Following a series of award-winning short films, writer-director Greg Pak created Robot Stories as his first feature, adopting a four-vignette perspective on the not-too-distant future of human-robot interactions.
In the first segment “My Robot Baby,” upwardly mobile professional couple Marcia (Tamlyn Tomita) and Roy (James Saito) begin plans to adopt a baby with a required stint caring for a pre-programmed robot infant. The task appears simple enough, but the robot baby proves unpredictable and sometimes hostile. After Roy is called away on business, Marcia gets her father to reprogram the robot’s feeding functions so she can go back to her workaholic job, but when it goes haywire, Marcia must face her deep-seated fears of intimacy and motherhood alone.
In “The Robot Fixer,” stern, judgmental Bernice Chin (Wai Ching Ho) confronts the tragedy of her son Wilson’s (Louis O. Changchien) terminal condition, after he’s struck by a car and descends into a coma. Together with her long-suffering daughter Grace (Cindy Cheung), Bernice searches Wilson’s apartment for some clue to the unfamiliar life he has led during their long estrangement. As Wilson’s health declines, Bernice becomes fixated on a box of her son’s childhood robot toys that she hopes might somehow hold the answer to his recovery. Canvassing the city to assemble a collection of figurines and accessories that would have given the boy Wilson the joy she continually denied him, his legacy finally reveals for her the value of loving relationships.
The third story, “Machine Love,” features Pak in the lead role as android office worker Archie, a dedicated data input clerk who impresses his supervisors with his diligence, punctuality and precision. While his human co-workers goof off and gossip, Archie’s at his desk every day completing his assigned tasks. But when he notices a female robot office worker in a neighboring building, Archie begins to wonder if there might be more to his android existence than loyalty and obedience — perhaps love? His unexpected act of rebellion ultimately proves more human than artificial, provoking soul-searching questions about the boundaries of digital existence.
In “Clay,” the final installment, Sab Shimono returns playing John, an aging sculptor confronting his own death. In his near-future society, the dying preserve their immortality by scanning their consciousness into holographic-projecting computers, like the one that allows John to share his waning days with his deceased wife Helen (Elisa Davis). But he resists the advice of his son and doctor to enter this digital realm, seeking a more organic demise than the alternative provided by the constraints of technology.
Robot Stories won the best screenplay award at the 2002 Hamptons International Film Festival and indeed Pak’s digital feature is infused with clever and perceptive interpretations of character motivation and fresh perspectives on the role of technology in everyday life. Pak’s directing style capitalizes on the intimacy of digital video and creatively exploits the modest production values best suited to this filmmaking format.
Robot Stories plays Thurs., March 13, 7 p.m., at the AMC Kabuki Theatre, 1881 Post St., San Francisco.