REVIEW: I Watched ‘Ghost in the Shell’ So You Don’t Have To

This weekend, Hollywood’s live-action remake of the classic Ghost in the Shell anime opened in theatres nationwide. The film has been the subject of intense scrutiny including charges of White-washing related to the filmmakers’ highly-questionable decision to cast Scarlett Johansson in the leading role of Major Motoko Kusanagi. (In the Hollywood remake, the character is renamed Major Mira Killian to suit Johansson’s clearly non-Japanese appearance.)

Ghost in the Shell (2017) deserves all the harsh criticism it has received from movie critics and the Asian American community. Supporters of the film object, saying that the White-washing debate is a distraction. In fact, the White-washing controversy is totally relevant; moreover, it is symptomatic of the film’s essential problem: Ghost in the Shell (2017) fundamentally misunderstands its source material.

Whether due to ignorance or apathy, Ghost in the Shell (2017) fails to recognize the key thematic elements of the 1995 anime — Ghost in the Shell (1995) — from which it derives its inspiration. While Ghost in the Shell (2017) faithfully recreates many of Ghost in the Shell (1995)‘s most iconic scenes in breathtaking live-action CGI, Ghost in the Shell (2017) lacks any of Ghost in the Shell (1995)’s philosophical or theological essence. What results is an awful, wooden, lacklustre, and overtly racist live-action remake: a stilted, soulless artifice wrapped in the visually stunning iconography of the Ghost in the Shell  anime franchise.

In other words, Ghost in the Shell (2017) is a shell without a ghost.  All the good things about Ghost in the Shell (2017) come from the original anime, and all the terrible things are both uninspired and racist.

This review contains spoilers of both Ghost in the Shell (2017) and Ghost in the Shell (1995), as well as a brief spoiler of Ex Machina (2014). Please read on with care.

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“Advantageous”: Smart, Subtle and Sorrowful Science Fiction By Women of Colour Filmmakers

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“We’re looking for someone that’s a little more… universal.”

This line — uttered by James Urbaniak’s character Fisher in Jennifer Phang and Jacqueline Kim’s new science fiction film Advantageous — hit me like a punch to the sternum.

Body transformation and body switching is a staple of science fiction, featured in movies like Face-OffXchange, and most recently Self/less. In most of these films, body switching is treated as a convenient plot device for wacky hijinx to ensue, typically devoid of serious consideration of race and gender politics.

In Advantageous, however, screenwriters Jennifer Phang and Jacqueline Kim (who also stars in the movie) offer a refreshing and long overdue take on the body switching concept. Informed, perhaps, by Phang and Kim’s own identities as women of colour, Advantageous focuses specifically on the ramifications of body switching technology on race, gender, and interpersonal identity. The resulting film is a deeply emotional exploration of one woman’s love for her daughter and, to my knowledge, one of the first Asian American feminist science fiction films in history.

The following post contains spoilers.

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Review: “9-Man” documentary is a complex, thought-provoking challenge to Asian American stereotypes

9-man-logoOpening to a Boston theatre crammed to capacity with an audience that included current and former players of 9-Man and the mayor of Massachusetts’ city of Malden, 9-Man made its theatrical debut last night at the 2014 Independent Film Festival of Boston. It was an instantaneous hit.

9-Man spotlights the uniquely Chinese-American sport of 9-man, an eighty-year old variant of volleyball popular in the southern Chinese city of Toisan and surrounding region as well as in Chinatowns throughout North America.

As a documentary, 9-Man is richly layered. Although a film about a virtually unknown sport with deep roots in Chinese American history runs the risk of being unwatchably dry, 9-Man is instead a surprisingly funny, sharp and nuanced conversation about contemporary Asian Americana.

Film-maker Ursula Liang (@ursulaliang), whose background is in sports journalism, allows 9-Man to tell its story through intimate conversations with several 9-Man players, each amateur athletes who fully dedicate their summers to training as part of the sports’ four more competitive teams: the Boston Knights, the Boston Freemasons, the D.C. CYC, and the Toronto Connex. Each team is hoping to win the annual Nationals tournament, a Labour Day weekend contest that thus far been dominated by the San Francisco Westcoast, a self-professed ringer team consisting mostly of professional (6-Man) volleyball players who aren’t really part of the 9-Man culture or community.

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The 8 Ingredients They Stitched Together to Make “I, Frankenstein”: a pictorial movie review

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… and it was awesome. Terrible, but awesome.