SHOPPING FOR FANGSR
In its 90-minute length, Shopping for Fangs encompasses enough movie genres to warrant a far more epic running time. (It just feels really long.) Let's see, there's the now obligatory presence of Tarantino-flavored exploitation; a werewolf horror-show with the lead, Phil (Radmar Jao); a Daze of Our Lives marriage-meltdown soap opera (Jeanne Chin and Clint Jung), and some weird religiosity a la The Rapture (Peggy Ahn). There's also a wistfully wimpy gay subplot for good measure, featuring the James Dean-esque John Cho as a lovelorn photographer, and, oh yes, some kung-fu fighting (Chin again, this time in a blonde-wig-and-lipstick lesbian guise).
Filmmakers Quentin Lee and Justin Lin are nothing if not ambitious. According to the press notes, their film 'opens a new chapter in Asian-American cinema...shatters Hollywood's antiquated rules (which are still very much alive) by presenting...trendy and sexually active Asian-Americans...as characters rather than caricatures.' Well... In the first place, this is 1998, not 1978, and we already have Ang Lee, Wayne Wang, Steven Okazaki and Mina Shum (not to mention Gregg Araki) among us. Shopping for Fangs breaks about as much new ground as a plastic fork. There are some good ideas floating around in the general chaos--Phil's ultra-bossy sister (Lela Lee) and her ultra-white 'Rice King' of a husband (Scott Eberlein) who knows more about Chinese cooking than both of them; Phil's noxious yuppie boss, a clearly over-compensating Asian bodybuilder; a romantic pursuit that ends up in Bible-study class. The general sterility in which many over-assimilated Asians exist (read Southern California) is truly captured. It's all malls in glaringly relentless sunlight. But the movie tries to be too many things at once and succeeds in only being minimally absorbing. That gay character seems a particularly p.c. afterthought. From what we're shown here, he has even less of a personal life than Greg Kinnear in As Good As It Gets, despite all of his whining about various oh-so-appropriately Asian boyfriends he's had. The werewolf bit is tired in the extreme, only lending needless bloody violence (and some really bad hairpieces) to the mix.
Under the circumstances, the actors manage to do rather nicely. Jao makes an appealing underdog. The strident Lee and super-complacent Eberlein ring some sharp satiric changes on their amusingly clichd roles. Ahn has a funny, wispy tentativeness as the office Jesus freak. Jung is a suitably over-buffed jerk. (Incidentally, for all the movie's vaunted daring, it's sexually pretty mild; a frustrated Jung masturbates with his clothes on.) Unfortunately, Chin is rather monotonous, given her chameleon-like character. She's strictly limited to two modes: passively demure, whispery JOBB (Just Off Boat Bride,) and a rather irritating, sashaying sub-Monroe sexpot.