@ the movies: Crash

Reviewers have been generally positive about Crash. Most agree it is "strong coffee" which some found contrived and others refreshing.

The film follows a mix of characters in one and half days in Los Angeles in its full racial diversity. These seemingly separate lives intersect in dramatic and unexpected ways.

Of the many members of the ensemble cast, I'd say Michael Pena might garner a nomination for supporting actor.

I walked away from the film with mixed feelings. It is a hard edged film that allows characters to be fully "politically incorrect" and to say what some might think but are afraid to say in polite company. I felt it presents the state of race relations in Los Angeles and by extension America as very bleak ... too bleak in my opinion. And so, at that level, I found it disturbing. My own personal experience as an ethnic minority in Los Angeles and America is not a bleak as the film portrays. However, I recognize that my life is somewhat "ivory towered" being a scientist.

Despite being disturbed by the film, I was also intrigued because it is a tightly told tale with terrific performances. One comes away from watching the characters with a sense that people are often more than what they appear to be. The film uses racial stereotypes and in some cases they live down to the worst of it and in other cases the stereotype is 180 degree opposite of reality. As an American of Chinese ancestry, I'll be the first to say that I often have "stereotypes" about other ethnic groups. It is almost instinctive and so I find myself telling myself: try to look closer and a second time as every person has a narrative and it may have NOTHING to do with the stereotype.

I also try my very best to avoid seeing racism when there is none. I haven't experienced blatant sit in the back of the bus type racism (Asian immigrants faced institutional racism in the past along with violence and threats of violence) as I'm too young to have experienced such things but to what extent do we still hear that faint echo in subtle ways?

In my case, I've probably been rather fortunate (or is my experience proof that progress has been made?) as I've only seen my share of mocking of the Chinese language -- the sing song sound that the comics in "Whose Line is it Anyway?" use when they mimic martial arts style films -- and so in some contexts I know it is racists and in other contexts it is just humor playing into stereotypes and I usually can tell the difference.

Most of the time, I only experience the occasional stares or confusion. I attribute these to simply unfamiliarity. If someone thinks I'm Japanese (the most common mistake), Korean or Vietnamese, I don't feel offended. I don't assume racism but rather that the person is curious or uncomfortable because I'm someone outside his/her daily experience. I have had people stare in some parts of the USA. I write it off to puzzlement more than disdain. I mean how many Asian faces do people in Delaware or South Dakota see? I suppose being a guy might makes me less sensitive to this.

I have never felt in any danger being Asian. Probably the only time I felt threatened was playing pool and some people around were a bit drunk and making remarks along racial lines. In that case, I think I would have felt unsafe regardless of being Asian though it was heightened by the racial element of their remarks.

Crash is at times too dark for my taste. One wonders if that pessimism reflects a "Hollywood" desire to see America as more awful than it actually is?

But having just said the above, I have to give credit to the writer-director-producer Paul Haggis for making, at a technical level, a very riveting film and for rising above the pessimism to include elements of goodness and redemption in the story. It is those moments of grace both intentional and accidental that for me is the payoff for going through some mighty uncomfortable things in the movie.

I also have to give credit to the film makers for making the dialog about race more than just a black-white thing. In the film, we see many other aspects of the diversity of LA and the corresponding complexity of our multi-ethnic society.

Jennifer Esposito, Don Cheadle and Kathleen York (left to right) in one of the production stills from the film illustrate the ethnic diversity of the film.

I'm giving the movie a THUMBS UP and THREE stars out of four. Be warned there are some shocking scenes and language that draw its R rating.

The ensemble cast of Crash is remarkably talented such that even though no one character is really on screen for all that long at any one time, I was drawn into their lives and felt they moved beyond a two-dimension stereotype we quickly sketch for them in our minds.

The title of the film is apt as the characters "Crash" into each other. At times it seems forced but that is where we "suspend disbelief" to set up the point of the film: lives intersecting with consequences derived from both correct and incorrect assumptions the characters make about other characters along racial lines... the crash is not just cars but racial stereotypes and conflicts between people. And so if people actually talk about those things in themselves and want to try harder to walk away from those prejudices then the film may have actually done something more than entertain.