The Debut Feature Film of writer/director Jieho Lee: The Air I Breathe

This website was created to promote the 2007 debut feature film of writer/director Jieho Lee, The Air I Breathe. The content below was gleaned from Rotten Tomatoes and other reviews. The critics were rather savage in their negative opinions, although the audience in general were more forgiving. Judge for yourself.


Four stories, representing the emotional principles of love, pleasure, sorrow, and happiness, come together in this episodic drama from first-time director Jieho Lee. A powerful crime boss, Fingers (Andy Garcia), subtly controls the destinies of four people whose circumstances have brought them to a crossroads in their lives. A quiet business executive (Forest Whitaker) is told that an upcoming horse race has been rigged and bets everything he has on his belief that the story is true. A noted pop singer (Sarah Michelle Gellar) discovers her career is hanging in the balance when she's forced to sever ties with her manager. A doctor (Kevin Bacon) must set aside a physician's traditional guidelines when circumstances demand he treat the woman he loves after a serious accident. And a criminal (Brendan Fraser) has a powerful vision of the future, but can't decide if his premonitions are to be trusted. The Air I Breathe received its world premiere at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival.

Rating: R (for violence, language and some sexual content/nudity)
Genre: Drama
Directed By: Jieho Lee<
Written By: Bob DeRosa , Jieho Lee
In Theaters: Jan 25, 2008 wide
On DVD: May 6, 2008
Runtime: 97 minutes


January 25, 2008
Jack Mathews
Daily News
'Air I Breathe' tries for Confucian, adds confusion

THE AIR I BREATHE. Four overlapping stories about love, happiness, pleasure and sorrow. With Forest Whitaker, Brendan Fraser, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Kevin Bacon. Director: Jieho Lee (1:31) R: language, violence, sexuality/nudity.

The source for Jieho Lee's "The Air I Breathe" is an ancient Chinese proverb about the four cornerstones of emotion - love, pleasure, happiness and sorrow.

Those are pretty general headings with no limit to the quantity and quality of stories that could be written for each. But Lee and co-writer Bob DeRosa went 0-4 with their convoluted screenplay, making me thankful they didn't try to adapt the Seven Deadly Sins.

The idea of four overlapping stories connected by a vicious underworld figure named Fingers must have looked good on paper. Andy Garcia gobbled up the Fingers role and the leads of the four stories are Forest Whitaker, Brendan Fraser, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Kevin Bacon.

In the first story, Whitaker plays Happiness, a lonely, down-on-his-luck stockbroker who can't cover a gambling debt with Fingers and compounds his problems by robbing a bank.

Brendan Fraser, whose character Pleasure appears in the first story as both a client of Happiness and a strong arm of Fingers, is the central figure in the second story, a thug who can see into the future but can't change it.

Pleasure meets Sorrow (Gellar) in the third story. She's a recording artist whose contract is taken over by Fingers in payment of a debt. At the risk of his own life, Pleasure takes Sorrow in, only to meet a wicked fate at the hand of Fingers.

Kevin Bacon takes center stage in the fourth story, as Love, a doctor who is racing through the city to find a person with a rare blood type to save the woman of his dreams, who turns out to be Sorrow.

Like so many of these "Pulp Fiction"-inspired multistranded stories, the time line gets very confusing but ultimately makes sense, or at least movie sense.

I can't fault any of the actors for anything other than bad judgment. Their performances are fine, but a good fortune cookie might have told them to stay away from this.


June 12, 2008
Amber Wilkinson
Eye for FilmThe Air I Breathe


Fans of Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon will find it a whole lot easier with the release of this film, since it is a sprawling piece, offering four different stories each based on what a Chinese proverb considers to be the lynchpins of life. So, each of the actors at the heart of their story are named after an emotion - with Forest Whitaker branded Happiness, Sarah Michelle Gellar copping for Sorrow, Brendan Fraser representing Pleasure and Bacon, Love.

Subscribing to the 'butterfly effect' scheme of plotting, all four will ultimately see their destinies merge. Of course, initially, they are suitably disparate. Whitaker is a weedy gambler facing a debt he can't pay off, Fraser a gangster's heavy with second sight, Gellar a pop pixie and Bacon a doctor searching desperately for a blood donor.

Initially, too full of Confucianisms for it's own good, the film settles down and finds its best rhythm in the second segment of the story, concerning Fraser who is forced to babysit the wonderfully risible nephew (Emile Hirsch) of his gangster boss Fingers (Andy Garcia, who easily comes out of this with the most dignity still intact). It is here the film breathes best, away from the stifling pall of gloom that hangs over the other segments.

