aapi, asian american, Essay, Korean-American, Literature, philosophy

The Thing That’s in a Korean Name: Goodbye “@aechjay”

I had the username “aechjay” since I was 15-years-old back in 2002 when I created it as a screen name for AOL instant messenger. I had been experimenting with lots of screen names since 1998. The one that I settled on was “aechjay” and it stayed with me for the last 20 years. I used it for all my social media sites since then.

“Aechjay” is the written pronunciation of two letters: “h” and “j.” This has always been like a secret code between myself and my most trusted individuals in my life. There are very few people in my life who still refer to me as “HJ” in conversations or in correspondences because today I go by “Grace.”

“HJ” are the initials of my two-syllable middle name, which was not always my middle name. These initials represent my given name at birth when I first emerged as a human being on this earth in Busan, Korea. My father named me “Hyun-ju.” “Hyun” is 賢 어질 현. It means benevolence. (It can also mean dizziness and chaos in some contexts though I don’t know the specifics of this function; but I love that meaning.) “Ju” is 珠 구슬 주 and is used to describe marbles and pearls, denoting beauty, wealth, and royalty.

Hyun-ju is a very common name for girls/women in Korea. When I go to hair salons in K-Town, one of the stylists is usually named Hyun-ju. Growing up, I ran into many Hyun-jus at Korean churches in New York and New Jersey.

“Hyun” is difficult for most English speakers to pronounce. It’s the same reason why everyone mispronounces the car company Hyundai. Ever since I moved to Brooklyn at age 5 with my parents, not a single teacher or peer pronounced my name correctly. They all had their own interpretation of how to pronounce my name.

Hyun became “hai-un,” “hyoon,” “hun,” or “hen.” Sometimes it became their own hallucinatory sound—some of which I can’t even recall. They would simply decide for themselves what to call me–whatever worked for them regardless of how I felt about it.

When my family moved out of Brooklyn to Palisades Park, New Jersey in 1995, I was suddenly in a densely Korean populated part of the state, and everyone could pronounce my name correctly. But this was brief. In 1999, my family moved back to New York but to Rockland County, New York, and not just any part of Rockland County but a notoriously very white part which is known around the area for being very racist. I went to Pearl River High School and my parents officially changed my name to “Grace” on school records but not on Paper with a capital ‘P.’ By this, I mean that my family and I were still undocumented. The school records, therefore, would be very inconsistent with where “Grace” was placed, but where it mattered like the yearbook or the attendance sheet, my Korean name “Hyun-ju” was always there.

I would be terrorized on the first day of the school year or whenever substitute teachers would read my name aloud in class. They would say a foreign sounding word as they read my name which made all the white students laugh hysterically and made the few minorities in class cower with embarrassment and shame that they projected onto me and received from me, which had them maintain distance from me for a few hours or days or sometimes the rest of high school.

The school I attended was all-white and mostly Irish but I learned how to pronounce impossible names like Deirdre and Siobhan without issue. We all did. It’s as if we had to. Hyun-ju was not a part of that possibility. Hyun-ju never received such privilege, respect or effort.

Actress Uzo Aduba went home as a child and asked her mother to change her name to an anglicized name. Her mother told young Uzoamaka, “If [white people] can learn to say Tchaikovsky and Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky, they can learn to say Uzoamaka.”

But my Korean parents did not have such confidence. Asian parents rarely have such confidence. They went to their Korean reverend and asked, “What should we rename Hyun-ju?” The reverend said the most common name among Korean American girls ever: “Grace.” There’s even a documentary about it called The Grace Lee Project by Grace Lee.

“Grace” and “Hyun-ju” are both extremely common in Korean America and Korea.

In 2002, I adopted “aechjay” as my screen name as a way to both hide my Korean name and be unabashedly transparent about it but in code. Korean Americans in my social circles knew what it represented. To everyone else, it was a mystery and I wanted it to stay that way. This was my way of protecting myself.

I kept it ever since but over the years, I’ve been seeing “aechjay” increasingly on other websites. When I tried to get “aechjay” as my Pinterest username, it was already taken by some white chick named Hannah something. Why the fuck does “Hannah” need “aechjay”? She doesn’t. Everyone here can pronounce “Hannah.” There are even some Koreans named “Hana.” So, what the fuck? Why would you take that away from me, Hannah?

In 2004, my family finally got our green cards. In 2005, my dad got his US naturalization which allowed me to get it because I was just two weeks shy of being eighteen years old. Had I been eighteen, I would’ve had to file for naturalization all over. I remember the officer at ICE saying, “You’re a lucky girl.” I don’t remember if she called me by my name. What I do remember is that she herself was a former immigrant. She was Chinese American and had an accent. She was short, stocky and wore glasses. She looked like a boss behind that large mahogany desk in a black office chair with two white men and the American flag standing behind her. She is pinned on my mental vision board for the rest of my life.

Now that we had our Papers, we could go and change our names. Guess what? My whole family changed our names. Both of my parents had the same shared trauma around their names because of racism and microaggressions they endured since 1992 as I did. Imagine having to live with shame with your own name. Not because there’s anything wrong with it, because there isn’t. It is a given name with love, intention, deep meaning, honor, and connects us to our ancestry. But once we leave that physical point of ancestral connection, that name becomes disconnected as well, and the Others in the Other Land treat that name as a foreign object just as they objectify us as foreigners and therefore object to our very being. Not having my name pronounced correctly is like keeping me on an eternal doorstep of the place I thought I was invited to. I stand outside that brick building, downstairs, in front of the door while I can see the bright light through the window upstairs, and can hear the bustling, the networking, the communicating, the calling of one another’s names with such familiarity.

I hate that I was ever made to hate my name.

I changed my name officially to “Grace” in the year 2009 as I was graduating from college. As I was leaving with that new name on my passport to travel abroad, I felt a sadness, like a loss. I kept “Hyun-ju” as my middle name even though this is technically a lie because “Hyun-ju” is what came first, but there I was prioritizing “Grace” just to accommodate America’s mainstream—America’s whiteness, America’s English, America’s colonial history and its Anglo roots.

Rage. Confusion. Confliction. Amputation. I was an amputee with a foreign object sewn onto my body so that I could more easily be identified and more easily pronounced by Others here in this country and in Other Western countries where I traveled to with my new American passport.

When I started teaching at UCLA in 2016, I noticed that students had the option to list their preferred name on attendance sheets to avoid precisely the trauma I lived with all throughout elementary, middle and high school. This made me feel a little better because this choice not only allows international and emigre students to have agency in what to be called, but also gives space to gender queer students who have a preferred name.

But when I saw that the college I was teaching at had the preferred name as part of their system, I felt a light tissue layer of anger lift from me, but I continued to feel the heavy, dull pain of my name deep inside of me. Not sure where. Perhaps my pelvis. Shaped like a bean. Magnetic. Dark blue surrounded by red. Reverberating at a very low frequency of self-inflicted shame, projected rage, and non-stop confused sadness.

