Saturday, January 24, 2009

On "Baby"

On the box for the movie, "Baby" is compared to both "Boyz n the Hood" and "Scarface." And, since those movies are so completely different in style and general themes, that pretty much sums up how hard it is for movie critics to stay away from ridiculous generalizations and stereotypes.

They could have at least compared it to "Better Luck Tomorrow" (even though "Baby" isn't really like that, either) - except for the fact that nobody's ever heard of it (look it up).

So why did the critics have such a hard time having any legit movie comparisons for "Baby"? Because it's about Asian Americans. Gangsters. Asian American gangsters. Right. A lot of movies like that out there.

The movie is set in the early 90s (with flashbacks into the 80s), following the (brief - he's only 18 at his oldest in the film) life of Baby - a Cantonese American, son of a drunk, no mother - drawn into gang life for lack of other, healthier family. Let's just say it's not exactly an uplifting film.

And it's not a bad film. At all. The start is a bit rough, but by the middle of the movie, I was drawn in fully. It does a pretty solid job of depicting the quicksand-like fall into trouble that urban gang life represents - as well as the fact that juvenile justice facilities pretty much only guarantee that kids come out as criminals (whether or not that's how they went in) with no skills for living clean once out.

Of course, for me, I had other reasons to appreciate this film. First and foremost, obviously, was the fact that the majority of the characters (and all of the major roles) were portrayed by Asian Americans. How many American movies out there can say that? Better yet - different Asian ethnicities were portrayed by - sit down before you read this - different Asian ethnicities! Seriously. The Chinese folks spoke Chinese (Cantonese, actually), Vietnamese spoke Vietnamese, and there were Koreans, as well. Hell - there were multiple fight scenes where not one of the characters performed a spinning jump kick or any other form of martial art. I mean - damn. Is that even legal!?

And I'm not done yet. Being set in the 90s, the "Asian Gangster Chic" styles represented in the film were all too familiar (as I was a 90s teen, myself). Baby's hairstyle for the second half of the movie alone gave me a little bit of "back in the day" nostalgia for the days when all the Asian Gangstaz at my high school gave me shit for being an "Asian sell-out." It seriously made me miss them.

And, finally, it addressed something that gets absolutely NO attention in the media or otherwise - there are Asian American gangs. Lots of them. And I'm not talking about the freaking Triads or Yakuza, I'm talking Asian Americans. Kids who speak English just as well as (or better than) their ancestors' dialects. Kids who grow up in the same segregated poverty that the better-known, darker-skinned gangbangers come from. Different in a lot of ways, but so very much the same.

Of course, not so much the same that it's not insulting that the San Francisco Chronicle called it the "Asian American 'Boyz n the Hood,'" or that the said that, "For Asian American movie watchers, 'Baby' is going to become their 'Scarface.'" Seriously?

We're not following the clean kid whose father is teaching him how to be a man. There is no glorification, no rise to power here. And why is it that this movie is obviously expected to be seen only by Asian Americans?

Oh, right - because it is. Trying to find an image to put on this post, I found the Korean baby singing "Hey Jude" instead about 8 out of 10 times. The only sites that reference it are Asian American film sites (or blogs).

Hell - the only reason I picked it up was because it had a picture of a bad-ass Asian dude, guns blazing on the cover. Probably the same reason most other folks will put it back down. It makes me wonder if non-Asian folks could even watch this movie without feeling like they had to totally suspend their disbelief the whole time ("yeah right - like Asian-Americans live like that - this isn't Thailand!").*

I don't know. This was a piss-poor movie review, but what else can I say? There's nothing to compare it to. Maybe it kind of was like "Boyz n the Hood" . . .

* I remember my brother telling me how, when she saw "Better Luck Tomorrow," my Chinese aunt said that she didn't like it because "Asian teens don't do that kind of thing." Ai yaa!!!


Aunt LoLo said...

Seriously? "Asian teens don't do that kind of thing"?! Call me jaded, but in a high school where 40% of the population was Asian (and very few of them were Honors Students, like their counterparts in the nicer neighborhoods), I'd have very little trouble believing the premise of this movie! (Don't get me wrong - not many of the whole student BODY were honors.) A quick trip to Chinatown ought to dispel any doubt!

uglyblackjohn said...

Not "Boys".
More like "Menace To Society".
I just watched it last week. I grew up in the Inland Empire and thought it was pretty true to life.

CVT said...

@uglyblackjohn -
After I wrote this post, I kind of caught myself and remembered "Menace," but I was too lazy to go back and change anything - funny you mentioned that.

@Aunt Lolo-
Way late response here, but there was definitely some denial going on with my aunt on that one. BIG-time.