by Hanajun Chung.
In 1994, I went to one of the two local cinemas on my island (Guam). It was me, an aunt, and a few cousins and we went to see Disney’s The Lion King. It was the first film I ever saw in a theater, and arguably one of the best. Until then, I had seen a bunch of movies and television on home video (VHS and Laserdisc to be precise), but nothing in the immersive experience that’s been and still is the preferred presentation of cinematic features. I mean, I enjoyed the talking animals, the music, the action, but it was the first time that I ever recognized film as an art form.
If a movie ends in the way it began, it says (or is trying to say) something meaningful. In film school, that technique is referred to as a film that’s “formally unified,” and The Lion King does something profound by coming back to the “Circle of Life” number in the end. Today, it’s heavy-handed but when it came back to theaters a few years back in 3D, one thing remained despite my now adult viewing: the film is still a powerful and effective experience.
I apply that sentiment of timeless longevity to many films of the past that push beyond pure nostalgia. But for every ten films, there is only one Lion King, because film is a medium that is muddled with a cornucopia of differing styles, genres, creators, and performers. It’s often difficult to find quality. But when something like The Lion King comes along, it fuels my need to keep searching.
Before I go any further, I need to mention that I am a proud movie geek. I like meeting other writers, performers, producers, directors, and simply discussing our passions. If I’m not that fortunate to have someone, I’ll frequent several cinema podcasts, as well as read the online publications and trades of the industry. I’m not ashamed of any of it.
When I’m with my best friend/physical trainer and he wants to run an outdoor trail as opposed to a gym, his reasons for his other clients would be specific, explaining in detail the benefits. To me: “Because Rocky did it in Rocky IV and destroyed the Russian.” Boom, that’s all I needed to hear. Hell, this one time I kept this nasty looking haircut for a year, because my dad’s offhanded comment that the look reminded him of an old martial-arts folk hero. You can’t say that kind of stuff around me!
If I were hesitant about anything, it’s how I filter everything through my passion. Just as medical students are always finding ways to diagnose their classmates, I’m always talking movies whether people like it or not (for the most part, I think they like it). I sometimes ask someone how their day is going, maybe have that turn into something deeper about life and the human condition blah blah blah — but deep down, I could not give a shit.
Here’s my go to: “you see anything good lately?” And if your answer is anything remotely close to the negative, I’m already dreading things. That, I’ll admit, is not good.
Which takes me back to my dilemma of only being one Lion King out of ten films. As a critic, it becomes hard to find something truly amazing, because the majority of films will honestly be mediocre in terms of critical and box-office reception. As a result, critics (or amateur critics) are conditioned to approach certain things on a purely objective level. While I agree it’s the responsible thing to do, being critical and objective can become a habit. That could be a bad thing. There are so many times I wish I can simply tell my sister that the shirt she picked is nice, but I find myself being overly critical. I mean, just recently my mom was in the bathroom when I arrived home and my sister simply said, “Mom got a new haircut. Just say it looks nice.”
I do wish to fix this perspective, because my main goal is to enjoy and indulge in my passion despite my role/job to be objectively critical. I’ve found that actively wanting to like things is a start, focusing on the positive above all. I look at my film collection to my right and realize that all of these aren’t perfect. There’ll be someone out there who hates the cut of Blade Runner I own, or someone who would appreciate the imported copy of Infernal Affairs or Mother.
But none of that should matter, because it’s what I take away from a film should be the most important thing when voicing my opinions. I realize this because it’s informed through the behavior of my friends and family, and the things that they end up taking away from their experience with art. I’m usually acting up the critic in me, but I should and want be the fan.
I know it’s not the smartest way of doing things, and my relationship with cinema is, again, not perfect. I can only be positive about the way my passion affects me. If anything, I should fix this romantic notion of cinema as an uplifting art-form soon, because as I get further behind-the-scenes in the industry, I realize it’s mostly business, art second. If there’s a The Lion King caliber film released all the time, it’ll be difficult. But I’m glad there isn’t always something that good often, because it makes the real winners all the more special.
At the end of the day, I don’t exactly know where I stand. I know I’m a cinephile and a film geek, but I’d love to branch out. Like many other freelance or creativity-based profession, I have to enjoy the ride, even when it gets rough. Because at the end of the day, I usually like where I’ve been taken.
“But I’m trying, Ringo. I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd.”
-Jules Winnfield in Pulp Fiction.