Thursday, September 30, 2004


It's not easy being an Asian American male pop music critic (AAMPMC). Not only do we have to deal with the everyday challenges of negotiating a path within the quagmire of both the music industry and corporate publishing worlds, but we're dealt the additional outrage of being confused for one another all the time. It seems like a lot of people out there (Black, White, Latino, anything but Asian) can't seem to tell us apart. It's the Yellow Man's Burden, f'real. My man Todd Inoue at the SJ Metro told me that just last night, someone came up to him and called out, "O-Dub!" And frankly, me and Jeff Chang get confused for one another so often, a paternity test might be in order.

As a public service, I decided to break down it down for ya'll:

(Asian American Male Pop Music Critic)

    Jeff Chang. Age: ~37. Height: 5' 9". Hair: Black, short or shaved. Eyes: Brown, wears glasses (occassionally). Ethnicity: Chinese. Based in: Berkeley, formerly Park Slope. Frequently spotted: chanting "Si Se Puede" at Bay Area political rallies, searching the South Bronx for a copy of Afrika Bambaataa's high school yearbook, cribbing dubplate titles at soundclashes. Distinguishing marks: Owns full line of Quannum t-shirts. Responds to: Jeff, DJ Zen, Zen Boogaloo, Jay Cheezy, Godfather.

    Hua Hsu. Age: ~27. Height: 5' 9". Hair: Black, short and cropped. Eyes: Brown, wears glasses. Ethnicity: Chinese. Based in: Boston, formerly Bay Area. Frequently spotted: entertaining the nation's best and brightest at Cambridge's Enormous Room, enjoying a Bistro burger, heckling Alex Rodriguez. Distinguishing marks: Scholars hands crossed with dusty fingers. Responds to: Hua, Hoo Ah, Mister Sulu, Hua Diggety, Triple H

    Todd Inoue. Age: ~37. Height: 6' 1". Hair: Black, short and messy. Eyes: Brown, wears glasses (occassionally). Ethnicity: Japanese. Based in: San Jose. Frequently spotted: extolling the virtues of San Jose living, playing pick-up soccer against Brandi Chastain, shopping at Good Vibes for unmentionables. Distinguishing marks: Only wears soccer jackets. Responds to: Todd, Theodore Unit, Teddy Ted, T.I., I-Don't-Play-Inoue

    Jefferson Mao. Age: ~35. Height: 5' 10". Hair: Black, shaved. Eyes: Brown, no glasses. Ethnicity: Chiense. Based in: NYC, formerly Boston. Frequently spotted: ignoring dumb requests at APT, educating VH1 audiences, researching upcoming Ego Trip's Big Book of North American Amphibians. Distinguishing marks: Gives hard glares to silly toys. Responds to: Jeff, Mao, Chairman, Great Leader of the Glorious Motherland.

    Oliver Wang. Age: 32. Height: 5' 11". Hair: Black, short or shaved. Eyes: Brown, wears glasses. Ethnicity: Chinese. Based in: San Francisco, formerly Oakland. Frequently spotted: sitting in wi-fi cafes not working on dissertation, slobbering in rare vinyl record stores, hiding from students at Berkeley. Distinguishing marks: Unusually large head (both literally and figuratively). Responds to: Oliver, Ollie, O-Dub, "mark ass, dumb f---, dick rider"
Actually, we do kind of look alike, especially the two Jeffs. Maybe there is something to this after all...hmm...

  • I was watching South Park and a commercial came on for the 2004 Freedom Tower Silver Dollar, made from silver recovered from Ground Zero. Besides the fact that someone should go to hell for the very idea, I love that the ads claim that this coin is "government issued' but the government is the Commonwealth of the North Mariana Islands.

  • Last but not least: The Curators have a gallery installation - It's Crafty - up at The Canvas in San Francisco. Included are pieces from two of my favorite local artists: Romanowski and Pnut. These are the same folks who brought the world: My Adidas, The Eames Project, Boom Box and 20 Larrys.

    rockin' chairs

  • Wednesday, September 29, 2004


    File under "better late than never"...this album review was originallly supposed to run closer to mid-summer but got delayed. I get the feeling that only a handful of folks checked for the CD anyway: Mash Out Posse by M.O.P. and Shiner Massive, for The Village Voice.

  • Sasha breaks down the pop life in an exclusive online interview at the New Yorker's web site. Some interesting tidbits for your consideration:
      -"Pop songs are short and not always expensive to make—not that artists necessarily enjoy the benefits of that economy—and the pop cycle turns around faster. There’s been a constant droning since I was four years old about pop all sounding the same, but that “same” changes pretty quickly. Lil Jon’s hegemony will be replaced in a few months by someone else’s. And that’s good."
      -"commercial pressure is a great spur for artists. Record executives, even if they pray to Mammon, tend to have the same taste as I do: big hooks, lots of energy, and a general sense of vigor. Musicians are lazy, entitled people, and they need something to push them."
      -"I think it's no coincidence that ambient electronic music came up during the economic boom of the nineties. It's very untroubled music, good to listen to while working on your laptop or shopping. Now we have lots of high-impact, shiny hip-hop aimed at drinking and dancing, not unlike the swing and hot jazz made during the Second World War. There's an awful lot to be distracted from, and pop works as an anodyne before it acts as anything else."
      -"teen-age girls are the new teen-age guys. Guys today are too busy pouting and finding their pain to assert their egos in a bouncy and hummable way. So the girls are doing it. From Avril Lavigne on, pop-rock girls are now the ones asserting will and confidence."
      -""Dangerously in Love" is the kind of ballad no one should ever have to sing."

    I recently sat in on a graduate seminar at UC Berkeley that dealt with popular music theory and what I always forget is that even among presumably intelligent and educated people, many ascribe to the firm belief that "pop sucks" and "the music industry = evil." I'm simplifying but you get down to it and the sentiments are in plain view.

    That's what I like about Sasha's comments above: they are far more nuanced and insightful about the nature of pop music without remotely being overly naive nor cynical. It also contradicts 90% of conventional wisdom around what most think about the relationship between industry and artistry, i.e. that industry recycles formulas and crushes the agency/autonomy of the artist to do so. The portrait that Sasha paints is simultaneously more complex yet oddly, far simpler than what most think about pop...which is precisely why I think pop is so amazing to begin with.

    After all, I think Sasha nails it down when he suggests what we like about pop is that it's got "big hooks, lots of energy, and a general sense of vigor" which I'd further simmer down into "it makes you feel good." On an intellectual level, I might understand why people want to hate on Britney from now until Gabriel's horn blows but putting aside what we might think of Spears' life-as-train-wreck-in-progress, physically, I don't know how one can't respond to "Toxic". Or Nina Sky rockin' Coolie Dance riddims on "Move Your Body." Or Snoop rhyming over the Neptunes' pops and clicks on "Drop It Like It's Hot"

    I'm not mad at artists trying to free my mind but if my ass doesn't get moved as part of the bargain, I'd rather read a book.

