Main cast: Louis Lu (Albert Vong), Christina Chang (Amy), John B Cole Jr (Steven), Edwin Lai, and Rip Torn (Narrator)
Director: Jeffrey Fine
Albert Vong runs an antique store, imaginatively called 19th Century Antiques, and seems content at being a stereotypical Asian middle-aged guy: spectacles, geeky vibes, OCD, etc. His daughter Amy is concerned, though. Her father has increasingly isolated himself from his friends, spending all his time in his store instead. Well, she decides to invite a guy she interested in to dinner, and she wants Albert to join them.
Unfortunately, the guy Steven is a history student interested in Cambodian history, especially the violent parts, and he keeps dredging up things about Khmer Rouge that Albert desperately wishes to avoid talking or even thinking about. Predictably enough, this encounter opens up painful memories, and with that, ghosts from the past—literal ones—show up to make sure that Albert finally confronts the painful truth he’s been trying to hide all these years.
From the Ashes is another predictable episode with a twist one can see coming. Albert tells Amy about how his friend betrayed his village by joining the secret police and turning on them. For an episode that usually has a twist revealed during the climactic moment, it has only one obvious twist in the making—one that most viewers will be able to correctly predict early into the whole thing.
The acting of this episode is best described as “Asian”. The main characters embody the tics, mannerisms, accents, and speech patterns that have become textbook for every Asian cliché in popular media, to such a degree that this Chinese viewer is actually amused by how much is tossed into the kitchen sink here, so to speak. I’m more annoyed by the lapses into stupidity of Amy, who openly dates an opportunist that doesn’t even hide his motivations and lets that fellow pressure her father into talking about things that they both know had traumatized him into blacking out. That’s some daughter of the year material over there.
The story itself is pretty good, actually. It ponders a bit on whether a monster can ever find redemption, or whether those baser instincts only lay dormant, waiting for the right moment to resurface. While the main twist is predictable, there are a few smaller twists here that complement the main twist nicely, all of them coming together to form a coherent, sometimes poignant, and ultimately tragic story of a man trying to run away from his past.
Unfortunately, Louis Lu’s often too-campy portrayal of a bag of discounted Asian male stereotypes can be distracting, and Christina Chang’s wooden line delivery only makes things worse. It’s as if she and John B Cole Jr were asked to deliver their lines as slowly and stilted as possible, because apparently Asian people can’t speak English unless they emphasize every other syllable unnecessarily.
Sadly, this is another episode in which a potentially great story is held back by the performance of its cast members. Still, it’s nowhere as bad some of other similarly marred episodes, mostly because of the underlying pathos in the story line that still manages to come through. It’s watchable, but yes, it could have been much better.