||Though the four tales in Greg Pak’s episodic debut feature all touch upon artificial intelligence in one way or another, “Robot Stories” is actually a deeply humanistic picture that uses the vaguely sci-fi format, as Rod Serling, Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison (as well as Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg) have done, to raise issues about man’s emotional connections. It’s clearly the work of a beginning filmmaker, modestly budgeted and variable in effect, but it shows promise.
Each of the four parts of the anthology, written and directed by Pak, is marked by at least one lead character who’s Asian-American, but the ethnic element doesn’t dominate in any of them. The strongest is the second, titled “The Robot Fixer,” in which a distraught mother (Wai Ching Ho) translates her grief over a comatose son to an obsession about completing his collection of action figures from “Power Rangers”-style shows and games while a daughter (Cindy Cheung) watches with increasing concern. This scenario could easily have been mawkish, but Pak pulls it off with elegant simplicity, helped enormously by Ho’s finely-tuned, minimalist performance. It’s like a very fine cinematic short story.
The initial segment, “My Robot Baby,” is much less subtle. A yuppie couple receive an egg-shaped robot from an adoption agency to take care of as a test--part of their application process. The wife (Tamlyn Tomita), an ambitious career woman who herself had a rough childhood, is left to care for the “child” herself when her husband is called away on business, with results that hold interest even if they’re insufficiently unpredictable.
The longest episode is the third, “Robot Love,” in which Pak plays an android assigned to type mounds of text into a word processor in a small office. Like the kid in “A.I.,” the creature is programmed to interact with people, but his office-mates prove utterly unwilling to give him a chance. It’s not surprising, therefore, that he should find himself drawn to another of his kind, a girl-android working in an office across the street. This is a fairly thin premise, and perhaps because Pak’s acting in it as well as directing (doing a sort of Brent Spiner Data turn, without the metallic surface), it tends to plod. Still, it has its moments.
Finally, Sab Shimono plays a terminally ill artist (with a holographic companion) in “Clay.” This slow, rather ponderous piece centers on the man’s resistance to undergoing a medical treatment that will prolong his consciousness in a new body. It wants to be profound but never reaches very deep, and is the weakest of the quartet.
“Robot Stories” is shot on digital video, with the usual deficiencies: shots from a distance have a grainy look. But Pak generally keeps scenes visually straightforward, and prefers closeups, in which the flaws are less apparent. He’s also secured performances from Ho, Tomita and Shimono that are strong enough to carry the picture over its slow patches. As a whole this is a reasonably good little picture that indicates he’s a filmmaker to watch.