Saturday, April 01, 2006

INSTANT YANG v.12: Cutting My Throat; Ang Lee Goes for Brokeback; Geisha Goes to Japan

Here's wishing you a very happy holiday of your choice as we approach the tail end of 2005...

I'm not in a particularly festive mood just yet myself, given that I've been dealing with a literal pain in the neck: Since last ish, I finally gave in to pressure from physicians and family alike to undergo mouth and throat surgery, to relieve a staggeringly bad (and increasingly worse) case of sleep apnea.

For those of you who haven't heard of it, sleep apnea is when your body rather unproductively stops breathing as you head off into deep slumber. If you're lucky, this makes you reflexively wake up enough to start breathing again--only to repeat the same process again and again throughout the night. The not so lucky don't wake up at all. Two weeks ago, on December 5, the Philadelphia Eagles retired all-time-great defensive end Reggie White's number 92, in a ceremony aired on Monday Night Football. White died last year from complications related to sleep apnea; an estimated 14 percent of all pro football linemen also share his condition, as do 4 percent of Americans in general.

Though I'm hardly built like a lineman, I do come from high-risk genes--my dad to this day suffers from apnea, and has to use a complicated pressure device to control his breathing while he sleeps. I put off dealing with it until my wife started throwing me out of bed with near-daily regularity (a side effect of apnea is snoring measurable on a Richter scale), and a sleep disorder study revealed that my blood-oxygen content was dropping as low as 65 percent during the night. To put this in perspective, if you're in a hospital and your blood-ox saturation goes down to 85 percent, they intubate you...

Anyway, I took the plunge, and essentially had everything soft and loose in the back of my mouth surgically whacked--my tonsils, soft palate, even that dangly thing called the uvula. Now when I look into a mirror, I see a kiddie-cartoon mouth--an evenly curved arc of pink fading into the darkness of my throat.

The pain, while not the worst I've felt in my life, is doggedly persistent. All sorts of things I took for granted, like talking, swallowing, laughing, even breathing deeply, now provoke acute, flinch-inducing ouches. On the other hand, as far as sleep is concerned--once a little (okay, a lot of) Vicodin gets me over the wall--it's a totally new experience. I no longer need a bucket-sized mug of coffee to get me ignited in the morning. Plus, the snoring is gone, like a switch has been flipped. And as a side effect of not being able to eat anything but minute quantities of Jell-O and yogurt, I suspect I'll probably lose a couple of pounds, too. It's all good, at least until the Vicky wears off.

On to the content: I promised you more Ang Lee goodness last time out, and here it is--this weeks' SFGate column is a a profile of the man himself:

Ang Lee has built a brilliant career out of depicting characters with secret identities and closeted passions. So what lies beneath the surface of Hollywood's quietest genius?

I first met Ang back in my days at Asian CineVision, interviewing him for the Village Voice right around when his first feature, PUSHING HANDS, was hitting the festival circuit. I thought he was brilliant, but possibly faced an uphill battle due to his sheer niceness and humility. And now, here he is, 15 years later, and he's assembled the kind of career that most filmmakers don't even dare to dream about--one marked by incredible diversity of subject and genre, and studded with critical and commercial success.

I said last time out, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN may well be the apex of Lee's canon to date--possibly even the one that gives him a much-belated best director Oscar. Meanwhile, as Focus Films' James Schamus said during our interview, "The budget on this was so low that if your mom comes to see it, we'll make money." Jury's still out on whether Mom will check this one out--she's never approved of cowboys--but BROKEBACK still rode into the B.O. top ten this weekend, racking up $3.5 million from the take at just 69 theaters. No other film playing in fewer than 100 theaters has broken into the top ten over the past four years.

Meanwhile, MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, the film that's been repeatedly and implausibly paired up with BROKEBACK, because of a similar rollout schedule, and the fact that Ang directed two of the film's divas in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, broke at number 14 on the b.o. charts, making $2.3 million in 52 theaters; it's set to spread out to 1400 on Friday.

I think it's going to tank when it goes wide--most respectable critics have rolled their eyes at the film's kitschy excess, and even fans of the already heavily lathered-up book are finding Marshall's buffet of exotic bombast a bit heavy on the wasabi.

Interestingly, Sony "yeah, we're a Japanese company, go figure" Pictures Entertainment has put a unique marketing spin on the movie for its domestic release--pitching it as a tool to better understand the West's delusional fun-park image of Japanese culture and tradition! It opened at number 4, and is expected to gross something like $21 million in the land whose heritage it apes. Brilliant! They could release it as part of a "Goofy American Visions of Japan" boxed set, along with THE LAST SAMURAI and LOST IN TRANSLATION.

Anyway, the Vicodin blur is getting thin, so it's time to sign off and medicate. Until next time, Merry Chrismukzaawali, and to all a good night...

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