  • Junichi comes out to defend his alum. As exciting as that probably sounds (or not), believe me - this is on some movie of the week-type drama. All I can say is that Junichi hits it on the head with this comment: "I don't see much of a moral difference between my classmates who choose to become prostitutes and those who whore themselves out to corporate interests."

  • So this explains Barry White...Sound of voice may explain sexual behavior

  • Awwwdamn on the Pixies show at the Greek Theater.

  • File under: Good intentions, uneven results. Least Likely is an ad campaign that encourages Asian Americans to vote since we're the "least likely" of all Americans to actually do so. Remember, you can't spell "apathy" without A.P.A. (that's Asian Pacific Americans for you non-yeller/brown folk).

    This campaign serves the same purpose but is more club-friendly. Well, at least in NY or LA.
    (credit: Angry Asian Man)

  • Also spotted over at Angry's: There's an exhibit of 10,000 Chinese restaurant menus at the Museum of the Chinese in America. What I find interesting about this is how there seems to be a synchronicity of different projects, all oriented (ha, pun intended) around the Chinese restaurant as a social and cultural symbol. S and I have been watching Cheuk Kwan's Chinese Restaurants documentary series - Kwan, a Chinese Canadian filmmaker, travels around the world: Trinidad, South Africa, Cuba, Madagascar, Turkey, etc. and explores the spread of the Chinese immigrant diaspora by visiting Chinese restaurants in each city.

    Kwan's idea is brilliant. For any inteprid grad students out there: watch these films, apply for some travel grants, and retrace his steps as a dissertation project and I can practically guarantee you that schools will be falling over themselves to hire you. Seriously though, there is perhaps no symbol of transnational Chinese-ness more ubiquitious than the Chinese restaurant and for immigrants moving through all these nations, restaurants become part of a symbolic and material link to the notion of "home" - as a place to find people who look/speak like you. But what Kwan's series also demonstrates is that the people who run these restaurants are evolving a notion of "home", away from an essentialist idea of transporting China, wholesale, to another country. Instead, Kwan's work takes note of the transformations that happen as second and third generation Chinese-Cuban/Trinidadian/South African/etc. grow up and become part of a country/society's greater social make-up. As anyone can tell you 'round here, Chinese restaurants in America are nothing like Chinese restaurants in China: these are all adapations, adjustments, and in true hybrid fashion, something new comes out of the making.

    It's something we take for granted when we order our spicy chicken wings but as a social/cultural institution, Chinese restaurants are incredibly important. I'm glad more folks are starting to recognize.

  • We taking over TV: Pacific Fusion

  • Sunday, September 26, 2004


    bruce campell, move over

    Way back in 1991, my college rooomate was this guy named Josh Greenberg. Two things: first, without a doubt, one of the funniest dudes I ever met. He had a humor column in the Daily Californian for a spell and was one of the early writers for the Heuristic Squelch (Berkeley's long-running humor magazine). Second, he was a film junkie incarnate - many an evening was spent with the t.v. on and both of us laughing our asses off to movies both good and bad. He actually won a laser disc player (remember those? Like DVDs just 10 times bigger) halfway through the year - it was like an omen. He always, always wanted to be in Hollywood and after Cal, went on to USC Film School where he won several student film prizes, including, as it were, one of those Coke commercial reels that used to run in front of movies about five years back.

    Like most in the movie industry though, Josh's been on the long road to success but recently, he had his first big break: his screeplay for Delware McChoad, an Indiana Jones-spoof, was picked up by Universal and is currently being produced by the same guys who did The Mummy (good!), The Scorpion King (bad!), and Van Helsing (the really, really ugly). Expect to see the adventures of McChoad hitting your local cineplex sometime around 2006.

    He's not the only Greenberg in the mix: his older brother Drew is also a screenwriter and was blessed out the gate, having written for Buffy in its last two seasons and is now penning for The O.C.. Josh says his younger sister, who has a journalism degree from NYU, is thinking of making a move into the industry too since, in Josh's words, "there just aren't enough Jews in Hollywood." See - I told you dude was funny.

    Anyways, whenever Josh and I get to yapping, inevitably the convo turns to movies and what's worth watching. This past week, he declared, in no uncertain terms, that the best film he's seen all year was Shaun of the Dead, a British zombie comedy that opened this weekend. Pop Life, of course, rushed to see it, dragging along Sharon for the fun and here's the verdict:

    It's good. Actually, really good. Maybe even great. Not, however, the best film we've seen all year but a solid piece of entertainment that's funnier than your average American, Scary Movie-type spoof (i.e. it's a lot less punchlines and more just well-written scenes). And let's face it: it's been a great few years for zombies who've made a Hollywood comeback of John Travolta/Pulp Fiction proportions Or something like that.

    And let's face it: the British are just plain funnier than Americans are, especially with those accents which probably sound perfectly drab to the subjects of Her Majesty's empire but over here, practically any word spoken in an Cockney accent comes off like the funniest thing you've ever heard.

  • Also at the movies: Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence. Seriously: kick ass movie. A little pretentious in how it crams its philosophical angle at you but not all that bad and the graphics are incredible. Don't take my word for it, read Ms. Mizota's take.

  • Also, I know this movie is eight years old, but Pop Life had never caught Executive Decision before and we must say: solid thriller but one of the strangest action castings we've ever seen. Kurt Russell, Halle Berry and Steven Segal made sense but Oliver Platt? Joe Morton? John Leguizamo? B.D. friggin' Wong? Don't get us wrong - we liked the film but talk about your motley crew.

  • New blogs: 1) Going Out With Marian: Marian Liu is a music journalist down at the San Jose Mercury News and, as it were, was a former student of mine. The fact that former undergraduates (here's another one) are now my colleagues while I'm still at graduate school is a surefire sign that I've been at graduate school too long. I'm well aware of this as is, oh, everyone around me. I'm working on it. Swear to gawd.

    2) Les la L.A. Diaries: Piotr Orlove is another fellow music journalist, though as far as I know, was not a former Cal student of mine. He is also the purveyor of many good articles of interest, thus earning Pop Life's additional gratitude.

  • Friday, September 24, 2004


    It's been a busy week here - here's some things to think about for the weekend.

  • So...I was a little skeptical about this whole Dave-Chappelle-Block-Party thing but now that I've read how it went off, I'm bummed I didn't make it. It's not like I'm the biggest Fugees fan ever but to see Lauryn rip it up, vs. doing her bad Tracy Chapman impression? Yeah, I can deal with that.