In 2016, I went to the Margaret Herrick Library to look at Hollywood archives for a research paper I was writing on Asian American masculinity in 1930s movies. The white librarian there started to jot down my middle name as he was checking me in with my driver’s license. I corrected him and said, “You’re writing down my middle name. Grace is my first name.” He said, “Oh! Hey, don’t be embarrassed of your Asian name.”

I was so stunned that I couldn’t speak another word. Throughout the rest of my time at the library, I felt such deep conflicted rage at what he said. What right did he have to tell me how to feel about my name? And what right did he have to lecture me as a white man who never lived with the burden, terror, shame and trauma as I had from over a decade and a half of loops to get the Papers so that I could officially change my name to “Grace” in order to accommodate people precisely like him? What right did he have to tell me to not be ashamed of something when people like himself are the reason why I have this shame in the first place? What the fuck? Seriously. What the fuck.

I still feel so much anger when I reflect on this moment. Even as I type this, I just want to throw a heavy metal object at his head. Maybe something like an Oscar. “You don’t get it, do you?”

But in 2021, I started to reconsider it while meditating for long periods of time. I’m not aechjay anymore. I’m more certain of who I am than I was in my teen years and throughout my 20s. I’m not aechjay anymore.

I’m Grace Jung. In fact, “grace” is already a part of my given name. Hyun, which means benevolence, rings grace.

“Grace Jung” is how I get introduced before I get up on stage to a crowd of people—my audience—who laugh at my words and bring a feeling of elation, acceptance, applause and praise.

It’s how I introduce myself on my podcast K-Drama School in my monologues.

It’s how I introduce myself at parties, at auditions when I slate, and in emails when I make a cold-contact. “Grace Jung” is what I see in the director credits when my film screens at film festivals. “Grace Jung” is what I see on the cover of my published books.

I saw two old friends from my recent past last night. The woman T is a filmmaker. The man A is an actor. They are Koreans from Kazakhstan—a married couple with a baby daughter. I haven’t seen them in over five years. They are still both very beautiful and still emanating love for each other and for everyone around them. T said, “You’ve transformed since I saw you last. You have a whole new identity.”

T was not wrong. “aechjay” was so close to my heart and my being, but it was also tied to my sense of shame around my name which came with anger, hatred and mistrust which are symptoms of endured racism in this country.

In 2021, when I was meditating, I kept feeling this deep urgency to let go of “aechjay” but I couldn’t. I would start to change it as a username handle and then immediately revert back to “aechjay.” But since last week, I have begun changing it here and there.

Even my website, which used to be aechjay.com is now gracejungcomedy.com.

Our identities change when our relationship with our past changes, and as that happens, our spirit changes. It finds realignment with where we are physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally. I have made leaps in the last two years that I never thought I could. During that process, I shed the heavy metal bean inside of me, too.

For now, goodbye, @aechjay.

Standard
Book, cinema and media studies, Essay, Fiction, Film, philosophy

When the Movie is Better Than the Book: Drive My Car and I’m Thinking of Ending Things

A week before my 35th birthday, I kept having a recurring dream involving cars and me losing something significant to me. I was sitting in the back seat of a boxy old red car, being driven by someone I did not know. I pulled out my keys, cellphone and wallet, and placed them on the seat of the car, which had stopped on the freeway. I stepped out of the car, then the car just drove away, joining the myriad of other cars. I started to panic because everything that was important to me was in that car and now lost. I knew where to go though. I went to the airport because, for some reason, I knew that the car would be at the airport. When I got there, however, the airport parking lot had hundreds if not thousands of other cars parked and I could not fathom ever locating this boxy old red car to recover my belongings. Nevertheless, I felt determined to find it, and I began my search. Then the dream ended. I dreamt a similar dream a few days later in a slightly different iteration.

Then one late Saturday night, I felt determined to go and see Drive My Car by Ryusuke Hamaguchi—a film based on a Haruki Murakami short story called “Drive My Car” found in a short story collection called Men Without Women. I stopped reading Murakami books shortly after graduating college over ten years ago. There are many authors whose works I’ve stopped reading after college and it’s generally because I exhausted myself of their works by reading almost everything they’d ever written while I was in school. I read pretty much everything that Murakami published up until 2009, and I did the same with Vonnegut and Bukowski by 2010. Today, when I try to read works by these authors, I find myself losing interest almost immediately from the first paragraph in. It’s because I’ve lost interest in these authors. Even if they write anything new, it wouldn’t feel all that different to me because I feel as though I know their voice at this point, and it wouldn’t matter that they had anything new to say. It would be said in the same way. It’s like watching a Hong Sang-soo film. It’s the same film pretty much every single time. Even if I don’t see it, I know what I’m getting. And the window to access their worlds is now completely shut for me. This is not a sad thing. It’s just a shut window. I have other opened windows where my reading attention is now fully dedicated to.

That Saturday—February 19th—I was quite determined to locate a lamp. I had been eyeing this multi-headed, brass floor lamp from Target for a year now. My floor lamp had stopped working the night before, and I threw it out without any attachment because my heart was now set on this new lamp that I finally had a reason to purchase. I went to my go-to Target on Sepulveda, but they were sold out. I went to another Target in North Hollywood. They were also sold out. A staff member told me that the Target in Van Nuys—a location I was not even aware of despite it being the closest to where I’ve lived these last three years—had just one left in stock. When I went to that location, the one that they had in stock was the floor sample, and it was too big for me to fit in my car, so I left it behind. Instead, I purchased a way smaller lamp to tide me over till I could locate a floor lamp that satisfies me. Then I drove to Burbank to catch the last showing of Drive My Car.

My decision to see this film at such a late hour was very last minute but it came with some culmination. I had been thinking about seeing the film for a couple of weeks but I knew nothing about it. I only knew that there was a lot of Oscar buzz around it, and that it was based on fiction written by Murakami. While I do not choose to read Murakami, I am interested in seeing a filmic interpretation of his works since he is not the one delivering it. Perhaps this is a new way for me to access the authors I’d loved reading many years ago when I was a completely different person.

At the opening scenes, I was a bit shocked because the old boxy red car I’d seen in my dream was exactly what was on the screen. There’s an old red Saab in the film which I guess you could say is partially the film’s protagonist. It’s the subject of the film and the short story. The car. And one of the places that the car drives to is the airport. These are familiar coincidences for me. I’ve had precognitive dreams before, but this is the first time I’ve consciously witnessed a fusion between a film I’ve never seen before melding with my subconscious.

I was incredibly moved by this film. It’s a daring movie. Runtime is almost 3 hours. That’s bold. Even though I’m a film scholar, I hardly have the patience to sit through films longer than 90 minutes. If it’s longer than 90 minutes, it had better be a work of art. Drive My Car is a work of art. It is masterful and full of complex feeling. After seeing this movie, I immediately put Murakami’s book on hold at the library, and I finished reading the short story “Drive My Car” this morning. The fiction is far less interesting than the film, and Hamaguchi’s adaptation of it for the screen is a completely different and massive animal.

