Category Archives: SF Local

HOW TO WATCH: ‘SAMURAI COP’

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1. Get invited to a dinner party your friends are hosting. Text the hosts asking if they would like you to pick up a film at Le Video for later. When one of them texts back Samurai Cop understand that this is not a joke. You may think that it is, but it’s not. They want you to go into Le Video and ask the cashier for Samurai Cop. They want you to embark on an adventure.

2. When you enter Le Video check your text to make sure the film is actually called Samurai Cop and not Karate Cop for if you ask for Karate Cop, you will feel like a fool and walk out of the store filled with a shame that you will carry with you for many years to come.

3. When you do ask for Samurai Cop, the first cashier will pause to think if they have it, while the second one will quickly say in a whisper: “Upstairs. Action.” You know then that he has seen this movie more than once, and probably more than twice.

4. When you slip the DVD out from its hiding place, marvel at its cover. It’s a hand-drawn cop holding a bloody samurai sword in one hand, and an even bloodier head in the other. Think to yourself, “I think this is good. I think we’ve chosen right.” Then notice the wedding ring on his finger. Samurai Cop is taken. But that’s okay, he wasn’t your type anyway.

5. Pay for the movie. Don’t shop lift! Le Video needs your help. Get a little sad when you realize you have to renew your account and it costs an extra five dollars. Feel poor. Remember to go back to that one Indian place you saw that had a help wanted sign. Look up some other Indian dishes besides naan and tikka masala when you get home. You want to seem qualified.

6. Decide you will make garlic bread for the dinner because people like garlic bread and garlic bread is easy. Get all the ingredients. Bread. Garlic. Butter. Parmesan. Parsley? No, that’s too much. You’re poor, remember? Realize you’ve never made garlic bread before and you and your boyfriend are already roasting the garlic wrong. Decide it doesn’t matter. It will probably be better this way. High-five and feel confident.

7. Show up to your friends house with brownish chunky garlic bread and at least two bottles of wine. Don’t worry, there will be at least one more bottle there.

8. Have a delicious meal with friends and talk expectations. What is a samurai cop? A cop who fights with a sword. Is he Japanese? No. Can he speak Japanese? It says he does on the back of the case. Decide that you should all just wait to watch it. Start talking about how to fry tofu. Apologize to the one guy you didn’t realize was vegan because all you brought was delicious buttery garlic bread. That’s okay. More for you.

9. Drink more. Watch one of your friends play Hotline Miami. Putter in the kitchen. Repeat.

10. Fill your glass. Insert disk. You are now ready to begin.

11. Try to watch the intro with Joe Bob Briggs. Laugh at the beginning because it’s so strange. Then realize it’s too strange and that Joe Bob is actually pretty boring. Skip to the actual film.

12. Realize very quickly that this movie may be one of the worst films you will ever see. Be grateful you just drank a lot of wine.

13. Watch the samurai cop preform only bad karate. Feel better about almost calling the film Karate Cop earlier at Le Video.

14. Realize that Samurai Cop has a black sidekick that the DVD case calls “puckish.” Laugh at this on an off throughout the film.

15. Feel slightly shocked at how sexual the movie is, then grow weary. It is more than once that a dopey-eyed girl will ask Samurai Cop, awkwardly biting her lip, “Would you like to fuck me?” Roll your eyes. Make a joke. If no one laughs make it again: they may not have heard. If after a second time no one laughs just know that it wasn’t funny. Spend the next couple scenes in shame.

16. Laugh at how ridiculous Samurai Cop looks. Extremely tan. Long hair. Small head. Thick neck. Kind of a neanderthal Tarzan. Wonder why he can’t pronounce anything in Japanese and why women are attracted to him. Shrug. Sometimes there are no answers.

17. Keep making jokes until people do laugh. Feel good. You’re so funny! You and your friends are now a regular comedy team. Zings comin’ left and right. Reward yourself with more garlic bread.

18. Get to the part with actual sword fighting. ‘FINALLY’ someone will say. Chuckle. Realize the two men fighting have probably never held a sword. Laugh. They look like children. Then feel a little sad. They look like children. Be glad when they quickly ditch the swords. It was a little too painful to watch.

19. Watch the credits role knowing that a lot wasn’t really resolved. And wait! Samurai Cop isn’t married! And he never cut off a head! Grumble about the deceitful cover.

