As much as you might admire the New York Times or Salon, you have to wonder if some dictate from above is now steering their content to mention themselves as much as possible now.
As much as you might admire the New York Times or Salon, you have to wonder if some dictate from above is now steering their content to mention themselves as much as possible now.
Kitty is an angry young woman who channels her aggression in less than helpful ways, usually against the more amoral members of Hong Kong society. When a horny hairdresser hits on her in front of his pregnant girlfriend, the vicious Kitten stabs him repeatedly in the groin with a rat-tailed comb. This gets the attention of Tom, a disgraced police officer recently back on the force after accidentally killing his own brother. The fizzled flatfoot falls instantly in lust with the wild woman, but she has other perverted fish to fry. When her father is killed by an adulterous letch, Kitty seeks revenge by breaking into his office building and killing several hundred people.
But her escape is not guaranteed, and just when it seems she will be caught, a haute couture hit woman named Sister Cindy helps her escape. Cindy offers to train the anti-social angel in the art of the professional assassin. Soon, the deadly duo are crisscrossing the globe, committing all manner of murders for hire. But when fellow female executioners Princess and her gal pal lover Baby (both former students of the glamorous Cindy) become adversaries to Kitty and Company, it sets up a tantalizing game of erotic catfight and mouse between the four fatal females with the troubled Tom caught in the middle. Who lives and who dies in this deadly world of honor, loyalty, and lesbianism will be determined by who is the most skilled, the slyest, and the most capable of being a cold blooded Naked Killer.
It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before, not even in your wildest, most freaked out girl-on-girl fantasy. Imagine taking a small bit of John Woo’s The Killer, adding a sprinkling of A Chinese Ghost Story, incorporating Daryl Hannah’s deadly gymnastic replicant from Blade Runner with some of the over the top cinematic style of Peter Jackson circa Dead Alive, and mixing with a heavy dose of erotic Asian lesbianism featuring some incredibly fine looking Chinese chicks who kick all kinds of ass, and you’ve got just a small idea of what the Naked Killer is all about. Except it’s much more than this. It’s a meditation on feminism and chauvinism. It’s a telling cultural commentary on the paternalistic nature of Hong Kong/Chinese society. It’s a take-back-the-night style empowerment statement about sexism and perversion.
But mostly, it’s a fantastic, unbelievably entertaining look at four vivacious kung fu killers, vigilantes of vice who are equal parts beauty and beast, uniformly capable of inflicting pleasure and pain with their deadly hands. Naked Killer uses stylized sets, unusual camera angles and lens, super model montage moments, and your typically brilliant quick-cut Asian action set pieces to create a world unto itself, a place where the police are bumbling incompetents, where fashion plate divas are highly skilled and trained terminators on the destruction prowl for the sexually sick and twisted, and where there is admiration and redemption amongst even the most vicious slayers. Naked Killer is like witnessing the creation of a new form of film language, one in which the cartoon, the carefully choreographed, and the cautionary tale are weaved into one wild, wacky, totally satisfying entertainment experience.
It’s hard to describe, in simple terms, why Naked Killer is so special. It’s like a decadent, deadly Pachinko game come to life. It’s a stylized girlie graphic novelization of psycho hot babe killers as channeled through and re-imagined by Quentin Tarantino. It’s violence made feminine and therefore, far more brutal and precise. With its hierarchy of anti-heroes and villains, we see the seductive and manipulative Sister Cindy sitting on top and playing the battling factions of the dominating Princess, the ersatz innocent Baby, and the femme fatalism of the cruel Kitty against each other until it becomes an entire Asian fetish magazine collection moving and murdering in the flesh. But this is not a film completely bathed in the nonsensical nudity of its cast; in reality, there is very little skin shown here. What we get instead is a sensual, shocking experience where the same sex overtones are far more spicy than any actual bed aerobics.
Indeed, the action scenes are much more passionate and provocative than any babe-on-babe ballyhoo could be. When Cindy and Kitty battle to escape a high rise building parking lot together, the deadly duo’s tag team reign of terror and destruction is far more erotic in its Sappho sisterhood than some softcore exchange of cheek pecks. Between the oversized firearms in Kitty’s “claws” and Cindy’s supersonic throwing daggers, the phallic weapons of man turn the tables on their testosterone fueled creators, helping the “weaker” sex beat and blast their brains out. Naked Killer is girl power gone gonzo, a geek’s wet dream doused with libido lightening messages about Chinese society’s misogyny.
