Friday April 19, 1996
Video maker Shu Lea Cheang's vibrant experimental debut feature, "Fresh Kill," is self-described as "Eco-Cyber-Noia," and it's hard to improve upon that.
She and writer Jessica Hagedorn concern themselves with the interaction of a deteriorating environment, burgeoning cyberspace and mounting urban paranoia to create a vividly contemporary background for their gentle lesbian love story.
"Fresh Kill," a celebration of multicultural diversity with as much humor as seriousness, suggests that love may be the only defense in a world whose existence is endangered by conglomerates, ever expanding and polluting the mind as well as the planet.
We're told that the film's title refers to the world's largest landfill on Staten Island. Day in and day out, Mimi Mayakovsky (Laurie Carlos), who claims to have the most popular public-access talk show on the island, speaks out against the immense garbage dump while her daughter Claire (Erin McMurtry) works as a waitress at the ultra-trendy, none-too-subtly-named Naga Saky Restaurant.
Claire has a stable relationship with the equally beautiful Shareen Lightfoot (Sarita Choudhury), who has an adorable little daughter, Honey (Nelini Stamp). Claire has a good friend at work, Jiannbin Lui (Abraham Lim), a sushi bar chef who's a dedicated computer hacker in his spare time. It's Jiannbin's pal, intense poet Miguel (Jose Zuniga), who notices that a huge fish at Jiannbin's counter emits a phosphorescent green glow. That fish won't be the only radioactive creature on view.
When "Fresh Kill" isn't bombarding us with ominous or manipulative news bulletins via the media, it's punctuating the observation of Claire and Shareen's daily existence with tart, amusing vignettes capturing succinctly both the vitality and absurdity of modern life.
Cheang has fun with racially and ethnically improbable castings: Claire is white but her mother is black; Shareen, who is either Indian or Pakistani, has a Native American father. The point is, so what? (For all we know, Claire and Mimi are related to Vladimir Mayakovsky, the radical, ill-fated Russian poet.) Cheang's cast, which has cameos by the late actor-activist Ron Vawter and others, gets right into her giddy spirit, and Cheang has an ace cinematographer in Jane Castle to help her create a fast, fragmented mood and pace. Don't worry if you miss a reference or a throwaway joke because in "Fresh Kill," which has an aptly driving, jagged score, there will be plenty more to come.
Fresh Kill, 1996. Unrated. A Strand Releasing presentation of an Airwaves Project production. Producer-director Shu Lea Cheang. Screenplay by Jessica Hagedorn. Cinematographer Jane Castle. Editor Lauren Zuckerman. Costumes Candice Donnelly. Music Vernon Reid. Production designer Nancy Deren. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes. Sarita Choudhury as Shareen Lightfoot. Erin McMurtry as Claire Mayakovsky. Abraham Lim as Jiannbin Lui. Jose Zuniga as Miguel Flores.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times