Hamaguchi developed whole new characters with whole new lives and entirely new circumstances for his film. Murakami’s short story is a very lightly etched sketch where the graphite meets the paper with the least amount of force. Hamaguchi’s script is an oil pastel drawing that covers every blank space of the page. Then let that oil pastel drawing sit over a hot plate. Watch the movements of the colors blend, meld and animate on the page’s surface. Then watch the waxy liquid rise and become full bodies with full movements. That is Hamaguchi’s film. The film version of Drive My Car has far more life, thought, question, and feeling than Murakami’s short story. The characters who resonated quite deeply with me are Yoo-na and Misaki. Yoo-na is not in the short story but she is the tender heart of the film. Weirdly, Hamaguchi’s film feels very much like a Murakami short story. The concept of Oto narrating stories in a trance-like state while having sex with her husband and her lovers feels Murakami-esque. The scene with Yoo-na leaving an impression on Kafuku with her sign language delivery in the audition feels Murakami-esque. When Yoo-na is later revealed to be Yoon-soo’s wife who was once a dancer but suffered an abortion which subsequently caused her to quit dancing and find acting feels Murakami-esque. And yet none of these details are in Murakami’s short story. They are all from Hamaguchi’s mind. Perhaps this is what makes a masterful adaptation–to adapt one’s stories into the voice of the author whose work one’s work is based on.

Part of the reason why I stopped reading Murakami is precisely this preoccupation with female bodies and sexuality as oracles into a man’s deeper understanding or knowledge of himself. I see this time and time again in Murakami’s books and stories, and by the time I was 22, I had had quite enough of it. It felt, to me, elementary and a bit exploitative. I wrote a whole essay on the topic which Thought Catalog published. While this hang-up on a woman’s sexuality as being mysterious is present in Hamaguchi’s film, it did not feel abusive. I guess because the stories that Oto narrates felt so allegorical, and serve such a concrete purpose in the film—a concreteness that Murakami’s stories tend to lack. Hamaguchi also melded Chekov’s play Uncle Vanya into his script in such a nuanced and fine-tuned way, more deeply reflecting the souls of each of his own script’s characters, that I was left impressed by his craftsmanship as a screenwriter. Hamaguchi’s film showcases how humanity reveals itself with great might in scenarios where it is grossly absent like when Oto dies and Kafuku develops a relationship with Takatsuki. Or how Misaki’s driving is perfectly smooth because she chauffeured her physically abusive mother around since she was in middle school. How Takatsuki’s acting gains human understanding and substance only after taking away a man’s life. How the theater company remains softly and coldly resolved to replace Takatsuki and go on with the show mere minutes after Takatsuki’s arrest and confinement, which finally draws out a human response from Kafuku who’d remained deadened to human emotions after the death of his daughter and wife.

The scene when Kafuku embraces Misaki and delivers lines of support that reverberate from Chekov’s play is cinematically and theatrically moving. Seeing Misaki play with the Korean couple’s dog as a way to express joy at Kafuku’s compliment of her driving and later seeing her with a dog of her own in Korea while driving Kafuku’s car brings such subtle yet lasting joy, like a distinct flavor in a soup that I can conjure time and time again years after I’ve had the soup but never being able to name what ingredient it was and never wishing to know.

 In the mainstream, critics and audiences frequently say that movies are never as good as the books but Drive My Car is an instance where the film outshines the story. It’s like comparing a star to a candlelight.

I’ve recently had another experience where the film broke all expectations for me compared to the book it is based on and that is I’m Thinking of Ending Things.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a 2020 movie written and directed by Charlie Kaufman that is on Netflix. It came out in 2020—the same year that the world came to a full stop and I had all the time and mental capacity to rewatch the same movie over and over again trying to gain footing in it. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a challenging film but not without brilliance. It’s like trying to read a difficult book. It’s comparable to reading Kaufman’s novel Antkind which came out the same year that his film was released. I’ve been reading Antkind for four months now, and I’ve only now past the midway section. It is a difficult book but also hilarious. It’s Kaufman-esque in the way that I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a difficult film. But I love this film for so many reasons, and after I first saw it, I rewatched it again almost immediately and a couple times more thereafter. Each time I watch it, I can see it with new eyes.

The film follows a woman played by the wonderful Jessie Buckley visiting her boyfriend’s parents’ house in a snowy wintery night, and that’s pretty much the whole movie. But it has so much strangeness and heavy beauty throughout. It’s hard to tell whose mental breakdown we are following because everybody appears to be having a mental breakdown. There is also a mysterious elderly male janitor spliced in there who we follow without being able to connect why we follow him. The film has a poetry recitation, a school musical, and a dance number. They all do the work of making the story more than what it is—a movie.

When I first saw Adaptation, I was 17. I didn’t know how the film was going to unfold but I was engrossed in it. My classmates started to yell in agony when they saw that Charlie Kaufman had a twin brother Donald Kaufman, and they said, “This had better not be a movie about a guy imagining his own twin brother.” The film is and is not about that very thing, and being that ambiguous is what makes Adaptation a brilliant film. Kaufman is an expert at using hackneyed concepts in his film yet skirting the hack part of it by making it completely and unpredictably new. That’s the service of the poem, the musical number and the dancing in I’m Thinking of Ending Things the film. I read the novel I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid which the film is based on and the book is far less luminous precisely because the ending reveals this lackluster hackneyed concept so brazenly. Yes. We’ve been reading a single man’s mental breakdown and ultimate suicide all this time. How jejune. But we never come to this conclusion or realization in Kaufman’s film version. No sure nail to the head is necessary. It is never ever necessary if it means the life of a far greater story and its characters. Kaufman’s film does hint at this conclusive possibility all throughout but it could be from anyone’s position—the boyfriend’s, the girlfriend’s, the old man’s, the father’s or the mother’s. Even the pig’s. Even the anxious teenaged employee at the ice cream shop. It doesn’t matter because the film is not about coming to a conclusive resolution. It’s an attempt at maintaining the film’s life, letting that resound and reverberate as questions, possibilities, frustration, sadness, joy, madness, or whatever else and holding it for as long as possible. That resonation continues to ring long after the film ends. It still rings. In that sense, Kaufman’s style is expertly Modern.

I think this is what makes a film so different from a written story. I’m both a writer and a filmmaker, and I sense their vast differences whenever I work on a new project. When I write, I write with such freedom, and the worlding that I produce feels like a privilege. When I make a film, it feels far more difficult to create the worlding because the pieces are so many and it takes an enormous amount of energy to maintain that world in the mind upon creation, but I enjoy it nonetheless because the end result is a true visual manifestation of what I held in my mind and so much more which everyone can see with their eyes and hear with their ears, grounding viewers into a singular collective experience which splinter off into various subjective opinions and emphases. When making a film, though, the writing is what takes place first. The script, yes, but also the artist’s statement, and the synopsis and the logline. The emails. The pitch. The convincing to get the capital. The words come first. The visuals last. Then after the visuals, the words return again, like it does here.

