Best Picture?

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
the other
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.


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
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
of race.”

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 “
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.


46 thoughts on “

  1. Mike,I was really looking forward to seeing Crash. Because I had heard that it was thought provoking on the subject of race and race relations in America. But after reading your review, I’m considerably less likely to go see it.Doesn’t it suck that we are still only viewed as caricatures? Yes.

  2. i too was looking forward to seeing this movie.  and even with all the spoilers, i think i still might…with my eyes wide open thanks to you.
    btw, i have yet to see million dollar baby…but “clint ‘let’s-milk-every-scene’ eastwood” just made me laugh out loud.

  3. Thank you for this honest review. Some of the other “places” I go to for film reviews really had this movie on a high horse. I haven’t seen it yet but all that they were raving about certainly had me excited to see it. This, however, makes me take pause and when I actually view the film (which, I think now will be a rental movie) I’ll keep a careful eye open.

  4. i laughed and cried, too… i thought it was a cool movie and i would recommend it – but i would also let friends know that the asian experience is sort of wacked out so they’re not really seeing what’s for real…but that’s usually the case, no? so what are we going to do about it then?what i get from this post is – we need more asian american writers to write about asians americans…or the current group of non-asian writers need to be made more aware of cultural whatever’s (like “Kim Lee” as a retarded name for a 1st gen Korean). meanwhile, it seemed a little strange to have two Korean men strike up a deal to smuggle in Thai refugees, no? Don’t at least one of the smuggler-dudes speak the language of the smugglees in these transactions? AND – what’s the deal with paying for the service by check?

  5. al sharpton said this movie was great and he’d protest it if that’s what it takes to get people to see it. but nelson george, considered the godfather of hip hop journalism and also a movie producer, is more in line with mike, calling it liberal guilt and an old take on race using stereotypes too much rather than breaking any new ground.

  6. That’s too bad, I thought the movie might have some possibilties.  But the fact that they named the Asian character “Kim Lee,” is a giveaway that it won’t be very good.  Actually that’s one of my pet peeves; I can’t recall the number of times I’ve seen Asian characters with bad fake names like “Lee Kim” or “Chang Lee,” or “Kim Lee.”

  7. Okay. I thought you expressed your ideas very well until I hit the “Spoilers Ahead” and then I had to stop reading. Do you have an “End of Spoilers” section?

  8. Yeah, reviews on this movie made it seem “progressive” and “the first to really tackle race relations”. I’m glad you did your own review on it. Perhaps I’ll wait until it comes out on DVD.

  9. I saw the movie.  It was entertaining I thought.  Sometimes we just need to see it for what it is, $12 worth of entertainment. OK, it did upset me that every race represented in the movie had 3 dimensions to their characters except for the Koreans.  OK, it upset me some more that us female Koreans cannot seem to get away from being streotyped as the bad drivers who cannot speak English.  Although, I should be thankful that we were portrayed as rude bitches and no longer stereotyped as being submissive or passive.  And I agree with buttermelon, if they knew anything about Korean business people, they should know WE DON’T TAKE CHECKS, CASH ONLY!!!!

  10. I must say that I agree with your disappoint ment in the film, but some people aren’t ready to see blacks, hispanics, or asians in other films. I’m by no means supporting this view but for some odd reason, the racial group it offends recognize it before anyone  else does. Logically if though it would offend, they wouldn’t put it out there. It was the same reason it took my a while to get used to Spike Lee movies, but it is a horrible truth in society.Some of the people I work with find it weird that I’m from Jamaica and don’t smoke weed and don’t act ghetto fab most of the time, and by best friend Steph from NY even though she is Chinese speaks without an accent if not better English than they do.However, I do respect the majority of you reviews on films that I have been reading for the past year or so, so this one will probably be a rental.

  11. I read the highlighted section, and they all seem to be great points, but I have no clue what anyone’s talking about. I guess I have to go see the film… no- I mean I guess I’ll wait for the DVD and then come back and reread the entire post.

  12. To comment again about your edit and about people still wanting to rent…me being a person who won’t see it in the theater but will rent it, I simply mean I try to watch as many films as possible, and depending on how important I find the movie to be depends on what kind of “experience” I want to have in seeing it. The lowest rung, for me, is that of picking up a rental. Crash is a film I’ll get around to seeing but the place I’ll probably end up seeing it through means of a rental in my living room.

  13. personally, i hadn’t even heard of this movie until recently. its’ been recommended to me after my frustration with hollywood movies i’ve been seeing lately (interpreter, kingdom of heaven). do you think my first generation immigrant parents who don’t speak too much english would enjoy/understand this film?

