My first introduction to the work of Greg Pak wasn’t an encouraging one when his short “Fighting Grandpa” screened at the 1998 “Chili Visions.” It was about his Korean grandparents with a particular focus on trying to understand his grandfather. Which he never quite did.
In a Q&A that followed, Pak (who’s half white) tried to rationalize why it was just as well that he never accomplished the goal he set when embarking upon his film. Ugh. I felt resentment at having wasted my time. My recollection was that it ran over an hour.
Looking it up now, I was shocked to learn it was a mere 21 minutes. OK, it just seemed over an hour long.
A couple years later, Pak and I were on a panel discussion, probably at his alma mater Yale, discussing Asian American portrayals. One student said she was offended at something I said, and Pak agreed, adding she had the right to be. God give me strength. He did ask me out to lunch, and we continued on as if it had never happened.
Since then, Pak’s gotten quite steady work as a comic book writer, including books featuring the Hulk and Superman, but I never picked up any of them. Probably because the artwork wasn’t enticing enough (a common problem today with the substandard definition of what passes for art) or I wasn’t interested in the latest reboot from either Marvel or DC.
But I finally picked up his four-issue mini-series “Kingsway West” (published by independent Dark Horse Comics) because its protagonist was a Chinese American in the Old West with a love interest, and the artwork (by Mirko Colak) was passable.
Issue #1: It’s 1861, Northern California, where a 13-year war between the Chinese and Mexicans over Red Gold has just ended. Kingsway Law is confronted by at least four Chinese bounty hunters eager to claim the $1,000 on his head for “desertion, treason, conspiring with freelanders, and murder.”
Law apparently shoots three times (well, the triggerman is not seen in the panel, but it’s followed by him standing with at least two bodies on the ground) then shoots again. But when we get an aerial view, there are only two bounty hunters dead (where are the other two?) and Law collapses with blood coming out of his upper body. So apparently he was shot after all. Very confusing.
He wakes up 13 hours later to find that a Mexican woman named Sonia’s nursed him back to health. We only see three pages between them before we’re whisked five years into the future, where we eventually learn he married her. But Chinese soldiers burn down their house and Sonia’s gone. In the meantime, Law meets Ah Toy, a Chinese woman accompanied by a doglike-sniffing mini-dragon and alien-looking horse.
This was a confusing, jarring introduction because I had to keep flipping back and forth between the pages to understand who was on what side and what they were fighting over. The Chinese soldiers all uh… “looked alike,” and I couldn’t determine who I was supposed to be rooting for. And both Sonia and Ah Toy looked similar. Apparently, this takes place on an alternate world or reality.
On the first page, the narrator explains Red Gold as “a substance that powered ‘extramundial’ phenomena otherwise unexplainable by science.” I tried looking up “extramundial” online and Google wasn’t much help.
Annoying too is the pattern of people being shot out of nowhere with cackles of energy also suddenly appearing. And how are we supposed to care about Kingsway’s search for Sonia if we only saw her for three pages?
Issue #2: In four pages of flashbacks with Sonia, we learn Kingsway once slaughtered a Mexican priest and an entire church after Mexicans killed 100 Chinese babies at an orphanage. Sonia herself killed Chinese, but they’re trying to leave the killing behind them, and Kingsway’s vowed to stop being “a monster.”
In the present day, Ah Toy tells Kingsway that he has a reputation for helping anyone in danger as he went against the Chinese queen when she tried to rob and imprison freelanders like her — those unaffiliated with any side.
Enter: troops from the United States of New York who’ve implanted people with wings — including Strode, a black woman — to do their bidding. An engineer questions a Chinese soldier whose entire right side of his face is mush. Yet he manages to stand and suddenly, it looks like he’s only had his eye blown out. This from the inconsistent artist who loves his work so much he actually signs two ordinary pages here (unheard of; that’s usually reserved for the cover).
During a confrontation with Kingsway and Ah Toy, someone’s suddenly shot three times from behind by — get this — about a dozen soldiers who, apparently, no one heard coming. Again, a very tiresome ploy.
Issue #3: Ah Toy brings Kingsley back to her mining village, next to a Red Gold mine. She wants him to kill the monsters guarding it so they can use the powers of the mineral, but he refuses, remembering his vow to his wife to not return to the killing machine he was (and still is). I won’t give away any more of the plot except to say that yes, yet another person gets killed out of nowhere.
The fourth and last installment is scheduled to be released later this month.
Box Office Report: “Moana” took in an impressive $82 million over the Thanksgiving weekend, falling only 50% last weekend for a second week at #1 and a total of $119.9 million ($177 million globally). If it holds at that rate, it should gross around $174 million in the States. The animated movie’s soundtrack just jumped from #16 to #5 on the album chart.
I’ve been encouraged by the many people who told me they were going to check out “Edge of Seventeen” given my glowing review of the teen angst comedy starring Hailee Steinfeld and her shy Korean American love interest Hayden Szeto. The independent film company STX Entertainment took out a two-page ad in The Los Angeles Times quoting the many critics who’ve called it one of the best pictures of the year. There’s still hope that Steinfeld could get an Oscar nomination (she’s already gotten a nod before).
After opening to a disappointing $4.7 million, it’s now accumulated $12.7 million and should wind up with about $16 million (budget was $9 million).
Stalker Update Department: On the CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) was unable to choose between Greg and (Filipino American) Josh. When she thought she was pregnant, Rebecca took it as a sign that she and Josh were meant to be together and tried to get him to make love. When she suddenly gets her period again, she realizes she’s not pregnant and tells Josh she thought she was. He’s in shock. “Rebecca, the last three minutes have been the most terrifying of my life!” He says they’re over and walks out.
Despite considering her again, “rebound” Greg also decides to reject her. In the next episode, he performs his farewell song, “Sh*t Show,” which despite hilarious lyrics, is moving, as it’s arranged as a ’70s style ballad. Rebecca does a makeover, going blonde, and runs into Josh, who doesn’t recognize her. Smiling to prove to both of them that she’s OK, Josh sees through it and caringly says, “Rebecca, whatever you’re going through, it’ll get better.”
She continues smiling, denying anything’s wrong. It’s heartbreaking. And it’s once again a tribute to Bloom as an actress for making us feel sympathy for a neurotic stalker with so many issues who you nevertheless want to see happy. “Crazy Ex” airs Friday nights at 9/8 central.
Sad Farewell Department: I was shocked and saddened to read that actor/director/dancer Keo Woolford died from a stroke at the young age of 49. In the mid-’90s, he came to a few MANAA meetings urging us to speak out against Disney’s “Lion King” because a character made a snide quip about the hula. Woolford pointed out that despite Hollywood’s attitude toward it, the hula was a serious art form. We issued a statement.
He went on to do a one-man play, “I Land,” at East West Players, starred in “The King and I” at the London Palladium, and was a recurring police officer in the current “Hawaii Five-O.” Keo, thank you for helping us keep in mind the perspectives of the often-overlooked Pacific Islander community in our work.
’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.