May 16, 2005


You have to hand it to some US movie reviewers: they're clinging to their cultural supremacy as hard as they can. The latest tactic: ew! Asians are violent and violence is nasty. The Hollywood Reporter gives a silly review to Johnnie To's ELECTION where there's no context given to the director's previous work (would anyone review some white director who's as prolific and accomplished as To is without mentioning the guy's previous work?) and there's that Manohla Dargis-brand "cover your eyes! the Asians are assaulting our moral sensibilities with their violence" form of phoney baloney shock and horror on display. YAWN.

Ain't It Cool reviews ELECTION as well, and while their review isn't much better, at least it drops this faux-outrage that's been infesting the precious reviews of the elderly folks who just don't get that rock n'roll the kids seem to be listening to. Dern noise!

(Thanks to Monkey Peaches)

May 16, 2005 at 06:39 AM in Reviews | Permalink


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Do you really think this disdain for extremely violent cinema, especially "artsploitation", is racist? IRREVERSIBLE was hated by most American critics. James Quandt's ARTFORUM article on the evils of artsploitation targeted French cinema, not Asian. It seems to me that many of the "fanboy"-bashing reviews for OLDBOY & SIN CITY were interchangeable.

Posted by: Steve | May 16, 2005 3:54:00 PM

I think it has more to do with familiarity than with race. Read the recent comments from Manohla Dargis regarding Cronenberg's HISTORY OF VIOLENCE which she calls "masterful" and then praises it for the exact same reasons that people praise SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, a movie she panned. Does this mean she's racist? No, of course not. Seeing a movie in Cannes gives it a sense of occasion and import that seeing SYMPATHY in NYC at a press screening or on a screener tape does not. Also, Cronenberg is a director whom most US critics are very comfortable and familiar with. They know his body of work, they know other critics' reactions and responses to his body of work, and they know that he's considered a "serious" director and that they can discuss him seriously without running the risk of being "wrong".

US critics are less familiar with modern Asian directors and tend to push them to the fringes of the conversation. The fact that they're not white, and the favored directors are white, just complicates matters.

Posted by: Grady Hendrix | May 17, 2005 8:44:54 PM

(me again)

This new argument about how "distasteful" violence is doesn't target non-white directors in and of itself, but it does seem to be the current criticism du jour. It's a little bit like calling a black person "athletic" or saying a Jewish person is "thrifty". Thrift and athleticism aren't negative traits, but they're applied in a context that is an implicit criticism of a race for a perceived characteristic. I think that's what's happening with this sniffy attitude towards violence in movies from Asian directors. It's an easy thing to reach for, it doesn't require much - if any - thought, and you've heard bigger name critics say it before you so you know you won't look too far off the mark saying it, so you say it. And you do so unaware of the fact that you're tarring all Asian directors with the same brush.

Posted by: Grady Hendrix | May 17, 2005 8:49:56 PM

Good point about Dargis praising A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE for the same reasons other people praise SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE. If Cronenberg were a first-time filmmaker, I doubt mainstream critics would be as receptive to his work. What did the NEW YORK TIMES think of THEY CAME FROM WITHIN and THE BROOD back in the day?

Despite Dargis' comments on Park Chan-wook, I think she knows Asian cinema well enough to know that all the region's films aren't like his. (For instance, she's written about Hong Sang-soo.) The danger lies more with people like Roger Ebert making generalizations about Korean films all being violent and nearly pornographic.

I still think the artsploitation backlash is aimed at least as much at France as at Asia. Is there a term equivalent to "Orientalism" to describe Americans' attitudes towards France, the land of intellectual conversations about love and philosophy, Jerry Lewis fandom and explicit, if not actually erotic, sex? There should be.

Posted by: Steve | May 18, 2005 10:16:46 AM

I think the bigger problem is that only the violent aspects of Asian films are exaggerated when they are introduced to the US critics and audience. I don't want to make any fallacy of generalization, but it's true that they don't seem much interested in non-violent Asian films.

I remember Rober Ebert gave 4 stars to OLDBOY, but it's a bit disappointing if he generalize all Korean films being violent and pornographic. Has he ever mentioned such viewpoints in any story?

Posted by: sunhee | May 20, 2005 5:57:27 AM

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