Still, this isn’t all serious political grandstanding. Naked Killer acknowledges that nothing beats incredibly attractive Chinese women massaging and fondling each other, all in the name of honor and power. And the stars are all drop dead(ly) gorgeous. Wai Yu’s performance as Sister Cindy is a combination of socialite and scholar, teacher and terrorist. The fact that her fashion is as deadly as her fists is what makes her such a standout center to the film. Chingmy Yau’s Kitty is dangerously ditzy, the out of control novice who needs a few hard knocks to understand her own inner skills. As the sinister and seductive Princess, Carrie Ng combines menace with exotic mystery perfectly. And Madoka Sugawar as Baby personifies her name, looking childlike and cold-blooded at the same time.
As the sole male lead, Simon Yam as the befuddled cop Tom is also very good, but he does occasionally seem to be lost in a far more intense drama about personal blame and attempted redemption. He doesn’t seem able to capture the proper camp qualities that his cast mates can. Still, under Fok Yiu Leung’s masterful direction, with its eccentric perspectives and brilliant compositions (an overhead shot of Kitty and Cindy lounging is particularly memorable) everything comes together delightfully. Aside from all the gratuitous violence, kinky sex, and hidden sociological agendas, Naked Killer is first and foremost a fun filled rollercoaster ride with a great group of fetching female action stars. What more could you want from a movie?
Maybe I’m a jerk, but I had some trouble working up any sympathy for the model profiled in this front-page WSJ story today. The story details an aspiring American model’s trip to Milan, where the competition is fiercer than in America, where visa restrictions moderate it: “After four days and no bookings, Ms. Gomez was devastated. She sat outside the Milan office of her agency’s partner firm, and cried. ‘I hate it here,’ she said. ‘They don’t treat models as humans.’ ” It’s sad to see her disillusioned, but what business did she think she was trying to break into? Of course they don’t treat you like a human: The whole point of modeling is to objectify yourself so that clothes can be promoted and sold. Treating one another like humans isn’t going to sell fashion products, which thrive on insecurity, class contempt, status hierarchy and egotism—in other words, on our capacity for inhumanity. This is probably what happens though when someone realizes the sales potential of your looks; you are encouraged to exploit yourself, and self-exploitation seems like such an oxymoronic conundrum that you probably don’t believe it’s happening until you find yourself crying in some foreign city and wondering why no one respects you. It seems that girls noticed as beautiful can become stunted by the recognition, which sends a powerful message that the inner you will have little to do with what you can accomplish. The temptation to disappear into one’s body must be strong. (Anyway, this is why it always freaks me out when I see adults praise little girls for how pretty they look; it’s a compliment to how compliant they were when they were dressed like a mannequin.) By the end of the article, Gomez has learned her lesson—blame yourself for the inhumanity and do a better job of objectifying yourself more completely: ” ‘I need to try my hardest and not let anything get in my way,’ says Ms. Gomez. ‘Even if you are having a bad day, put a big smile on your face and act like nothing fazes you.’ “
Apparently globalization has made the modeling business much tougher: “Supply has soared, as aspirants from developing countries stampede into the field. At last season’s New York’s fashion week, the quintessentially American design house of Calvin Klein didn’t send a single American down its catwalk. Twelve of the 22 chosen were from Russia and Eastern Europe.” And as one humanitarian in the fashion industry notes, “The Brazilians and Eastern Europeans are hungrier.” (That comment works on many levels, when you think about it—these Brazilian and Russian models are more eager to be objectified because they come from developing economies and literally can’t afford as much food as Americans? Or does it mean they are simply starving themselves more effectively?)
Also, models no longer garner the covers of fashion magazines, so far fewer of them are becoming celebrities in their own right—they are back to being anonymous pieces of attractive flesh that don’t distract us from the expensive clothes hanging on them, which makes them much more disposable to the industry. According to the article, the average modeling career lasts two years, which puts them somewhere close to their male counterparts, pro football players, who likewise sacrifice their bodies for a diverting but ultimately pointless spectator sport.
