Nothing really profound here. And maybe that’s the point?
Below are some words I wrote in a thread on Facebook discussing their reception of the movie. I came into that thread in a section where they mentioned their disappointment at the mode of nihilism being worked with in the movie; a “passive nihilism” was how they described it.
I read it as a Pure Land-style kind of nihilism. The movie was in some ways a Buddhist meditation on our nature as fundamentally interdependent and also our need for practicing skillful means (there’s even a passing scene where an act of killing is prefaced with a prayer that this act be of benefit to all other beings). The universe where life never happens we are told is the majority of the multiverse and yet Evelyn and Joy are related still—an illustration of Indra’s Net and also of samsara’s immutability. Even here, where nothing is, there I am suffering with my attachments.
I think what I liked most about the movie was hearing and seeing Chinese filiality being hashed out in an American context. And in a really unprofound way.
Like, Gonggong wasn’t a magical Oriental, he was a grampa who became magical the way I see White American grampas become magical in any other action romp.
I liked the movie because I felt like I was watching the kind of movie my child would think would be an awesome movie to make. He loves his Ama and Gonggong, and he’s got blue eyes and blonde hair.
The story is all surface, it’s not a profound movie. And yet, to make such an entertaining and flat movie required so much effort and skill.
There were so many languages in that movie, not just Mandarin and English (I thought James Hong slipped some Cantonese in there at some points, but that’s not my point). There were the grammars of film being flexed.
The music was so central to so much, not purely as supplemental and not to drive the film when it was sagging, but also as a language.
In the laundromat as Evelyn tries to sort out her relationships with everything everywhere, after she’s trashed the place, Raymond sings “Gongxi gongxi” (this is not the typical version of the song, I just like it) a modern Chinese New Year standard and it’s just so average and yet not typical, I loved it.
The grammar of comedy, very similar to music.
The grammar of gongfu! There was some really fantastic fight choreography and it was awesome to see Brian Le and Andy Le performances here. Both are great at showing their martial acumen and also their talents for comedy.
Of course Michelle Yeoh’s a great martial artist and I think this was one of her best performances and definitely her most approachable for an American audience.
And language is pretty flat. Like this movie. It’s nice to find profundity in language, but those same words, uttered or written in another context are just as dumb as any other thing, potentially.
And yet it’s ours to make the most with.