Thursday, December 28, 2006

Sook-Yin Lee and SHORTBUS

Vol. 1, No. 1

This is actress Sook-Yin Lee approaching orgasm. It is a sweet and joyous image which won my undivided attention tonight. (I hope it does something for you too.) The photo was at the top of a movie review column in a Vancouver webzine called THE TYEE. I had already decided to start a Blog, but I was dithering on an inaugural topic.. Perhaps it was Sook-Yin’s open-mouthed expression of wonder and anticipation that held my attention. To be truthful I was also struck by her strong resemblance to someone I have enjoyed in bed. Many thoughts combined to enhance my pleasure with this arresting image. I did a quick Google search and learned that in the new film SHORTBUS, she plays a therapist who has long been denied an orgasm, auto or mutual. I hadn’t heard of the movie until now, but I learned from Box Office Mojo that SHORTBUS is actually doing well for itself. Bravo!I
I am a tad demanding in my movie preferences, and I rarely go to the Cineplex anymore. But I am now addicted to collecting DVDs, and I study film. I guess most people research carefully before making weekly selections. At least I do. With respect to leading ladies, young bimbos are always a turn-off, but Sook-Yin Lee is no young bimbo. My instant impression was that the lady is a “40-something’” and definitely older than the young fellows she performs onscreen with. MILFs are currently a strong fetish among North Americans of all races, and I was definitely intrigued. In my limited experience, Asian women usually tense their jaw approaching climax, rather than dropping it, and I am seldom persuaded by staged expressions of open-mouthed bliss. The expression of surprise is a staple of too many porno shoots, and it rarely convinces. Somehow I think this shot of Sook-Yin’s orgasm is the genuine article. At least I hope so for Madame Lee’s sake. “You can’t please everyone, so yah gotta please yourself.”

Recently I read an older Michael Posner book, CANADIAN DREAMS: The Making and Marketing of Independent Films (1993) which provided much food for thought. It is an engrossing, well researched and even-handed study. (Posner by the way, is currently working for the Globe and Mail in Toronto.) With his book still in mind I was tonight methodically searching for something worthwhile, and if possible Canadian, to purchase from That was when I spotted the review of SHORTBUS (2006), an independent film which managed to ignite a brushfire of media coverage earlier this year. Though set in New York, I believe it has Canadian funding and of course Sook-Yin in a starring role. The movie is promoted as a comedy, but it is also porn. The gist of what I read motivated me to further research the actress, and convinced me to buy the DVD when it is released in March 2007. The post-Christmas doldrums having descended, I must admit I was craving a brisk resuscitating whiff of Eau de Cinema. After just a few moments ogling this photograph, a delicious moment captured by a Panaflex camera, I was persuaded to Google her.

The Wikipedia page was bland, but the fact that she was raised in nearby North Vancouver, further whetted my appetite. The search disclosed that she was a high-school dropout, that she had endured a pedestrian childhood addicted to television, and that the all-girl Lee brood had watched their parents turn on each other. (I can certainly relate to that sort of childhood horror. I hope she was not beaten too much!) Perhaps Mom and Dad were themselves beaten down by life? Mother was a checkout girl at the local Safeway, but Dad’s profession she conceals. They divorced, but Sook-Yin had already hit the streets at the tender age of 15 years. Was she just another Vancouver street kid, with all the consequences that grim label implies? Oh, my! How did she survive?

Sook-Yin has discussed her first experiments with drugs and her first attempts to achieve orgasm. She is said to be bi-sexual, but so what? Perhaps she was a kindred spirit to the younger Evelyn Lau, essayist, poet and author of the 1989 bestselling autobiography RUNAWAY. Lau’s gritty memoir chronicles her teenage years as a bottom echelon Vancouver prostitute. She chose to sell her ass to the downtown lawyers and stock brokers rather than go back to a stifling home, but managed, through sheer strength of character, to save her soul by concentrating on writing and selling evocative poetry.