The difference is that the words can be transformed into the most unpredictable outcomes in a film whereas in a story, the words remain as those words, and the worlding that takes place in the reader’s mind is their own private ritual. This is also what makes reading a special activity. In the case with Drive My Car and I’m Thinking of Ending Things, I felt that the worlds that these filmmakers created for me as the reader of these stories far surpasses anything I envisioned in my mind, and for that I feel a big chunk of gratitude this very moment.

Standard
Film, Literature, Novel, philosophy

what’s in a title?–ARRIVAL (2016) and CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (2017)

since i have a phd in film and tv studies, i guess i’ll leave a couple drops of knowledge (they’re mostly just thoughts) on these two films–Arrival and Call Me By Your Name. my thoughts are unrelated but they could be related if one thinks on it long enough.

it’s really about the titles of these two films.

why is Arrival called “arrival”? the film was actually a short story entitled, “The Story of Your Life,” written by Asian American author named Ted Chiang who writes sci-fi. it was adapted into a screenplay by Eric Heisserer who wrote Birdbox.

Arrival is about a linguist named Louise Banks who gets hired by the US military to figure out what the aliens who arrived on earth want to communicate and for what purpose. the aliens tell Banks that she has the gift of being able to know the future. this is what made the movie so wonderful for me: time is utilized as language. i find this idea quite marvelous and beautiful.

ok–so the title then is not just about the arrival of aliens. it’s about Banks arriving to the future flashes she’s seen or “remembered.” “recall” and “memory” are no longer the past for Banks; they are also the future. thus, Banks is arriving. the film is about Banks’s arrival to her present/future self and her ideations, understandings, catharsis, realizations, etc.

the film Call Me By Your Name is also based on a work of fiction written by Italian fiction writer André Aciman. it was adapted for the screen by James Ivory who has experience adapting literary works; Ivory directed A Room with a View (1985).

well, why did, in fact, Oliver suggest to Elio that he call him by his name and vice versa? what is the point of calling one’s lover by one’s own name?

the ending of the film is a static long take of Elio sitting by the fire staring into it for an extended period of time right after getting off the phone with Oliver. Oliver and Elio both called each other by each other’s names over the phone, just as they had when they first became physically intimate as lovers. after Elio hangs up, he sits by the fire, gazing at it, appearing to be either deep in thought or no thought at all.

and nothing is happening. nothing is being said. we just see Elio gazing into the fire.

suddenly, his mother calls out to him: “Elio.”

then Elio looks up from the fire and breaks the fourth wall.

eureka!

the meaning of the film’s title comes to us full force: because Elio called Oliver by his own name, “Elio,” whenever Elio hears his own name, he will think of Oliver.

and the fourth wall breakage is Luca Guadagnino’s way of asking the audience: “get it?”

this was a brilliant directional choice by Guadagnino. it is subtle yet impactful, hidden yet obvious, and an easter egg only for the ones in the know.

Standard
Book, korea, Korean-American, philosophy, translation

hippie thoughts on Peruvian migrants in South Korea, spirituality, capitalism, shamans and forgetting.

The pastors at Korean churches are the first-contacts with the globe, in a way.

It makes sense.

How did Korea become this bizarre portal country that mixes up and alters established or existing politico-economic expectations (and yet, the country is, ironically, extremely obsessed with conformity)?

I was at a UC Berkeley event where Professor Erica Vogel discussed her book Migrant Conversions: Transforming Connections between Peru and South Korea.

Dr. Vogel spent many years in South Korea documenting the migrant experiences of Peruvians who immigrated there in search of capital gain.

Quite a few of her subjects wound up in Korean protestant churches, found salvation, and spiritual freedom.

Right there. Can we stop for a second there?

Peru (formerly the Inca Empire) was first invaded by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. Peru’s indigenous spirituality and religion was suppressed and Christian coloniality began to wipe out ancient modes of spirituality.

South Korea (formerly known as just Korea) first encountered Christianity in the late 19th century, then a little more impactfully during the Korean War in mid-20th century. Even prior to that, during Japanese colonization, there were short stories written about shamanism in Korea. Shamans were accused of greed from the community because they charge money for their services (which isn’t immoral but a basic necessity since that is their occupation) but this disdain for shamans did not emerge UNTIL the white Christians came to Korea. White Christian missionaries brought free food and medicine for free. On the Lord’s dime! And made shamans look completely absurd.

As Park Chung-hee’s military dictatorship brought on South Korea’s economic transformation, a part of him also waged a battle against Korean indigenous religion/spirituality for fear of it making Koreans appear wayward and uncivilized (again, compared to how WASPs would conduct themselves in a church). Literally, watch how a mudang conducts a ritual versus how a Catholic priest conducts a service…and THEN watch how a protestant Korean pastor conducts a sermon during a “revival” retreat).

Korean shamanism and indigenous spirituality isn’t gone. It’s just flocked over to other parts of the cultural realm.

South Korea now has Peruvian migrants who enter the country—this country that was once in the position of being a labor-export has now recently transformed into labor-import; “allelujah amen” cry the Korean church congregation.

As Christianity keeps gaining power and spreading (through its evangelical methods), South Korea keeps on dying; keeps on confusing; keeps on abusing; keeps on suffering.

Buddhism is still prominent but Christianity has successfully taken on its hegemonic position in the nation.

Indigenous spirituality is increasingly going forgotten, hidden, erased, lost, removed, smudged, mixed up, tossed into a pile somewhere then dragged out onto the street for the garbage truck to pick up (and where does that garbage then go?! Lord, help us. Buddha, guide us. to what “underdeveloped” country that suffers the consequences of the material greed and waste of a “developing/developed” nation completely obsessed with trends, e.g., fashion, cosmetics, media, etc.)

Korean pastors in South Korea are some of the first people who encounter migrants from other countries.

Pastors are spiritual leaders. They meet and convert the folks who come to them seeking monetary salvation.


Just as the white missionaries did for indigenous/pre-Christian Korea, present-day Koreans do onto the migrating Peruvians seeking greater financial gain/relief/stability in Korea the land of…rice? and red peppers? (placeholders until I can think of a more clever way to adapt “milk and honey”). 

Peruvian migrants find salvation in the Korean church. Some get community funding to help with their daughter’s heart surgery back in their motherland.

They attribute this to god’s work. But the fact is, wherever there is a community, there is god regardless of religious boundaries.  

Meanwhile, Koreans continue to die. They continue to suffer the plague of “first world” nations; the mental/emotional/spiritual barrenness that drive them to their own demise at their own hands. Drive them to drink. Drive them to abusing others and themselves.

Meanwhile, the country that is mostly responsible for South Korea’s Jesus-freaked state has some of its most wealthy members taking their own trips (micro-migrations/temporary retreats) to Peru in search of—get this—PERUVIAN INDIGENOUS SPIRITUALITY in the form of shamans and their psychedelic medicines.

Political scientists and economists point to the 1970s as South Korea’s economic “miracle.” I wonder what spiritual awakening was taking place during this time as well. Did any South Korean influencers/leaders take psychedelics during their travels around the world? I mean, they MUST have.

When a South Korean corporate friend of mine told me that she and her design company attended Burning Man one year for “research,” I asked if she or any of her colleagues took any psychedelics. She said, “No.” I said, “What was the point of your trip? You guys did zero research. What a waste of money.”