  14. as for the part about the black audiences laughing at “the asians talking funny” and feeling when you leave and see you it’ll remind them of it:as we’ve seen in other discussions on your xanga, oppressed “minority” groups do not usually have a lot of unity with other oppressed groups against their oppressors. comedy has always been a way to deal with pain. i’m sure it started before this, but going back to slavery, comedy was used as an escape. a lot of the oral literature passed down from that period involved tales of mocking the slave owners. but they could never say those stories or act them out in front of the masters.i’m not condoning this similar contemporary response. but the black audience probably doesn’t have much interaction with asian-americans. for the most part it’s store owners, and again not wanting to generalize, but there’s usually communication problems and complaints of high prices and disrespectful service.i’m not trying to start a discussion on who’s to blame or how deep or constraining america’s racial caste system is. basically what i’m getting at is, the black audience sees asian-americans, who again they usually only know as store owners, as their oppressor. and enjoy a chance to mock them. it does nothing to improve their situation, but it’s a release of’s sad that there isn’t a greater class consciousness. with effective communication oppressed people of different races would have a broader view on who’s being oppressed and who’s actually the oppressor.

  15. I don’t reli kno you but I disagree with your comments about the racist white man getting justification. You say that America always gets its “white knight” but instead I think most movies dealing with race actually blame white people as the source of all evil and show minorities as poor innocent people.

  16. wow. i have no idea what this movie is (i never watch tv anymore), but i must admit, i’m pretty damned curious to see it after hearing you rant about it 😀 the part about the black woman getting fingered and then saved is disturbing though.

  17. I am guilty of the rental comment. However, I must say that I can’t really speak on something I didn’t see. read, etc. When you get in to debates or friendly conversation/argument, I just wouldn’t feel comfortable giving ‘ your opinion’ on the movie, even if I end up totally agreeing with all the comments you’ve made, I’d know I had my P.O.V to add to it. Shy of sounding lame I still had/have major issues watching American History X, and Malcom X cause in a weird way it breeds and validates some ignorant views.

  18. Mike,I disagree with the Korean pronounciation stuff. My mother has a very hard time pronouncing “R’s” and a very easy time pronouucing “L’s”. Perhaps your examples are from a different part of Korea?

  19. In the Korean alphabet:There are no “R’s”, but there are “L’s”.There are also no “Ph” sounds nor “V’s”.That’s why they can’t pronounce “river,” “phone,” or “very” correctly.They switch them to “liver,” “pone,” and “belly”.In the Japanese alphabet:There are no “L’s”, but there are “R’s”.That’s why they can’t pronounce “MacDonald’s” correctly.It sort of comes out as “maka-don-a-rudo”

  20. Buttermelon: I must disagree with you.  In R is more prominent in Korean, difficulty with the letter is because mostly where it is placed in the word.  The point Mike made I think is that the filmmaker assumed we have problem enunciating all “R”s, have your grandmother who lives in Korea pronuonce “brake” I’ll bet my last dollar she will not say “BLAKE” (ºí·¹ÀÌÅ©) more like “bu-re-i-k” (ºê·¹ÀÌÅ©)
    “Ph”is tricky because it sounds more like “F”   When speaking Korean lower teeth does not touch your upper lip at any time like for “F” and “V”, hence the problem with words like “very”(º£¸®) but once again no Korean I know pronounces it “belly”(º§¸®) 
    With Japanese, their phonetic is a bit different.  They do not have complex syllable such as “mac”, “doc”.  “Mac” would be “maku”, “doc” as “doku”.  MacDonald would be pronounced more like “ma-ku-do-na-ru-do”
    I believe Korean is most phonetically diverse language.  I’ll write more on this later.

  21. Let me clarify:  I Believe R is more prominent sound in Korean, difficulty with this particular letter is because mostly where it is placed in the word.  For example, CORAL would not be pronounced COLAL, agree? Def. not United States of AMELICA.

  22. regarding all that R/L stuff, i always thought that koreans pronounced ¤© as kind of a R & L combined… almost like your roll your R without actually rolling it. sounds more like an R than an L in my opinion.this is completely off topic, but has anyone here ever said ¹ß (foot) and then ÆÈ (arm) to a non-korean and seen if they can hear the difference? oftentimes, they cant. i just thought that was interesting.