    By the way, this is long, but ?uestlove - who directed the party in essence - wrote a long summary of the event for the Okayplayer boards but since they never stay around very long, I cut n' pasted it for posterity. Great read - I love this guy's passion and enthusiasm (not to mention candor).

  • For those looking for a hot new investment tip: Bomb Sniffing Dogs
    (courtesy: Marketplace)

  • For those who find child-rearing just a little too taxing, China's got a perfect solution: Kindergarten boarding school.
    (courtesy: Pacific Time)

  • Coolfer offers some common sense consumer tips on buying music in our brave new world.

  • Alicia Keys, Boyz II Men...and...Cyndi Lauper(?) play the Great Wall of China? That is one strange line-up.

  • Our good friend, Elizabeth Mendez Berry, on a mother protesting the war.

  • Our esteemed colleague Tony Green, on R. Kelly's new album.

  • Awwdamn on the evils of Rich Guy Rock.

  • HipHopImages.Com, photography by Chi Modu. This one of Biggie, standing in front of the Twin Towers is beyond easy words.

  • Our man in LA, Piotr heps us to this story: TATU Producer Angers Russia With Suicide Bomber Singer. They so crazy over there in Russia!

  • Julianne runs into an Olsen, lives to tell.

  • Hardly Art, Hardly Garbage's Sean Feezy unloads all over Talib Kweli and Jean Grae's respective new albums: duck down Sean! Just wait for your on wax diss. That reminds me: vinyl copies of Jean's Bootleg of the Bootleg sold out quicker than hot cakes but, you can still pick up a new 12" that has all her freestyles off that EP, including the "U Don't Know" version that has Jean kicking O-Dub crazy love!

    By the way, Sean's blog has been off the proverbial heezy of late. Recognize. (But dude, Madvillain isn't all that. Rap record of a year belongs to Kanye.)

  • Antoinette and Antoine go to White Castle, but this isn't a comedy.
    (credit: Funkdigi)

  • Budding rap journalists? Holla at

  • Would you like to be a P.I.M.P. scholar? This is both ill and sad in the same moment. Nelly needs to fall back.
    (credit: Pickin' Boogers)

  • G.I. Joe: remixed.
    (credit: HHH)

  • Got beef? If not, then go get it - DJ Vlad and P. Cutta collabo.

  • Monday, September 20, 2004


    not to be confused with priapus

    Sharon and I bought a Toyota Prius* over the weekend, which only cements our Northern California-ness even more than we already exhibit. For those not in the know, the Prius is a hybrid, meaning its engine is half gas/half electric and it's best known for 1) having mileage upwards 60mpg and 2) being a zero emissions vehicle (technically, the Prius is a "partial zero emissions" car but how do you have a partial of zero? Is this the new, new math?).

    Here's a thing about Prius drivers and we learned this by watching S's sister, Diane, who's had one since early Spring: they become mileage obsessed. The car has a display that charts your exact efficiency and keeps a running total of how good your mpg ratio is. The car is most efficient when you "coast" - i.e. let the momentum of the car carry you forward rather than using the gas pedal. If you want to maximize your mileage, you would then coast as much as possible and only give it some gas when you need to maintain a certain speed. It becomes ritualistic after a while: accelerate, coast, slow, accelerate, coast, slow, repeat. Me? I'm just glad to be getting over 25 mpg so even if I'm gunning it in the Prius, I can still easily eek out 40mpg.

    BUT, today, when S took the car to work, someone pulled up next to her and basically pulled a, "so hey, what you getting on that car?" and S read off "40 mpg". The snide reply: "you're driving too fast. When I drove the old one, I got 66!"

    WTF? It's one thing to inquire out of curiosity. It's another thing to start heckling someone over the fact that they don't get the same mileage you do. Just goes to show: just because you're environmentally friendly doesn't mean you can't also be a total asshole.

    This said, I really like the Prius for this reason: it's got a zillion compartments like two glove compartments, two folding out cup holders, an arm rest storage space with coin tray inside, a sunglasses holder up by the door light, and two separate storage spaces in the trunk with the spare tire neatly tucked in below that. This all reminds me of the cool Japanese pencil boxes my peers had growing up: the kind with secret compartments and fourteen buttons and a built-in sharpener. My parents would never get me one so I could only stare in envy at my classmates who had these fancy, tricked out boxes for all their pens and pencils. 25 odd years later and I live out my childhood fantasy by buying, you know, a car. Oh, the consumer guilt, the horror, the horror...

    *We got introduced to the car via Diane who has a fully loaded 2004 Prius in Milleneum Silver that she bought at the beginning of the year. Having checked it out ourselves, we were like, "Mmmmmm...must have." Mind you: my Honda Accord has nearly 200K miles on it and needs new brakes, tires, coolant hoses, rotor cap, air conditioning system, and timing belt, just to name a few problems off the bat. I needed a new car anyways and given upcoming happenings, S and I could use something more practical than what I originally wanted: an early '90s Toyota Celica convertible (they had more cargo room in the early '90s - I do my homework). Anyways, as it turned out, we waited for about a month and ended up getting a fully loaded 2004 Prius in Milleneum Silver. We're not trying to copy Diane but hell, it was the first one that came available and we were tired of waiting.

    Sunday, September 19, 2004


  • Gary Shandling: decent jokes but there's something about his hosting that just feels really awkward. They seriously couldn't find someone a little fresher to host this than him?

  • Chris Noth's proposal to Sarah Jessica was bizarre. WTF? Good to see them together though.

  • Frasier wins. Yawn. Jeffrey Tabor robbed.

  • Christopher wins - deservedly beating out Steve Buscemi (who was boooooring on the Sopranos). Shout out to Nancy Marchand! I still think Ian McShane wuz robbed, you c***suckers.

  • Like whoa - Cynthia Nixon wins, thereby beating all the expectations that the SITC gals would cancel each other out.

  • The orchestra needs to go easy on their "wrap it up" theme. What do people have - like 10 seconds - to thank everyone?

  • Laura Linney = tasty hot. And Turturro is looking pretty sharp. Teri and Jim = not so much.

  • Arrested Development = 2/3 (so far). Now will more people start watching this show? Pretty please? Plus Horowitz was killing it on stage. Couldn't they get him to host?

  • Adrianna wins, yes! I guess getting whacked this season wasn't so bad after all.

  • Deadwod wins, yes! I'd make another c***sucker joke right now but I already did above.

  • I still have Angels in America on my Tivo. Still haven't watched a second of it. Might need to start. But hey, Mos Def gets props! But dude, the orchestra needs to fall back. You don't cut someone off when they're trying to talk about the AIDS epidemic among African Americans.

  • Memo to Louis Horowitz: de-caff, son! And Elaine Stritch: never saw your show but I think I just did. Off the hook!

  • Mariska is looking very Charlize tonight.

  • William Shatner + Sharon Stone, together. Oddly appropriate.

