Discover more from Beth's Exceptional Video Playlist
Beef: An exquisite cornucopia of fear, anger, and what moves us
The ten-episode delectable revenge series has a 99% Rotten Tomatoes score & it's easy to see why. It gets at fundamental truths about personal drive, the middle age grind and the happiness myth.
Warning: Context setting, but a wholesome, palette cleanser of an aperitif.
In which I spill mad love for A24 Films
Asian cinema is having a moment in America and for all of our sakes, I hope it’s more than a moment. Indicators would point to it being more than that. And if A24, the film and television production company, has anything to say about it, they are here to stay. The production and distribution company has proven itself an ally and smart partner to Asian filmmakers. 3/4 films I cite below have been released from them, not to mention a film I’m eagerly anticipating for June release, called Past Lives (Greta Lee, The Morning Show), whose trailer below, features a haunting, ethereal cover to a very different version of Rhianna’s “Stay” by Cat Power. These A24 trailers should be submitted in their own category of film awards. They are like mini cinematic feats that I dare you to not watch over and over again.
On note of the trailer, per Marijune Alejo:
Whilst watching this trailer, I can say that at this point I'm fully convinced that A24 can never disappoint us with their films.
A quick history of current Asian American Film Representation as of late
In 2021, USC Annenberg released a report following the surge of film success of Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians. The studio invested $30 million and grossed $170 million. The film was a film made by Asians, starring Asians, about Asian experience mass marketed to an American audience and guess what? People came, people loved it and it cast a net for more film.
More related facts cited in the report:
Asian Americans represent seven percent (7%) of the total U.S. population, or approximately 22 million people, which is larger than 48 out of 50 states.
By 2065, the population of Asian Americans will surpass the number of Hispanics/Latinx who live in the U.S.
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But let’s backtrack a little in our recent history to the South Korean film by Bong Joon Ho, Parasite (2019) which took home the Oscar for “Best Film” and got us in the gut with its fatalistic ending. Ok, in fairness maybe a lot of people have forgotten this since its recognition was during the COVID-19 pandemic early days and an at-home, lackluster, if not creative Oscars where anti-Chinese sentiment was high and caused critics and viewers to conflate this Korean film with a Chinese film and denounce it, because well, ya know, xenophobia... Also, the film made history as the first non-English language film to win “Best Film” at the Oscars ever. It also likely paved the way for other Asian films, notably, this year’s trippy, magnificent (no I’m not talking about Jamie Lee Curtis’ Oscar-worthy groovy show of love for her cast mates that was well documented during the awards’ show events), Everything, Everywhere All At Once (2022) to sweep nearly every category it competed in during the Oscars including Best Film.
One of the best Asian American experience films I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in recent years is Minari (2021), also nominated for “Best Film” which I wrote about here in addition to Lulu Wang’s The Farewell, because I found out it incredibly poignant and bittersweet as a demonstration and depiction of immigrant life in America, complete with the American Dream underpinnings. Coincidentally, Steven Yeun, co-star and 1/2 of the powerhouse Ali Wong-Steven Yeun duo featured in Beef, has chosen his roles carefully and with conviction since his breakout role as Glenn in The Walking Dead, for which he’s likely recognized more readily in the mainstream.
Now for the main meal, with a side of boeuf bourguignon
And yes, we have a great Smashing Pumpkins rendition of “Today” at the top of the trailer brought to us by A24. Btw, Steven Yeun does some pretty nice vocals as his character (Danny) leads praise songs at his church (including the one below, “Drive” by Incubus).
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“You have this serene, Zen Buddhist thing going on.” Jordan (Maria Bello), a mega-billionaire entrepreneur who eats businesses for dinner, tells Amy in one of the first few episodes. Amy, a pressured, frenzied Type A, successful and affluent Calabasas (Think: Kardashians’ lair) business owner, is working on selling her brand, a plant store, called Koyohaus to Jordan, the owner of a big box store but first she has to do the shmoozing and the selling of her worth as a person, not to mention giving Jordan tokens, like selling George’s dad Tamago chair, for Jordan to bite…Amy thinks a break which will happen when she sells and earns a windfall of liquid assets, will afford her the ability to evolve into a less angry individual and a more present mom and better partner to her husband, George, a wannabe sculptor, living in the shadow of his renowned artist father, now deceased. Both Amy and George’s father are funding George’s mom’s (Fumi) lifestyle which is another thread in the story.
The facts are that Amy is spent, burned out, and needs a release for her anger. She has no friends and while George is well-intentioned and a great father to Junie, he has no way of really getting her. He doesn’t want to see her ugly parts, not really. Though he has some, too, as the show reveals. He’s still seen as less damaged, however.
80s icon, Ione Skye, by way of a barely-recognized cameo, plays the evil, scary witch that Amy sees when she does something that she is ashamed of (her adult tryst) or sees something she’s embarrassed by (i.e. seeing her father walk into her house with his mistress when she was a young child). The underlying message Amy gets as a kid: Don’t tell people about the things you are afraid of or ashamed of. Just bottle them up. This same message is reverberated by Amy’s own mother (Hong Dau), when adult Amy wants to talk to her about dad’s affair(s) and her mother shushes her, “You think I didn’t know?” giving off, “Turn the other cheek” sentiments. What is clear is that Amy’s mom doesn’t want to talk about it, at least not with her estranged daughter. And that this lack of talking about serious and traumatic things has had a grave effect on her daughter, especially as she seeks to unravel the source of her unhappiness.
Danny (Steven Yeun), with whom Amy shares an antagonistic, rage-fueled ride of fury in Episode 1, and from which sets the entire downward spiral of a bender story into action, is a down-on-his luck, out-of-work contractor, from the wrong side of the tracks. Danny is trying very hard to live an honest life but he’s also deeply unhappy and we find out that his excursion to Jordan’s store in the first episode in which he tries to return hibachi grills, was motivated by a failed attempt to kill himself. “I can’t even do that right.”
His parents used to own a motel that Danny now lives in, but have since fled back to Korea, after being forced to sell the motel when Danny’s cousin, Isaac (bad news and a half), was caught and sent to jail for illegal activities operating out of the motel. Isaac has a big presence in Danny’s life and not a good one. He’s dragging Danny down in much the same way that Danny drags his younger brother, Paul, (Young Mazino), down, by bringing him into questionable and shady import-export business with Isaac, who is now sprung from jail.
There are themes of “Breaking Bad” levels of revenge that Amy and Danny unleash on one another and each episode, it gets darker and deeper. Amy disguises herself as “Kayla” and catfishes Paul, becoming an object of obsession for him and a physical diversion for her. Danny befriends George as “Zane” seeking to earn his trust and eventually rob him but then changes his mind. These acts are meant to harm and break the other person, but not really to kill them.
Both Amy and Danny are convenient scapegoats for their own failed happiness. Both are misunderstood and feel the weight and burden of being the rock of their families, at least the ones bringing home the money and stability. I found myself waiting for them to get over their plights of desperation, sit down and talk without the heat, to finally understand that they are really mirrors of the other. And that if they can find their way to acceptance and appreciation for the other, they have some singular hope of finding happiness within themselves. Maybe happiness is too strong a word. Perhaps it’s unattainable for “damaged” people, but at least a semblance of a life in which they can connect on a deeper, more fulfilling level.
I won’t spoil the show anymore to share if this happens or not. Just to say - enjoy the wild ride that creator Lee Sung Jin is taking you on. I wish I could experience my first time with Beef again.