It’s so interesting how Peruvian migrants in South Korea look to South Korea for Christian salvation and associate it with goodness when Peruvians were already colonized by Spanish Christianity centuries before Korea was.  

South Koreans are down with trends and image (hence Park Chung-hee’s suppression of shamans in the country… and what a detriment that was…! think of the money you’re missing out on with spiritual tourism from WASPy nations, Chung-hee!).

The WASP nations and their people are now turning their gaze towards the East for its spirituality, and Latin America for its spiritual medicines. In the meantime, governments of the “global South” are always striving for its economic status to mirror that of the white countries.

Don’t you see the message? There is nothing there. Economic stability = spiritual barrenness and therefore greater chaos, disillusion, confusion, sadness, emotional and mental instability, and death. South Korea should already know this. (It already knows it—just forgot it); these bodies are temporary vessels that we shed; in the end, all we have is consciousness and a desire to connect and make something new that is good and fair.

Even SK’s hang up on Confucian hierarchies. Man! There is no hierarchy! There is no taller than or shorter than, bigger than or smaller than, greater than or lesser than! There is nothing. There is nothing.

But there is something in the colors that you see at your temples. There is something in the thousand year trees in your land. There is something in the records left behind at your temples by those deep meditators—your ancestors and teachers.

And there is something beautiful in the way that Korean spiritual leaders meet these Peruvian migrant workers. Both of them need something from each other and find it. And in that sense, the Christian dogma becomes, almost, irrelevant. They are just finding each other naturally like a mother would find its child or a child would find its father. They just find each other. Across the seas and lands. Past the gates and borders. The way they find each other and meld these histories or dissolve them like sugar in warm water. Like honey in jasmine tea. I find that righteous. That is something to witness (with gratitude).

But I now want for Peruvians to re-enter their own spiritual spheres of history and find that COSMOPOLITAN GLITZY STATUS that they really truly are seeking. Man. It’s right there! You didn’t need to go anywhere! It was right there! You’re the one with all the good shit! These white spiritually lost souls are paying GOOD MONEY to go to your land! Chasing money takes us nowhere! Chasing love, life and light take us everywhere.

I want for Koreans to re-enter their own spiritual hemispheres of ancient wonder, ritual and connecting. Man. It’s RIGHT fucking there. Whenever we chase money, we only always find death, chaos and confusion. Look at us now. After accepting the…I dunno, was it Tylenol? Was it a piece of bread?…look at us after accepting those substances. What is Tylenol and a free piece of bread compared to the prayer of a shaman mother for her shaman daughter and the dreams you have of your great grandmother? What is that compared to you as parents NOT condemning or demonizing your daughter when she gets marked with her spiritual calling to be a mudang?

Why does everything need to get reduced to Jesus or Satan? What good does that ridiculous binary do in our ability to understand the ancient spiritual teachings that were already given to us a millennia ago?

It just blinds us to those words. Just covers up our ears. Turns them into a loud rumbling noise like the sound of a plane engine going off right inside your ear drum—a sound I hear sometimes as I fall asleep at night sometimes, and a sensation that I do not fear, but a sensation that Western medicine pathologizes and reduces to a “seizure” and which Christianity reduces to Satan.

Hey man! We already know what these things are. We’re already connected to the eons that our flesh and blood relatives lived. They’re all in us. Their information and memories and joys and traumas are in us. Live in us. We live them out.  

We have the knowledge. It’s just about accessing them.

We do not need to cross land and sea to get to them. They are in our skin, hair, memory, dream, chair, window, across the street at your neighbor’s house, in the sunset you look at around 5:30PM in the mountains in the late winter/early spring in the hills of wherever you are.  

It’s all there, man. It’s just about accessing it with the right keys.

The right keys are in you. They are in the whispers down below where status/image obsessed dictators drove them to. They are in the Amazonian treasures that Peruvians have known for eons already. It’s there. Just seek them out. Just like those WASPy people are just starting to discover them now, even though we ourselves have forgotten our own indigeneity.

Standard
aapi, Art, asian american, comedy, Essay, Gender Studies, ideology, korea, Korean-American, Literature, philosophy

the INTJ-female Korean American rationale

The first Google search engine result when I look up “INTJ woman” is an article written by a fucking MAN.

Can you believe that shit? The system is against us. This is why we’re always yelling at you or rolling our eyes and just not bothering. We just can’t be bothered. We must ignore you.

The rest of the search engine results for “INTJ woman” were articles all written by white women. I don’t have anything against white women other than I don’t (can’t) always relate.

This essay is about INTJ-womanhood as me—a Korean American woman with the INTJ personality type.

The thing about these Myers-Briggs personality categories is that they just offer a surface-description of personalities and don’t offer any explanation as to why it is (nothing ever just is [unless you’re on psychedelics or meditating very deeply or something]).

I am the INTJ personality type. INTJ stands for Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking and Judgment. It’s also referred to as the “architect” personality type.

I took this test about 10 years ago and had the same result whenever I took the test again since (2 more times).

I can relate to this personality type a lot. For one, being INTJ-female is the rarest. INTJ women make up less than 1% of all women. I’m bad at math but it’s like 4 out of every 500 women are INTJs (according to those other sources written by white people).

here’s a descriptive list of INTJ females:

independent

confident/assertive

eye-on-the-ball/focused

appreciates alone time (isolation)

not a good team player

doesn’t respect or trust most authorities

no-nonsense

type-A

creative thinkers

appreciates authenticity

are good leaders by design but does not want to lead most of the time

extremely private

hates incompetence

hates time-wasters

hates inefficiency

loves (good) art

loves newness/innovation

appreciates professionalism

appreciates good skill/talent

A weird Google search engine result for “INTJ female” is the question, “Are INTJ females attractive?”

What a stupid fucking question. Why don’t you cut to the heart of what you really want to ask which is, “Are INTJ females bitches?”

That really depends but if you ask me, I’ll say that if an INTJ woman is being a bitch, she’s being a bitch because the situation 100% calls for that reaction/response, and she is nothing but RIGHT.

INTJ women are efficient as fuck. We hate wasting time and energy on anything not worth our damn. So if we take the time to engage, we do it because we feel it is worthy of our engagement, even if it means giving someone a talking to, yelling, or expressing assertion and/or correction. But most of the time, we really don’t want to be bothered with anyone’s shit.

Why are we so bent on being corrective? Well, have you seen the world? It needs constant correcting and changing. We can see the mistakes, errors, injustice, etc. We see them very vividly and clearly. They torment us.

So when we speak up, trust that we know what we are saying/doing. Thank us for offering some guidance.

Even if you don’t think we are right, you will never ever change our minds. We will always wonder, “Why aren’t they just thanking us for telling them that they walked out of the bathroom with their skirt tucked into their underwear?”

You think that INTJ women are “insensitive.”

We are. We have no time for sensitivity. You know why? Because we see the bigger picture. We’re focused on getting the job done and not so much on anybody’s fucking feelings.

