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Giants among robots: An interview with Eric Nakamura and Martin Wong

I picked up my first copy of Giant Robot in 1997 after a long stint in Asia. Having this magazine that also seemed to have one foot in Asia and another in North America was a good way for me to quell my so-called “reverse culture shock.” Since then I have become a quiet disciple […]

I picked up my first copy of Giant Robot in 1997 after a long stint in Asia. Having this magazine that also seemed to have one foot in Asia and another in North America was a good way for me to quell my so-called “reverse culture shock.” Since then I have become a quiet disciple of Giant Robot. They have turned me on to more music, books, art and films than I can number. At the heart of the magazine are co-editors Eric Nakamura and Martin Wong who will be visiting the Walker on Thursday October 5. As resident Asian film geek and GR fan, I was just short of bouncing up and down in my chair when I found out Eric and Martin would be visiting. (Okay, maybe I was bouncing a little bit, but nobody saw.) In all seriousness, I have a great amount of respect and admiration for all the tenacity and energy that has gone into the magazine since it’s DIY beginnings in 1994. I selfishly seized the opportunity to ask them a few questions (some filmic, some non-filmic) and Eric and Martin graciously agreed:

I may have my ear to ground when it comes to Asian film, but Giant Robot never fails to offer up a handful of very cool bands, books, and art that are completely off my radar. How do you do it? How do you keep it so fresh? Do you guys ever sleep?

Martin: I sleep, but not much! There’s always tons of stuff I want to do every day, whether it’s read a book, see a band play, watch DVDs, check out an art show. We never run out because any one of those things leads to something else. It’s unending. Hopefully, our genuine excitement about the stuff we cover comes through in our magazine.

Eric: I sleep too, and it’s usually enough. I’m into many things, and everywhere I go I see something, I’m always checking stuff out. It’s pretty much a part of my life, so of course it’s always new, and it’s easy. And stuff for me, includes food, weird things people do, and shit on the streets.

Wanna share some new discoveries with us?

Martin: I’ve been into this Chinese writer, Ma Jian. I bought all of his translated books and spent a lot of time trying to track him down only to realize that he doesn’t do interviews. Oh well. His books are still great. I definitely recommend The Noodle Maker and Stick Out Your Tongue.

Eric: I like good food, I blog, I’m starting to paint, I listen to the Buddha Machine, I shopped at the Uniqlo store in NY (it’s inexpensive!), and I like art by Susie Ghahremani and Jack Long. I’ll be going to Japan and Hong Kong, so hopefully, I’ll see many more new things.

In some respects it is a good time to be an Asian film fan: small labels like Panik House, Artsmagic, and Discotek are putting out some great titles on DVD; more and more Asian directors like Takashi Miike, Park Chan-wook, and Johnny To, who would previously be marginalized as cult directors, are making an impact on the festival circuit; and Asian film is getting more screen time than ever in the US. On the other hand, you have things like Memoirs of a Geisha, a cheesy remake of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse, and Wong Kar Wai making a movie with Jude Law and Norah Jones! Is this just the necessary “take the good with the bad” scenario? Or is this just the beginning of a US homogenization process on Asian film?

Martin: It’s definitely easier than ever to find cool movies from Asia. I think that’s great. Yes, film festivals mean we have more chances to see obscure and imported movies on the big screen. And yes, there are plenty of domestic releases. But the relative cheapness of Hong Kong DVDs (even for Korean, Japanese, and Thai films) plus region-free players might be the most empowering thing for true movie dorks like us.

I can’t really comment on the U.S. remakes since I never watch them, but I have to admit that the trailer for Scorsese’s version of Infernal Affairs looks pretty good!

Eric: In general, making weird-sounding films or remakes is just a direction. Each director wants a challenge. I think since I work with artists, I see this often. However, when it’s just about money, then it’s another story. Since we’re in LA, we hear about some of the bad crap that goes on in Hollywood.

There is so much that I’m excited about in Asian film: the strong re-emergence of Thai film, Korean film doing some serious ass-kicking at the box office, Mainland China’s independent documentary scene, Katsuhito Ishii’s Funky Forest, and honestly just the sheer diversity of what’s going on out there. What are you guys excited about in the Asian film scene?

Martin: After heavily getting into Japanese and Korean films, I’m going back to HK cinema. Election 2 is incredible, and I think Daniel Wu’s Heavenly Kings is inspiring, too. It’s cool that some of the younger actors in the industry aren’t content to act in mainstream movies, but want to rock the boat, too.

Eric: I see much less. But I liked Jet Li’s martial arts film, Fearless. That showed a lot of heart to make a rad kung-fu flick that’s mixed with his philosophy-that made the film special. It’s nothing brand new, but in the end, it’s sort of like the cherry on top, since it’s Jet Li in a fine moment.

I have a serious addiction to late ’80s/early ’90s Hong Kong films–I love them way more than is rational and I never tire of watching them. Do you guys have any guilty pleasures you want to admit to!?

Martin: I have to admit that I’ll watch almost any movie with Hsu Chi. She’s been in some pretty bad movies, and I’m not even talking about the pornos.

Eric: I’ve seen The Killer about 20 times and Chung King Express about 10 times.

Ninja BaboHuge thanks to you guys for indulging me. We are all looking forward to your visit to the Twin Cities and the Walker. Now, just one final, but very important question: Who’s your favorite Ugly Doll character?

Martin: I like the special-edition ninja version of Babo. He’s decked out for a secret mission, but still wants a hug.

Eric: I have a bizarre handmade Uglydoll that you’ve never seen, and probably never will — but who knows.

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Keep up with what Martin is doing here.

And keep up with what Eric is doing here.