starring Misu Khan, Nina Edmonds, Hassan El-Gendi, Ferdusy Dia
written and directed by Tanuj Chopra
by Alex Jackson Punching at the Sun follows the life of South Asian Queens teenager Mameet Nayak (Misu Khan). Mameet: (1) Lives in the shadow of his older brother, who was gunned down in his family's convenience store; (2) Falls in love with the neighbourhood sneaker salesgirl, Shawni (Nina Edmonds); (3) Identifies deeply with hip-hop culture; and (4) Feels that South Asians, due to their physical similarity to Arabs, are being unfairly mistreated in the aftermath of 9/11. The chief problem with Punching at the Sun is the sheer breadth of material it tries to cover. Writer-director Tanuj Chopra hasn't narrowed down his subject or angle--he seems to want to show us as much of what it's like to be a South Asian Queens teenager as possible. Even then, I have my doubts as to the film's anthropological validity. Attacks towards South Asians mistaken for Arabs have been rather scattered, and I have to wonder if Chopra chose to highlight them because it struck a chord of truth about the South Asian-American experience, or because it makes for a juicy movie. The generational gap between the values of the old country and the new affects South Asians especially hard, but, apparently aware that other films about other ethnic groups have already mined that territory several times over, Chopra only grazes the surface of this in his scattershot attack, and in pretty much every other way, Punching at the Sun falls short. The digital photography looks cheap; the acting is stilted; and Chopra's use of fast and reverse motion is gimmicky. The film climaxes with a basketball game where Mameet has to take the final shot, but Chopra breezes through most of the sequence more or less uninterested. When Mameet's ball does a teasing revolution around the hoop and Chopra cuts to everybody staring up in suspense, you kind of can't believe that Chopra is actually going there. After the game, Mameet and his sister yell up at the sky asking where their brother is; the film has a lot of scenes like that. The pathos Chopra reaches for is unearned and crudely abrupt--he doesn't have any idea of how to build a moment. There is no polite way to say it: Punching at the Sun is a terrible movie. But the thing is, it's not exactly an arrogant one. It's not arrogant about wanting to teach us something and it's not arrogant about not teaching us something. I think Chopra was really trying to make an honest movie about the South Asian experience, then realized he just didn't have anything to say. It's a pathetic movie, there's not much fruit in taking it down a notch. It'd be like kicking a puppy, you know?