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Los Angeles and Mexican American Movies

I have these for sale in a discount bundle on Facebook, Craigslist, and Listia. Listia is a site where you “buy” things with “points”, a kind of walled garden of weird commerce.

I went and bought a bunch of LA themed movies. There are a bunch of them, obviously, but these were the lesser known ones.

The Black Dahlia, Scorsese – I wasn’t too into this, but it has a really nice look to it. The story is about this woman, Elisabeth Smart who moves to LA and ends up murdered.

Lean Like a Gangster, Mexican-American – family drama with gang activity. I haven’t watched this one yet.

South of Pico, Los Angeles – poverty porn about life “south of Pico”, which is basically South LA. I found it melodramatic and stopped watching.

Banda Girls, Los Angeles Mexican-American – this is a poorly written movie but it has a lot of LA scenery, and a lot of hot girls lying around in bikinis. Lots of inside jokes, and a lot of scenes that reflect city and suburban Mexican-American life mainly on the eastside and Southeast LA. I enjoyed it.

MacArthur Park, Los Angeles – excellent and disturbing movie about crackheads in Macarthur Park, which used to be a real nightmare drug spot. The park got some fame when Robert Downey Jr. was scoring heroin around the park. Good performances. It was an exploitation movie, but I liked it.

Infierno en Los Angeles, Spanish – a Mexican production about this small time crime gang in Los Angeles, filmed around parts of LA in the late 80s or early 90s. Great retro hairstyles. Lots of scenes in Skid Row and South Central. Best scenes are at the Alameda Swap Meet, where the gang steals from the immigrant vendors. It’s not cool what they did, but they did it with style, and screwed over their countrymen.

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Shinjuku Incident with Jackie Chan

Chan goes dramatic with a self-produced film to flex his acting skills. Chan plays the straight man, “Nick”, aka Tietou a Chinese tractor repairman who chases after his girlfried, Xie Xie, who emigrated illegally to Japan to seek a better life. He meets up with his brother, “Joe”, aka Jie, who arrived earlier, and knows Japanese. Nick arrives the foreign innocent, but the film takes plot twists: he saves a cop’s life, sees Xie Xie dressing Japanese and with a Yakuza, gives up on morality, ends up involved with crime, sees his Joe maimed, seeks revenge, maims a gangster, and then becomes an assassin for the Yakuza, rising high in the ranks. Nick cannot let go of his morality, and tries to use his new power to have the local Chinese businesses go legit. This is a morality play with twists and turns like this, over and over, with Nick going from good to evil then good again.

This all takes Shinjuku, a multicultural ghetto populated by immigrants, gangsters, thieves, and drug dealers. Shinjuku is also well known, globally, as a hub of Japanese youth culture. Within Japan, though, it’s known for being sleazy.

As a Japanese American viewer who lives in a Latino community, I couldn’t help but empathize with the Chinese underground community in Japan, facing racism and structural oppression. This movie is layered with a complex presentation of racism, and how the oppressed people negotiate the terrain, and manage the situation.

You get a taste of conservative Yakuza ultranationlist racism, but also Yakuza Eguchi’s working class sympathies with the Chinese immigrants. You get the conflict between the Taiwan gangs who are controlled by the Yakuza, and the Mainland Chinese underclass who engage in small time theft. You even get a gigantic video billboard with English language discussions about racism, oppression, and underground economies – a narrator explaining the big ideas, but in the language of global hegemony.

If you know a Chinese language or Japanese, I suggest watching this with subtitles and the original audio. The dialogue switches between different Chinese languages and Japanese, and the characters also switch languages mid-speech. The effect contributes to the atmosphere.

The film also flips between genres. It’s mostly a gangster action drama, sometimes feeling like an HK action movie, sometimes feeling like a Japanese Yakuza movie, and sometimes feeling like a Japanese cop drama. There’s even a moment that felt like moralistic Communist propaganda.