Monday, July 16, 2007

cyborg hooker vs. creepy D&D nerd

Rather than complain about my lack of dedication and my inability to update this blog more regularly, I'm going to get right into trying to reconstruct about three or four weeks worth of things I wanted to write about. These ideas will no doubt be somewhat diluted by the amount of time I've been sitting on them, but what the hell, if I didn't have something to feel ashamed and disappointed in myself about, I wouldn't be me.

First off, I wanted to put up this response to my last post. This comes from my friend Miriam, who runs the TV-crit website McBeeves (I've written a thing or two on that site, but you should check it out anyway). Miriam is something of a TV guru for me, she's the person who turned me onto two of my favorite shows, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and VERONICA MARS, both of which I criticized in my last post. Miriam offers what I think are some very valid counterpoints to my concerns about these shows. She writes:

"I enjoyed your last blog entry, btw. I'm glad you're writing stuff. (your thesis was awesome, too. I really enjoyed reading it. I'm a dummy when it comes to comics, so it was educational as well.) is it all right if I disagree with you a little bit about vmars and battlestar galactica? I think both shows treat invasion of privacy/torture with ambiguity. in the case of bsg, I don't think the use of torture on the show has ever yielded a positive result for the parties doing the torturing - it actually directly led to two suicide bombings: 1) the number six that was tortured on the pegasus set off the nuke that baltar gave her and 2) colonel tai and the resistance on new caprica. then there's last season's baltar being tortured, which didn't help a soul (although I still don't know what that scene was about). this is definitely different from 24, where jack saves the world again and again using information obtained through torture. in the case of vmars, her identity as transgressor (with respect to the law as well as social conventions) is what makes her powerful, but it's also caused a lot of problems in her relationships. the finale this season (which was awesome, btw) showed just how much her actions cost keith. and then there's the whole paranoid suspicion thing she used on logan. it's like her ability to see/know too much about others kept her from being able to trust people, which only drove her to dig even deeper into other people's business as some sort of control thing... whatever it was, I definitely don't think it was portrayed as a positive thing (even if it was the thing that helped her solve the mysteries)."

So, there ya go, BSG and VERONICA MARS are cool, I can continue to watch them guilt-free, although I guess not VERONICA MARS, because it got canceled, which sucks, but at least it took GILMORE GIRLS with it, one final noble act...(I watched GILMORE GIRLS on-and-off from the beginning, but towards the end kind of obsessively, and hated it so much I died a little inside every time it came on, yet couldn't turn away. Seriously, it was easier for me to quit drinking than to stop watching GILMORE GIRLS...)

The next thing I wanted to write about goes back to my comments in my last post about the 40 YEAR-OLD VIRGIN being a racist film, and the topic of political correctness. As I'm actually sitting down to write this, I'm starting to realize how difficult it is to write about political correctness without sounding like an asshole. I mean, political correctness is basically a good idea, it's basically all about not being racist, not being sexist, not being a number of things that, in general, it's not all that cool to be. The problem with it is that the term has become something of a dirty word, because the movement surrounding it was so knee-jerk, reactionary and humorless, and the whole thing supposedly got taken so far beyond a reasonable point that it turned into something repressive and maybe even somewhat destructive. Well, up to a point.

The issue came to mind in part because of an article I read I read in the New York times a couple of weeks ago about some controversy surrounding the film CAPTIVITY, another torture-horror film in the vein of HOSTEL and SAW. CAPTIVITY I guess received some flack from the National Organization of Women for its advertising, which either depicted or suggested some form of violence against women. Now, I can tell you in advance, knowing almost nothing about it, that CAPTIVITY is going to be a nothing movie. When you've seen as many horror films as I have, you develop something of a sixth sense about these things, and also learn how to interpret small clues in a film's trailer, advertising, cast, distributor as well as the general 'buzz' surrounding it. I could be wrong, but I feel pretty confident saying that CAPTIVITY is pretty much going to be bullshit, and almost nobody would really care anything about it if it weren't for this minor controversy. Which is to say that if NOW had ignored the movie, it probably would have gone away pretty quickly on its own.

