Eve and the Fire Horse, the feature film debut of Sundance short films vet Julia Kwan, is a magical, elegiac view of life, death and religion as seen through the eyes of a nine-year-old Chinese girl living in Canada in the 1970s. Eve Eng (newcomer Phoebe Kut, in a remarkably nuanced and natural performance) was born in 1966, the Year of the Fire Horse, considered an unlucky year for a child to be born. Fire Horse children are said to be strong-willed, Eve tells us in voiceover, and therefore undesirable, and were often drowned in the river as soon as they were born. The river, says Eve, is full of the spirits of the drowned Fire Horses.
In Eve's household, her grandmother upholds the traditions of Buddhism, filling the water offering bowls daily and performing rituals. As the film opens, Eve's mother, May Lin (Vivian Wu) chops down the apple tree in the family's backyard; it is considered bad luck to chop down an apple tree, like severing a cord, and so when a few months later May Lin miscarries a son, she is convinced it was because she cut down the tree, and retreats to her room in a deep depression.
When Eve's grandmother dies, she is convinced it is her fault, because her grandmother watered the garden for her that day. She sees her grandmother's ghost downstairs seven days later and runs to her mother's room, tearfully asking if her grandmother hates her. Eve's father tells her and her older sister, Karena (Hollie Lo, another newcomer turning in a marvelous performance) that their grandmother will be reincarnated as a goldfish, an image that comforts Eve, who then asks for a goldfish of her own. When Karena is given a religious book about dying and heaven by a pair of door-to-door evangelists, she becomes drawn to Christianity and salvation. After their father departs for China to bury his mother, Karena and Eva start going to Catholic Sunday School and form a club, "The Girls of Perpetual Sorrow" - of which they are the only members. Their mother, deciding that "two Gods are better than one" and that having both religions will be safer for the girls (she especially likes the commandment about obeying your father and mother), begins weaving images of Christianity into their Buddhist household. Still mourning the loss of her son, she also begins meditating daily, in the desperate hope of finding the faith her daughters latch onto so easily.
Others on Eve and the Fire Horse: Ken Eisner of Variety was impressed, calling the film "an exceptional feature debut for young helmer-scripter Julia Kwan."