‘Brush With Danger’ flirts with ambiguity

September 25th, 2014




A brother and sister’s impoverished journey to America is depicted in the film “Brush with Danger,” directed by Livi Zheng, a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in Film Production at the University of Southern California.


The film opened this past Friday, Sept. 19 at Tower City Cinemas in downtown Cleveland. Zheng made a special appearance at the 7 p.m. screening on Saturday, Sept. 20.


Zheng not only wrote the film’s script, but also posed as a triple threat as an actress, producer and debuting director for “Brush with Danger.”


Filmed in Seattle, this hour and a half-long film took only 27 days to shoot and over a year to finish production.


“Brush with Danger” tells the story of Alice and Ken, teenage siblings who flee their Asian home and arrive in Seattle by way of a shipping container.


With no shelter or money, the siblings use their talents to find a way to survive.


Alice’s passion for painting and Ken’s love for martial arts grab the attention of passerby, Mr. Justice Sullivan, an interested art investor who has a mysterious dark side.


Alice and Ken’s lifestyle of poverty flips upside down when Mr. Sullivan welcomes them into his home, providing shelter, stylish clothes and, to Ken’s delight, hamburgers and strawberry pancakes.


At one point, Ken exclaims, “The land of opportunity. I love it!”


As Ken pursues his love for fighting, Alice enjoys a painting studio all to herself, complete with numerous blank canvases and paints galore, another gift from Mr. Sullivan.


Yet, the American dream begins to blind the siblings from Mr. Sullivan’s questionable intentions.


When news of a young, unknown, deceased female with paint-covered fingers arises, suspicion grows and connections are made.


When Mr. Sullivan requests that Alice copy an original Van Gogh, things no longer seem too good to be true.


“I don’t feel right,” says Alice. “It’s still just a dream. Nothing’s ours.”


After being conned into forging a famous painting, Alice and Ken automatically find themselves enveloped in Seattle’s criminal underworld.


The title “Brush with Danger” is a play on words, paralleling the word “brush” to Alice’s passion for painting. “Using ‘brush’ to symbolize a painting brush gives it a deeper meaning,” said Zheng.


Zheng’s film is inspired by her close friend’s personal escape from war in Ethiopia to the U.S.


She hoped her film would reassure runaways with the encouragement that “there are other people going through the same thin It’ll all be okay.”


The overlying theme of the film is the importance of family. An interesting addition to the film was Zheng’s opportunity to co-star alongside her brother, Ken.


“I am biased toward my brother’s character. He’s carefree and doesn’t overthink anything. He lives in the moment,” said Zheng.


The real-life siblings create a believable dynamic between Alice and Ken’s characters. Their interactions cover the teasing, yet supportive, aspect of a sibling relationship, but focus on the importance of family being a constant source of support.


Although the siblings’ relationship and the message of hope keeps the film in good rankings, there are a few missing components that leave holes in the storyline.


It was not made known until halfway through the film that Alice and Ken are located Seattle and it is never directly stated from what country the siblings are from.


It is only clear that they arrived from Asia.


On a different note, Mr. Sullivan, played by Norman Newkirk, makes a rather creepy entrance into the film, leaving the audience with an understanding of his character’s intentions.


It’s hard to understand how a painting connoisseur with a criminal background willingly opens his home to two runaway teenagers.


His character made it hard to take the plotline seriously.


Aside from a few unanswered questions, the film’s scenes with martial arts along with the overall concept of the “American dream,” kept the movie alive.


The fact that Zheng is developing as a female director for films featuring martial arts gives her an edge over the male-dominated directing field.


Winning over 26 medals and trophies in martial arts has allowed Zheng to become a master of the art, giving her an advantage to understanding the movement and action.


Zheng just recently finished a second film focused on the story of two brothers, also featuring action and martial arts.


“Brush with Danger” made its theatrical premiere in New York City on Friday, Sept. 19. A Los Angeles premiere will be held on Friday, Sept. 26, followed by another on Oct. 3 in San Francisco.


Editor’s Note: Information from and a phone interview with director Livi Zheng was used in this article.