Better Luck Tomorrow

Mon Apr 21 2003 00:35AM -0600

Yes, I finally watched the movie.

As always, my comments are more in the vein of stream-of-consciousness than anything resembling coherent argument, so be forewarned. I do not claim to know anything, I am only reacting to what I see, right or wrong.

Identity. The murk of definition and stereotype, and the inability to (to pull a quote out of context) "break the cycle." Instead of truly exploding stereotypes, different stereotypes are created.

In the end, it is only a movie. To confuse this with reality is, to be gentle, naivete.

(Why is it that the main character is Filipino American, readily identified by the name "Ben Manibag"?)

Thoughts of the ghettoizing of creative communities float throughout my head, all without being able to utter anything coherent about it. But there is the ever present danger of creating a new sub-genre. The Asian American "reality." As if realities necessarily bore only ethnic labels, god-forbid someone tried to aspire to something more epic, or something more personal.

To attempt to define identity is an act of futility, acknowledged by the director himself. It's a goddamn movie, for chrissake.

Is this what Asian Americans really are like? Generalizations are worthless. My own very limited experience makes me skeptical, but who hasn't heard stories of acquaintances of acquaintances? More importantly, is this portrayal part and parcel of being Asian American? Somewhat disturbingly, probably yes.

I can't help wonder about the genealogical relationships of such films to ubiquitous cultural "showcases" like Pilipino Cultural Night. The tropes have all been worked to death.

This is definitely not to say that identity is not important. But the empty feeling I have makes me think that artistic expression is not necessarily the best way to tackle the inchoateness of the topic. Art requires the building of shortcuts, of idealized abstractions, basically, of stereotypes, and it is the interactions of these quasi-Platonic forms that becomes defining.

To try again: characters are never meant to represent people, at least not in a simple one-to-one, plug-in-the-formula, directly allegorical relationship.

To try again: it is not the content that necessarily defines a work of art (although, like the McGuffin of suspense films, the content can be pretty compelling, ordering the artistic structure around it.) But an anecdote cannot survive without some archetypal (read, stereotypical) back-story. The Hero. The Villain. The Sidekick. To name a few.

It is the juxtaposition of elements, it is the author's/director's/actor's own personal perspective that shapes the work.

From a brain-dead standpoint, I can't help but wonder, is this really the face that we want to portray to the world-at-large? (Not that it really matters, since true art actually does exist in a vacuum, well no, it is more like a holographic display, the work of art itself allows you to reconstruct the context around it.) Then again, is there a part of us that (bizarrely mimicking the characters of the film) want to believe in such a bad-ass portrayal of our Platonic selves?

None of these I write mean anything. I am just spewing random commentary out onto the ether. Don't mind me. Maybe I will try to assemble all this into something remotely coherent. But more likely, I won't.

How did I feel? Well, it felt familiar. I need to explore that. Did I think it was good? I don't know. Honestly.

(I thought that it captured the anomie of suburbia quite well. I think that I am forever doomed, however, since I can't help but view all of it from the lens of being Asian American, and I wonder how it translates to other cultures? Will it feel completely alien? Will it get pigeon-holed into well-worn "mainstream" genres, forever bearing epithets like "the Asian American version of...." or something equally damning.)

Just how specific is this culture thing? It is clearly set in Orange County, California, and I wonder if the tropes fail to even cross that particular geographic boundary. (I only know because I've heard.) I can't help but wonder if I am just completely locked down to interpreting it in one particular way because of the particular proximity I have to the setting (in a metaphysical sense, although undoubtedly influenced by the geographic sense.) To be more concrete, is the disconnect between what I see and what my friend from New York City sees a product of simply our dissimilar personalities, or is there something more aggregative, the fact that I am a native Southern Californian, perhaps? Then again, can these sort of things be really separated from the nature of the observer? (Observer's paradox, the curious dynamic between the observed, the observer, and the indifferent environment, often nicely labeled as "Reality.")

Don't mind me. I am just blathering. Will try to get organized some day. (May as well say never, though.) The end.

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