FILM REVIEW: WALK, RUN, CHA-CHA
This week I was in the mood for a short film, as I usually don’t find myself engaging with this medium of art as much as I would like to. Short films are difficult to execute, in that it takes a great level of expertise to pack a story into a run time of less than 20 minutes (usually), without making the story too bare or overdone. Although there were many animated films and features to choose from, I came across Walk, Run, Cha-Cha, as its thumbnail caught my eye. It showed an older-looking Asian couple holding each other intimately in front of a bright backdrop of a dance floor. I was intrigued.
Directed by Laura Nix of The New York Times, Walk, Run, Cha-Cha follows Millie and Paul Cao, a couple now in their 60s, who met as teenagers in Vietnam. However, their story was interrupted by the Vietnam War, when Paul risked it all to escape Vietnam and immigrate to America as a refugee. After being apart for 6 years, the two were finally reunited in America and got married. They rekindled their love through dance. The documentary’s integration of interviews with Millie and Paul, as well as the clips of them performing, make this film one of the purest stories I have ever seen.
Dance serves as a way for Millie and Paul to start over, day by day, to recreate and reinvent themselves. Often, people have great difficulty with the idea of reinvention, as it is terrifying to imagine letting go of such familiarity, whatever it may be. However, the Caos thrive off of exploring uncharted territory, igniting a passion that has always grounded their relationship and now, their life in America. In the film, Millie says that her day job is as an auditor, and that none of her coworkers could ever imagine her dancing. Paul says that he is an engineer. However, when we see the two dance, those identifiers completely dissolve. “Motion leads to emotion,” a dance assistant directs Paul. “Motion leads to emotion,” he repeats, taking this advice to heart.
Director Laura Nix does an excellent job of allowing the audience to connect with Millie and Paul, whose natural engagements carry the documentary. When it comes to humanizing people through film, I’ve found the most powerful elements lie in the little things: someone’s gaze as they stare off in the distance, the grace of their arms falling to the side while dancing, the tremble in their voice as they speak. The deep connection between Millie and Paul can be seen in these same little giveaways, from the way their bodies fluidly carry each other, to Millie’s heartbreaking description of their lives apart for more than six years.
I hope that Walk, Run, Cha-Cha allows people to recognize how often we group people into common identifiers, and fail to really ever know the stories of most who walk this earth. At a glance, Millie and Paul are two Vietnamese immigrants who live in suburban Los Angeles. They could be your neighbors or the two people you’ve seen in the grocery store. However, their story is one of such incredible strife and hope, and would have never been shared amongst an unknowing audience if director Laura Nix was not a student in their dance class. At just a little over 20 minutes, Walk, Run, Cha-Cha is a refreshing must-see. It made me feel hopeful for the future while in a time of deep uncertainty, as I found myself engrossed in Millie and Paul’s deeply heartwarming and uplifting story. For the Caos to pursue and excel in such a vulnerable art form in a country that often makes immigrants feel like outsiders, is true courage.