June 2003

Randy Schaub

magazine whore

Entrails of a Magazine

A couple decades ago, if you were to mention at a party that you were a fan of kung-fu movies or Godzilla flicks, you would likely be branded with the scarlet mark of Geek-hood, a suppurating social wound that, even as it still smoked, would have you cast forever in the company of such reviled subcultures as Lovecraft fans, role playing gamers, and listeners of vaudeville jazz. Then, of course, Hollywood came along and made it all okay. Jackie Chan now appears in dignity-deprived underwear commercials alongside Master-shill Michael Jordan; Jet Li is given leading roles with a minimum of dialogue alongside a variety of wooden hip-hop stars; Yuen Wo Ping and his kin are called upon to create the illusion that Cameron Diaz and Keanu Reeves are masters of competitive wushu. The assimilation is complete, and even the most insincere poseur can pretend to being a lifelong devotee of eastern film. The subculture still exists, however, and they're way ahead of you.

Asian Cult Cinema (ACC) is a quarterly publication that exists somewhere between the Xeroxed charm of a fanzine and the vapid glitz of Premiere. Printed since '91, the magazine focuses on all aspects of Asian film, with a particular concentration on the more outrageous pictures-the hideous gore of Takashi Miike; the explosion of the eastern horror genre exemplified by 'the Eye', 'Ring', and 'Vortex'; and of course the ever popular gangster tale. The magazine is not above the more respectable stuff, however-Oscar nominees like 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' and 'Hero' are favorite topics, and Kurosawa's name is likely to be dropped several times an issue.

Where ACC truly differs from other media coverage of the genre is in the respect it affords its subject. Too many mainstream movie reviewers have dismissed great Hong Kong actioners with derogatory and faintly racist terms like "chop socky", and ACC exists to right this wrong. Once titled Asian Trash Cinema, the publishers changed the title in what I assume to be a bid for a more serious audience. The writing is fairly professional, and the information presented is vast and valuable for fans of the genre (but maybe a little too deep for the casual viewer).

Although the people behind ACC are sincere in their desire to promote Asian movies as serious entertainment, this is an adult-only magazine. As with any hip scene, young males are the target demographic here, and the magazine's maturity level is ratcheted down a bit by the inclusion of a nudie color photo layout in the middle of each issue. And if your perception of Asian cinema is a world in which lesbian cyborgs in little schoolgirl costumes cleave their way through waves of Yakuza henchmen, ACC will do little to broaden your view. The "cult" moniker is proudly worn throughout the mag, and readers will be subjected to straight-faced reviews of movies with titles like 'Entrails of a Virgin', 'Teenage Hooker Became a Killing Machine in Daehakro', and 'Rapeman'. If these movies put you off, be aware that the reason some of these movies are so popular in the States is that our own film industry simply doesn't risk revenues for controversy or the joy of shocking people. Film geeks hungry for new levels of sex and carnage need to go overseas for their fix. We've got enough flavorless tripe like 'Maid in Manhattan' being churned up within our own borders to bother importing it.

Physically, the magazine is not as imposing as its subject matter. Half the standard size, ACC is likely to be found in the front row of the entertainment section of your newsstand, somewhere near Fangoria, or Outré. Mostly black and white, each issue features full color covers, as well as the previously mentioned pin-up spread. There are very few ads, mostly for movies and books sold directly through the publisher. The layout is easy to follow, and there are plenty of relevant photos.

So, let's say you're at another party, in the present day, and you find that your devotion to Chow Yun Fat draws only nods of agreement or mild interest from the sheep around you. Try freaking the norms with a description of 'Visitor Q' or 'Volcano High School'. There's plenty of cult ammo left in Asian film for anyone who can read subtitles and stomach the occasional soul-crushing scene of depraved satanic violence. The rest of the world can co-opt all they want, but there will always be enough esoterica back in Asia to fuel trivia junkies here in America. Just stay the hell away from anything with the word 'Bukkake'…