Does that mean INTJ women don’t feel? Absolutely not. I feel everything all the time. That’s why I have to ignore certain people when I enter the room or disengage a lot of the times. As an INTJ woman, I have a hard time not being a deep empath. I feel everything very intensely so I developed boundaries as a skill. This took many years to hone. I did it for my survival and my own sanity.

We’re intuitive and quick to judge not because there’s anything wrong with you but because we are highly sensitive. The irony is that we may appear insensitive. But whenever you see anyone being insensitive, you can bet your money that that person is acutely sensitive. That is, in fact, how the world is, and how most people are.

INTJs are not good team players.

Yeah, this is true. I don’t like being part of assigned teams that I had no part in creating. Even when I create my own team, I still find one or two players I regret adding (and they become reminders of my mistake/error, and I despise them for it even more).

I don’t like working as a group or in teams. Why? Because of the same problem mentioned earlier. I see how everybody is doing something wrong. I can see a faster path or direction but the rest don’t. And I have trouble communicating that politely—in a way that would not hurt anyone’s fucking feelings. I’m gritting my teeth trying not to say, “Are you stupid?” So I either shut down completely (disengage) or I speak up and watch people cry.

Noticing when something goes wrong and being attentive to it makes INTJ women great problem solvers but it doesn’t mean we can always solve the problem. The fact is, harmonium is required in a team mission. Feelings should not be injured. Ideas should not be shot down. But INTJ women are impatient and we have a hard time dealing with the “normal” slow-paced “warm-up” to reaching those goals. We’ll be rolling our eyes the whole way through. Even though a part of us knows that this is the right way, we still won’t agree with it or trust it. If an INTJ woman is particularly silent during group work, just know that she is doing everything she can to PRESERVE harmonium by not speaking up and damaging morale. Just thank her for that. She’ll contribute when she feels ready/wants to.

INTJs are not good with authority.

Yes. Of course we’re bad with authority. We don’t trust anyone but ourselves. How could we trust a fucking stranger who was randomly assigned to be the leader in our lives? Does it mean that we NEVER trust authority? Not true. We all need good mentors/leaders/examples/teachers. INTJ women have GREAT role models and teachers at all times. In fact, see who INTJ women look up to. You’ll learn a LOT.

INTJ women befriend many strong and successful women. We gravitate towards them naturally because they’ve already EARNED our respect as fellow successful women. They are living the life WE aspire to. So they are our respected leaders/examples, and when they say “go” or “sit” we will militantly oblige. However, if anyone who is an authority figure LOSES our respect, there’s a good chance that they will never regain it back fully in this lifetime. (Perhaps we can begin again in another lifetime. But as for this, it’s over.) There are jobs I had where I saw my performance dipping real fast in direct correlation to how much respect I had for my supervisor. No matter how much I tried or how much they tried, once the respect was gone, there was no bringing it back. Scary for some people but completely logical for fellow INTJ women like me.

Bosses have been baffled at my behavior and comments. If they tell me to do something that I don’t understand, I never do them. If I do, I’ll fuck it up. If they say something that offends me, I straight up tell them that what they said was rude (because it is rude to be sexist, racist, classist, stupid, etc.)

It’s not that we stubbornly wish to be this way. It’s that we have major trust issues. This difficulty with authority comes from experience. We’re not just anti-authority a priori. We have lived experience with untrustworthy authority figures be they parents, teachers, any adult, any older person, church leaders, politicians, bosses, etc. Call us jaded. Call us stubborn. Call us pitiful. Call us enlightened.

The fact is, all leaders have some dirt, and it’s a good thing INTJ women are here sitting with our legs crossed in the corner with a cigarette, side-eyeing some rich fuck who thinks they’re hot shit just because they think they have the right to be. We can’t even bother to laugh. It’ll exert energy onto an undeserved place.

For INTJ women, we don’t respect anything that insists on being a GIVEN. We need to see the goods, the work, the proof. We need to see it and feel it. And even then, as long as you have authority, there’s a good chance we still won’t trust you because the very notion of hierarchy is absurd to us anyway.

We’re just like, “Why aren’t you under a tree somewhere smoking a joint and coloring in a sketch book? Instead, you’re sitting here talking way too much about shit that nobody cares about and calling yourself a leader. Just buy some big shoes and call yourself a clown instead. That’s all you’ll ever be: A CLOWN. And a shitty one, too.”

INTJs make good/bad leaders.

INTJs have the make-up to become good leaders but we hate leading because it means we’ll have attention. The INTROVERTED part of our personality and our agitation with authority make us detest being leaders. We won’t lead unless it is absolutely called for. I noticed this about myself very viscerally when people asked me to co-produce live comedy shows with them. I would think about it and make a long as list as to WHY it would benefit me in the long run to do such a thing because producing shows is a huge fucking pain in the ass. I hate doing it. I hate my co-producer while doing it. I hate everybody while doing it. It’s a nightmare. Everybody sucks.

I did it twice, and I never want to do it again. Co-producing live comedy shows as an INTJ woman is a fucking nightmare. If you’re an INTJ woman, I think you can relate.

We don’t like it when a million parts are moving and people keep asking me STUPID fucking questions. Whenever anyone asks me a question, I almost always ask myself first if that question is stupid. 65% of the time, yes, it’s a stupid fucking question (why are they asking it?!).

It annoys me when people make me repeat myself (inefficient; shows that they lack listening skills). It annoys me when people don’t know how to help themselves (incompetent; shows that they lack problem-solving skills).

In this regard, we’d make terrible leaders, and we know it fully.

Good leaders are attentive and respectful of all questions and contributions. We fully know that we don’t have the emotional bandwidth to handle that, so we will naturally back out.

We’ll only step up as leaders IF AND WHEN a situation absolutely calls for it. And that’s not to say that we’re not bossy anyhow. We are hella bossy, and not fucking sorry.

INTJ women are not sorry.

This is true and not true. I am sorry all the time for the way that I am, and this is why all the blog posts you read on INTJ women say that “INTJ females are the most misunderstood.”

We can’t help but be who we are and how we are. Greater self-awareness and mindfulness help a lot but can only go so far when we start to feel like our own space is being taken up by others.

We are radically independent (like hamsters!!!). We are fastidious and quick (we love efficiency!!!). We like PARTICULAR people. We LOVE them. We dislike or are not interested in most people.

We are misunderstood because of this. And people think we are unapologetically bitchy or mean. Not true. The damage that our personality types cause do bring us grief but we’ll never show it or tell you to your face. We will tell our closest allies or our therapists or ourselves when we’re on mushrooms, and do what we can to adjust to your needs.

But we won’t guarantee it. Because we really fucking love ourselves for who we are and how we are.

I love myself so much and I am grateful to my personality type for protecting me at all times. This personality is an armor. That’s why INTJ women are so misunderstood. That’s why your stupid fucking question, “Are INTJ women attractive?” is the wrong question.

To assume that INTJ women are unfeeling, disassociating, insensitive, or lack insight is a grave mistake. We are hypersensitive, always feeling, fully in-the-know of how we impact people, and that is why we compartmentalize the way we do, and we do it by ignoring or not responding or withholding or whatever demeaning words you want to replace the aforementioned with.

