What's It About? Big picture: Assassin Bai Ling and her good-for-nothing brother try to stay alive in a futuristic every-man-for-himself world. Small picture: Honestly, I'm not exactly sure. That's my big problem with the film.
The Gene Generation opens with an exposition-heavy, world-introducing, five-minute sequence that felt like a Part Two summary of what happened in Part One. Only here, of course, there was no Part One. That wouldn't have been a problem if the opening scene made sense. It didn't, and after it ended, I had no idea what the rules of this world were. There was talk of genetic restructuring technology, an industrial accident that somehow damaged the fabric of society, and DNA hackers. But I had no real concept of what any of those things meant, or how they tied together. Nor, as the film went on, did I understand who ruled the world, what the floating video screen things were, or why Faye Dunaway had turned into a tentacle monster. (Trust me, that last bit isn't as cool as it sounds).
As a general matter, I understood that the bad people wanted the Transcoder to do bad things and that the good people wanted the Transcoder to do good things. But it was far from clear (at least to me) what the Transcoder did, or what the good and bad people wanted to use it for. That lack of a frame of reference was frustrating, to say the least, and essentially reduced the driving force of the film to a giant unintentional MacGuffin.
What Did I Like? Bai Ling's performance. She's an actress with a limited range, but her innate woodenness actually made for an effective performance as the "World Weary Assassin On The Verge Of Cracking." Ling's attempts at emotion (in particular her protestations of love her her brother) seemed strained and borderline insincere. But given that she'd been living for decades in a world without hope, looking after a brain-dead brother, it made sense that she would be emotionally stunted and have difficulty expressing her feelings.
Bai Ling was also solid from an action standpoint. Her fight scenes are ultra-quick-cutted, but still fun in small doses. I particularly liked the Mexican standoff where Bai Ling killed a half-dozen guys, and the repeated use of the blood-on-the-camera-lens effect.
What Didn't I Like? Big picture: Not knowing what was going on or why it was happening. Small picture: Bai Ling's brother (Parry Shen). I recognized Shen from Hatchet and a short called The Tivo. Here, unfortunately, he was ultra-annoying, and a real distraction every time he was on screen.
Anything Else? Faye Dunaway's performance was potentially interesting. I haven't seen a current picture of Dunaway in years, and when she showed up during the film's prologue, I was distraught at the extent to which this once beautiful actress had disfigured herself through bad plastic surgery. As it turns out, Dunaway was playing a character who inadvertently transformed herself into a crazy-looking tentacle-based monstrosity. Was Dunaway making a meta-commentary on beauty in Hollywood and the folly of chasing lost youth, or was she just cashing a paycheck for a half-day's work? I'd like to imagine it was the former.
And... that's pretty much all I have to say about The Gene Generation. I wasn't a huge fan, but it had its moments. If you've seen the film, tell me what you thought in the comments.