The duality of Andy Goldsworthy is the film Rivers and Tides is an inspirational example of how the world of a filmmaker can merge seamlessly with the world of an artist to jointly produce a new work altogether. The artist, working intimately with German director/cinematographer/editor Thomas Riedelsheimer, is able to create beautiful, enduring images of nature as art. It is Goldsworthy’s unique, uncompromising visions of the natural world (along with his attempts at explaining his artistic and thought processes) that give the film life. Is Rivers and Tides a film about art or a film about an artist? Is it simply just art?
Juxtaposing the ordinariness of this Scotsman’s home life (in the kitchen with his many children and wife eating bacon or simply milling about his small, picturesque village) with his life in the world of contemporary art, in addition to showcasing him in a way a feature film might present a leading man, the filmmaker smartly creates an art world anti-hero that is easy to root for. He’s not at all like the avant garde Matthew Barney (one of his contemporaries in the world of modern art), you’re not going to be treated to a pretentious three hour art installation/film about whaling, and that’s a good thing. What Goldsworthy brings to the table with his stunningly original eco-friendly artwork is the ability to make high art relatable for those who don’t usually go for it. His rugged personal charisma is as much a tool used for making art here as rocks or wood or leaves.
While the artist tries to offer up simple explanations for why he works (sometimes getting tongue-tied and then wisely stopping; which humanizes him even more), the more interesting thing to watch in Rivers and Tides is the actual construction of his pieces; each step leading up to the completion is a complex, painstaking task in itself. Goldsworthy shows that working with water, potentially hazardous plant material and wood may be incredibly time consuming, but for him, it is a rewarding way to connect with the planet, although the glory can be short-lived. He says that the pieces are all formed to look “effortless”, as though they were assembled by Mother Nature herself.
In Nova Scotia, Goldsworthy meticulously pieces together a sculptural corona of icicles that reflects the sun’s natural light. It then melts when the rays brutally shift towards it. He then constructs a white “whirlpool”-shaped hut made of wood that floats away with the tide. The installation represents, for the artist, movement and “seeing something you’ve never seen before, that you were blind to.” The challenge that comes with working with such non-traditional art materials can be perplexing with the ice cracking and breaking unexpectedly, yet Goldsworthy soldiers on.
He creates this fleeting imagery out of a noble love of the land and part of the beauty of watching them be constructed is watching them get quietly destroyed. The “whirlpool” is a striking image as it swirls at the convergence of the sea and a river, losing pieces with each turn. His gentle, poetic love of nature, combined with a craggy, Scottish sense of the outdoors make him so relatable that when one of his pieces made of stones falls apart, it’s easy to feel very bad for him, but just as easy to laugh along with him. It’s this particular sense that Goldsworthy lacks any real self-seriousness that makes a film about an experimental artist’s relevance and process more palatable.
Spectacular displays of natural light and other environmental phenomena captured by the filmmaker’s with laser precision (the images of a rainbow in the sky, the moon at night; every work possessed of a violent, natural color) are equally important when framing Goldsworthy’s installations. It’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of Goldsworthy’s life and mystique and forget that this is also just as much a fantastic achievement for Riedelsheimer. Are we buying into Goldsworthy’s charm, his actual art, or his lifestyle? Luckily Rivers and Tides doesn’t force it’s viewer to make a rash choice, it offers complete package with multiple perspectives on the world of art, each living independently, yet harmoniously and comfortably next to one other.
Though the Bush plan for health-care reform (an attempt to shift the tax subsidy for health insurance from employers to individuals) was pronounced dead on arrival, it did prompt some lucid analysis of the many problems with the American system, which is largely the product of an accident. Post WWII wage controls encouraged the end-around provision of benefits to lure workers. Health benefits became a standard part of the package and have remained so, even though it makes little sense and discourages people from self-employment or quitting bad jobs. In my 20s, I was told countless times that I needed to get a “real job”: This was not a job that made me feel fulfilled or socially useful; this was a job that gave me health benefits. And the lack of benefits is the bane of the freelance existence—it becomes prohibitively expensive to insure yourself, especially if you have even the slightest whiff of a preexisting condition. When you don’t want a corporate job, or work nine to five (what Jim Kirkland would call the dork schedule or the family nerd hours) this inconvenient arrangement can seem conspiratorial—that you are being forced to sell out and play the bourgeois game if you want any kind of assurance that you won’t be bankrupted by medical bills. But in truth, corporations would probably like nothing more than to get out of the insurance business, which saddles them with overhead costs and phalanxes of HR staff that might then become superfluous.
