Archive for May, 2010

Mad World: Messages to the Future at Galeria de la Raza

Chicano Visual Almanac, 2050, Rio Yanez, 2010, detail, digital print

So it looks like Arizona has legalized racial profiling, outlawed Ethnic Studies, and forbidden folks who speak accented English from teaching language arts. The Texas Board of Education has set out to rewrite history, by glossing over the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II, renaming the slave trade “the Atlantic triangular trade,” and emphasizing the significance of hard-line segregationists George Wallace and Lester Maddox in the civil rights movement. The Texas BOE also claims that W.E.B. DuBois, Susan B. Anthony, and Ida B. Wells were “obsessed with oppression.” Funny, that–

To me, Texas and Arizona’s boneheaded, mean-spirited, and utterly reactionary actions are the last gasp of a Eurocentric hegemony desperately trying to cling to its rapidly receding cultural dominance, as U.S. demographics inexorably move toward a more diverse and polyphonic society. The top dogs are about to be ousted and they’re not one bit happy about losing their place of privilege, so they’re going down kicking and screaming. As noted by Gregory Rodriguez, “Even though they are still the majority and collectively maintain more access to wealth and political influence than other groups, whites are acting more and more like an aggrieved minority.” Writer and critic Hua Hsu states,

“According to an August 2008 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, those groups currently categorized as racial minorities—blacks and Hispanics, East Asians and South Asians—will account for a majority of the U.S. population by the year 2042. Among Americans under the age of 18, this shift is projected to take place in 2023, which means that every child born in the United States from here on out will belong to the first post-white generation.”

Not to belabor the point, but not only has the horse bolted, it’s three miles down the road. But as evidenced by the nonsense going on in Arizona and Texas, that doesn’t mean that some people aren’t gonna try locking the door anyways.

Chicano Visual Almanac 2050, Rio Yanez, 2010, digital print

Because of the shenanigans going on in the Southwest, the fun new show at the Galeria de la Raza, Mad World: Messages to the Future, is all too relevant in this wacky country where racial difference has suddenly become a crime. The show looks futureward from a Chicano/Latino perspective, envisioning a time forty years hence when California is projected to become a white-minority state.

Rio Yanez’s tongue-in-cheek print series, Chicano Visual Almanac, 2050, takes a smart and sassy look at possible future Chicanocentric events. These include a description of the ascension of Hector “Lonely Boy” Suarez to the title of “last surviving Chicano gang member,” as well as documentation of “notable attempts to resurrect Cesar Chavez,” next to a visual mashup of Chavez and the Virgen de Guadelupe. Yanez also includes a chart outlining the many iterations-to-be of the Chicano art movement, listing, among others, “2010: Post-Chicano Art,” “2017: Post-Xicano Art,” “2036: Chicano Art,” “2039: Post-Pre-Colonial Art,” “2041: Inverse-Hispanic Art,” and “2050: Chicano Art,” making a sly dig at the artworld’s ever-changing fashion trends and its love for absurd and overly descriptive nomenclature.

Breathing, Smoking, and Drinking (BSD) Device, mixed media mask; 2050 Calendar Year, acrylic on non-woven media, Johanna Poethig, 2010

Johanna Poethig’s paired pieces in the show also speculate about possible future scenarios. Breathing, Smoking, and Drinking (BSD) Device, which is essentially a modified gas mask worked up to admit cigarettes, food and beverages, anticipates our poisonous future environment. But all will not be lost–as Poethig notes, “Since we will all have to wear the pesky masks, the BSD will enable us to continue our bad habits as we schmooze and socialize.” Poethig also features the BSD in her other piece, 2050 Calendar Year, a large-scale calendar that features an image of the Hindu elephant god Ganesh decked out in a BSD, clutching a cigar in one hand and coils of tubing from an oxygen tank in the other. The calendar itself commemorates significant dates in the next forty years including “2031: USA declares war on itself,” “2046: Last White Person Day,” and my favorite, “2039: End of Patriarchy.”

No Home Nowhere, Carlos Castro, 2010, detail, video installation

One of the show’s simplest yet most interesting pieces is Carlos Castro’s three-channel video installation, No Home Nowhere. Castro asked three different U.S. street musicians, originally from Senegal, China, and Latin America, to play the Star-Spangled Banner on their respective instruments. In his installation Castro exhibits video documentation of their performances on three small monitors mounted on the gallery walls. As Castro notes, “Although none of the individuals could play the tune by memory or even understood what the artist was asking, they quickly learned and performed it.”  Castro’s piece suggests that the alacrity with which each musician learned the iconic song signifies that, despite language barriers, cultural differences, and diverse countries of origin, we all do belong in this crazy country, and that inevitably, despite our worst instincts, we all can learn to get along. Not a bad future, overall, and one that I wouldn’t mind sending my grandkids to live in. And hopefully by the time that future rolls around, Arizona and Texas’s reactionary haters will only be a brief, spasmodic, forgotten footnote in history.

PS: For a funny take on Chicano Art shows and the people who love them go here.

