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When the Moon Is Full

[whitespace] Shopping for Fangs
Running With the Wolves: Jeanne Chin and John Cho learn some weird truths in 'Shopping for Fangs.'

Lycanthropy is a metaphor for assimilation in 'Shopping for Fangs'

By Richard von Busack

EVEN A MAN who is pure at heart and says his prayers by night will become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the moon is full and bright. (Maria Ouspenskaya's scary couplet on the subject was written by Curt Siodmak in his script for The Wolf Man.)

The highly recommended low-budget feature Shopping for Fangs profiles a cluster of unusual and wolfish types in the L.A. suburbs in the San Gabriel Valley. (By the way, this is the first movie in years set in the L.A. suburbs that looks like the L.A. suburbs and not like the outskirts of a country club.)

Phil (Radmar Jao), an accountant, is more than just pure at heart. He's a poster boy for the "model minority": an Asian American accountant, self-effacing and virginal. But he is as susceptible to lycanthropy as the unfortunate Lon Chaney Jr.

Trinh, a saucy, blonde-wigged waitress (born with her sunglasses on, she says), takes care of the customers at the Go Go Cafe. She finds, and impulsively filches, the wallet and cell phone of Katherine (Jeanne Chin), a severely troubled housewife. For the hell of it, Trinh starts sending Katherine pictures and love letters that she has to hide from her muscular, rage-ball husband.

This story is interspersed with Phil's tale: a 90-pound weakling imposed upon by his boss, Phil learns all about lycanthropy from his bossy sister's live-in boyfriend, who has written a book on the subject. (These scenes are handled with maximum wit; the boyfriend is used to being razzed and has to have the subject of his book dug out of him.) Soon, Phil is growing hair like the victim of a Rogaine spill. Across town, Katherine, pestered and provoked by Trinh's calls, becomes more and more prone to blackouts.

Co-director Quentin Lee (with Justin Lin) has been compared to that other Quentin; for all I know, he may have puckishly changed his name to invite comparison. Anyone who enjoyed Pulp Fiction's parallel stories and digressions will be prepped for Shopping for Fangs, including the finale, with a murder and a borrowing from the climactic standoff in John Woo's The Killer. The violence seems like the act of a director in a quandary. Lee's psychiatric explanation for the goings-on here shouldn't have been played straight but as a parody.

But the slick elements in Shopping for Fangs are less interesting than the slices of life: Phil getting picked up during his lunch hour by Grace, a co-worker who turns out to have something less appetizing than a date in mind, and an offhand discussion about the unnatural youth of Emmanuel "Webster" Lewis (it's implied that maybe he's one of the werewolves).

This lean comedy has some meat on it, especially its unusual metaphor for the terror of assimilation! Becoming more American and less Asian is alluded to as becoming hairy, carnivorous and uncontrollable. Patriotically enough, Shopping for Fangs argues that this kind of werewolfism is a positive thing. Lee is completely in favor of the two very different characters who shed their too-tight skins and get to howl.


Shopping for Fangs (R; 90 min.), directed by Quentin Lee and Justin Lin, written by Dan Alvarado, Lee and Lin, photographed by Lisa Wiegand and starring Radmar Jao and Jeanne Chin.

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From the June 4-10, 1998 issue of Metro.

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