Note: I don’t actually start talking about the movie until the paragraph above the poster.

 

So…what is with my interest in Asian movies and Asian pop culture in the first place? Well, being Asian-American, there is a bit of affinity and connection to my ancestral homeland, but that is not really it, since my parents are relatively Americanized. There is my being exposed to Asian movies from a young age by my parents, but that does not really explain it since there were so many other things that my parents failed to get me interested in. It cannot be nostalgia, for the total amount of time that I have been in Asia adds up to three weeks. It cannot be the recognition of cultural signifiers, because there are way more things that I either don’t recognize or don’t pick up on until later if at all than there are things that I recognize as distinctly something from my background. There are many theories that could somewhat explain why Asian-Americans (and other people from “immigrant” groups) like things from home countries. The one that may apply to me the most is that it shows people who look vaguely like me just being. Being and doing. They are not Asian, they just are. They rarely (though they sometimes do) have to deal with issues such as racial identity and belonging in the sense that I do. With so many Asian-American movies specifically dealing with this stuff (often in a similar boring way), it is nice to get an escape from that.

 

It is just like watching White American characters be and do, with all of the complexities and nuances that the White American film industry allows them without being bogged down with race and all of that. It is just like that, except the people in these movies look kind of like me. Yep, unlike many White people who make excuses for watching movies with White protagonists over non-White protagonists, I am pretty fine with framing my willingness to watch Asian movies primarily in terms of race. I know that most of the actors in these movies, both White American movies and Asian movies, have little understanding about what people like me have felt for almost all our lives. Many can dismiss it with demographic statistics and talk of how were are all part of the human race, which inconveniently end up not mattering as much when employ them when talking about ethnic representation. Or they just don’t think about it and neither should I, because casual marginalization isn’t deliberate and, thus, it is purely my fault if I feel insulted. Others may have some vague notions of ethnic identification in entertainment, and can maybe even agree with the notion on an intellectual level, but I am not sure that they truly appreciate its power as much as a native-born ethnic minority may. Perhaps some White Americans could in a hundred years ago, when ideas of Whiteness and ethnicity were more strict, but now it is more murky and ideas of “honorary White” for Asian-Americans may seem nice for some of us, but not for me. It has always been extremely difficult for me to articulate in a manner that does not make it seem like it is all in my head, but I know that many other minorities (not all, but a very good number) feel similarly, even if they do not realize it. This series is not really my attempt to explain these feelings, but I may end up returning to this theme at some point. I will definitely touch upon a few connected issues about being Asian American watching Asian movies, though.

 

In watching East Asian movies, I get the opportunity to feel as if I, not White people, can be the default, if only for a couple of hours. It does not really matter that the characters do things that I personally would never do for reasons that I do not fully understand; I could still imagine myself in their shoes. It does not matter that I often need subtitles to understand what they are saying; I have been watching subtitled movies since before I learned how to read. And since I have been able to read quite well for a couple decades now, having to glance at the bottom of the screen for half a second every few seconds is nothing. I honestly cannot relate to the “I don’t watch movies to read” argument.

 

Given all of that, why should I bother with Indian movies? They don’t look like me at all. Well, the explanation I actually quite simple. It would be completely unfair of me to pretend to talk about Asian movies while ignoring one of the biggest movie industries in the world, right? And while Americans sometimes forget that South Asia is still part of Asia, that is not the case in other parts of the world. And trying to deliberately isolate my movie-watching experience to “East Asia” would gradually start seeming a bit silly. Indian movies have a reputation, some of it deserved, and some of it not. Again, I am far from an expert on Bollywood or the Indian movie machine, but I have seen a few dozen Indian movies and plan on seeing many more. The following review is not for the first Indian movie that I have seen, but the first one that I genuinely liked and consider a good introduction.

 

There have been many Indian movies about the country’s fraught relationship with Pakistan. It is only natural, given their history. This week’s movie, Lahore, addresses the relationship more directly, and hints at the possibility of reconciliation. It is also a story about sports and how sometimes, sports can be either an alternative to war or become war itself.