  23. Not sure either way. Just thought it would be good for folks to see something other than the Post or Times for a change.It’s interesting that an African American paper was so gungho about the film, though I don’t really agree with everything written. But I do think that some of the pts are important to note – for example, that the filmmaker understood enough to have a reference to the distinction between Arabs and Persians (which many so-called progressives probably didn’t even catch or understand). Also – it was interesting how they broached issues of class, skin color, and gender in African American communities, at least with a couple of examples.Though the film just brushed the surface of these issues – as you’ve mentioned many times in other contexts, a lot of Hollywood films that even try to say something about race race offer a shallow treatise on just one of these issues and ignores completely that the juxtaposition and messy overlap of all of these layers (class, gender, race, ethnicity, immigration status, English language ability, etc) make simplistic pictures of Friends/Seinfeld/Woody Allen/Cosby NYC and other examples in other cities that much more ridiculous. Not to mention that you don’t have to be white to be biased in some (or many) ways. Now whether or not they wanted to make that point, who knows, but that’s a point that I took from it. And it made me appreciate more honest work from honest filmmakers, instead of the hokey multi-culti feel-good movies that they have been trying to force-feed us over the last 10 years.Needless to say, I’m still very ambivalent about the film.

  24. Okay. I finally saw CRASH so I can finally comment, although at this point probably no one will read it but here it is.I think every point you dissect the movie very eloquently and all your points are precise and accurate. I agree with all of them. BUT watching the movie was a different experience on some points which does not make me disagree with anything you said but makes it different for me.There are quite a few of these points but I’ll just comment on one to keep it short and that is the “redemption” of the racist cop (Matt Dillon). You are right that it can be annoying that his racism is “redeemed” but I don’t see his actions as a theme along the racism to redemption category. It’s about working on the job. Working with foster children (and not the typical ones but the ones that require intervention) you quickly learn the two faces of those working.I was told that the truly involved and caring people don’t idealize the kids they work with — they learn to HATE the kids, even when they love them. Before every therapy, I can’t bear the thought of going to the session. I could quit because at this point I belong to another program but I do care and my colleagues say it’s obvious in my pains (this is the reason why I don’t go into details on my blog in the event any of my clients present or future sees this). If I didn’t care I wouldn’t hate them so much and still go back again and again. Most of those that praise the poor and sing hosannahs of idealism are the ones that never got their hands dirty.It’s this duality that I totally 100% relate — to the point where I feel that it was Mr.Figgis intention to relate — and not just a simple way to 3-dimensionalize a racist. It’s a comment on the love-hate — the irony of the situation. “You’ve only worked the force a few years. Wait a few years. And then wait a few years more. You’ll learn more about yourself than you realize.” Even a prominent psychologist who gave a special lecture to both the PhD and PsyD students told of her adopting a troubled foster child she was working with. “When you have a troubled child – natural or adopted, you will not believe the things you will say. You will say things you swore before God you would never say. You will say/do things you were appalled when you heard other people say/do. But you will do it.”Now of course I’m not condoning racism or racist or excusing the character’s action. My point is that we all express hate and appalling behavior. This character happened to use race as his expression. It’s horrible, it’s inexcusable, but it’s common — especially among those who serve the public — and that’s the irony of the human condition. You see, racism is one of the main themes, but not Figgis’s only main theme. In other themes, race is just a backdrop.

  25. TS,I hear you. And I agree with you. But Figgis the artist chose a black/white paradigm to express what you are talking about. And that is nothing new. This movie was not a documentary. This was fiction and the deeply seeded racism which I am sure he is most likely unaware of is what motivated him to create the characters he did. As well, it is this that makes it palpable to a mainstream audience.

  26. True, true. Black/White paradigm (actually Us/Them, Majority/Minority paradigm) is nothing new. And it certainly is not a documentary but is (maybe loosely speaking) art… so could it be that the quality of race he highlights isn’t so much a statement of his deep but unintentional racism as much as of everyone else’s?Also with so many characters, I do think there’s any way he can make a complete and fair picture and keep it under movie-with-intermission length. But that’s what art is isn’t it? Versimilitude with sacrifices? I do have to think about the deeply seeded racism part a bit more. But one thing that is a definite criticism is that the Asian aspect is underrepresented and doesn’t come out well, but I found I personally found it easy to forgive (but maybe it’s because I bought in with the mainstream). Must cogitate further.

  27. i left the movie with the same feeling. this movie blew. even though its supposed to be deep, it was shallow as balls. i learned nothing. old white women next to me left the theatres saying, “that movie made me think…” i completely agree with ur review.

  28. the bastardization of korean-english gets to me too! 
    now that caucasian directors are appropriating korean characters for their movies, they should at least hire language consultants.  kim jong-il in “team america”?  his very non-korean accent?

  29. you and my sister think alike. and my sister is smart/cool. by deduction i say you are smart/cool.crash should be called “lets explain the title in the first scene of the film to make sure the audience knows the filmmakers are deep, but they might not get the title on their own so let’s pound it into their heads because the filmmakers assume they are smarter than the audience”, or it should simply be called “shit on a stick” because that is how it unfolded before my eyes.

