Monday, March 2, 2015

Ahn Demand: The Search for General Tso / Dear White People

by Mark Ahn and Adam Riske
We all have movies that we want to watch but haven’t gotten to, that list of hopefully satisfying entertainment that we nurse along on a mental list or an online queue for weeks or years, hesitating to admit that it’s a total crapshoot of when we’ll ever get to them.

Adam Riske and I decided to watch a movie off of each other’s want-to-see list, and then came back for a conversation recommending (or not) what we watched; we come away with a better idea about how to prioritize these movies and get to talk about some movies that flew under our own (and maybe your) radars.

For this introductory installment of Ahn Demand, Adam watched Dear White People for me, and I watched The Search for General Tso for him. 

Mark: Hey Adam, what made you interested in The Search for General Tso in the first place? 

Adam Riske: It will sound silly, but I really like General Tso’s chicken when I’m dining out so the fact that there’s a movie about it intrigued me. A couple things 1) Do you feel like there’s a documentary about EVERYTHING these days? If you like Showbiz Pizza, there’s The Rock-A-Fire Explosion. If you like (a horror site), there’s Into the Pit. It’s so strange to me. I feel like it’s only a matter of time before F This Movie! gets its own doc. 2) Part of the allure of General Tso for me is that there’s a dish at my favorite Chinese food restaurant (Yu’s Mandarin) called Xiao Ping Pork and I always wanted to know what Xiao Ping is. I found out once but I can’t remember if it’s named after the chef or the province it originated. Nevertheless, it’s delicious.

Hey Mark, what made you interested in Dear White People?

Mark: It looked like it could be very funny but still having something significant to say about our culture and how we treat each other. Cultural and racial stereotypes are potentially pretty heavy topics, but just going off of the trailer and the title, this movie felt like it could address those issues in a slightly unconventional way.
As for your question about how there is a documentary for everything: I agree that documentaries seem to be getting very niche and specific, but I sort of like that. I normally stay away from documentaries because they are often a little too serious for how I want to spend my movie watching time. So, I generally don't end up watching the documentaries that are about problems, but I've enjoyed the ones that are pointing out something intriguing about a little-known topic. Also, I can’t wait for the FThisMovie doc. I think L.A. Doug can help us.

Yo Adam, why hadn't you gotten to watching The Search for General Tso yet?

Adam: I’m super lazy and I oddly enough have grown an aversion to watching things at home recently. I think it’s because I hate my current apartment. Luckily I’m moving next month and can re-invent my theater room. There’s so many dumb reasons why I don’t watch something. For example, I still haven’t seen Polish Ida (™ F This Movie!) because the day I went to the theater to see it, I called an audible and saw Life Itself for a third time.

What’s up, Mark, why had you not watched Dear White People?

Mark: I just ran out of time toward the end of the year trying to cram in all of the other stuff. I missed Top Five, too, in that same stretch. There were just some other movies that were higher on my priorities, but I did want to see this one eventually. Also, sorry about your apartment.

My man Adam, what do you think I'll like about Dear White People? (Let’s be careful about spoilers)

A: It’s intelligent and has a good sense of humor about itself. I think it uses humor in an interesting way. It deflects some of the racially charged subject matter at first, making it seem less heavy-handed and then the movie flips the switch in the second half (after almost lulling you into a complacency) and catching you off-guard with some powerful content.
Bro-face Mark, what do you think I'll like about The Search for General Tso? (spoiler free)

Mark: Although the topic is not life-changing or especially controversial, this documentary definitely is still engaging. It takes the very specific dish of General Tso's Chicken and uses the history of that particular dish as a gateway into discussing larger topics involving culture, ownership, and assimilation. Also, predictably, the movie is a potent advertisement for Chinese food. I ate dinner before watching this to prevent any cravings, but that didn't work; I made like a hobbit and had second dinner.
Senor Riske, what do you think is something I might not like about Dear White People? (again, careful of spoilers)

Adam Riske: That’s a tough question. I do think you’ll like it or at least appreciate what it’s trying to do enough to feel it was worth your time. One person I know very well saw it and didn’t like it. They saw a clip or two about it on The Daily Show and thought the movie was mis-represented in that forum. I think they were looking for something less abrasive and more inclusive. The movie, I think, can come across as militant to some but I think it does some subtle things along the way to be, at the end of the day, a pretty human and empathetic story.

Mssr. Ahn, what will be something I might not like about The Search for General Tso?

Mark: There is a chance that you might not find the movie as engaging as I did; the filmmakers are very thorough about tracking down the origins of General Tso and his legendary chicken, and that could potentially drag a little. Whether the time spent on all of the research pays off is up to you, but I think they come up with some satisfactory answers to the questions they raise.

A-Rizzo, give me a random, slightly interesting fact about the movie or the story in Dear White People that you found in your viewing or in reading up on it.

Adam Riske: The movie doesn’t shy away from the more human aspects of the dividing lines it portrays. For example, white people date black people, black people wanting to be white people, white people wanting to be black people, black people not liking other black people etc. It’s complicated and true to life.

MAhn, give me a random, slightly interesting fact about The Search for General Tso.

Mark: Apparently, it is also spelled General Tso, or Tsau, Zhou, Zuo, or Cho. Basically, Chinese is pretty hard sometimes. Also, "menu collecting" is a thing.
General Riske, Dear White People is better than what movie?

Adam Riske: School Daze. I think this movie is most similar to that early Spike Lee film and I found this one to be a more satisfying experience as a movie.

Dear Mark, The Search for General Tso is better than ...

Mark Ahn: Jiro Dreams of Sushi, although that might be an unfair comparison because that is more of a biography rather than an in-depth examination of food. Both movies are made with the same love and enthusiasm for their respective topics, and there is an effort to present their information with a sense of fun.

Festival programmer Adam, if you are planning a film marathon of three movies to watch and one of them had to be Dear White People, what other two movies would you put in the marathon? Why?

The aforementioned School Daze and maybe Jungle Fever. These are movies that speak about race in direct and vibrant ways and work as entertainments as well as brain nourishment. 

Put your programming hat on Mark: three film marathon, one of them has to be The Search for General Tso. What are the other two movies?

Mark: Lost in Translation and Bend it Like Beckham. All of these movies tackle the issues of the outsider trying to integrate into a larger culture and while still retaining a native identity and a sense of humor.

Final verdict: should I buy these movies or rent them?

Adam Riske: Rent. I’m a pretty big admirer of Dear White People, but I will admit I think the re-watchability is low. It’s the type of movie you watch once every five years or so.

Mark: The Search for General Tso is definitely worth a rental. Probably only worth buying if you're really into food documentaries.


  1. I love this idea for a column it eorks really well and a great chance to catch up on things we may have missed out on. I had these on my list too so I must bump them up. Side note I love Bend it like Beckham!