 

 

And, let’s just get this out of the way. Yes, there are scenes with songs in them. They are, however, not song and dance scenes, just gentle montages of people doing things, not much different than in many Western non-musicals. At 136 minutes, this movie is…well, not short, but relatively short for an Indian movie, and not much of the running time was filler in my opinion.

 

This is the story of two brothers, Dheerender and Veerender. They both used to do kickboxing, but Veerender eventually took up professional cricket. When we first meet them, Dheeru has just won his first bout against a five-time national champion and gets snatched up by the coach for the Kickboxing Federation of India to compete in the Asian Kickboxing Championship in Malaysia, and perhaps in the Goodwill Kickboxing Tournament in Lahore between India and Pakistan as well. I don’t know if such a rise is very realistic, but whatever. At the same time, Veeru has finally scored a century. I am not sure what that is, but it is good enough for him to get a little bit of flirting time with a visiting Pakistani sports psychiatrist named Ida.

 

By complete coincidence (or is it destiny?), Ida is the niece of the Pakistani kickboxing coach and is part of the team as an intern. This brings her into direct contact with Dheeru’s Pakistani competitor, Noor. She worries about his mental state and the way he is approaching the sport, but her uncle shuts her down, determined that Noor win the Asian Kickboxing Championship regardless of the physical or emotional toll.

 

Dheeru and his fiancé Neela head to Malaysia, as do Ida and Noor. While Neel and Ida strike up a friendship, Dheeru and Noor prepare to face each other in the Championship. The fight has unexpected consequences and throw into doubt the Goodwill Tournament.

 

Okay, it was actually kind of difficult to summarize since the story seems to amble a bit for the first third and the real story, which I cannot really get into without revealing a major spoiler, does not begin until about an hour into this 136-minute movie. While I have dropped a few vague hints, the movie itself telegraphs what is to come pretty hard at points. While the first twist pretty much laid out what was to come, the other twist really threw me. It made for a more satisfying viewing, though the film laid it on a little thick.

 

Anyone coming into this movie expecting broad comedy acting is going to be disappointed. The character of Neela is played a bit broadly at first (which annoyed me), but she calms down significantly soon enough. There are a few brief visual effects that stand out for being distracting and completely unnecessary. I will not spoil them here, because the element of surprise made them a little amusing to me.

 

The portrayal of Pakistanis in the movie is a bit of a mixed bag. Ida is a sympathetic character, but pretty much all of the other major characters are obsessed with winning at any cost, including fighting dirty. No one is played up as outright evil or cruel, which should not really be a point in the film’s favor, but is still something to note. It is also a bit telling that the one Indian character who is portrayed as somewhat less than noble is dark skinned and, let’s be honest, looks like a toad person. Amusingly enough, none of the Indian characters save for that one are significantly darker skinned than the Pakistani characters, but let’s not pretend that American movies are all that much better when it comes to actors’ skin tones. This is one of those Indian movies that looks at the India-Pakistan conflict and concludes that things could be okay if those Pakistanis simply realized how mean they were being and how much they made Indians angry. Yeah, not exactly challenging stuff for an Indian audience or a message that would play well in Pakistan, but this was one of the better ones of the lot that I have seen. And, to be fair, it is not quite as simplistic as I am making it sound.

 

Indian movies have a…reputation…that may not be entirely inaccurate, but I feel that it is a bit unfair to act as if they are a completely alien being when compared to films from the West. This movie avoids a few stereotypes about Bollywood movies, though it is not a complete Bollywood anomaly. In any case, I quite enjoyed this movie. For those who are reluctant to start watching Indian films due to their reputation, Lahore might be a relatively safe and enjoyable introduction. And, if nothing else, it got me to look up the word “chit”.

 

 

 

Next time: One Million Yen Girl (Japan: 2008, approx. 120 minutes)

Time after next: To Live (China: 1994, approx. 135 minutes)

By Some Jerk From Boston

I make words fall from my brain into your eye holes. I also make swear words with my mouth that attack your ears. I like me. Twitter: @SomeJerkFB

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