Fortune Cookies and Starving Cyborgs: Sweetness on Film

| March 17, 2008 | 2 Comments
  • 2 Comments

With SFIAAF 2008 in full swing, I’ve managed to munch popcorn with yeast for dinner more times than I care to admit during the past few days. And with another week of films ahead, it looks like I’m going to need to restock my supply of dental floss.

Fortunately, it’s been worth it. Over the weekend, two titles that food and film lovers should add to their list were screened to sold-out crowds.

THE KILLING OF A CHINESE COOKIE

Who among us can resist opening a fortune cookie? No matter how jaded or snobby, no matter how much you may hate that dry, tasteless joke of a dessert that sits on your bill after a meal at the Golden Imperial Jade Wok Garden, I dare you to leave behind, unopened and unread, that little strip of paper and its peek into your future.

Like many things we touch in daily life, the beginnings of the humble fortune cookie are murky, but in his documentary, The Killing of a Chinese Cookie, director Derek Shimoda doggedly follows the complex maze of historic claims and counterclaims. Best of all, he collects the amazing stories of thoroughly lovable individuals. Third-generation confectioners and visual artists, judges and lawyers, historians and entrepreneurs, master chefs and hack writers–everyone has an opinion about the fortune cookie. Among the highlights are recollections of the mock trial held in 1983 at the San Francisco Court of Historical Review. Instead of settling the dispute, though, the arguments seemed to have only stirred up the controversy even more.

More recently, The New York Times covered the long-standing debate in a feature about the origins of the ubiquitous cookie. Among the many representing Northern California’s interests are the descendants of Suyeichi Okamura, who in 1906 opened the Benkyodo Company, a confectionary in San Francisco Japantown where you can still buy handmade moochi, sembei and other traditional sweets.


One of the Suyeichi Okamura’s grandsons shows how hot cookies were once slipped into this wooden rack to cool slightly before a fortune was hidden within its crisp folds.

I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much during a documentary while learning about the secrets of the past. With great affection, Shimoda tracks the cookie’s influence from Japan’s sembei treats to Golden Gate Park’s Japanese Tea Garden, though World War II and the rise of Chinatown restaurants, to erotic art and lucky lottery numbers. I won’t reveal any more about the film or the cookie’s history, since I highly recommend this film. The fun of it will be in watching the story unfold for yourself.


A manager at a Los Angeles factory showing an old tin of fortune cookies that he’s resisted opening for posterity’s sake.

The Killing of a Chinese Cookie
Directed by Derek Shimoda
Sunday, March 23
12:00 Noon
Camera Cinemas 12 Downtown
201 South Second Street
San Jose, CA 95113
(408) 998-3300

You can still buy tickets for this weekend’s screening of the film at San Jose’s Camera Cinemas 12. Until then, you can read the memorable fortunes submitted by NTY readers.

I’M A CYBORG, BUT THAT’S OKAY

Many of us have been waiting to see Park Chan-Wook‘s latest film on the big screen. If you’ve survived his infamous films, Oldboy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, then you’ll already know that Park’s work is not for everyone. But those who love his intense, over-the-top vision or who can’t get enough of Korea’s boundary-breaking films, his latest should not be missed.

I’m a Cyborg, But That’s Okay reveals a new tack in his filmmaking: romantic comedy. In Park’s world, though, this means telling the story of how two psychotics in an insane asylum find love across the distance of alternative realities, group therapy and padded rooms.

Im Su-jeong plays Young-goon, a pale and skittish young woman who refuses to swallow even a single grain of rice, since cyborgs like her cannot digest food. She licks batteries to help recharge her energy, talks to vending machines and flickering lights, and mourns the loss of her daikon-nibbling grandmother. Superstar singer Rain plays a scruffy kleptomaniac, Il-sun, who invents and (in one of my favorite scenes in the film) installs a tiny machine called the Rice Megatron–with lifetime service guaranteed–inside Young-goon to help her survive the rigors of reality.

Any further attempt to explain the plot or introduce the cast of characters will fail miserably.

Viewers who nearly died from cuteness overdose during Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain or Michel Gondry’s La Science des Rêves might think twice about seeing this film. You’ll find a bit of relief from romantic sweetness during a few crazed killer-bot scenes, but don’t expect the endless blood or deep anger of Park’s earlier films.

I’m a Cyborg is the ultimate film, however, for fans of surrealism on the screen, well-intentioned massacres, hope flickering in a chaotic world, and uncertain non-endings.

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Category: asian food and drink

About the Author ()

Thy Tran writes literary nonfiction about food, the rituals of the kitchen, and the many ways eating and cooking both connect and separate communities around the world. She co-authored the award-winning guide, Kitchen Companion, and her work has appeared in numerous other books, including Asia in the San Francisco Bay Area: A Cultural Travel Guide and Cooking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America. Her writing has been featured in The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Fine Cooking and Saveur. A recipient of a literary grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission, Thy is currently working on a collection of essays about how food changes in families across time and place. Though trained as a professional chef, she works on cookbooks by day, then creates literary chapbooks by night. An old letterpress and two cabinets of wood and lead type occupy a corner of her writing studio, for she is as committed to the art and craft of bookmaking as she is to the power of words themselves. In addition to writing, editing, teaching and printing, Thy remains active in local food justice and global food sovereignty movements. Visit her website, wanderingspoon.com, to learn more about her culinary adventures.
  • アメリカ留学

    Hi! I am a Japanese. Though I looked for English study in various ways, I commented because contents were interesting. I was able to enjoy it very much. In addition, I come to look. Please keep it for us. Thank you!

  • http://chinesebay.com/ Chinesebay

    Fortune Cookies are not just Chinese, but American Chinese. Interesting enough, people in China know very little about Fortune Cookies.

    Chinese cookies are killing me softly… :-)