  • It's cool that Chapelle's Show got nominated all over the place but it's not grown enough yet to win.

  • For once, the critics got it right: The Amazing Race wins (again). Take that Donald!

  • Notice: Al Pacino didn't get the orchestra push off. Being The Master has its privileges. Apparently, Sarah Jessica Parker is not afforded the same love though.

  • Thank god Frasier is over - maybe someone else will get a chance now. Too late for John Ritter though. And how did Ritter get left off the In Memoriam segment? Was he on last year's or what?

  • James Spader knocks off Tony Soprano - like whoa.

  • Meryl Streep wins. Big surprise. But damn - she got the orchestra brush off! What's up with that? Pacino can yammer on and Meryl gets the symphonic boot?

  • Arrested Development, yeah! But yo - Howard and Glazer have such contrasting hair styles, it's like a joke, right?

  • Wait, the Sopranos has never won before? And why for this season, it's snooziest to date?

    And oh yeah, The Wire, Season 3 launched tonight. Recognize fools. Drug dealers are using Robert's Rules - that's next level. "Adjourn your asses."

    Season 1 is about to drop in October on DVD. Be there and learn.

  • Thursday, September 16, 2004


    I've been listening to Jean Grae's new Jeanius. It's good, really good, easily the best thing she's put out in a full-length package. Some of you may think it's awkward for me to talk about this since Jean called me a "dumb fuck" on her last EP (Bootleg of the Bootleg) and called me out in the liner notes too. I've already said my piece on this and on my part, there's no more beef - I can't speak for Jean but this is all largely irrelevent. I'm just happy to hear quality material from folks like Jean and Masta Ace (his Long Hot Summer is this season's dark horse classic) after wondering if the underground was dead and gone.

    Enjoying Jeanius though, made me think about other beef that's been circulating and a specific issue that's cropped up for me as a music critic/journalist. Case in point: I've known for a while that a group of Bay Area artists (I'm not going to name names since this is all grapevine rumor) have held a grudge towards me because they felt that I, as a fellow Bay Arean, had not given their group or its family of artists enough attention over the years (this is when they were still in the Bay; they've now moved to L.A.).

    There is some truth in this and there's some invention. As a DJ, I had some of these guys on my radio show, put a few of their cuts on mixtapes because I liked the material. As an editor at URB, I assigned out their 12"s and LPs for review. I did not, however, lay down as much ink on them as I did other local groups, notably Bored Stiff or the Solesides crew or Rasco/Planet Asia, etc. The truth of the matter is that I didn't like all the music they put out and as a writer, I wasn't compelled to cover them as a consequence. It wasn't a dis, it was a decision. Their feeling, if I understand it correctly, is that I had an obligation to cover them in local and/or national press for the simple fact that I lived in the same locale as they did.

    This is not a trivial issue, especially at a time where local acts, especially those on the underground, have to struggle for any kind of attention. It's also not limited to hip-hop: I've heard of similar grumblings by other musicians who feel like local press isn't doing enough to cover their output. Knowing that my opinion on the matter may not be univeresal, I polled some colleagues (specifically seeking writers who lived outside of New York since it's not very hard to be a NYer and write about local acts when it sometimes feels like 90% of the music world is at your footsteps already).

    The question: "As a music writer/editor, do you feel like you have an obligation to cover local acts? " The answers came from:

    Jeff Chang (author of the forthcoming Can't Stop, Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, longtime freelancer for...everywhere. Longtime resident of the Bay Area w/ stints in Los Angeles and New York)
      "I live here, I walk down the street and see people and they want to know what's up. That's fair and reasonable and I accept that responsibility. No one has ever pushed me too far--some have come close--but eventually everyone understands that I also can't look like an ass. It hurts my credibility and does the acts no good if I'm perceived as the kind of dog that only goes for those bones. I'd certainly prefer to write about local acts in the national press. Straight up it's good for my business if my city is repping. But the acts need to give me enough juice to do so.

      By the same token, few acts have asked me for more."

    Hua Hsu (currently writing for Slate, The Wire, URB, Village Voice, etc. Formerly of the Bay, now holding down Boston)
      "I don't really feel this way anymore, though I suppose I once did. at various points in my semi-career, I can remember feeling that weird psychic tug to help out asian-american artists, or bay area artists, or, better yet, bay area asian american artists--these were all identities I felt were 'local' to me. but I realized this was a somewhat limiting way of seeing things. I guess in the end I wasn't convinced that this was helping to promote 'good art,' and as a critic, your only true responsibility is to your craft: sifting and rooting through culture, figuring out what's worthwhile and possibly helping bring light to it. the only reason we're critics is because we hold some deep-seated belief in the idea of art, and cheering something on simply because it agrees with your personality/politics/both doesn't really benefit anyone. especially in a national situation, you really don't want to give shine to something that you don't really feel comfortable 'representing' you, or your 'hood. however, if I come across something that's really good, and that thing happens to be 'local,' I'm more likely to get behind it and really proselytize hard."

    Michaelangelo Matos (music editor at the Seattle Weekly, author of Prince's Sign O' the Times. Resides in Seattle.)
      "Not an obligation, not in the least. Thing is, it's often *easier* for me to pitch local acts to nat'l pubs because I have more immediate access to them (though out of courtesy I usually go through their--often out of town--publicists first). that's in terms of features; in terms of reviews, it's a mix of ego (be-the-first-on-your-block syndrome, as Bangs put it), altruism (you people outside of my burg NEED to hear this band), and strategy (I'll get there first because I can, and because they're either deserving enough or about to blow up anyway that I *should* get there first). I should note that being "first" isn't my interest usually; just in terms of something local crossing my path that I really like and want to get on top of."

    Sam Chennault (SF Weekly writer, publicist for Future Primitive Sound Session. Now in the Bay Area).
      "I don't really feel like I have an obligation, but there are certain practical advantages to covering local artists that extend beyond "supporting the community."If you‚re writing for a Weekly, readers will automatically be more interested in an artist who is from their area, and by extension editors will be more likely to accept pitches. Generally, I try to incorporate as many local signifiers as possible into the pieces, i.e. the café or club where I interview them, what neighborhood they‚re from, etc. This provides the readers a connection to the piece. When I write for national publications, I tend to pitch local artists first because it allows you to conduct the interview in person - as opposed to the more impersonal phoner interviews - and subsequently construct a physical setting. With phoners, you can recreate a scene that functions as an introductory anecdote or whatever, but it lacks the vitality or texture of being able to experience it firsthand. One disadvantage is that pieces about local artists won't get picked up for syndication.

      Also, I think that the idea of community can't be defined in strictly geographical terms. Somtimes, I feel a closer cultural/spiritual/philisophical affinity to artists from Atlanta than I do SF. So, in a way, I'm always trying to promote members of my community, regardless of where they are."