So there is some agreement across the political spectrum that employment and health insurance shouldn’t be associated. But liberals and conservatives have radically different solutions, as economist Paul Krugman explains well here. Conservatives think the main problem in American health care is economic inefficiency—no one has any incentive to be careful about what they spend on medical care. The sick, because they are spending the insurance company’s money, don’t comparison shop and look for bargain treatments; neither patients nor doctors have any incentive to pinch pennies. If the sick had to spend their own money, the theory goes, they’d think twice about having unnecessary tests administered and prescriptions filled. Thus conservatives want people to pay for their own health care, seeing it primarily as a private rather than social issue. Hence they envision a system where people buy their own insurance with their own money and deduct it from their taxes. People would have stripped-down insurance to cover catastrophic scenarios and would pay for the rest with tax-free dollars from an HSA. Having less insurance (forcing people to surrender their overgenerous “gold-plated” health plans) would make health-care “customers” more careful about what they pay for and encourage them to research into how to make the most of what they spend.
Underlying the conservative view is a philosophical position that essentially rejects the idea that society has a collective responsibility for tending to the health of all of its members. Instead, health is a personal matter, your own business. If fate deals you a nasty cancer, this line of thinking implies, that isn’t the rest of society’s fault, and no one should force your neighbor into helping you pay the costs of your misfortune. It’s every person for herself. You can see this perspective throughout Becker and Posner’s analysis of Bush’s plan. Becker writes
Aside from humanitarian concerns about the wellbeing of others, why should it matter to the rest of us if individuals and families, many of who are young and healthy, do not have health insurance? The main reason usually given is that since all persons must be accepted for treatment by hospital emergency rooms, regardless of whether they have insurance, taxpayers and other hospital patients who do have insurance bear the cost of treating persons without insurance. Due to this “externality”, persons without health insurance impose costs on others whenever they use emergency health care facilities.
Becker imagines the only reason we’d give a damn about a stranger’s illness is because we don’t want it raising costs on our own care. Maybe this is so in the aggregate, when you reach a suitable level of economic abstraction and the utility function seems to explain all. But at a less lofty level, the institutionalized callousness to the sufferings of others would probably be intolerably chilling. The problem of the uninsured doesn’t seem to be an abuse of emergency facilities; it’s more likely the psychic burden of insecurity weighting down an ever-increasing portion of American society.
Becker concludes somewhat grudgingly that there should ultimately be a subsidy for individuals to get insurance, but Posner can’t see any reason society should provide that:
if there were no tax subsidy for health insurance, probably much less would be purchased, which would be fine. People might even be healthier, because diet and other life-style choices are substitutes for medical care and thus for health insurance.
The fact that millions of people have no health insurance does not strike me as a social problem. It is true that they are free riders, but so to a considerable degree are the insured, since their premiums don’t vary much or at all with how much health care they obtain. As Becker points out, the quality and conditions of charity medical treatment (such as long queues in emergency rooms) discourage overuse of “free” medical care—it isn’t really free, because the nonpecuniary costs are substantial; among those costs are the fear and discomfort associated with medical treatment.