  30. i dont thinknone of ithad to do w/ racehad to do w/ being stupidu leave your door open…u will get robbeda guy w/ tats no matter black /white /mexicanyou will be scared to change your locks again..a white man reaches into pocketlooks like a gunyou shoot him toonot racestupidity

  31. Asians, Another ‘Crash’ CasualtyNew America Media, Commentary, William Wong, Mar 10, 2006Editor’s Note: Complex as the Oscar winner ‘Crash’ wants to be, it’s still pretty simplistic when it comes to Asian characters, writes William Wong, author of ‘Yellow Journalist: Dispatches from Asian America’ and ‘Images of America: Oakland’s Chinatown.’OAKLAND–It may be churlish to insert a dissonant note in the lilting symphony of praise that the Oscar-winning best picture, “Crash,” is getting these days, but here it is. As impressive as the film is in showing the multidimensional humanity — the good, the bad and the gray in-betweens — of Los Angelenos of various ethnic backgrounds, the movie continues a Hollywood tradition of mostly one-dimensional portrayals of Asians.Oh, no, you say, not another yellowish whine! If “Crash” weren’t about complex racial and ethnic relationships, then my complaint would, indeed, be inappropriate, paranoid even.But that was exactly the point of the movie, to portray the nuances of Los Angeles’ — and by extension, America’s — racial and ethnic relationships. So why would it portray East Asians in such an inept and unflattering way?The movie has won deserved kudos for how it shows different facets of white, black, Middle-Eastern and Latino characters. Many of these characters move from one set of attitudes to another during the course of the film’s limited timeline. All except the two principal East Asians, who by the way are minor players compared with Matt Dillon’s racist cop and Terrence Howard’s uptight junior executive.Granted, one of the East Asian characters goes through a transformation of sorts, but his denouement is anything but flattering. The East Asian woman is shrewish throughout.Not that there isn’t truth to the characterizations of these particular stereotypes. We know of shrewish Asian and Asian American women. We know of criminally inclined Asian and Asian American men.But if the film’s director and screenwriters want to explore the depths of how people of varied racial and ethnic heritages behave toward one another, how come they didn’t add an East Asian or Asian American character who showed a modicum of humanity beyond the bitchy and evil?It should no longer be a surprise or revelation that people of East Asian descent are a presence on the Technicolor American landscape. That’s been the case for more than a century and a half. Yet, it seems for some Americans, Asians are Johnny and Janie-Come-Latelies and may not deserve more wide-ranging media portrayals.More to the point of Hollywood movies — the fantasy and mythmaking factory nonpareil — it’s rare that Asian characters, whether American or not, are shown as complex and multidimensional.There have been exceptions, of course. “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” was one, directed, ironically, by this year’s Oscar winner (for the pioneering “Brokeback Mountain,” the early best-picture favorite) Ang Lee, who got his artistic start in Taiwan and who has now risen to Hollywood directorial stardom.(As an aside, Lee may be a celebrated mainstream director now, but where was he in all those post-Oscar shows like “Entertainment Tonight,” “Oprah” and “Good Morning America?” Why didn’t the celebrity-salivating interviewers give Lee a few moments of post-Oscar glow?)(One more aside: Lee’s closing remark as he accepted his Oscar in only slightly accented English were quite revealing in itself; he spoke a Mandarin phrase aimed at TV audiences in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China, the future of global media messaging perhaps?)Another exception was “The Joy Luck Club” from Amy Tan’s blockbuster novel (that, unfortunately, painted a one-dimensional, nasty portrayal of East Asian men — ah-hah, a yellow gender war case study!).A few other standouts are Justin Lin’s “Better Luck Tomorrow” and, perhaps, Eric Byler’s upcoming “Americanese,” which will headline the annual Asian American Film Festival next week in San Francisco.I am old enough to remember the goofy Charlie Chan movies with the main “Chinese” character played by taped-eyelid white actors. Some Asian American intellectuals and writers have complained about the Chan movie portrayals, a point of view I generally share, except for the fact that the Hollywoodized Chan is a pretty smart guy — yet another stereotype about Asians and Asian Americans.Younger Asian American artists and writers are repeating the refrain, asking why there are not more multidimensional mainstream media portrayals of people from their ethnic backgrounds. With the help of the latest technology, some are creating their own works that may, one day, capture the imagination of the mainstream Hollywood machine.Till then, “Crash,” as good as it is, misses a golden opportunity to break some new ground in a fully multidimensional way.

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