Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen

Random speculative writing exercises #442

Last night and the night before, markgritter and I watched Lust, Caution, an Ang Lee movie about a woman struggling with collaborationists in wartime Shanghai. (It's two and a half hours long, and my ability to read subtitles gave out at about the two hour mark.) And the thing is: I didn't have nearly enough of the cultural references to be able to see the shape of this story coming. None. I am used to being able to--well, not just predict things coming in movies, although that's a big part of it. But I am also used to being able to see the shape pretty clearly in retrospect--not just what happened, but why that was the way they went, what they were trying to do with it, which details were important after all.

At one point I said to myself, "If it was me writing it, this would be the part where they attempted to obtain for themselves Batman-like superpowers. Or at least James Bond-like ones." Then a bit later, "If it was me writing it, this would be the bit where they consulted a traditional Chinese magic practitioner, probably a Taoist." And then later yet, "Ah! I see now! This is where it becomes important that the jeweler is Indian, because India is still part of Britain and belligerent with the Japanese at this point in the war."

Needless to say, I was wrong at every turn.

It was a very nifty kind of wrong, though, a poking of assumptions about story shape but also cultural assumptions about which details were important and telling. If I had been looking for jumping-off points for similar stories, it would have been a neat way to do it, too; as it is, I am trying to wrangle the stories I've got and do not want to get into the Chinese Taoist magic practitioners vs. the Japanese in wartime Shanghai, because I don't have the background for that. (If you do, though, write it for me. It'd be awesome.) I would definitely recommend it as an exercise: picking a movie from a culture somewhat removed from your own and stopping the movie several times to say where you think it's going, seeing what you've missed and what you've mistaken. It's kind of fun. And it doesn't have to be a culture about which you're completely ignorant--I am nothing like an expert on China, but I know a great deal more about China than I do about, say, Ghana, and it still worked beautifully. And unintentionally, but I've often said my main talent is getting the wrong end of the stick in interesting ways.
Tags: full of theories, small screen

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