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Perry Chen: 10-Year-Old Movie Critic

His reviews have been on the CBS Evening News, and many other media sources

Ten-year-old critic Perry Chen (wearing 3D glasses).
Photo by Josh Board

I always wondered what it would be like to have that Beatles level of fame, where people yelled your name when you walked off an airplane or into a room.

At a movie a few weeks ago, I saw a 10-year-old boy experience that.

He walked in, and so many kids were screaming the name “Perry!” I looked around, thinking I’d see Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Steve Perry of Journey, or Perry Farrell.

This was at a screening of the baseball movie A Perfect Game, starring Cheech Marin.

The boy sat down next to me and my girlfriend nudged my side, saying, “You know who that is? That’s that kid Perry Chen. He’s the child movie critic.”

I found out he’s been on the CBS Evening News, KUSI, NPR, Fox 5, Channel 6, and in a lot of print publications as well.

He had a pen and paper in hand, ready to take notes. He waved at a few of the kids calling his name, but looked a tad uncomfortable by all the attention.

When the movie started, I occasionally heard him talking to the friend with him. I also heard his mom occasionally lean in and say things like “That’s an important scene you just saw.”

When I talked to him later, I realized that he was a really smart kid and probably did write the reviews himself (although I’m still trying to wrap my mind around a kid using the phrase “rag tag group of boys” in his review of this baseball film).

When someone dropped a coin a few rows away, Perry whispered to his friend, “I love picking up money at a movie. Nobody sees you do it.”

It was refreshing to know he still talks to his friends like any boy would and there’s no air of precociousness.

I asked him a question I’ll probably never ask another film critic: What’s your favorite snack for a movie?

“I like popcorn and kettlecorn during a movie,” Chen told me.

“My mom often takes me to the Yogurtland store to get my favorite toasted coconut flavored frozen yogurt as a treat before or after a movie at the UltraStar Mission Valley cinema. That's the best treat.”

Perry’s favorite movies include Azur & Asmar, The Fan & the Flower, Charlotte’s Web, The Princess & the Frog, The Perfect Game, Up, How to Train Your Dragon, and The Secret of Kells. And with those picks, I asked his mom if he’s allowed to see R rated films.

“I only let Perry see G or PG-rated films, occasionally a PG-13 movie like Avatar,” Zhu Shen told me.

Sizing up Toy Story 3.
Photo by Josh Board

“I never allow him to see R movies. Not appropriate for his age. For unrated movies at Landmark, I try to find out the content of the films before deciding if it's appropriate for him.”

I ask Perry if he’s ever seen a movie he’s hated.

“Yes, I absolutely hated Logorama, which just won Animated Short Oscar this year. I gave it zero starfish in my review [he rates movies on a scale 1 to 5 starfish]. I think it's the worst decision made by the Academy to award this film the Oscar.I stand by my review still. It was published on my website and my column on We Chinese newspaper.”

He went on to tell me about the foul language, senseless and graphic violence, and how the film lacked a good story and creativity. Hmm…this kid is a pretty good critic.

He continued, “…the zero starfish I gave it was a first time for me. I can envision a far better and more creative animation made with the same logos without the violence.”

People often say critics are the people that weren’t talented enough to do the thing they’re critiquing. That can’t be said about Perry. He recently won an award at the San Diego International Music and Arts Festival for his animation, and was hired to do animation for a film about the holocaust.

I ask him if he prefers animation over critiquing.

“I like doing art/animation more, but reviewing films brings a lot of great opportunities, including interviewing directors and stars to learn about how my favorite films are made behind the scenes," he says. "I was at a press junket where I was the only child film critic invited, presenting Annie Awards for animation, and now becoming a filmmaker and animator myself and partnering with Oscar-nominee and animation master Bill Plympton.”

At what age did you realize you had a talent for art?

“When I was three, I started drawing and made rapid progress in art. My kindergarten art teacher, Mrs. Princess at Del Mar Hills Nursery School, always told my parents how talented I was with drawing and painting. One of my early paintings was made into a limited print poster when I was four. It's a collectible item.”

I asked his mom when she decided to have Perry pursue all these various endeavors.

“It all started in October 2008 when Perry's third grade teacher, Joli Harris from Torrey Hills, told me that Perry was decoding words at high school level (he was 8 then)," she says. "I was surprised, though I knew Perry was reading highly advanced books. I thought it would be great to challenge him, and suggested to Ms. Harris that we get him started writing reviews since he loved reading so much. He wrote his first book review that Friday at his favorite bookstore, The Bookworks in Del Mar. Two weeks later, he wanted to watch his favorite film, Charlotte's Web, on DVD. I said, ‘Why don't you write a movie review this time?’ We watched it together and discussed. He wrote three drafts and edited them.The rest is history.”

Has he ever surprised you by using a word you didn’t think he even knew?

“Yes, all the time. Perry has a surprisingly large and rich vocabulary. He knows certain advanced words that I don't even know myself. He has a vivid imagination and his voracious reading allows him to accumulate and learn many advanced words that he often starts using right away in his reviews. My husband Changyou bought Perry an electronic dictionary last year. Perry loves using it and often looks up for synonyms of words that he wants to use to add variety and spice to his writing.

"What surprises me the most are his keen and detailed observations about films, which is more apparent in his recent reviews, but even in his earlier reviews. It is quite striking. He is much better in summarizing moral of the story these days, which is often the most difficult part, even for adults. He came up with ‘If you believe, you can achieve,’ for the morale of The Perfect Game in a few minutes.

"The moral is also his trademark feature, since I want his reviews to be educational, not only for entertainment, but for learning as well, which benefits children and their parents, teachers as they discuss and share their thoughts about movies with one another.

"Perry and I plan to start a non-profit organization with the goal of education through entertainment from movies for kids, using Perry's experience as a model. I strongly believe every child has his or her own talents and creativity in certain areas. It's up to the parents and teachers to uncover them and nurture them.”

Reporters often complain about subjects that give one or two word answers to their questions. I wasn’t having that problem with Zhu Shen or her son.

I asked Perry the procedure he uses for writing his film reviews.

“I write a draft, go over it and make changes, and have lots of discussions with my mom about the content of my review, including my favorite character, scenes, funniest part, storyline, moral.Mom and I usually agree with each other, but sometimes we disagree. For example, I thought the cat Pangur Ban who never aged (while the human characters did) from the Oscar-nominated animation The Secret of Kells was not magical, but my mom thought she was.So I asked director Tomm Moore about it.He gave an answer with both possibilities.”

Are book reports you write in school done similarly?

“No. A book report in school has specific structure -- down to how many sentences for each paragraph, and what to write in each sentence -- required for each piece, quite different from my movie reviews.”

Perry is into kung fu, origami, gardening and basketball. His favorite subjects in school are art, technology, science and reading. I asked him if he reads any other film critics.

“I read Roger Ebert, A.O. Scott (New York Times), and Richard Corliss's (Time) reviews after I write my own, because my mom didn't want me to be influenced by other critic's before I write mine. We listen to Kenneth Turan and David Edelstein's reviews on NPR.Locally, my mom and I listen to Beth Accomando's review on KPBS.”

I was asked if I wanted to interview Cheech Marin, the priest in the movie A Perfect Game, while he was in town. I said I was interested, and was later told Marin wasn’t coming to town. I was asked if I wanted to do a phone interview. I said I’d love to. That ended up not happening.

I found out Perry Chen, who I first met at the press screening for that movie, was invited to fly to New York for the press junket, where he’d get to interview Cheech Marin and the rest of the cast involved.

I was scooped by the 10-year-old critic!