That said, there was some pretty disturbing shit from the producer of the film, Courtney Solomon (who directed the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS movie from 2000), who seemed to take a great deal of pleasure from offending women's groups. Granted, a group like NOW can be a little over-the-top and humorless, but their general m.o. is pretty admirable. Anyway, the article centered on Courtney Solomon's plans for a big party promoting CAPTIVITY, one which he was attempting to engineer as a scary, dangerous happening. Of course, in the post-9/11 era, scary and dangerous are relative things, so I doubt the party's planned appearances by Suicide Girls models and Ultimate Fighting champions are really going to come off quite as "Extreme" as I suppose Mr. Solomon imagines they will. What is pretty fucked up is his take on his films detractors. From the article: “The women’s groups definitely will love it,” Mr. Solomon hinted. “I call it my personal little tribute to them.”

I don't know, there's just something kind of gross about this. Like, I can totally imagine the guy, although I have no idea what he looks like, a little coked-up, kind of sweaty, rubbing his hands together all sinister-like, a demented little grin on his face, as he imagines the indignities he's going to inflict upon a group who's basic motivation in this case is the opposition of the glorification of violence against women. Like, he really thinks he's getting one over on them, that somehow they've wronged him. It's just not really cool. It's creepy to take such an aggressive, defensive stance on something where you're not really making any counterpoints, or putting your film into any kind of context, or even bullshitting that you're making a political statement. Basically, this dude is just saying he's down with violence against women and he won't take any shit from anyone who isn't.

The thing is, for me anyway, the issue of political correctness is relative to context, and also to quality. Like, I know William Lustig's MANIAC is considered a really misogynist film, and some of that criticism I think is justified, but I'm sort of willing to overlook up to a point it in that case because it's technically and stylistically so successful a film in creating an atmosphere of real dread, drawing not only on the movie's technical qualities and the sweaty, creepy performance of star Joe Spinell, but also on the general sociopolitical vibe of NYC in the late-1970s and early-1980s, just a few years after the Son of Sam killings and at a time when violent urban crime was on the rise. Likewise, a film like I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE explicitly depicts scenes of violence against a woman, but the violence is portrayed so disturbingly, it's really difficult to imagine the filmmakers intending anyone to get any pleasure out of watching it (which is definitely a kind of negative pleasure, since the film is engaging, but not pleasurable in any conventional sense, it confounds enjoyment with displeasure, yet, well, something or another). Context can mean everything. Like, there's a big difference between using the N-word is a classroom and using it on the street.

Anyway, this all sort of brings me to the main point of what I wanted to write, which was basically about two pretty politically incorrect films that I've seen recently and enjoyed quite a bit, in both cases much to my surprise. The first was THEY CALL ME BRUCE?, a 1982 film I had enjoyed as a preteen and then totally forgotten about. Back in the day, you'd have probably called it a cult film, but whatever reasons the cult of BRUCE has diminished since its video heyday, which is too bad, because I've got to say, watching the movie again nearly 20 years since the last time I saw it, THEY CALL ME BRUCE? is a genuinely funny film.

On the surface, THEY CALL ME BRUCE? is pretty offensive. Most of the gags in the film revolve around racial stereotypes. To the movie's credit, it doesn't really single out one group, but pretty much puts it to everyone, which I think saves it from seeming racist. Adding to this, there's much more of a sense of everybody being put-on, rather than being put-down. Also, the film's star, Johnny Yune, is so smart about playing dumb, it just sort of elevates things to another level. Yune's timing is pretty great, he sort of tosses out a lot of goofy jokes really offhandedly, for instance a scene between him and some rednecks where Yune keeps saying "Sushi" and the redneck keeps hearing his girlfriend's name, "Suzy." Hey, I said it was goofy and stupid, but it also works. It's too bad he didn't do too many more movies other than the sequel, THEY STILL CALL ME BRUCE, which I know I've seen but can't remember a thing about.