20. Go to special features. Look at stills. Snicker. Tire. Go to commentary with Robert Z’Dar. See that he’s extremely overweight and sad. Get depressed QUICKLY. Realize you’re about to graduate.Think of the future. See yourself in a button up t-shirt with skulls and flames on it and balding head and small pony-tail. Get depressed. Look around at friends. See them happy and talking. Realize that you all are different from Robert Z’Dar and Samurai Cop. Feel hope. Know that you have a future. Feel relief and also joy for being in a room with such wonderful people. Celebrate with some garlic bread.

21. Return the DVD to Le Video the day that it’s due. Not because you wanted to watch it again, but because you like to live on the edge. Slip it silently into the DVD slot. Wonder where it’s off to next. Wonder where all the people who worked on it are today. Promise yourself you will write something better. Promise yourself you will finish that draft. Promise yourself you will get a job and start saving for your own feature.

22. Enter the store and rent something else. Feel happy that for some reason you’ve never been able to enter a video store without renting something. Embark on another adventure.

-Madeline Mahrer

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THE GREAT STAR/ CHINATOWN’S (1920’S) ANTI-MOVIE PALACE

The Great Star Theatre

From Yelp:

“Great Star Theater is where i spent a time watching shaw brothers movies.
and whatever else they were showing. (action, drama, adventures, love stories, …looking back shaw movies were so inane but they were the only films around in chitown.

i saw my first kung fu movies here. wang yu’s style was the rave then. there are similiarities  to jackie chan’s kung fu. both looks more than street brawling than kung fu fighting.

the first genuine kung fu movie “The Boxer From Shantung” was shown here. soon after, golden harvest signed bruce lee to a movie contract and produced “The Big Boss”.. .

the rest is kung fu history.”

-(User) Victor G.

“Sipping melon soy and watching Hong Kong epics… priceless.”

-(User) Sketch F.

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The Great Star Theater smells like history. It’s the most you’ll ever love a theater that literally hurts to spend two hours inside. I’m referring here to the seats, their metal inner-workings not nearly mysterious enough.

But in a neighborhood so saturated with tourism and offensively knick-knacky souvenir commerce, the Great Star is also golden. It’s a blast of the authentic.

Contemporary with, and possibly predating, the Castro’s gilded monument to the cinema, the Great Star has sat precisely at the heart of Chinatown since very nearly before there was a Chinatown. You can still find, in Yelp reviews, the painful nostalgia with which locals regard this now barely running movie house. It was once an institution, serving up that old standby: kung fu.

The SF Chronicle assures us (or did in 2010) that the theater has undergone major restoration efforts—but it needs more love. Hopefully the community can rally, and we can get this theatre more densely programmed. As it stands, it sounds like screenings are on and off, augmented by some (welcome) Cantonese opera fare. (As it stands, a schedule for the theater’s events can’t be found online—not a good sign.)

Granted, it’s not the best time to be trying open theaters in San Francisco (or anywhere) as many this year have announced their closing after decades of adventurous programming (The Bridge, The Lumiere) and still others are engaged in a fierce battle to remain open (The Roxie.)

But there’s also, surely, an untapped audience still densely populating the surrounding Chinatown. It’s easy for an outsider to forget but, aside from being a tourist destination, Chinatown is still a thriving community for Chinese Americans. Who’s to say they wouldn’t be thrilled to see some Chinese Cinema on the big screen? I’m happy to join.

I had the fortune to see a film at the Great Star on a painfully beautiful rainy day in Chinatown. The folks from Art House Revival and CAAM (Center for Asian American Media) were friendly and visibly happy to be putting the space to use. The film was Stolen Life by Shaohong Li. You can stream it on Netflix, and I’m told by CAAM that a large number of DVD copies have been donated to the Chinatown branch of the SF Public Library.

About Stolen Life I can’t say much. It’s an interesting entry with context, but kind of a harrowing trudge of a film, and not in a productive way. I won’t recommend it, but it does faithfully document a long series of terrible choices with admirable empathy (as a viewer, I couldn’t match that empathy.) Li Shaohong does have Fifth Generation street cred though.

Let’s get the Great Star back up and running. It has too much potential.

-Max Berwald

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WE ALL LIKE TO EAT CAKE: ‘DAISIES’ AT THE ROXIE

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Last night I tried to beat the rainstorm to the Roxie, San Francisco’s oldest running movie theater. The Castro may be our city’s opulent movie palace, but the Roxie is our musty shoebox, a treasure chest of mysterious breeding. It’s a bit like time travel, and last night the screen was prepped for that cheerfully boxy frame: 1:33.

