward Bound Instructor, leading extended canoe expeditions in Northern Ontario, as an energy policy analyst in Washington DC and Colorado, and as a management consultant to Fortune 1000 companies.

Besides writing and directing East Bay, Mr. Yoon also plays Jack, an endearing sad sack. His modest ambitions, relationship with his slacker roommates, and surprising way with beautiful women make us root for him even as he routinely sabotages himself.

If East Bay belongs to any category, it's the Confused Young Man Finding Himself Genre begun by The Graduate and refined through Orange County, High Fidelity, and even Ferris Bueller's Day Off. But it's more DIY than any of those. East Bay has the pokey quality of a school project. Mr. Yoon seems to be making it up as he goes along, surprising himself that he's got a film at the end. Granted, he allows himself some motifs, like glowing light that comes from no discernable source, singling out Jack at particular eras of his life. But for the most part, East Bay just…happens.

It's as a faux video diary, with flashbacks, flash-forwards—held together by John Welsman's pensive piano score—and Woody Allen-style asides spoken directly to the audience. Like Woody, Mr. Yoon is perceptive about human nature. As the film opens, Beth, Jack's partner (played by Melissa Pond), is embarrassed by her own intellectualism, so she puts on a "girlie act." Nervous Sara (Constance Wu of Crazy Rich Asians, and top-billed here) practically yells her dating chat at Jack as if reading off cue cards. Kavi Ramachandran Ladnier (TV's CSI: Los Angeles) is an "aspiring elite spiritual leader" about whom Jack says, "She is not completely bonkers unless you take everything she says 100% literally." Edmund Sim and Destry Miller, Jack's roommates Tim and Stuart (who both appeared in Mr. Yoon's first feature Post Concussion) show uncommon insight at unexpected times. There's even a cameo by God Himself. It's that kind of movie.

East Bay's Canadian roots show. Jack gets into the festival with a joint titled Hockey Daze; he and his roommates spend much time on the ice. The casting has a nonchalant multi-national bent that US films are still self-conscious about.

East Bay's plot is not particularly cohesive or a grand narrative. It's like a TikTok confession that branches out to themes like legacy, destiny, and divinity. It's a shaggy dog of a movie, ambling in, sticking its wet nose in your hand, wanting to be noticed. Eventually, you give in. East Bay has charm to spare and a wonderfully offbeat sensibility.


East Bay. Directed by Daniel Yoon. 2022. From Level 33 Entertainment. In theaters and on VOD. 94 minutes.

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