We’re the rarest because we’re special, and we’re required in all societies. Having one of us in your corner is a blessing, so count us in your prayers every night, little babies.

But leave us alone to do our thing at our own pace. That’s the greatest gift you can give us. We’ll notice you doing this and grow lonely and come to you on our own. Respect the dance of push-and-pull (밀당). But don’t over-do it. There’s nothing we dislike more than affected anything (words, behaviors, art, conversation, etc.). If it’s not authentic and not called for, we’ll just be like, “Why the fuck is this in here?”

INTJ women are creative.

Yes, and we have to be. Creativity doesn’t just apply to the arts although I am an artist. Creativity applies to any kind of critical thinking. Whenever I work in groups and I see people thinking just one way, I lose my shit because I’m like, “Hello? Why are you not looking out the fucking window? There’s a bigger world out there.”

We manage our creativity by spending time alone to recharge, meditate, self-reflect, grow, heal, and listen to our “muse.” We need that alone time to hear our own independent/authentic voice so that we don’t repeat what others say (inefficient!!!) or offer a no-good idea (incompetent!!!). We’re the hardest on ourselves. If an INTJ woman hurt your feelings today, check in on her. She probably demolished her own feelings that same afternoon. You got off easy, kid.

“The INTJ Korean woman is a fucking weirdo and she scares me.

Yeah? So what. No one asked you. Sit down. Go read a book in the corner or something.

Being Asian American, I often encounter confusion, chaos, and offense as a reaction to who/how/what I am. I don’t believe in uncalled for politeness. I abhor despise small talk. I don’t understand hierarchy. Living this life in the female body as a Korean, Korean American and Asian American is tough.

The world expects me to be subservient, unopinionated, quiet, “respectful,” caregiving, emotionally available to others and not myself according to information they got from the dumbest places ever–wanna hear it? OTHER SCREENS. Projections imagined/constructed by filmmakers, TV writers, internet bloggers, etc–people who are not ME and have no business creating and projecting some hull of what I am supposed to be on massive mediated screens that you absorb and wind up believing (ugh–when the fuck will you learn?)

These non-Korean-American-female-INTJs with influence think they know something. Now is your cue to laugh: LOL. They don’t know jack shit.

I am the opposite (or completely off-the-wall something else) of all of that which was imagined FOR you by those who are NOT me. And I wasn’t always like this. When it came to those I really loved and admired, I poured all of these very limited affective labors (awareness, sensitivity, respect, dedication) onto them, and they all let me down. Sometimes the JUDGMENT side can be weak when it is tarnished by admiration or love (this is why we often times don’t adore or love or respect). ‘Tis a lonely life for the INTJ woman.

And our judgment protects us because of the pattern we noticed in our lifetimes which developed the mantra, “There’s nobody you can rely on but yourself.” And we firmly believe this despite its limitations which we know about already so don’t fucking come at me.

So say all you want about what your expectations of me was, and how I am blowing your mind right now. That just sounds like YOUR business.

I got my own to take care of. Any reaction you have in response to me is all about you, and it has nothing to do with who/what/how I am. I just am and I have my own reasons for it unrelated to you. So sit down. Go in the corner and read a book or something.

That’s all I can think of for now. I’ll re-post if I think of more INTJ-female related stuff.

If you’re an INTJ Asian diaspora woman, please share your experiences. Thank you.

Standard
cinema and media studies, Film, Gender Studies, ideology, philosophy

re Lars von Trier’s NYMPHOMANIAC (2014)

I wrote a piece on Nymphomaniac (2014, Director’s Cut, Vol. I and II) and on what it means to be “A Radical, Vulnerable and Agentic Body.”

nymphomaniac

Standard
Art, cinema and media studies, Film, ideology, philosophy

combining the ‘Enlightened’ Pilot Episode w/ Excerpt Chapter “Industrial Auteur Theory”: production sets & breakdowns

I wrote this back in late November for a classroom blog post. I am reposting it here now because some of the thoughts are relevant to my current situation. More on that later.

I was glad that we got to see Enlightened in class today. It’s one of my favorite shows, and I was bummed to learn that it wouldn’t get a third season, especially because season two ended on such a huge cliffhanger.

When I first watched the show, I’d already listened to interviews given by Laura Dern and Mike White—on separate occasions—on what the show is and how difficult it was to make it, and then watch it get canceled, so I’d already begun my viewing experience with some information (either at the forefront or lingering in the back) in my head. In any case, in my first viewing, I watched Amy with a lot of tension in my shoulders because she was such a train wreck with almost little to no self-awareness. It was stressful. I had to keep watching, though, because I dug the show (I’m also a fan of Mike White), and I genuinely wanted to believe in her optimism as much as she seemed to. But if you continue on with the season, and finish season two, you’ll see that she’s always the same in each episode—an idealist who is wired to be incapable of improvement—and she’s always going to make things worse for herself and those around her no matter how much she believes in her heart of hearts that there is hope for a better future and greater change.

In my second viewing of the pilot, I tried to see it differently. I tried to see it as if Amy is the normal one and everyone else is the crazy one. This made the show a lot easier to watch, and a lot more heartbreaking. She genuinely believes in a better future, change and improvement. Nobody else in her life does. Everybody thinks she’s crazy. But if I watch her as the normal one, everyone else seems completely out of line. Why doesn’t Diane Ladd’s character just let Amy read the letter? Why doesn’t Charles Esten’s character just meet with Amy in person to reconcile? Why doesn’t the company just give Amy her job back and take her up on her suggestions on fixing up the company’s reputation by making environmentally sound choices? All of these things have something to do with time and boundaries. Amy is someone who doesn’t believe in the restrictions of time and boundaries among individuals. She’s someone who wouldn’t function well in a society that holds those two things close to heart. This is what makes her the show’s heroine, and it’s what makes her constantly run into problems in her society. It’s also what causes her to be exploited later on in season 2 (no spoilers), which breaks my heart even more.

Amy is the protagonist of the show whether we like her or not. She is the one that’s given to us and we have to accept this, or we can continue to watch just hating her (lots of people have commented on how much they hate this character that Dern plays, which eventually led to the show’s demise, although Dern herself says she loves this character). I kind of love this character, too. I’m a big fan of this show because it’s a female antihero who is dressed not as a cynical, unfaithful, sex-addicted, alcoholic man (Sopranos, MadMen) but an idealist who had a lot of letdowns in her life (again, no spoilers, but she’s had it rough, hence her borderline personality) but continues to strive for optimism and hope in a world that continues to let her down and conflict with her.

With that said, reading Caldwell’s “Industrial Auteur Theory” bummed me out a lot. It’s heavy stuff. Especially the paragraph on the writer’s room culture that basically leads to symptoms of PTSD among employees, who later get told by the production company!—to go and get therapy. I can empathize to some mild degree. Working in production where pressure and stress run high (because there’s never enough time, and time so equals money here) does lead to a lot of scarring, emotional trauma, mental duress, conflicts, etc. Without therapy, there’s no way that people could survive. Makes sense why so many industry people are into Eastern religion, yoga, meditation and all that (basically all of the things Amy turned to after her breakdown). Every single actor/director friend of mine claims to be Buddhist, and they all read some new kind of self-help book, which they go around recommending me any chance that they get.