Mad World: Messages To The Future

Galeria de la Raza

2857 24th Street

San Francisco CA 94110


Saturday, May 8, 2010 – Saturday, June 26, 2010

Open Tuesday 1-7pm & Wednesday through Saturday from noon till 6pm

Featuring Jose Arenas, Carlos Castro, Emael, Chris Granillo, Erika Hannes, Hector Dio Mendoza, Johanna Poethig, Lady Reni, Joshua Short, Jose Antonio Suarez, Robert Trujillo, Christina Velazquez, Rio Yanez, and Marilyn Yu

May 25, 2010 at 7:25 am Leave a comment

A Fool Such As I: 36 More Francis Ng movies

Saluting Francis

Since my Francis Ng movie-watching marathon 18 months ago I’ve been scouring the universe trying to see every possible Francis movie I can find. Herein follows another 33 films and 3 dramas that I was able to locate, with bullet reviews of each flick. Although I’m still less than 50% through his 120 movies, my viewing pace has slowed down quite a bit, since the remainder of his films are either out-of-press or only available unsubbed on Chinese-language streaming sites. Luckily our dear Francis is still actively making new movies and he’s got a couple due out this year, Fierce West Wind and The Warring States, which are both big budget Mainland Chinese productions, so I’ve got something to look forward to. Here’s hoping for 120 more Francis movies in the future.

The best

1. Once Upon A Time In Triad Society 1: Francis shows off his acting chops in this clever and original sendup of triad movies, reprising his career-making role of Ugly Kwan from Young & Dangerous. He won the first of three Best Actor awards in a row from the Hong Kong Film Critics Society for this role.

2. Once Upon A Time In Triad Society 2: The story and characters are unrelated to the first film but it’s also an original and energetic take on gangster life. This time Francis plays a cowardly triad more interested in mahjong than brawling. Smokin’ hot Roy Cheung plays a zealous hing dai.

3. Bakery Amour: Offbeat romantic comedy with Francis as a fish-out-of-water country boy navigating Hong Kong. He falls for his gorgeous neighbor Michelle Reis but plot and circumstance endeavor to keep them apart. Will the two mismatched lovers find one another in the end?

4. A Gambler’s Story: A loopy black comedy about a down & out, hapless gambler, played with mournful determination by Francis. In no way resembles God of Gamblers or any other escapist HK poker movie.

5. Banana Spirit: Francis plays a coroner’s assistant whose job is putting makeup on corpses. He falls for a beautiful ghost living in a banana tree and along the way encounters Taoist exorcists, gangsters, and Tommy Wong as a fire demon. Great stuff–

6. A War Named Desire: Francis as a hard-ass but righteous triad in Thailand who gets tangled up in a gang war. Awesome heroic bloodshed movie with an outstanding turn by Gigi Leung as a sharpshooting gun moll.

Stern Francis, Turning Point: Laughing Gor, 2009

7.  Turning Point: Laughing Gor: Gritty actioner based on the popular TVB character played by Michael Tse. Francis & Anthony Wong steal the show as dueling triad bosses who battle it out for the most outlandish hair and costumes. Not bad for a low-budget quickie, this film was the second-highest grossing HK movie of 2009.

8. ‘Til Death Do Us Part: Anita Yuen plays a childlike woman destroyed by her husband’s two-timing. Francis is great in a supporting role as a sympathetic divorce lawyer who tries to save her sanity.

9. Big Bullet: Fast-paced and thrilling cop actioner with Francis as a righteous detective whose best friend is fellow police officer Lau Ching-Wan. Anthony Wong as a very bad guy and, in a change of pace, Jordan Chan as an upstanding cop.

The rest—in rough chronological order

10. In The Lap Of God: a very young yet fully formed Francis in a small supporting role as the boyfriend of big-haired 80s dream girl Irene Wan, who throws him over for hotshot cop Roy Cheung (!). Filmed mostly in the jungles of Thailand.

11. Handsome Siblings: Early Francis wuxia, with A-listers Andy Lau & Brigitte Lin battling Francis’ evil transgendered villain. Francis was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for this one, launching his movie career and freeing him from the clutches of TVB.

Co-joined Francis, The Bride With White Hair, 1993

12. The Bride With White Hair: Leslie Cheung & Brigitte Lin as gorgeous star-crossed lovers in this classic wuxia pian. Francis is a lovelorn Siamese twin demon in glittery eye makeup who is surprising sympathetic and fleshed-out.

13. Sexy & Dangerous: Silly knockoff of the Young & Dangerous movies, with four hot babes instead of Ekin & Jordan. Francis plays a dumb, low-level triad with orange hair who courts one of the chickies. Excellent turn by Karen Mok in the Jordan Chan role.

Ginger Francis, Sexy & Dangerous, 1996

14. 24-Hour Ghost Story: Something about a haunted convenience store and the four clueless people who run it. Francis sees ghosts.

