A couple of us (Mike, Stef and I) went to a press screening of Annapolis yesterday. Yay for press screenings! But neither of them wants to blog, so I'm doing a composite commentary -- gleaned from our standing-around review after the movie.
So if we had to describe Justin Lin's first movie after Better Luck Tomorrow in two words, they'd be "safe" and "mainstream." We marvelled at what a solid choice in Hollywood vehicles he made: a Disney film that combines military and sports heroics, with the budget it takes to make the formula work. Watching it reminded me of an article I read in the NY Times a couple months back, where a critic bemoaned the lack of real blazing failures in cinema lately -- because the lack of really ambitious failures also reflects the lack of really ambitious successes.
The major studios have honed the process down to a fair science: good money pays for respectable writing, respectable acting, respectable camera work, etc. And everything happens on cue: the audience laughs where they're supposed to laugh, at gently funny lines; sighs where they're supposed to sigh, at measured moments of emotional catharsis... Annapolis was that movie. No risk-taking, just irrefutable evidence that Justin Lin can make as mainstream a boy-movie (with some romance for the ladies), as the next white guy in Hollywood.
And we (as in, Stef, Mike and I) don't begrudge him that, actually. A man's gotta make a living, and we like him too much (on the strength of BLT) to want to see him fail. So Justin, do what you have to, to make sure that a(nother?) Asian American male director gets a real firm foothold in the industry. But, as Donald Young from the Center for Asian American Media (sponsors of the SF International AsAm Film Festival), mused at the last Third Thursdays panel -- can't say we don't plug our friends -- here's to hoping he doesn't go the way of Ang Lee and Wayne Wang, who both started in AsAm cinema, and then when they made it, never looked back. (All for the amazing thing that is Brokeback Mountain, by the way -- but could we mix it up a little? Take another chance on an AsAm movie now and then, since money is no longer an obstacle?)
So here's to hoping that, one day, not too long from now, Justin Lin takes a risk again, and a risk on us. In the meantime, we're just going to have to sit here and wonder how the man who made BLT managed to follow it up with a movie in which the One and Only Asian Character is a Model Minority of the purest distillation. Loo (played by Roger Fan of BLT -- Daric Loo, there, it so happens) rocks calculus but won't share his answers, rats out his roommate for not following orders to a T, is told "You know how you're gonna die, Loo? Friendly fire" (as a joke, and it's funny, but then in that moment after, more than a little disturbing), is all arrogant and polished but then goes down like a sucker -- and then becomes the Asian sidekick. Hmm.
On the whole, the movie is very cautious in its racial representations -- works hard not to cross any lines. (Which makes the tired Model Minority rehash all the more baffling.) But in the end, the AsAm bit isn't even interesting enough to get worked up about really. So I'm going to hold out for that Justin Lin movie one day where he gives us some more Asian American characters interesting enough for some folks to get pissed about -- and for folks like us to really love.