The premise “A young woman meets the man in the mirror” might be more likely to get a Michael Jackson song stuck in your head than inspire viewing. But Lumina, written, directed and produced by independent filmmaker Jennifer Thym, takes that idea and twists it into a beautifully shot and suspenseful romantic fable.
Lumina (JuJu Chan) is a lonely workaholic living in Hong Kong, who discovers Ryder (Michael Chan) lurking in a mirror one day. Well, she doesn’t so much discover him as respond to his pretty smooth opening line: “For someone so beautiful, you sure spend a lot of time alone.” Ryder claims to be a prince from another realm, but for Lumina he’s more like a manifestation of her imaginary dream man; their wistful romance develops quickly, despite the fact that they’re never in the same physical space. But in the first two episodes, that relationship already begins to take a toll on her life — with more danger to come.
I admit that part of my attraction to this show is its cinematography and location — DPs XiaoSu Han and Andreas Thalhammer use the RED One camera to capture Hong Kong in gorgeous detail. In addition, Asian countries have felt underrepresented within the web series world, so it’s exciting to see a potential shift in that — one hopes that this will just be the first of many series to come from the region, which already has a rich tradition of filmmaking. One nice touch: English subtitles for the first two episodes are available; Chinese subtitles are due out this week; and the site is directly soliciting help with subtitles in other languages — which is a smart move, given Asia’s many dialects and languages.
There’s some stiffness to the actors, and lead actress Chan is much more confident in Cantonese than in English — which is unfortunate, given that the bulk of the series is in English. But Chan’s expressive face makes up a lot of ground, and she has a surprising amount of chemistry with her co-star, given that the two of them are never physically together. (A combination of trick photography and digital effects appear to go into the creation of Ryder’s appearances).
While the YouTube description positions Lumina as a fantasy thriller, the only fantastical element of the first two episodes is Ryder’s appearance in any reflective surface, and the only major suspense comes from Lumina’s workplace, where a jealous co-worker (Lawrence Jacob Milman) conspires against her. However, while people feeling spoiler-conscious should avoid the series’ About page, those unsure exactly where the series is going might find it reassuring to know that in the following seven parts, the fantasy component of the series will take center stage. Lumina isn’t perfect, but as a first foray into a web series for both the director and the region, it’s definitely one to watch develop.