Monday, May 30, 2011

Blast From the Past

Kawabunga Dudes! HANG TEN! The other day I recently revisited a film from my child hood. It is safe to say that this film was one of the things that helped re-enforce my interest in East Asian culture in those early days of infant uncertainty. I am of course talking about the 1993 martial arts epic, Surf Ninjas?!

Poster for the 1993 film Surf Ninjas

Yeah, yeah, I know, I know, I have some explaining to do. So what is this movie? Well for those of you who have never seen Surf Ninjas, I'll give you the rundown. Basically, there are these two surfer-dude brothers who live in California who seemingly have South East Asian backgrounds but curiously have a Caucasian father. By way of sporadic narration it is revealed to the viewer that these children are in fact princes of the fictitious nation of Patusan; a country that has been taken over by the evil Colenel Chi, a samurai played by Leslie Nielsen (wow. its hard to say that with a straight face). Because of these events the two brothers were sent away in infancy to California and raised by a sailor who was a friend of the king of Patusan. So basically these brothers realize their destiny and head to Patusan to free their people using martial arts, surfing and a Sega Game Gear that can tell the future! So there you have it, it all sounds quite ridiculous yes? Well it is. But as a child growing up in the 90's, this was the stuff of LEGEND! Surfers and ninjas and Game Gear, combined into one ass kicking force?! BEST MOVIE OF 1993!!!!

Ernie Reyes Jr. kicking some Colonel Chi henchman ass, in Surf Ninjas.

Looking back at Surf Ninjas now, with a wealth of genuine East Asian knowledge it's kind of like looking at a manifestation of how most of Hollywood, nay, the majority of North American movie going public of the nineties perceived East Asia to be. An archaic bunch of backward countries where people with bad teeth and ninjas dance around and fight each other with swords and a mystical fighting arts such as "Kung Fu" and "Karate", skills which nearly every Asian person has mastered from a young age. Alright so is this level of ignorance acceptable? Well now-a-days in the information age, probably not. But as far as the early 90's is concerned, I'm not really sure. We didn't have the internet in 1993 so we had to learn things from print sources and documentaries which we couldn't watch on demand. We humans are a lazy bunch, and reading takes time and effort. As a result the average Joe didn't know much about anything that they weren't especially interested in. Unless you were some sort of freaky genius person. So we got movies like Surf Ninjas and a bunch of extremely inaccurate portrayals of modern East Asian culture in other 90's martial arts films that are remembered for being both nostalgic and ridiculous. At least that's my theory.

The interesting thing about Surf Ninjas though is that they created a non-existent East Asian country as their main setting. According to the film Patusan is supposedly located somewhere in the Philippines but apparently is a separate country that more closely resembles Thailand, at least in aesthetics. In the movie they even go as far as to construct a fake "little Patusan" district in California.  

A map displaying the approximate location of Patusan.

So why not have this film take place in a real country? There are two reasons that I can think of. One, it would be pretty hard to suggest that two surfer-dudes be the long lost princes of a real country without creating an international incident. Two, the producers and writers had little to no working knowledge of East Asian history or culture and thus were forced to create an environment in which they could toss in anything that was remotely East Asian and dismiss any inaccuracies with the simple phrase, "Well that's how they do it in Patusan". But who really knows? and what's more; Who really cares?

Well you may be wondering,  do I hate this movie now? Well nothing is quite so simple. This film is dumb... really, really, dumb. But as a child something about it caught my imagination and led me to investigate East Asia in earnest. In fact I would honestly go as far as to say that films like this, such as Surf Ninjas, the Three Ninjas (The one where they go to Japan), Ninja Turtles and other such silliness where key elements in me taking my first Karate class, which was one of the major events that started me on the path of East Asian scholarship. Who knew? But how does the film hold up now? Well getting over the fact that it is a kids film, its extremely dated and silly. The fighting, however, is not all that bad, as it features the ass kicking stylings of both Ernie Reyes Sr. and Jr. both very accomplished martial artists. But be warned Rob Schneider plays a bizarre and annoying slacker guy and there are shameless game gear advertisements throughout the whole film. Yay 90's!



Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tadanobu "Hogun" Asano

 This might be old news by now, but I saw Thor recently, and all in all it was a pretty fun movie. Not Marvel's best, but it definitely had it's moments and it wasn't a bad addition to the Marvel film roster either. What surprised me though was the casting of Japanese actor and writer and director, Tadanobu Asano as the Norse warrior Hogun. Although I'm usually pretty informed on the goings on of the East Asian film scene, for whatever reason I missed this news entirely. What surprised me even more was *SPOILER ALERT* his character doesn't die!

Tadanobu Asano as "Hogun" in Thor (2011)

 Now I'm not a follower of the Thor comics, but one thing I do know is that, as far as Hollywood is concerned, "visible minorities" usually get the short end of the mortality stick; especially supporting East Asian protagonists. As many of you may already know, in American action films, East Asian characters often serve as the stereotypical unscrupulous badasses who are really good at fighting and wield some sort of ancient ethnic East Asian weapon (usually a katana or something similar). In some sort of climactic (or anti-climactic) battle they often kill a crap-load of bad guys, and then die in a blaze of glory, kamikaze style. Well to my pleasant surprise, that didn't happen here and honestly it was welcomed change. Even more satisfying was that he wasn't even really playing an Asian stereotype, yeah he was still sort of "unscrupulous" but I suppose that's what the character called for. Good one marvel!           

Anyway, it was pretty cool to see him doing his thing in the film. Asano is a fantastic actor with wonderful range who has appeared in a large and diverse number of films playing equally diverse characters and always does a good job. Also, I have to congratulate him on being able to pronounce the TH in "THOR". I know Tadanobu Asano is not a native English speaker and as an ESL tutor I know how hard it is for Japanese ESL speakers to pronounce TH. Trust me, it aint easy!

If you want to check out Tadanobu Asano in some of his East Asian roles I would recommend Zatoichi (2003), Mongol: The Rise of Genghis Kahn (2007) and The Taste of Tea (2004) all pretty good stuff that really show off his acting range.

PS: I have to give a special shout out to Idris Elba who played "Heimdallur" in Thor (the big gold guy), he was BAD ASS. Again... good one Marvel!    

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

It begins!!

Greetings, friends, relatives, foreign nationals, etc. and welcome to this very special first post in a hopefully long line of weekly posts about East Asian things. I am Alex, a man charged with the power of, from a young age, being unnaturally interested in the mysteries of the Eastern portion of the continent known as Asia. What mysteries you ask? Well... anything really.  But why is this strange? Well its not or at least it shouldn't be in this fantastic information age we live in, however, I am not of East Asian decent you see, so on this side of the world (being North America) I get a lot of "funny looks" when I display my esoteric knowledge of East Asian things. In fact, not to sound pretentious, many close friends consider me an authority on the subject. So after much deliberation and taking into account that a lot of people I know have blogs, including my 91 year-old grandmother (that's not a joke) I decided to take the initiative and take my love of discussing East Asian things to the internet! And now, the story of how that happened... as if you actually wanted to hear it...     

I awoke one fine spring morning in my Toronto (that's in Canada) house, at the tender age of twenty-five, and realized that since the tenderer age about 5, I had been incredibly interested in, and amassed a ridiculous amount of things and practices that are generally considered, for lack of a better word, East Asian. I also realized that I really liked talking about them. Sadly, quite a few of my friends and loved ones do not share the same level of enthusiasm as I, and rightly so! I understand intercultural studies are not everyone's forte. That is why I have turned to the all powerful internet in hopes that I may share my knowledge with those who would seek it out. But you don't want to hear about me! You are a human being (unless you are, in fact an animal, in which case I apologize for making baseless assumptions) and therefore want to know what I can do for you!

This blog will cover myriad areas of East Asian things such as, books, food, drink (alcoholic and non), cultural issues, video games, movies, music, pop-culture, history and all kinds of other stuff presented with pictures and possibly eventually movies for your easy consumption! YAY! The posts will be presented in no specific order and the subjects will be entirely dependent on whatever I feel like talking about at the time. So there you have it! Fun and accessible East Asian goodness! The first real post will be coming soon! So check it! Woo!

P.S. Some of you may be wondering what "pseudo cultural studies" are, well basically, though I am an East Asian Studies Major, I'm not really an anthropologist, so I figure I'm not really qualified to be conducting "real cultural studies" har har.      

Enjoy! -Alex