    If anyone else would like to share their opinion, perspective, please email me.

    Wednesday, September 15, 2004


    professor of slanguistics

  • I love living in San Francisco but the Sunday Chronicle Magazine isn't really about to take it to the New York Times Magazine, especially not when they have articles on the history of "izzle". E40's finest moment, no deezy, fah sheezy.

    But um, Kathleen E. Miller - much as I appreciated your essay, your statement here: "Most people (other than hard-core fans) don't picture Northern California as a hotbed of rap music, but rap actually thrives in the Bay Area" makes the rest of us wince. Hard-core fans are not the only ones to have heard of a lil' guy named Too Short. Or Digital Underground. Remember MC Hammer? And Masta P got his start here too. And how about MUTHAF-IN TUPAC? I'm just trying to make the (obvious) point that rap has thrived here since practically Day One and it han't remotely been a secret to anybody...except for maybe 50 year olds living in the Upper East Side crowd but I think even some of them must know what's up.

    Can I get an amen? Make that an amizzle.

  • Streetball is hot. So hot that even NPR recognizes. I heard on KQED's fundraising drive that they were offering And1 video mixtapes with new subscriptions. (Ok, not really).

  • Another Ramone gets sedated. Permanently that is.

  • The guys behind the F***NewYork video.

  • Is Josh Clover shilling for Old Navy? Everytime I read his blog, I keep wanting to go buy cargo pants.

  • Kobe, Kobe, Kobe... Maybe you're not guilty of rape but if this Sports Illustrated story is true, you are a total embarassment. I hope Shaq destroys you next season (and I don't even like Shaq).
    (credit: Can't Stop, Won't Stop)

  • Provided, these Crip walk instructions are pretty damn funny. But yo, Hashim: dude is Japanese. I'm Chino. Don't get it twisted.

  • Tuesday, September 14, 2004


    revolutionary rhythms

    A little horn toot-toot-ing: I didn't realize this until today but Pop Life has been one of Blogger's "featured blogs" now since 8/30. Danke to the folks at Blogger for the nod.

    More recently though, Rolling Stone threw their ephemeral spotlight onto Pop Life's sister site, Soul Sides in a story that posted to the WWW last week and then this week, the print version appeared.

    Lessons learned:
      1) Damn, I have a big head and my hairline is leaning back like Fat Joe and the Terror Squad.
      2) I'm checking my mailbox daily to see if RIAA's subpoena has come through yet.
      3) I would not have thought my first appearance in RS would be as a subject and not as an author. Jann - holla at your boy about your next Halle Berry cover story.

    By the way...thanks to the beauty that is, I discovered that there is evidently an English course at UNC-Chapel Hill that is dealing in what I surmise to be electronic media or something of the like. As part of the assignment, students create blogs of their own (I think) and in addition, are assigned to write about existing blogs. So far, two students, Gina Neari and Rich Graven have chosen Pop Life as their subject of study. Personally, I'm well-nigh fascinated to know what they're going to end up writing though I may have ruined the objectiveness of their study by commenting on it. Oops.

    Sunday, September 12, 2004


    all shins and smiles

    Memo to Natalie Portman: It's ok, everything is forgiven.

    After the incredible performance you had in The Professional we just had really high expectations. You seemed so talented and charismatic but as you matured, you also blossomed into this too-cute-for-your-own-good, girl-next-door type. Heck, HH sat next to you in class at Harvard and said you were whip-smart - our admiration only ballooned. But then you signed up as Queen Amidala and we began to despair.

    We hate to say it but your acting (while markedly better than Hayden Christenson's, but then again, who's isn't?) was just terrible in Attack of the Clones. It's not your fault - it's George Lucas and the Dark Side of his script-writing - but nevertheless, one shouldn't wince at your dramatic lines but the love scenes between you and Anakin had us ready to go all hari kari with our lightsabers.

    Thank god for Zach Braff and Garden State. We (now I mean S and I) finally went to go see the film after everyone, their neighbor and my sister Jessica said: "go see this!" Jesse even saw it twice. So we did and we were mightily impressed: you were wonderful. In playing Sam, you became this tightly wound ball of anxiety and energy and emotion and charm. It reminded us that, hey, you can act when you're not caked under 12 pounds of makeup, wearing a ridiculous headdress and talking with frog people. Nat's back!

    In all seriousness, I can see why my sister liked this film: it effectively romanticizes contemporary, 20-something angst using attractive actors and is scored nicely by The Shins, Coldplay, and Nick Drake (unbelievably, no Elliot Smith but I guess that would have been too '90s). Many have already made the comparison between this and The Graduate and I think that's quite apt given how both try to make sense of the unique neuroses that seem to afflict 20-somethings in each era. Of course, Dustin Hoffman wasn't whacked up on 15 years worth of lithium in The Graduate but Braff also wasn't diddling his girlfriend's mom in Garden State. As I'm sure others noted also - seeing Braff on Scrubs to this movie requires just a lil readjustment but hey, I'm onboard with his future film aspirations. Better him than Sofia Coppola whose filmmaking touches are just far more precious.

    I do have to disagree with Jesse on one thing: this was so not better than Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, so far Pop Life's favorite American movie of the year (go see Last Life in the Universe this Friday - our favorite foreign flick). I think this reveals a generation gap: Eternal Sunshine is much more about 30-something romance, or better said, the death of said romance. In other words, it picks up where Garden State leaves off: the wacky couple that doesn't know what to do may seem charming in GS, but ES shows us what happens to them half a decade later, long after the initial spark has dimmed.

    For all its sci-fi inventiveness, ES felt true to anyone who's ever wanted to forget a past relationship (and let's face it, if you've never felt like that, you're probably just too young right now). Charlie Kaufman is able to get into your headspace with that premise but he gets us to be invested in understanding both the good and bad parts of the star-crossed lovers from Eternal Sunshine. In contrast, Garden State reflects the optimism that comes at the beginning of a potentially beautiful and/or volatile relationship: that feel-good quality is more tempered by unease in ES and it's far removed from the powerful ambivalency that marks the end of The Graduate.

    Personally, while I liked Garden State, it's still not F-ing with the definitive 20-something film of my generation: Say Anything. Sure, it was another brilliant, funny film that also nods to The Graduate but it had such personality, charm and humor that wasn't as knowingly ironic as Say Anything. Of course, Seattle isn't as nearly ripe for ridicule as New Jersey but I also think the differences in the two films are completely generational: GS's inclusion of drugs, underage sex, depression medication and young millionaires is far more tapping into a contemporary moment of young adult life whereas the most zeitgeisty quality to Say Anything was the fact that Lloyd was a kick-boxer.

    Anyways, Garden State gets the Pop Life approval but if you haven't seen any of the other films mentioned: The Graduate, Say Anything, Eternal Sunshine or the forthcoming Last Life in the Universe - get thee to a video store or theater this weekend.


