In Our Oriental Heritage, volume one of Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization—the greatest set of books nobody ever reads—Durant points out that the ancient Egyptians actually had art that evolved beyond what we know as the stereotypical Egyptian style. At point they had developed shading and perspective and more 3D looks, but those were all squashed by the priest class, which was in control of all art. As a result, Egyptian art didn’t change for centuries. Everything had to be vetted by the high priests whose primary interest is preserving their power, and this how art—and ultimately civilization—dies.
I think of this when I listen to Diversity & Comic’s yaboi Zach talk about the problem with Social Justice Warrior (SJW) comic books (most of the mainstream these days). The main problem is: they’re boring. If there’s a blond white guy, you know he’s a villain (if not the villain). If there’s a black woman, she’s a lesbian with the side of her head shaved, and probably fat. And black people are soulful saints, because you can’t show any member of a “marginalized” group having character flaws. Disney SJWed up the Mulan movie to make Mulan a superhero, which completely destroys the actual heroic aspects of the story: Overcoming her innate physical weakness (at great personal risk) to save her country and her father. She couldn’t train, obviously, because she-don’t-need-no-man is part of our High Priests’ Moral Code.
This leads tangentially to the second movie in our “Almost Free!” double-feature: the delightful action comedy, Okay Madam, which works so well because it surprises on so many levels. A boisterous lower-middle class couple wins a Free Trip to Hawaii, which they’re not going to take until their daughter throws a tantrum. Now, this could be awful. And I’ve seen some Chinese movies where it was, actually, because the husband and wife are grating and you wanna kick the kid, but somehow in these opening sequences, you end up really liking our poor little family. The wife tells her husband not to bother entering contests, for example, because he used up all his luck—meeting her. And he doesn’t disagree.
There’s an inherent lack of meanness in their antics, which makes you not regret sitting down with them for 100 minutes. Meanwhile, a group of terrorists is plotting to hijack the plane, because a long lost asset has surfaced and will be on the plane with our unlucky travelers, as well as a host of different characters.
On the plane we meet: the tough-as-nails stewardess who’s sunshine to the passengers and a drill sergeant to her crew; the goofy steward who always wanted to be a spy and imagines hearing conspiracies; the woman who would literally rather die in business class than go back to economy; the pregnant daughter-in-law who can’t stand her, but who is being shuttled to Hawaii so she can birth an American child (our birthright citizenship laws are nuts, aren’t they?); the elderly grandfather who wants to talk your ear off; the movie star traveling incognito; the teenagers who are all fans of hers; the guy with the fear of flying. And so on.
Then there are the terrorists who are searching for the agent who defected and hasn’t been seen in a decade. There’s also an agent of South Korea on the plane who’s supposed to stop the terrorists. (At some point, you almost think, well, hell, everyone’s an agent for some side or another.) We don’t know who any of the good guys are at first. And while there are some bad-asses among the terrorists, there’s the one guy who got the call late and doesn’t speak Chinese (which they’ve all agreed to speak exclusively during the mission) and who keeps blowing their cover.
You know how this stuff is supposed to play out, and yet so much of it doesn’t. Because while the characters can be played for jokes at times, they also all get their moment. They’re allowed to be something other than the butt of jokes. (The sole exception is a Korean congressman who’s constantly asking if people Know Who He Is. He’s a jackass the whole time. I’m okay with that.) Even the terrorists have a motivation that we can actually get behind: The agent they’re trying to get is the key to stopping a nuclear war. And there are numerous twists on that front as well.
But wait, there’s more!
There is a female super-agent and she has to fight seven (or eight…or nine…as one of the gags goes) men. And while she can fight and the action scenes are quite good, sometimes the men will literally just pick her up and slam her down, and she doesn’t recover from that easily. In other words, the ability to fight never obviates the massive discrepancy in weight and strength of men versus women.
I’m eliding a lot because the little twists and turns are what make the film so much fun and I was constantly struck how such a light bit of fluff is literally impossible in America. The plane would have to be apportioned by ethnicity (only one ethnicity in Korea), and each ethnicity would’ve been constrained by the allowable permitted by the SJW moral code. My advice for people wanting to see fun movies these days is learn to read subtitles.
One thing I spotted: The housewife in the movie is supposed to be about 40 (her age is point of some comedy). But I knew both that she was older and also she was hotter than they were making her out to be because they wanted her to be a little frumpy. They put her in baggy clothes and gave her the Korean version of a Karen haircut:
But in her day-to-day life, she’s actually fifty and looks like this (from a Korean tabloid):
There’s a Korean in-joke here, since the actress (Uhm Jung-hwa) is sort of a cross between Mariah Carey and Sharon Stone, having a very successful music career on the one hand, and starring in romcoms, erotic thrillers and action flix on the other. Her ability to make the naggy, parsimonious housewife thing appealing—treading that fine line between caring and domineering—is a big part of the reason this movie works.