In honor of the Oscar win by the movie “Crash,” I thought I would reprint my review originally posted May 13, 2005.
Give Me a Blake!
I saw “Crash”
night and my first impression was that it was a well-crafted
tear-jerker that tried to tackle some big issues. But the more I
thought about it, the more I got upset by the way the subject was
actually handled. I guess what upsets me the most is that like “Million
Dollar Baby” (which Mr. Figgis also wrote), this film will also be
considered an “important” film. But it actually is a bunch of liberal
guilt covering up deeply rooted racist notions pretending to be
insightful commentary. I will give this to Mr. Haggis though he is a
much more adept director than Clint “Let’s-Milk-Every-Scene”
Eastwood. Much like I do when I walk out of a Spielberg film, I
laughed and I cried and all that, but ultimately I felt cheated. The
film is a manipulative smokescreen that makes you disregard what the
actual racist subtext is.
EDIT: I find it strange that from the comments so far, it
seems that people are being dissuaded from seeing this movie in the
theater because of this review, but they still insist that they are
going to rent it? Why are people so attracted to this film?
Haggis used a masterful stroke to dissuade me from giving too much
thought to the film’s politics during the movie by knocking me over the
head in the first five minutes. We open on a car accident where an
Asian woman has rear-ended a Latina woman. An argument ensues over
whose fault it is. And what does the Latina do, she starts to berate
the Asian woman by mocking her accent. “Oh, I blake
to fast?” Of course the audience (which was predominately African
American) loved it. “Ha ha ha, make fun of the Asian who talks funny.”
Is it just me or does it seem like black audiences tend to be more open
about their glee in these moments. Anyway, in addition to feeling not
so comfortable for two hours in a crowded theater with this audience, I
had to experience that all too familiar discomfort of knowing that just
upon seeing me exiting the theater, they will be reminded of that
knee-slapping good joke.
Anyway, it was at that moment that I had to make a decision. Am I going
to go with this film and ignore what a hacky old offensive joke this is
or am I going to walk out $12 dollars poorer? I stayed.
here is how I knew that this was NOT going to be an insightful look into
race. Given the information in the beginning, I had no idea the woman
was supposed to be Korean — from her bad chinky accent, I thought she
was supposed to be Chinese. By the end of the film, we find out she is
Korean. Her name is Kim Lee (which is either a really funny joke or
just completely ignorant and retarded — what first-generation Korean
American would be named Kim Lee?). Regardless, knowing that she is
Korean, the opening joke becomes doubly annoying. KOREANS CAN
PRONOUNCE R’s! They have problems with L’s but not R’s. So Mr. Haggis
forcing this actress Alexis Rhee to effect a problem saying “brake” by
saying “blake” was a sign post that said, “This is a white man’s view
I will give Haggis props for trying to create three
dimensional characters out of all the varied races he actually does
talk about. The good Hispanic father who looks like a Cholo gang-banger.
The Persian second-generation daughter of working class immigrant
parents who turns out to be a doctor. The respected African American
detective who turns out to have a car-jacking brother and a doped-up
single black mother. The evil perverted white racist who actually is a
caring life-saving cop. But in all the cases, the trick to his creating
three-dimensions tends to be showing that the non-white characters
actually live up to or are deeply connected to their respective
But most insidious was that the bad white guys are all somehow
justified (even Ryan Philipe’s “good” white cop is given a pass when he
gets away with and is justified in killing Larenz Tate’s car-jacking
black man character). The worst subversion of real insight is
played out with Matt Dillon’s character. He plays a racist LAPD officer
who sticks his finger up Thandie Newton’s crotch during a routine stop,
but is given repentance when he saves that same woman from a fiery
death in an over-turned car later in the movie. Had Haggis really
wanted to show the cause and effect of racism, he’d have had Ms. Newton
die in a gasoline blaze while screaming at Matt Dillon, “Anybody but
you! Not you! You racist pig!” I would have also have had Matt Dillon’s
character suffer from third-degree burns from the blaze and spend the
rest of the movie in a hospital bed thinking about why this happened.
Instead he is given the easy out. He saves the day. And it is Thandie
Newton’s character who is left to rethink her views on the white man. I
guess in America we will always need to have our white knights.
There are plenty of other ridiculously offensive moments in the movie,
such as the ignorant Persian shopkeeper who believes in mysticism and
divinity after nearly shooting a five-year-old girl. He is seen as an
idiot at the end of the movie because he can’t figure out that
the bullets his daughter bought for his gun were actually blanks, not
the work of God. But I would have to say that the hackiest moment
in the movie comes when Haggis lifts a scene straight out of “Driving
Miss Daisy,” Sandra Bullock’s poor little rich girl character hugs her
Mexican housekeeper in a tender moment and says, “You’re my best
friend” in a tear-jerking close-up. If Haggis had real balls, he would
have closed in on the housekeeper’s face as she stifled her laughter.
will admit that most of my extensive dissection of this film comes from
the annoyance that though Haggis seems to attempt to treat all the
various races of LA, he seems to convienantly marginalize the East
Asians. Usually “important” films that deal with race leave out us
Asians. When I looked at the cast list on IMDB, I was excited to see
Daniel Dae Kim‘s name in there. I thought, “Great! Finally, we’re
included in the discussion.” Sadly, Daniel Dae Kim’s part consists of
one line. By the end of the movie (except for a brief scene with
a heartless bureaucrat), Asians are seen as a stoic evil snakehead, as a
greedy opportunist immigrant, as a bad driver with bad fake Asian
accent and as voiceless third-world smugglees that have never seen a
televisions before. Though Haggis attempts to show multiple angles on
every other race in LA, he leaves the East Asians to be caricatures.
The film falls back on letting us be the butt of the joke, a throwaway
or a device to represent the redemption for some other character.
give Haggis points for trying and for crafting scenes well, but it
saddens me to think that this film will probably be heralded as a new
look on race relations in America. It is just an old view with more
bells and whistles.