  • Mad Magazine asks what would Jesus do vs. Dubya?
    (credit: pnuthouse)

  • Does Dick Cheney eBay? You betcha.
    (credit: Cowboys n' Poodles)

  • Cool, but really dorky.

  • Thursday, September 09, 2004


    still licensed to ill

    Hipster Detritus beat me to it but the new Green Lantern/Beastie Boys mixtape, New York State of Mind is good. I mean, really, really good. Like great. I wouldn't have thought the Beasties would be the type to aim for some street cred with a mix-CD but at this point, I don't care what their purpose was: I'm just glad they did it.

    I was not a big fan of To the 5 Boroughs but now I realize: it wasn't because the lyrics were wack (this is the B-Boys after all, they're not De La Soul), it was because the beats sucked. Give Green Lantern carte blanche access to the BB acapellas and he lights a fire underneath both new and old material. Sounds I thought were unsalvagable, like "Triple Double," suddenly sound granite solid. The blends go both ways: he's also using classic BB's beats to put over other MCs like Biggie and the Clipse. Sick.

    More than that, this is an actual mix, not that weak ass bullshit that every NY "DJ" is churning out into Canal St. bootleggers' shops - you know what I'm talking about: a bunch of "exclusives" with a loud-mouthed host yelling over all the good parts and nary a single actual "mix" between songs.

    Green Lantern though? He actually spent some time to tighten up his mix and make this a seamless play from intro to end. I just wish every other DJ out there would take some notes.

  • This comes a few weeks late but damn - check this out.

  • On, an interview with Joyce Park who got fired from Friendster for blogging. Just to show you: corporate decision-makers can be royally stupid sometimes. Not only did firing Park make Friendster seem like a bunch of knee-jerks idiots (everything she said about Friendster on her blog was already publically available), not only did it lead to a wave of bad press for the company, but it also meant putting your redesign leader out on the street with no job and a grudge. If I was at one of Friendster's rising competitors, I'd be putting out a team of headhunters to start speed-dialing Park.

    Just to make some sense of this, keep in mind that Friendster's founder, Jon Abrams, penned this bizarre anti-blog screed back in 2002. It's no big deal that he doesn't like weblogs - that's cool - but his ranting is really asinine, not to mention completely hypocritical. Abrams breaks down a list of "why people do it" and among his pseudo-psychological explanations for blogging, he includes:
    • The Reverse Voyuer
    • The Exhibitionist
    • The Self Important Moron
    • The Tragically Geek
    • The Ego Stroker
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't these all archetypes of Friendster users? The irony abounds.

  • Real Genius is one of the best, passed-over comedies of the 1980s - starring Val Kilmer in one of his early, great comedic roles (pretend you knew about Top Secret too) plus William Atherton, playing one in his long line of cinematic assholes (Die Hard, Ghostbusters, etc.) from the '80s. This all said, didn't Gabriel Jarret, who plays the other lead character Mitch, look more like a girl than guy? Just's hard to believe him as romantic lead when co-star Michelle Meyrink looks more masculine than you do.

    The crazy thing is that Real Genius is largely based on the exploits of students at Cal Tech and MIT and having taken classes at Cal Tech in the late '80s (when Real Genius is set), I can pretty much attest to the fact that they weren't too far off the mark in their characterizations. I remember one time, walking into a dorm building on campus, and there were train tracks laid out everywhere on the floors.

  • Who knew it would happen? The music industry is starting to go after homophobes.
    (credit: Coolfer)

  • This story is too good to be true: "Pup shoots man, saves litter mates". Yeah, that's right: dog shoots man.

  • Eh yo!
    (credit: Hip Hop Logic)

  • Wednesday, September 08, 2004


    more expensive than you thought

    I'm no legal expert (much to the consternation of my family) but this recent ruling by the 6th Circuit of Appeals is worth talking about: "Court Rules That All Sampling Must Be Cleared".
      "When P. Diddy rapped in 1997 about taking "hits from the '80s," it didn't sound so crazy, because sampling had been an integral part of rap music for years.

      On Tuesday, however, a federal appeals court found the process a bit less reasonable, ruling that artists must pay for every musical sample in their work.

      The ruling says artists must pay for not only large samples of another artist's work, but also snippets — smaller notes, chords and beats that are not the artist's original composition — which had previously been legal, according to The Associated Press.

      Three judges sitting on the panel of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati said the same federal laws currently in place to halt music piracy will also apply to digital sampling, and explained, "If you cannot pirate the whole sound recording, can you 'lift' or 'sample' something less than the whole? Our answer to that question is in the negative."

      The case at the crux of this new ruling focuses on the 1990 NWA song "100 Miles and Runnin'." The track samples a three-note guitar riff from a 1975 Funkadelic track, "Get Off Your Ass and Jam." The sample, in which the pitch has been lowered, is only two seconds long but is looped to extend to 16 beats, and appears five times throughout the track.

      The NWA song was included in the 1998 film "I Got the Hook Up," which starred Master P and was produced by his No Limit Films. The film company has argued that the sample was not protected by copyright law.

      In 2002, a lower court said that though the Clinton riff was in fact entitled to copyright protection, the specific sample "did not rise to the level of legally cognizable appropriation," according to the AP. The appeals court opposed that decision, explaining that an artist who acknowledges that they made use of another artist's work may be liable, and sent the case back to the lower court.

      "Get a license or do not sample," the court said Tuesday. "We do not see this as stifling creativity in any significant way."
    Let me first point out that it only took the court system about, oh, 15 years to catch up with this. The key rulings against hip-hop and sampling actually came down in the late '80s, through at least two cases I can recall. One was The Turtles vs. De La Soul in 1989, where the rock band sued De La over the use of "You Showed Me" for De La's "Transmitting Live From Mars." In that case, whether your agreed with the ruling or not (personally, I didn't then and I still don't now), you had to admit that De La's use of the Turtles was clear and blatant - it was an "obvious" sample. In this case though, Tommy Boy settled out of court with the Turtles. Biz Markie was not so lucky when Gilbert O' Sullivan sued him over the use of the song "Alone Again (Naturally)" - that went all the way through the court system and Biz Markie was found in violation of copyright laws. If I'm not mistaken, that ruling has likely been the key precedent over subsequent decisions over sampling usage.

    People have had and will have long, torturous debates over the ethics of sampling writ large. Personally, I think this was a bad call then and it really stifled a creative push by producers like the Bomb Squad (who would literally have dozens of samples stacked on-top of each other) to find new ways to manipulate sound and music - all done, in my opinion, without exploiting the original artist's intellectual property. Sampling is not like an unlicensed cover (though in Biz's case, his song was called "Alone Again." His bad.) and even in other cases where the use of a sample is "obvious," the context of the usage most of the time completely transforms how a chord or melody is being used.

