Monday, March 31, 2008

Better luck next film

I should first fully disclose that this is not the kind of film I enjoy at all, and so--predictably--I did not like this film, though I WILL give that it did do a few things well and a few things in interesting ways.

Anyway, the good (as pretty much everyone has already said): it peels the skin off of the "model minority" facade, shows what's lurking underneath, and spins it all as if the Asians were the ones in control... by which I mean it gave Asians guns. Okay, I see that I really have nothing more to add about the GOOD points of this film (people who actually liked it seemed to have covered those points pretty well), so I'll just move onto my critique.

As Melissa mentioned, the plot was nothing new--it's already been done in other suburbia-gone-bad films about white teens. In fact, it seemed merely like one of those overdone bad teenaged suburbia movies with Asians as the main characters and the model minority issue foregrounded... it didn't seem to go anywhere else, and that's what disappointed me the most. Sure, it ends on a semi-poignant comment that these kids are still KIDS and they don't know what the heck they're doing even though they can work the system so well... but they already made this point when Virgil cried in the car, so the ending, for me, brought nothing but a depressing sense that these guys are really, really damaged and nothing in their environment will fix them.

...Which is actually not TOTALLY removed from the truth. A professor of mine (in the education department) is always talking about how the "model minority" image is covering up severe problems in some Asian-American youths that don't show until it's already too late to fix (she usually cites Asian-American students who hate their parents and move across the country for college). The way these students were raised and the environment in which they were raised are always big contributing factors to the problem. This film illustrates an off-the-charts worst-case-scenario of that idea.

However, I think the film can be taken in a VERY wrong way, especially now after incidents like Virginia Tech. The film does not really stop the audience from imagining that ALL privileged, smart Asian students are capable of doing such horrific deeds, since the liberal use of stereotypes and the endearing internal monologue from Ben make these teens seem like your normal, average Asian-American honor student... when they are NOT. Despite what popular movies portray, what the boys did was HIGHLY abnormal of teens of ANY race. There is something seriously wrong with EACH of the main Asian male characters and they definitely needed punishment or serious therapy at the end. Yet, there doesn't seem to be any end in sight... the boys are just left in a lawless, parent-less Lord of the Flies scenario that won't do squat to help them.

So what does the film do for Asian-Americans? Well, it shows that we, like our white counterparts, can ALSO be seriously damaged people. Okay, that's a good point but where does it go from there? Does it offer a non-destructive solution to the main characters' dilemma? Does it show the ROOT CAUSE(S) of or REASON(S) for all the violence and crime the boys commit? Does it give any preventative role to the community, parents, teachers, or other authority figures? ...I guess we need another film to fill in those gaping voids between this film and reality.

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