Sook-Yin’s first exposure to film making was a bit-part in a feminist film almost twenty years ago. It is all a bit vague but we know this lead to a break in 1990 when the National Film Board financed an 11 minute film in which she retold a quirky youth experience as a sidewalk shill for a Mr. Noodle Cafe. She dressed up as a 10 foot tall egg noodle. An NFB website refers to “her childhood in a white middle class suburb in the 1960s”, which was the Lynn Valley in North Van. She has claimed her parents fled wartime Hong Kong, which if true, makes her older than her pretty face indicates. (My guess is her age is mid-40s.) In a 2004 interview she recalled that her family life “exploded” when she was 14, a truly awful experience for any child. The fact that they were Roman Catholic Chinese, would have added twist and spice to the scenario. The teen chose to flee, “excommunicated” she says, crossing the Burrard Inlet to seek a new life among Vancouver’s symbiotic communities - the fringe band and fringe cinema crowd. Sook-Yin has never bemoaned the fact that she dropped out of high school. (She is far from unique in this. Our province still has a shameful high school drop-out rate.)

In truth Ms. Lee did very well for herself. Far better than most women who survived similar childhood misfortune. She soon found a spot as lead singer in the local band Bob’s Your Uncle, and parlayed her contacts into a career in radio. I have never heard her program but an audio clip archived on the Internet documents her very Canadian accent, with more than just a hint of Vancouver streets. When the CBC, her recent employer, gave Ms. Lee some heavy flak for accepting this role in SHORTBUS, her bread was well and truly buttered. Sook-Yin became a bit of a cause celebre, and the rest (may) become cinematic history. She now lives in Toronto’s trendy Kensington Market neighborhood and is said to be searching for investment capital to fund a feature film of her own. The proposal requires a $2 million budget. Good luck to her! Just in case, she is keeping her day job as On-Air radio talent in Toronto.

I did say that I rarely go out to screenings. I am though one of that new breed of obsessive film buff whom the studios are counting on for sustained profits. We may perhaps let the theatres owners go broke. Our preference is to enjoy our movie experience via customized home theatres, beavering away at building libraries of our favorite genres. From time to time I will share my film obsessions, concentrating on what motivates me in my quest to buy or sometimes boycott new stories on DVD. Everybody seems to be blogging these days, and who am I to distain the trend? A comment archived on IMDb claims this film is reminiscent of WAKING LIFE and CLERKS. That is a rather jarring juxtaposition, and I am sure I will not share that impression come March 2007.

And Oh Yes!, I did locate a recent interview in an American web-magazine called ECONOCULTURE in which Sook-Yin describes her long anticipated experience of masturbating for the camera. The helpful cinematographer had set up a special rig for the shoot, allowing director John Cameron Mitchell to hover nearby and (Ahem!) guide the actress through her performance. "John was in the bathroom directing me. I had some battery operated assistance but was feeling self-conscious, so eventually I had to ask John to leave the room too. I needed to do this in private. Having an orgasm in that context with a camera over my head was very different than having one alone in my bedroom at home. I was aware of the presence of the camera above me, so it was a different color. I realized I was alone, but I was aware of another presence.“

I am sure that immediately after having the opportunity to observe Sook-Yin Lee’s performance I will also enjoy updating this initial profile with a more detailed examination of the story and the cast of characters. By then I will have turned up fresh biographical information on this interesting Canadian actress. For those who simply cannot wait, a website called offers six of her best SHORTBUS sex scenes, which download without prompting. (Acting note - she tends to roll her eyes upward to indicate sexual bliss.) The sex gets very gymnastic at one point. There are also a few lovely screen captures of a distracted looking Sook-Yin abusing her battery operated buddy, on a website called Celebrity Movie Archive. (Just press BROWSE, choose the “L” page.) The videos are for entertainment, but if illegal movie downloads are your bag, then do enjoy. In the meantime here is a screen capture to keep us all bothered. [Explicit graphics restricted to original article here: ]

In the design of the German poster for the film, inter-racial sex is emphasized, as it was in the promotion at Cannes.

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