    This new ruling takes things far, far, further. Since the days of Paul C, Ced Gee and Marley Marl, many producers have been splicing and chopping up samples: basically, breaking them into smaller component parts and then reassembling them into new chords, rhythms, melodies. What they're essentially sampling at this point is less a musical composition and more of a SOUND: the timbre of a drum snare, the warmth of a bassline, etc. What this new ruling states is that it doesn't matter if create a completely new musical composition through the atomized elements of another song: you still have to clear the sample. Nevermind that the original sample may be indistinguishable (which does lead you to ask: if you can't distinguish it, how do you know your song's been sampled?)

    One has to ask: just what is the point of such a ruling? I'm sure there's a technical legal opinion that can be weighed - the Court seemed to suggest that if you can't sample the whole thing, you can't sample part of it either (fuzzy logic). If that's the case though - if even a sound from a recording is legal game for copyright - how long before people try to get copyrights on chords? I'd love to see a guitarist try that: register a four-finger minor key chord...and then go out and sue anyone who plays it. Or hell, why not copyright drum patterns? (Question for smarter heads: if I recall, drum loops are not protected by copyright - true?)

    Just to step back a bit though, consider the following: as hip-hop's community has largely split itself into the majorest of the majors and the indiest of the indies, there are two classes of producers (generally speaking): those who can afford to sample willy-nilly because they got it like that: Kanye West, Dr. Dre, the Neptunes, etc. Then there are those who sample whatever they like but their records are in such limited supply (20,000 or less) that no one notices/cares - Madlib, Celph Titled, J-Zone, etc. I would think, the people most likely to be affected, are those in between: your DJ Premiers or Salaam Remis. They feel like a dying cadre anyways but much of their work is sample-based but especially in the case of Primo, much of what he does is chop and loop, creating new compositions out of old. He clears most of his samples anyways, but I get the feeling this is going to make things even more expensive since it opens up a range of new potential lawsuits depending on the sample in question.

    In any case, one can only hope that Masta P will appeal but since he was sued over a song used in his film rather than a sample he himself is being accused of using, his incentive (especially financial) to appeal is likely not going to be very high...which basically means a new precedent will have been set that's going to strong-arm creative freedom even more. Like I said, I know people have very passionate attitudes around the issue of copyright but while I may not subscribe to the idea of 100% carte blanche sampling, I think given the merits of this particular case, the Court ruled far too narrowly and short-sightedly. But hell, copyright law has needed major reform for about 100 years now - just add this to the list of grievances in support of an overhaul. (By the way, according to a recent New Yorker article I read, the copyright industry accounts for 5% of U.S. GNP. That's bigger than the auto industry. Damn!)


    be afraid. be very, very afraid

  • We (not the royal "we" but S and I) spent the weekend down at S's sister Diane's house in Hermosa Beach where, in between doing home entertainment system wiring for Di and marveling at the device which is the Airport Express, we were introduced to the magic that is the Miss Clairol Try-It-On-Studio. Hours of entertainment, guaranteed. Give yourself that mullet you always wanted. See what new locks would look like on your cat: go wild.

  • Ok, just to get serious - some of you may have heard that Jamaican dancehall giant Beenie Man was banned from MTV's VMAs because of his virulent homophobic comments. The New York Times Kalefah Sanneh wrote on the issue over the weekend and Jeff Chang offers his own cogent thoughts on the issue too.

  • More good thoughts to ponder: Josh Clover on the symbolic import of...cargo pants (and no, this is not some ad for Old Navy). This is good stuff, believe that.

  • Given that I don't DJ as much as I'd like to (blame that lil thing called my dissertation), it's good to know I can just live vicariously through Triple H's trials and tribulations at Cambridge's Enormous Room.

  • HHH also put me up on the London Dipset video. Camron and the Diplomats have elevated ignorance to some next level tip: this is priceless and timeless. Jim Jones needs to lay off the liquor, f'real. Actually, all these cats need to stay sober.

  • One of my favorite audioblogs, Cocaine Blunts has finally gotten down with its own domain name. Now if only Noz could figure out how to turn on his site feed.

  • Seriously, that's like my #1 gripe with blogs I like: it's not rocket science people: turn on your damn site feeds! Lazy people like who depend on and similar programs depend on your ability to turn this very simple feature on via your blogging program. Nick, you listening mang?

  • Speaking of Catchdubs, I spotted this over at his site. I'm not sure what the hell this is for but homegirl is off the third rail.

  • For weeks, I've been wondering the question on everyone's mind: where the F have the Neptunes been? Pharrell and Chad Hugo had pop music on LOCK one summer ago but this solstice, all you've heard is Fat Joe doing the Rockaway, Jadakiss asking "why?", and Juve rolling in slow motion. Are the 'Tunes too busy designing sneakers with Bathing Ape to lace us with some beats? Oh wait, here's one to roll too.

  • I'm not remotely one to criticize, but isn't a blog by a New York escort so 2003? I mean, really.
    (credit: Different Kitchen)

  • Nas' "Thief's Theme" remix = weaksauce.
    (credit: Pickin' Boogers)

  • Friday, September 03, 2004


    (I can't be the first to make that pun, right?)

    Pop Life has largely avoided the RNC this week because, well, we have very little tolerance for bullshit. As an equal opportunity sponsor, let it be noted that PL also largely avoided the DNC too for the exact same reason though we will say:

    Obama in 2012. Hooooo!

    Anyways, the backlash against Zell Miller, i.e. the Georgia senator who is technically a democrat but sounds straight republican, including shilling for G-Dub on Wed. night, has been hilarious to watch.

    First of all, Hua mentioned that on Chris Matthews' Hardball, Matthews had put Miller so far on the defensive that Zell challenged Matthews to a duel. TO A DUEL. WTF? Is this 1804 up in here? Zell would have been far more gangsta if he had just grabbed his sack, said, "I got your hard balls right here, MFer" and bounced off camera. Instead, Mr. Miller let himself get punk'd and acted the fool to try to make up the difference. Remember Zell: bad boys move in silence.
    (Mind you, I trust Matthews about as far as I could throw that portly pundit but it's nice to see the right get BBQed in the same way the left typically gets roasted. Just to be fair and balanced, y'know.)

    Then I saw on The Pnuthouse that even the GOP think Zell's off the deep end, going as far to disinvite him from sitting with the President's family during G-Dub's speech on Thursday. Keep in mind: Miller was the keynote on Wed. night and in less than 24 hours, his speech managed to get him booted out of the inner circle. Dissed and dismissed. Sucker.
    (Junichi gets extra points for this line on his blog: "One of the featured speakers was once-pro-segregationist Senator Zell Miller, a turncoat Democrat, who unbeknownst to me, is the cadaverous love-child of one of the zombies in 28 Days Later and Emperor Palpatine from Return of the Jedi." Who's to argue?

