Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.
And it’s official–Joan Chen loves weird, sexually perverse stuff. Why else would she star in this god-awful erotic thriller?
Wait–that doesn’t make sense to you all? Well, all right then. I guess I’ll just have to start from the beginning.
So, for those of you who don’t know, Joan Chen is a Chinese-born American actress, screenwriter and director. She came to international prominence in the late 80s after she starred in the multi Oscar-winning movie, The Last Emperor. Even though parts for Asian women were–and to be perfectly honest, still are–extremely limited, her beauty and acting talent were enough to allow her to star in multiple acclaimed films and TV series–including David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution, and most recently, the Netflix Original Series, Marco Polo. I’m a big fan of hers–I’m a fan of any Asian actor who manages to make it in racist Hollywood–but as I watched more and more of her films, I started to notice a certain…motif in her work. That being that all her projects feature graphic and/or bizarre sexual content. The Last Emperor has several orgies, and some weird lesbian foot scenes between her and this woman who’s supposed to be her cousin. Lust, Caution was banned in several countries because of all its sex scenes, including one where Tony Leung practically rapes Tang Wei. And Twin Peaks: well, Twin Peaks is directed by David Lynch. Enough said. I didn’t see the thematic connection between all these films until a friend of mine heard I was a fan of Miss Chen’s and recommended that I watch the 1998 erotic thriller, Wild Side, which she starred in. And then, oh lord, then I saw the light.
This movie is trashy in every sense of the word. It’s not just that its story is ludicrous, offensive and smutty–there’s heterosexual rape, homosexual rape, sex in airplanes, sex in bathrooms–when you learn about where it came from, you also can’t help but feel a little disgusted. It was written and directed by the late Donald Cammell and his wife China Kong–yes, before you ask, that is actually her name–who met and had an affair when the former was in his 40s and the latter was 14. Yes, I did just say 14. And as if that weren’t bad enough, I did some research, and found that, when Donald Cammell saw the finished cut of Wild Side, he thought it was so bad that he ended up committing suicide. That’s right. This movie was so horrible that it sickened the pedophile who wrote it to the point of killing himself. Now, before any of you get scared, I didn’t think it was THAT awful. Yes, it’s bad, but it’s not so bad that I feel like slitting my wrists. But what, you might be wondering, is this bad, but not THAT bad, movie about? Well, I’ll tell you.
Wild Side follows the trials and tribulations of Alex, a banker and part-time hooker from Long Beach. They never really give a reason for why she solicits sex when she has such a good-paying job, but, to be honest, you learn to stop questioning this film after a while. Anyway, the movie begins with her doing the deed with a client named Bruno, played by Christopher Walken. Bruno, it turns out, is a big-time money launderer hoping to upload a virus to her bank, and his driver, Tony, is an undercover cop looking to bring Bruno down. Tony blackmails Alex into sleeping with him, and helping him set up a sting. Alex tries to get help from the non-corrupt police, but finds that she can’t acquire protection unless she reveals how she and Tony met, and, thus, lose her job at the bank. It’s at this point, when Alex is at her absolute lowest, that Joan Chen, playing Bruno’s wife, Virginia, enters the picture. And, as much as I love Miss Chen, and believe that there should be more Asian characters in movies, I really didn’t think she was necessary to the plot of this film at all. She doesn’t actually do anything that’s vitally important–yes, her and Alex start having an affair in some of the most graphic lesbian scenes ever put to celluloid–but that affair could just as easily not have been in the movie. You could still have had a story about a woman being trapped in a bad situation without needing to throw in a gay romance. It just seemed like the director wanted to masturbate to two beautiful woman making out and touching each other, because there are several–rather long–scenes in this movie that don’t go anywhere, and that are just the two of them having sex. Now before anyone accuses me of being homophobic, I’d like to remind you all that one of my favorite shows right now is Sense8, a series that has several gay and transgender characters in it, as well as A LOT of gay sex. But there, the filmmakers establish, early on, what these characters’ sexual orientations and genders are–prior to Joan Chen’s appearance, Wild Side never gives any indication that Alex likes women–and the writers of Sense8 actually bothered to go into all the politics and nuances of identity and sexuality. They talk about homophobia. They talk about AIDS. They talk about PRIDE and the gay rights movement. They don’t just have two women kiss and hope that it’s shocking or stimulating enough to get audiences to want to buy their product. They actually treat gender and sexuality with the respect that they deserve.
And that, loved ones, is why Wild Side is so horrible. It doesn’t give it’s characters personalities. It just treats them as fleshy tokens to be exploited and drooled over. It tries to shock you into watching it by including controversial things, like rape, without actually addressing why these things are controversial and horrifying. I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody, and am sad that Miss Chen decided to be a part of it. I’m just glad that she went on to do better things, and is still working to this day. As for this entry in her filmography, though, it’s a 5 out of 10. Don’t watch it.