Johnny Yune, though he plays a Chinese character in the film, is actually Korean, as is the new movie NEVER BELONGS TO ME, a super low-budget, shot-on-video underground/exploitation piece that, so far, has only been shown at film festivals, including the recent New York Asian Film Festival, where a friend and I caught a screening of it and were both fairly delighted what we saw. NEVER BELONGS TO ME is a perfect example of a movie (can't really call it a 'film' cuz it's shot on video, not that there's anything wrong with that) that pushes the boundaries of good taste and I guess what you could call political correctness, and still comes out not just engaging, but surprisingly endearing as well.

Directed by Nam Ki-Woong, NEVER BELONG TO ME's decidedly convoluted narrative centers around Gun-tae, sort of a goofy, luckless dude who, after a failed robbery attempt with a half-tiger (or is that dog?) man who may or may not be Gun-tae's half-brother (and who accidentally shoots himself in the face before the robbery begins), is convinced by his sort-of girlfriend to have his penis replaced with a gun in order to take vengeance upon the 'Three Bastards' who had previously turned her into a cyborg hooker. The Three Bastards, for whatever reason, have also been attacking Gun-tae everytime he goes to the local noodle stand, and wind up breaking his thumbs (I think) which somehow necessitates to implementation of the penis gun, as opposed to him just using a normal gun or knife on them. Oh, and the penis gun only fires when Gun-tae ejaculates, meaning he has to masturbate every time he wants to shoot someone. This becomes an issue as well, as Gun-tae can only arouse himself with a poster image of a ballerina. Things become even more complicated when the tiger man, lobotomized by the gunshot wound to his head, eats Gun-tae's normal penis (being kept in a cooler by the gun implanting surgeon, Dr. Hell). Thus, Gun-tae is cursed to have the gun penis forever. More violence ensues.

If it sounds confusing, it pretty much is, but it's also pretty damn charming in its own way. In fact, NEVER BELONGS TO ME's success lies in the movie's keen ability to confound expectations. The movie comes from a particular brand of decidedly grotty Asian exploitation movies, particularly Japan's low-budget Roman Porno/pink film, or underground gore pictures like the infamous Guinea Pig and Entrails films, and yet one can't help but leave the theatre feeling a little warm and fuzzy. Despite a scuzzy veneer, it's neither alienating nor repellent, and as much effort it makes to appear stupid, it's actually surprisingly intelligent. As a protagonist, Gun-tae isn't especially sympathetic, but he is identifiable and generally pretty fun to watch, as is the somewhat schizophrenic tiger man, who starts the movie by saying," I want to fuck every living thing on the planet" and ends it as a kind of ersatz superhero. And lest we not forget the slinky, enigmatic cyborg hooker, who looks and acts like she could have walked out a background scene in BLADE RUNNER, only funnier. Which all goes to say that a movie doesn't have to be excessively politically correct to work if it's reasonably intelligent and creative, and has a purpose or ethos behind its offensiveness. (In the time it's taken me to write this, CAPTIVITY has been released to generally pretty dismal reviews, which suggests that maybe it doesn't have the intelligence or creativity of NEVER BELONGS TO ME or even THEY CALL ME BRUCE. Granted, I haven't seen it yet, so I can't totally pass judgment, though the overall creepiness of the film's producer as evidenced above might just be enough to keep me away from it until it shows up on cable someday, or something...)

Hopefully, NEVER BELONGS TO ME will rate at least a DVD release if not some kind of limited theatrical showing. It'd be hard to go the rest of my life without ever seeing it again, or not being able to talk to anyone about it less my one friend who came to the screening with me. As of yet, it hasn't even rated a page on the imdb. I'd also be curious to get a chance to check out Nam Ki-Woong's tantalizingly titled other movies, TEENAGE HOOKER BECOMES KILLING MACHINE IN DAEHAKAROAH (which appears to be out on DVD) and CHOW YUN FAT MEETS BROWNIE GIRL.

Coming up next, reviews of more films from the New York Asian Film Festival, some shitty Hollywood movies (guess what- the new DIE HARD film is racist and misogynst AND it sucks) and the surprisingly awesome new horror film JOSHUA.

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