An honest tomboy
|REEL ASIAN. Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s campy feature The Adventure Of Iron Pussy rusts up after a promising start.(Image by Xtra files)||
story by Jon Davies /
Nov 25 2004
The Reel Asian International Film Festival has a handful of queer offerings this year; standouts include a moving film diary by a girl named Kai and the tongue-in-cheek chronicles of a trans secret agent named Iron Pussy.
The Canadian short A Girl Named Kai by Kai Ling Xue manages to condense the young director’s life into nine minutes of pure visual poetry. Kai mixes images of herself (shaving her head in the middle of a parade) and the world around her (cityscapes of San Francisco and London, family and friends) with a text narration that introduces us to a self-proclaimed “girl who is a boy at heart.” It is intensely confessional and brutally honest without ever being alien-ating; its jumpy, jagged, scratchy, sometimes boldly colour-tinted images groping toward self-understanding. Movies are Kai’s language for speaking out.
Text describing how Kai’s parents, with all of the traditions, expectations and pressures that they represent, is illustrated with Kai wincing from the pain of getting a tattoo, an expression of who she really is. The music is phenomenal, too (screens with a number of other Canadian shorts at 6pm on Fri, Nov 26 at the NFB Mediatheque, 150 John St).
The Adventure Of Iron Pussy is a strange stew of a film directed by festival favourite Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Weerasethakul trained at the Art Insitute Of Chicago before returning to his native Thailand, where he is one of the few directors to work outside of the country’s studio system. His debut Mysterious Object At Noon is probably the most inventive narrative exercise in recent memory, certainly one of the most mesmerizing cinematic experiences of the past few years. Blissfully Yours and Topical Malady (made before and after Iron Pussy, respectively) are both quiet, slightly uncanny, gently humorous romantic tales whose second acts transform into totally minimalist, sublime journeys into the jungle.
Instead of challenging surrealism, The Adventure Of Iron Pussy is a pastiche of genre films of all stripes, Thai and international — a complete turnaround for Weerasethakul. It is basically a campy parody of popular cinema with the unbelievable coincidences and excess of melodrama, plenty of musical numbers and the fights, explosions and plot of action and spy films. Iron Pussy (Michael Shaowanasai) saves a restaurant manager and his daughter from a hooligan attack before receiving word of her next mission at the 7-Eleven where her alter ego, a friendly bald man with glasses, works. Iron Pussy is enlisted to work undercover as a maid at the house of the wealthy Mme Pompadoy, whose son is up to no good. Iron Pussy and Pompadoy’s son, Tang, fall in love, evil plans are unveiled, family secrets revealed, mayhem ensues, etc. The film will neither please Weerasethakul fans (though the invisible tiger attack is a nice touch) nor camp parody fans, because it does not really pursue either path with any energy. The film starts out strong with zingy one-liners, exaggerated gestures and a clever visual style, but after 30 minutes The Adventure Of Iron Pussy becomes quite dull.
I desperately wanted to love what seemed like a great idea (or did it?): Obscure and oblique art cinema auteur takes on queer spy parody. My guess is that Weerasethakul supervised while codirector Shaowanasai called the shots of his own star vehicle. For all its over-the-top aspirations, a movie that relies entirely on the novelty of a trans girl kicking ass just does not feel fresh, thoughtful nor particularly satisfying. It pains me to say it but if seeing someone scale a building in high heels is all you need to be entertained, this is for you. The feature is accompanied by Kevin Choi’s US short Game Boy (at 8:15pm on Thu, Nov 25 at Innis Town Hall, 2 Sussex Ave), about a struggling Asian video-game designer feeling alienated from his white boyfriend and son and falling for the Asian hottie upstairs. It takes an important theme — gay male Asian shame — and treats in it a painfully hackneyed way.
Another queer short, Out For Bubble Tea by Desiree Lim, plays with the feature On The Islands (Sat, Nov 27 at 1 pm at the NFB). It is a sort of Chinese-Canadian lesbian after-school special wherein three heroines discuss pressing life problems over bubble tea. Although somewhat maudlin, it is peppered with insights into the differences between the experiences of queers with Canadian-born Chinese parents and Hong Kong/Chinese-born parents.
Till Sun, Nov 28.