Too often this film gets called mischievous: Daisies has real teeth. Looking at it now, the 1966 film looks communist-friendly, but was banned on release in communist Czechoslovakia. It was also a state sponsored film: such is history.

What complicates the film is the interplay between surrealism and satire. While the film formally slashes and burns its way through un(classically) motivated montage, absurd dialogue, optical tricks, and what can only be described as the most irresponsible use of color-tinting in cinema history, its heroines are also essentially parodies. Not caricatures: parodies.

I have no beef with feminism, but I don’t know where that label is coming from. Daisies has been pitched to me over and over as a feminist film, and the label persists in this poster (foregrounded on the film’s IMDB page):

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Whether you find the image nauseating or ironically sublime, you can see the words “madcap feminist farce” printed in clear, modestly goofy font for all the world to see. Construing the film as feminist kind of upsets me, because the films heroines… well, they don’t behave well. Calling them heroines is sort of a joke. Their acting out seems to be less about upsetting established patriarchal order (although that may be in there somewhere) and more about exploiting that order for their own unending (and unsatisfying) gain. They’re not women– they’re cheery idiots, merry fools, dress-up dolls. 

Of course you get some juicy anarchist sentiment to chew on: the destruction of wealthy order. (The girls can be found cheating elderly men out of huge amounts of expensive food, and, most famously, trashing an extravagant banquet.) Although I question whether there isn’t a distinction to be drawn between anarchic destruction of, and fetishistic worship of. The worship of a product could result in its consumption, and the girls love to destroy by means of consumption. 

But there’s judgement coming. The film’s end finds the girls being forced to clean up their mess. Indeed, they beg for a second chance after their destructive impulses land them karmically (instantly and absurdly) in a large body of water. They look ready to drown, and beg an unseen force to spare them.

They’re then warped back to the seen of their crime, tasked with cleaning up their mess: and they can’t. Not only are their hearts not in it (they titter and whisper and fuss while trying to piece together hopelessly shattered dishes) but all their tasks are impossible. Nothing can repair the damage they have done. They cannot rebuild the plates, and they cannot reproduce the amazing food that took them only one scene to grind under their heels.

Maybe the film would play well next to the somewhat more ascetic The Comedy (Rick Alverson.) While that film looks on its central character with somewhat less relish, its similarly critical.

We’re meant to enjoy the antics of the girls in Daisies, maybe in a visceral, amoral way, but the logical thread of the movie is a damning comment on their behavior. Far from real “rebels” the girls are the ultimate consumers. They’re constantly pigging out on all manner of food, frequently very rich food, frequently cake, and their glee seems to partially stem from their not having to pay for any of it. What a value! The constant consumption looks to be a metaphor for the capitalist middle class that, frankly, the French New Wavers weren’t so crazy about either: it’s that petty bourgeoise thing again.

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That they’re women: well, their names are Mary I and Mary II. Maybe the feminist tone that people are wringing out of the movie does recognize the women as acidic satires, stingingly evoking what women aren’t: interchangeable dolls running around eating and tittering and lighting things on fire.

Like The Comedy, Daisies evokes a special strand of superficiality that seems at once horrifically extreme and banal (we all like to eat cake, don’t we?) But here it’s based less on ironic malaise and more on endless consumption and play. Destruction is purportedly a creative act (maybe by omission) but in Daisies the anarchy is passed into the hands of the mindless, the self-obsessed, the greedy, the hedonistic: and they’re women. So we should be more careful calling this an empowering, feminist romp.

Just what kind of a farce this is, only Vera Chytilova knows. Now:

If I can go on for a moment, from reading to experience: the film is breathtaking (is the phrase “gleefully anarchic?”) and truly, nothing is sacred. Janus Films and the Roxie have also conspired to present this Czech New Wave masterwork/symphonic riff on a new 35mm print which, I can attest, is gorgeous. Daisies is also available to stream through Hulu, but seeing the celluloid really draws some of the more- ahem– colorful passages, giving them enough weight to sufficiently convince you you have left your body. You will lean forward, but see only butterflies.

A night at the Roxie also puts you in position for Taqueria Los Coyotes, where the carne asada fries come recommended. Hopefully the rain keeps up, as it somehow makes the tacos taste even better, and the Roxie even more magical.

-Max Berwald

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