The idea of producers who take advantage of younger below-the-line crew members’ broken minds and bodies + eagerness to still make it in the industry and exploit that emotional vulnerability because they know that the young and eager will still be grateful for the opportunity to work alone is also a monstrous/ugly thing that is rampant in the industry. In a lot of ways it is rampant precisely because so many people are fighting their way to get in, and so many people are willing to make that kind of sacrifice as a form of “paying one’s dues.” Personally, I am very against this concept. I wish it didn’t have to be this way.

In the few indies I’ve produced, nearly all of the crew members did the work for no pay—just meals—because people enjoyed the filmmaking process. If it wasn’t for that then no one would’ve participated. It came from a place of passion and the desire to work with one another. We all genuinely liked being on set. After a production wraps, a lot of the times the cast and crew stay in touch for years—unless somebody really didn’t get along with another person, which also happens. These people will almost never speak to one another for years. After going through something as intense as shooting a film, it’s impossible to not become close. So there is some pay off to the agony, but making a film is an agonizing process. As it is with TV. I’m sure many people have seen that documentary 6 Days to Air: The Making of South Park (2011) by Arthur Bradford. I think it’s a good film to complement what Caldwell discusses.

Speaking of desperation, I can see some parallels between the desperate, rock-bottom state that Amy is in which drives her full-force into the arms of the spiritual, incense waving, hippy-dippy world + random sea turtle spotting, which she applies epic meaning/significance to) and the desperate, zero experience unpaid interns/PAs who willingly—very passionately—run towards film/TV sets for little to nothing and get screamed at all day by the department heads and the above-the-line crew members simply because they believe in the magic of show biz. Yikes! This is super depressing to think about. Probably because it is too real, and very true of our industry.

Anyway, I still like to believe that there is light at the end of that tunnel.

 

 

Standard
Art, cinema and media studies, Film, Painting, philosophy, Photography

quick thoughts: YOUTH (2015) by Paolo Sorrentino

Paolo Sorrentino’s latest film Youth (2015) has at least one or two too many characters and scenes.

This may be my own personal bias because I don’t think I’ve ever liked Paul Dano as an actor, but his character and all of his scenes could have been omitted from this film. That would’ve actually made the film stronger.

I don’t think this vain/vapid/disgruntled actor played by a very actor-like actor is all that substantial. His presence adds nothing to the picture. His character’s thoughts and commentary do nothing for the movie. I was never once moved, amused or pleased by Dano’s character, Jimmy Tree. But this is almost always the case with Dano in movies for me.

When I first saw Dano in Little Miss Sunshine (2006), I was mostly confused; I didn’t know whether I liked him or was impressed by him, but turns out, it was neither; my initial instinct was correct: I was merely confused by him.

His acting is very confusing to me because he acts so hard; Dano works so hard in the pictures but it’s precisely that which displeases me; he tries too hard to act, and this effort is all too apparent to me as the viewer; his acting is the type that I see in plays. Perhaps Dano belongs to the live theater. For the screen, it is too exhausting to witness. In fact, it’s humiliating. Discomforting. The excess is discomforting. Like seeing a stranger cry in front of me, or witnessing an orgasm when I shouldn’t be. That kind of discomfort.

Aside from Dano, I don’t understand why there is a Tibetan monk there–a nameless monk (played by Dorji Wangchuk, who, according to IMDb, is also a documentary filmmaker) who doesn’t impress Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine). I don’t get his role or his presence in this movie. It seems completely unnecessary. Seeing yet again another dimensionless Asian in a movie is simply distracting.

Another problem is the character Miss Universe (Madalina Diana Ghenea); Sorrentino’s fetishization of a voluptuous woman’s body in this picture might simply be his way of stating what Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) the filmmaker claims: how he is a great “woman’s director.” The only women in this film who have interesting qualities that make them memorable are Lena Ballinger (Rachel Weisz) and the young masseuse (Luna Zimic Mijovic). They have a presence that do not submit to the male gaze or the male patronization, which is refreshing and comforting. Giving Miss Universe a minor moment of triumph to call Jimmy Tree out on his presumptuousness doesn’t justify having her parade around half naked in the opening act and completely naked in the later act. It’s just unappealing. This sort of female body exploitation is just hackneyed at this point, and distasteful.

youth-fetish

Brenda Morel (Jane Fonda) is yet another stereotype of an aged actress playing an aged actress (rings a Sunset Boulevard (1950) bell). Fonda’s monologue feels awkward. I’m not sure if it’s the delivery or the writing. (I might have to go with delivery since Lena’s monologue in the mud pack scene with her father is spectacular. It is so long but Weisz is completely marvelous in her delivery and is utterly moving.) But Fonda makes up for it by bringing in a great sliver of a moment when she breaks down on the airplane which I can only wish to have seen more of.

There is a beautifully picturesque moment when Mick stands before a hill and sees all the actresses he’s ever worked with doing their scene and their lines–repeating the same lines over and over–all at once. The colors, the set and the view are very Kurosawan and reminiscent of the opening scene of Dreams (1990), which Kurosawa made late in his career. Mick’s surreal vision in this particular scene is a telling of his impending death but also of all the dreams he had as a filmmaker–the visions he had for each actor and character were in themselves little dreams. Witnessing this before him all at once is like having his life flash before his eyes. This, again, alludes to his oncoming death. I could hear people protest to this interpretation stating that a suicide doesn’t count but I say death is death. Suicide counts. Directors are control freaks; perhaps Mick knew that he had prostate cancer and decided to take his life with his own hands, much like the late Tony Scott.

There are three elements that make this film worth the 2 hours of sitting (it felt like 3 hours because there were so many scenes, and every scene ends on some note of massive profundity that makes it seem as if it’s the last scene of the movie, except that the movie keeps going!–this made the film feel infinitely longer for me):

First is Luca Bigazzi, who also lensed Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty (2013) and This Must Be The Place (2011), as well as Abbas Kiarostami’s underwhelming Certified Copy (2010). He ensures that every frame of this film is a poetic jewel for the eye. The film is for the most part set in one resort which could’ve easily become a stale atmosphere but Bigazzi brings warmth, glitz and emotion to geometry like I’ve never seen before. The film is a delight to view from beginning to end because of his artful cinematography.

Second: The composition by David Lang whose music acts as the heart of the film fills the screen with nostalgia and elegance; “Simple Songs” sung by Korean soprano singer Sumi Jo, is cripplingly beautiful. Lang also composed for The Great Beauty and Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (2000).

Finally, Michael Caine’s performance is flawless. With every other character and actor, I sensed at least one moment of disingenuousness, but not at all with Caine, which is a testament to his mastery. He plays maestro, father, friend, mentor, composer, and husband Ballinger with all the sensitivity one could bring to a screen.

Standard