The film is by no means terrible, its exploration of the ambivalence of emotions is cleverly handled up to a point and the noir look of the Fraser story is also worthy of note. Sadly, however, as the plots begin to coalesce everything becomes far too overwrought and the decision by writers Bob DeRosa and Jieho Lee (who also directs) to wrap everything up in a neat little box, complete with bow, does them no favours. In fact, at the Tribeca press screening I attended the ending was deemed so ludicrous that laughter broke out.

Despite the top-notch cast it has taken more than a year for this film to make it from its Tribeca Film Festival debut to a limited UK release and, given that its weaknesses outweight its strengths it is probably better suited to a Saturday night in with a few glasses of wine than a night out at the cinema.

Immediately after watching it, The Air I Breathe feels vaguely satisfying but the more you unpick the strands the more its failings stand out. For a film with such big plot ambitions, it ultimately lacks sufficient emotional depth. You sense, however, that despite all this, with the right script - written by someone else - Lee has potential as a director.


January 4, 2012
** ½ Matthew Pejkovic
Matt's Movie Reviews


With his debut feature film, writer/director Jieho Lee has assembled an impressive cast to star in a film which is heavily influenced by the likes of Paul Haggis’ Crash and the films of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (21 Grams).

The plot features several interweaving storylines: Happiness (Forrest Whitaker) is a stock broker, who in an attempt to rid himself of his mundane life, bets a large amount of borrowed money on a fixed horse race which he loses, facing the wrath of small time yet ruthless gangster Fingers (Andy Garcia); Pleasure (Brendan Fraser), a clairvoyant debt collector for Fingers, unexpectedly falls in love with rising pop star Sorrow (Sarah Michelle Gellar), who due to her managers shady dealings, falls under the ownership of Fingers; and Love (Kevin Bacon) must save the life of the woman he loves (Julie Delpy).   

Underneath its absurd philosophical ramblings about fate and destiny lies the potential for a great film.

Yet despite some good performances -   Forrest Whitaker displays vast emotional depth, Brendan Fraser is very good in a subdued tough guy role, & Andy Garcia sends chills in his most brutal depiction of a gangster yet – The Air I Breathe fails to reach its plausible promise, thanks to some extremely irritable and illogical plot and character developments.

Pretentious in its tone, ambitious in its goals, and incompetent in its execution, The Air I Breathe is a polluted mess despite its good intentions.


February 28, 2008
J.B. Mitchell
Orlando Weekly

The movie takes itself way too seriously, and it doesn't add up to much, but, nevertheless, it's borderline entertaining.


February 3, 2008

Marlow Stern

Manhattan Movie Magazine

Mr. Lee is a former director of Asian music videos, which explains why his debut feature, from the high-octane opening credits to the Marnie-esque ending, is all style and no substance.





January 23, 2016
Jonathan C

I think people's perspective of the film is a bit myopic. The film is cerebral, and if you're into those kinds of movies, this is outstanding. It simply, for those not willfully hindered by the Gateless Gate, asks one to ponder the meaning of their emotions. I loved it.



July 30, 2015
*** ½
Richard D

A charming yet simple story. It's an anthology piece which focuses on 4 different people. 3 of them in their own way help the 4th person be able to escape the life they are in. The acting is good and the writing is fine. To some it can come off as pretentious but I personally don't think it is.

It's different from what I usually enjoy but I surprisingly liked this film.


July 9, 2015
* David S

4 stories that all become intertwined together around one gangster. Has a star studded cast but nothing could save this film. Just a giant jumble of messiness.


April 12, 2015
*** Boddah

Jieho Lee's debut is a well shot and interesting film revolving round a, well cast, ensemble and how their lives intersect. The way in which the protagonist changes is very natural. The first protagonist is Forest Whitaker and by the end we should feel as if we know each character very well. This is not the case though, the characters are quite one dimentional and uninteresting but brought to life by some good performances. The opening credits was the first sign to be wary but other than that the film was consistently shot well but it did seem the emotional intensity was lacking. It is worth a watch if you are a fan of any of the main actors - no one goes above and beyond what your used to but are allowed to broadcast their talents (some better than others). Otherwise I wouldn't recommend it to many as it didn't explore its ideas as thoroughly as I think it could have felt disjointed with its inconsistent tone.


November 29, 2014
***** Logan C

One of the very few movies I would call a masterpiece. I honestly do not understand why this movie has such a low rating. I saw it and was absolutely blown away. I mean... 12 fucking percent??! Who do they get to review these things? Sheep?