The Motel


by Tuna

Ernest is 13, a little chubby, and in the throes of puberty.  He has entered a writing contest, but his mother calls him a failure for only getting honorable mention. (According to his bio, writer/director Michael Kang won "honorable mention" in a scholastic writing contest in grade school). The one bright spot in Sam's life is a 15-year-old girl who works at her parents' nearby restaurant. Ernest is in love, but she merely sees him as a friend.

He is stuck working in the family business, a sleazy motel with hourly rates. There are not many rewards to be gained from his job, although dealing with the motel guests does provide his life with a liberal education.  One night, Sam, a charismatic Korean man, arrives with a hooker in tow and evidently sees something of himself in Ernest, so he takes the boy under his wing, even teaching him to drive. Unfortunately, Sam is really just an overgrown kid himself, separated from his wife, and trying to screw his way to happiness. He used a maxed-out credit card to pay for his room, and Ernest tries to hide that from his mother.

The Motel is a wonderful coming-of-age comedy that happens to take place in an Asian-American family.  It should appeal to any man who remembers what thirteen felt like, and any woman who ever had to deal with 13-year-old boys. The children's performances are excellent, and Jade Wu nails the role of the mother with a harsh exterior, but so much more just beneath the surface. Although the film was made with a miniscule budget, it doesn't seem to be cheaply made because the budget is stretched by a story that takes place almost entirely in the motel. Granted this is not a large film, but it is a sensitive one with an excellent sense of humor and a great deal of truth.

Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


Motel is good enough that I am recommending it to friends.



Commentary by director Michael Kang and actors Sung Kang and Jeffrey Chyau

Behind the Scenes Featurette

Director's Picks


Widescreen anamorphic transfer


It won an Independent Spirit award as well as a minor prize at Sundance.

70 (of 100)


6.8 IMDB summary (of 10)


Box Office Mojo. It was virtually unreleased, appearing in no more than four theaters, grossing only $51,000


  • Cheryl Campbell does full frontal nudity in a scene where mom breaks into their room with a baseball bat demanding additional payment, because the couple exceeded the time they paid for. On the way back to the office, mom casually tells grandpa that room 15 needs a new lock.

  • Jackie Nova  shows breasts as one of Sam's women.