    Here's the thing: on paper, Zell seems like a dream for the GOP: a guy who (as many have reported) gave a keynote speech for Clinton in 1992 and has now turned from the ranks of his party to bat for the other team (I'm mixing metaphors but deal with it). What people forget is: no one really likes a traitor, especially one who's STILL IN THE VERY PARTY HE'S UNDERMINING. It'd be one thing for Zell to bounce out of the Democratic ranks and join the GOP. At least that'd be an honest transition. But it seems mad shady to stay in the Democratic party and then start dropping lump lumps on them. After all, if you're so willing to betray your old friends, who's to say you won't do the same with your new friends?

    I was kind of hoping that Zell was some kind of Trojan horse - pretending to be down with the GOP, but using his access to blow up their spot and ridicule Bush. Now THAT would have been one of the illest political moves ever. But as it turns out, Zell's just a back-stabber. Oh well.


    Minor note: I retired the Pop Life splash page. Now you can load us up directly at

    Feel free to get back to something actually important now.

    Wednesday, September 01, 2004


    the new fall fashion

    Zhang Yimou's new Hero was #1 this past weekend. Provided, it's late August and the movie "only" made $18 million but Pop Life isn't hating even though we had some ideological issues with the film.

    I didn't expect this, but there's been a ton of chatter in the comments section about this and I wanted to repost Jeff Chang's comments here:
      "Great review. I vaguely recall that Zhang had funding and political issues with the Chinese government, which may have led him to change the message a bit.

      But that possible excuse aside, I actually kind of disagree with your main point. I found the movie to be incredibly ambivalent.

      There is the scene where Wu Ming and Qin Shi Huang discuss the problem of translation, and the King offers that he'll just standardize the language when he conquers the entire country. Wu Ming looks stunned. It's the first narrative inkling you have that he's not on the King's team. But that moment--not to mention the way Zhang uses the desert as a romantic backdrop (not unlike Ang Lee)--becomes very political.

      In contrast to the eye-blasting individual style each of the assassins conveys, the King's armoured minions speak and move as one--the resemblance to the delegates at the Republican Convention this week (let alone its obvious critique of the CCP) is pretty clear.

      And the real hero, of course, is not Wu Ming, who dies a martyred fool, but Tony Leung's character Broken Sword--who discovers the truest transcendent completion of the warrior. (Here again the tension between individual liberation and dulling groupthink is pretty clear.)

      The ending shot of the Great Wall seems to me to epitomize the ambivalence. I think Zhang's made a movie about the limits and consequences of unity--whether that be won within a solitary person or the body of a nation.

      Broken Sword's achievement of a personal unity fractures his relationship with his lover and his apprentice. The King's achievement of national unity is based on a lie that Wu Ming accepts--as you said, that peace must proceed from war. But the way Zhang casts it, the King realizes he must be pragmatic and set a limit to his own ambition.

      The Wall, then, is a reminder that the lie only works within the space of the national body. Beyond it lies someone else's lie. That's the lunacy of Bush's wars. Like the terrorists, he has given his ambitions no borders. (Let's leave Kerry for another day.)

      I think Zhang has done something really interesting--he's taken the foundational, epic myth of China and recast it as a really unsettling meditation into ambition. Its strange timeliness makes it even more disturbing.
    My reply:

    "That's an interesting read - not one that I disagree with at all. It's intriguing that you raise the specter of the Wall since I've seen other people make mention of it as one of Qin's enduring legacies - sort of symbolic proof that his methods, however reprehensible, produced some important facets to China's national/cultural identity and legacy. I don't think Zhang builds a critique of that symbolism: after all, The Wall, impressive as it is, was about as successful at keeping Western invaders out of China as the Maginot Line held off the Germans. Had Zhang made more out of this contradiction: the visual spectacle of the Wall vs. its relative failure, I would have bought into that ambivalence more but in the subtitled versions of the film I've seen in both China and the U.S., that critique, whether implicit or explicit just wasn't there.

    Also, don't you also think the film suggests that one must sacrifice the needs of the individual - even entire communities (the Zhao for example) - for the betterment of the nation? Tien sha, baby! In this, I agree that there is a big ambivalency here: the film is called "Hero", suggesting a focus on the individual but to me, the overall message was that you have to dedicate yourself to the One, as in nation, rather than the one as self. Or better said, as Tony Leung's character learns, the transcendence of self means dedication to the larger needs of the nation."

    And Jeff's last round back:
      "Yes. What's great about the movie is it lays out opposing ideas of what it means to be Tien Sha. On the one hand you have Broken Sword's insight that a warrior's life is ultimately one of sacrifice for the greater good. On the other you have the King's minions who literally move as a unit, suppressing dissent in the process.

      This is why Wu Ming must die, by the way. And why he is venerated. He is the potential threat because he has come closest to uncovering the lie. His execution is recast as a martyrdom to Tien Sha. It allows the King to secure the lie in plain sight. (Bush's pronouncements that his wars are not about killing Muslims are the modern-day example. He's not so adroit, though, that he'd be able to pull off the latter.)

      These are opposed worldviews, and I think Zhang gives them both play. (Again, here's where someone could weigh in on the censorship issues involved in the government's funding of the movie.) I think it's also clear ultimately what side he thinks he's on, just check the color palettes.

      Anyway, I think Zhang and the movie are brilliant. Imagine if someone was able to pull off the same thing with a movie about the American Revolution. I can't think of a single American director who could do it. Gangs of New York might be a good example of a similar attempt that failed."

    Also: read what Beautiful Atrocities has to say on the movie.

    The comparisons to Leni Riefenstahl are provocative (made by The Village Voice's J. Hoberman), and what flashes to mind are similar accusations made towards Lord of the Rings by critics who thought Peter Jackson's vision of the Tolkien world seemed resplendent in neo-Eurocentric/imperialist garb. The main difference though is that, with Hero, the ideologies (ambivalent or not) are pretty much in your face rather than having to be implicitly read out of Rings.

    All I can say is the following:

    1) The film is still visually gorgeous. Christopher Doyle is godly. Please, go see Last Life in the Universe when it opens to wider release on 9/14.

    2) Zhang's next film, House of Flying Daggers is supposed to be what The Score was to Boof Baf. If that just went over your head, translation = it's supposed to be much, much, much better. C'mon - it stars Andy Lau, Zhang Ziyi and Takeshi Kaneshiro. Let's just hope it's better than this Andy Lau sword-fighting movie. Wire-fu gone bad (though Nick Cheung was hilarious in it).

    3) Would it friggin' kill someone to make a happy movie starring Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung as lovers? Maybe one where they, you know, kiss or something? Until that day, just go rent this Maggie Cheung/Leon Lai film.