Another low budget independent film from Peter Wang, the director of A GREAT WALL (1986), THE LASER MAN pokes fun at everything from cultural identity to the military-industrial complex in highly quirky fashion. Disjointed and rambling, the essentially plotless movie is set in the near
future (political posters saying "Reelect Ollie for President" can be seen) and focuses on Hayashi, a somewhat nerdy, apolitical young New York City laser researcher, half-Chinese, half-Jewish, who accidentally kills his assistant during an experiment. Blackballed from the laser industry because
of the accident, the divorced Hayashi spends his time trying to find other work, eating his Jewish mother's horrible Chinese meals, hanging out with his small-time hood brother-in-law (Leung), taking his son to the park, and falling in love with Urbano, a Caucasian woman obsessed with things
oriental. Director Wang himself plays an NYC police detective and Hayashi family friend who narrates the film and keeps tabs on the young laser scientist and his crooked brother-in-law. Hayashi finally does land a job in laser research, but he is hired by a very mysterious corporation that wants
the laser scientist to build them a powerful weapon. As it turns out, the men are working for the government and Hayashi is unknowingly helping to develop the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), aka Star Wars. His invention, a small, light, and very lethal laser gun, is to be tested on the noggin
of his crooked brother-in-law, who has sold Hayashi's employers some bad merchandise and made them angry. After years of blithely doing weapons research without even considering the practical implications, Hayashi suddenly realizes the horrible nature of his work and decides to fight back. By now,
however, it's too late and Leung apparently is killed by the laser. In a decidedly goofy climax, Hayashi finally takes some personal responsibility and fights back. With the help of his family, girl friend, brother-in-law (who isn't dead after all), and detective Wang, Hayashi is able to
double-cross his employers and frustrate their plans for Star Wars.
A character comedy with political and societal overtones, THE LASER MAN is almost too idiosyncratic for its own good. For every telling and relevant moment, there are half a dozen comic or dramatic bits that fall very flat. Director Wang's satiric eye is everywhere, commenting on race relations,
family life, dating, sex, marriage, politics, religion, New York City, crime, defense, New Age, the generation gap, modern technology, etc., etc. While Wang's fervent approach is indeed spirited, the film is too scattershot to be truly engaging. Wang seems to have much on his mind, but he fails to
present it in a persuasive, coherent way. Part of the problem is his comedic approach, which borders on the sophomoric. One must wonder if the flip, and sometimes even crude, humor is tongue-in-cheek and supposed to be viewed ironically, or if Wang does indeed have a very indifferent attitude
toward his subject matter. Although the movie seems to be a plea for the populace to wake up and become politically and socially committed, its humor is far from biting and Wang fails to persuade the viewer that anything important is at stake.
While he bobbles the bigger issues, Wang does succeed in creating some vivid characters. Although Hayashi himself remains a bit vague by the end of the film, the supporting cast is wonderful. Joan Copeland, as the quintessential Jewish mother who has "a Chinese soul," is hilarious, as is Maryann
Urbano as the white woman searching for fulfillment through Eastern culture. Director Wang is also memorable as the eccentric police detective. When one considers that the film was shot by Spike Lee's cinematographer, Ernest Dickerson (whose work is better here than in Lee's SCHOOL DAZE), it would
seem to indicate that once again a small group of socially and politically committed independent filmmakers is on the rise in New York City. Although they have shown promise, their cinematic skills have yet to attain a truly strong and graceful authority. Perhaps their best work is yet to come.
THE LASER MAN premiered at film festivals in the US in 1988, but was not in general release until 1990. (Adult situations, sexual situations, violence, nudity, profanity.)
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- Released: 1988
- Rating: NR
- Review: Another low budget independent film from Peter Wang, the director of A GREAT WALL (1986), THE LASER MAN pokes fun at everything from cultural identity to the military-industrial complex in highly quirky fashion. Disjointed and rambling, the essentially plo… (more)