15. Wicked Ghost: Don’t remember much about this cheapie horror flick except that Francis wears glasses and plays a professor

16. 9413: Francis directed this quirky tale about an emotionally damaged cop who seeks redemption from his guilt and ennui. Not bad for a freshman directorial attempt, Francis was no doubt much assisted by cinematographer Herman Yau.

17. A Queer Story: Francis turns in a beautiful and subtle supporting role as the younger lover of a man who dies of AIDS. The film fully exploits his astonishing hotness—who wouldn’t fall for him, male or female?

Pretty Francis, A Queer Story, 1997

18. What Makes A Good Teacher? Weird little school drama directed by Francis, who also stars as a former mental patient who ends up teaching a bunch of teenagers in Hong Kong. Amusing cameos by Anthony Wong, Cheung Tat-Ming, Dayo Wong and other friends-of-Francis.

19. The Group: Convoluted action movie about a group of adopted siblings who avenge the death of their priest-father (I think). Francis is the leader of the pack. I think he dances on a table in this one but I can’t remember.

20. Chinese Midnight Express 2: Very cheap prison flick with Francis as a righteous attorney at odds with a corrupt warden. This one has every prison film cliché in the book, done in typical HK low-budget style—not necessarily a bad thing, if you ask me.

Cop Francis, The HK Triad, 1999

21. The HK Triad: Francis & Lau Ching Wan in the 1960s and 70s as lifelong buddies on opposite sides of the law. Tawdry Wong Jing nonsense with senseless torture, gratuitous necking and Athena Chu as a sexy bad girl.

22. 2000 AD: Sleek thriller starring a hapless Aaron Kwok as a computer programmer inadvertently caught up in international espionage. Francis won several Best Actor awards for playing a middle-aged detective who shows Aaron the ropes.

23. Horror Hotline: Big-Headed Baby: Weird Soi Cheang thriller involving an urban legend about a deformed infant. Blair Witchesque ending. Francis smokes a lot in this one.

24. Magnificent Team: Goofy cop adventure comedy that feels like the 80s even though it was made in 1996. Francis leads a bunch of misfit cops through a series of mishandled investigations and gets to court and spark with serious-as-a-heart-attack Amanda Lee from Full Alert.

25. Clean My Name, Mr. Coroner: Francis as a fussy coroner in a bow tie who saves rogue cop Nick Cheung’s bacon. Kinda fun and a good change of pace.

Psycho Francis, Never Compromise, 1999

26. Never Compromise: The ne plus ultra of Evil!Francis, here a heartless mass murderer who casually strangles prostitutes and shoots down entire families. Not really a good movie, but Francis is fascinating as the ultimate sociopathic loser. Great noodle-slurping scene after offing a cop with a hand grenade.

27. Heroic Duo: Francis plays a psychopathic, flashy bad guy and completely overshadows the nominal leads, the bland and boring Ekin Cheng and Leon Lai.

28. Fall For You: Pretty awful rom-com set in Paris, but it’s nice to see Francis as a romantic lead. He charmingly plays a free-spirited artist in the City of Lights who falls for Kristy Yeung, who looks disturbingly like a female Leslie Cheung (although not as charismatic).

29. Women From Mars: did I watch this movie?

30. Hands In The Hair: Francis in a supporting role as the husband of a neurotic and self-centered woman played by Rosamund Kwan. Francis nails it as the mild-mannered cuckolded husband while Rosamund proves again that she really can’t act.

31. McDull, the Alumni: Very cute sequel to My Life As McDull, the surprisingly charming animated kids’ movie. This one mixes live action and animation and has about three dozen cameos by Hong Kong’s biggest stars. Francis very briefly appears as a be-wigged judge in a hot-pot restaurant in a very funny scene with Cheung Tat-Ming and the incomparably entertaining Sandra Ng.

Dissolute Francis, Buttonman, 2009

32. Buttonman: A bloody mess, this extremely violent and nihilistic Taiwanese gangland thriller lacks narrative structure, logical character development, or any kind of directorial guidance. A melancholy Francis sports a James Caan perm and plays a burned-out triad who cleans up after mobster murders.

33. Tracing Shadow: Francis’ latest directorial effort kinda sucks, but some might like it for its excellent swordplay scenes. The dippy comedy falls flat, imho.

34. Triumph In The Skies (drama): Super-popular drama that made Francis a heartthrob in HK, this one focuses on the lives and romances of several airplane pilots. Francis is excellent as the upstanding pilot Sam Tong, whose thwarted love affair with Flora Chan consumes much of the thirty-plus episodes.

Pilot Francis, Triumph In The Skies, 2003

35. The Great Adventurer (drama): Long and languidly paced Mainland Chinese drama about the rise of a business tycoon and his best friend, played by Francis and Dayo Wong. TVB drama queen Flora Chan gets in the way as the scheming woman who comes between them. Surprisingly tepid, although a nattily dressed Francis gets to romance four different women in this one.

36. Healing Souls (drama): Francis as a brain surgeon (!) in a typical hospital soap opera. Much blood, bedside drama, and infectious diseases. Francis unfortunately has orange hair in this one.

May 8, 2010 at 6:15 am 11 comments

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