The Lady Friend and I recently decided to jump into the world of Asian supermarkets. We did this because we like Asian food and because we are adventure-seekers, but also because we are jobless hobos who wake up at noon and therefore miss things like actual farmers’ markets.
So we scoured the internets and found that Yelp is pretty postive about California Market near Western and 3rd. It’s a pretty cool place — when you pull into the parking lot, young ladies in paramilitary garb and red neckerchiefs try to hand you literature. Well, not us, because we’re white, but if you’re Korean you can go down there and find out what that’s about.
And the inside is pretty cool, too. It’s where old Korean ladies go to find things like coarse salt for pickling cabbage and where young Korean ladies go to buy prepackaged pickled cabbage. It’s also where discriminating young white hobos go to find the really good ramen.
But of course the Lady Friend and I like to cook, so we were there primarily for the raw ingredients. And here’s where my hippie paranoia began to spiral out of control, because as soon as I saw the GIGANTIC (and surely genetically tampered-with) Fuji apples on display, like a gang of grapefruits trying to get into an apple party, I began to feel like I had fallen out of my carefully cultivated bubble of organic-food wholesomeness and into a dystopic nightmare of Frankenfood imported from the Third World. Why is all this food so cheap? It’s never this cheap at Whole Foods. What’s wrong with it?? I began sifting through all the fruits and vegetables that had labels, confirming my own worst fear: many of them were from China.
China! China, where they ladle their unfiltered industrial waste onto the fields as pesticide! China, where palms are greased with the sweat of mildly ill Americans! China, where they paint babies’ pacifiers with arsenic just to be mean…. China, where, as I pointed out to the Lady Friend, they probably grow the garlic in the bowels of still-living political dissidents!
“I don’t think that’s true,” she said calmly as she picked out a package of frozen seafood.
“But… China!” I grumbled.
“You’re making this less fun,” she pointed out.
So I got over it and we bought some vegetables and some curiously inexpensive meat and went home and made a sort of improvised chow fun that turned out to be pretty damned tasty, even given the presence of Suspicious Chinese Produce. Which I guess was fine, since nobody’s grown a third lip or anything. Yet.
Which would be the end of it, except that it got me thinking about Chocolate, the latest jumble of sentiment and kickassery from the producers of Ong Bak and The Protector. I direct your attention to the YouTube:
The Thai film industry is positioning itself as the new Hong Kong, the place where hungry, dedicated upstarts are not only re-writing the rules of what action movies look like, but taking unbelievable risks for our entertainment. In the 1980s and early ’90s, the chief self-endangerer in the martial arts world was Jackie Chan, whose willingness to leap off of enormous things without a safety harness or even a plan still shames Western stuntmen:
Chan and his fellow Peking Opera-trained clowns were influenced as much by Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd as by Bruce Lee, and they were as interested in our delight and amusement as in the sheer, raw force of our astonishment that the human body could be made to do such things. So Chan’s fight sequences often played up the cleverness, burying the brute athleticism of his moves under the grace and wit of his gags. He, along with Tsui Hark, Yuen Woo-Ping, and others, transformed fight sequences from the side-scrolling two-man back-and-forth of 1970s kung fu quickies into massively complex systems moving in all three dimensions:
Walls, furniture, ladders, second floors, dragon heads — anything could become part of the fight: a weapon, an obstacle, an escape route. Western action directors have never fully embraced this method — even a light and nimble fighter like Jean-Claude Van Damme seems to like to keep his feet on the ground — though it seems safe to say that without the Hong Kong films of the late 80s and early 90s there would have been no Matrix, no Bourne films, no Dark Knight, and no James Bond re-boot:
Which makes me wonder what the Thais will bring to world action cinema. Based on the three films that have had American releases, it seems story construction and coherent editing strategies won’t be their strong suit. But apart from Tony Jaa’s amazing martial arts skills, the Thais bring what all Third World peoples bring — a willingness to brave danger for glory; a willingness to say, “The hell with safety!”; a willingness to do incredibly stupid and dangerous things for a marginal chance at fame and fortune:
And there’s a part of me, the part that resents living in a safe, clean, litigious society, that needs these movies, that needs hungry Thai extras to throw themselves off three-story buildings for my entertainment — and directors to shoot these sequences in such a way that it’s clear that the stunts are real. I need to know that there are still people in the world — not me, no, but people somewhere — who are willing to sacrifice safety and comfort for a chance at something great. That’s why the end credits sequences of these films, in which we see the bloody aftermath of the stunts, are so important:
It’s not enough to see a great fake fight scene. I need to know that Jeeja Yanin has bled a little, lost some teeth, been treated for a concussion or a wrenched spine, before I feel that connection to the great, adventurous human spirit that’s too often damped down in the American safety-belt society. I don’t actually want to do these things myself, apparently — I’m not hungry enough to learn to do them, just like I’m not hungry enough to be grateful for cheap Chinese garlic — but I still long to see them done.