This is classic moral hazard argument—health insurance gives people an excuse not to take better care of themselves, overcoming the incentive provided by how frightening and uncomfortable seeking medical care can be. (You half expect Posner to suggest hospital visits be made even more unpleasant to provide more incentive for healthful behavior.) He’s willing to grant that “most people do not court illness in order to be able to consume subsidized medical care, or demand more medical care than is necessary to treat their illnesses” but still wants to argue that “Whether money is spent by the sick or by the taxpayer is more than a detail, in part because withdrawal of subsidy might induce people to adopt a healthier style of living.” But what prevents people from living more healthily isn’t the promise of a tax refund or a free trip to the doctor’s—it’s more that they lack the routine preventive care that educates them about healthy lifestyles and then lack the financial means to live them. Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickeled and Dimed illustrates how the complications and constraints of poverty—insecurity, mainly—induce stress and unhealthy choices. Tyler Cowen has a concise refutation of this view as well: “Our tolerance for anxiety is sufficiently low that I expect the future to bring more and more insurance of many kinds, whether from the private sector or from government. The cost of this insurance, in terms of induced inefficiencies, will be high, but a secure health care situation is one of the things in life that alone can make a difference between happiness and misery.” For Posner, though, health is almost a matter of choice: “If people want to spend more of their money on medical care and less on food or housing because they greatly value good health and longevity, that is their free, legitimate, and authentic choice.” No one, then, should be forced to be healthy by being remanded to buy insurance, and people who get sick obviously failed to choose to value health over food and shelter.
Posner does address what seems to me the key issue in health care debates: adverse selection. Insurance companies won’t cover people who are likely to get sick, and only currently do so because they are lumped in with healthy, employable folks in pools generated by company payrolls. Adverse selection is the main reason liberals, who do regard health as a social problem, will argue for universal, government-supplied programs; everyone is covered, and the risks presented by those unfortunate sickly people are borne collectively by all of us. (But what about those sick people who aren’t unfortunate but are instead engaging in risky behavior?) One way of accomplishing this would be to slowly and steadily extend Medicare benefits to more and more people—an incremental solution along the lines of what Matt Yglesias proposes here and Guy Saperstein proposes in this Alternet essay. Posner argues precisely the opposite, that Medicare ideally would be abolished.
The best, though politically unattainable, reform would be to abolish Medicare, brutal as the suggestion sounds. Then people would purchase catastrophic or other medical insurance for their old age, or depend like the young on charity. If it were thought “unfair” to make elderly people of limited means pay for their entire costs of health care, there could be a subsidy, but it should be means-tested, unlike Medicare. Why taxpayers should pay the medical expenses of affluent oldsters, of whom there are a great number, is an abiding mystery, at least from an ethical as distinct from a political standpoint.
The default assumption is that people who need assistance are somehow freeloaders bilking the system and cheating other people—eventually the existence of poor people will be acknowledged, but only grudgingly, after the terms of the debate are set to marginalize them or at least cast suspicion on anyone who uses government services. (If these damned poor people were so worried about being healthy, why weren’t they working harder to get the money necessary to sustain their health?)
Rather than poor consumer incentives, Krugman suggests that the health-care problem is ultimately one of the difficulty of rationing health care fairly: “Rather than admit that private-sector institutions aren’t any good at rationing, conservatives now say that patients should be induced to ration their own care by being forced to pay more out of pocket. And that’s where Bush’s attack on gold-plating comes from: reduce the tax advantage of employer-based care, and deductibles and co-pays might go up. The trouble is that the big money is in stuff like heart operations - areas where (a) people can’t pay out of pocket in any case - they must have insurance or go untreated - and (b) people really aren’t sufficiently well-informed to make the decisions.” So the question is ultimately a matter of whether expensive health problems and serious illnesses should be covered for everyone or just those who can afford to pay for care themselves (or were lucky enough to get coverage before becoming afflicted). The conservative view seems to be that money is the best way to decide who gets treated and when. (Basic economics—using price, supply and demand to distribute scarce resources.) If you can afford more health care, you get more of it. If you can’t, well, you should have thought of that before you wasted what resources you had on food and housing.
There must be alternatives to that, wherein public health is seen as a public good (as is medical innovation, pharmaceutical R&D etc., which those against government-sponsored care argue will be jeopardized when the profit motive is removed from the health care industry). Not sure how the rationing problem is solved, though.
UPDATE: The folks at Marginal Revolution offer a correction for the misuse of adverse selection, in its strict definition (of which I am guilty). Cowen’s post, however, reaches what appears to be a similar conclusion, that how health care should be rationed ends up being an ethical question rather than one of strict economic efficiency.