To most moviegoers, Justin Lin is the director who refashioned the Fast & Furious series, originally a scrappy street racing saga, as a winking epic of 007 proportions. Yet he got his start with Shopping for Fangs (1997), a minor masterpiece about love, sex, Asian American stereotypes, and proper hair care for werewolves.
Co-directed by Quentin Lee, the film stars Radmar Agana Jao as Phil, a payroll clerk troubled by his rapidly growing beard (in order to comply with his office’s ban on facial hair, he has to shave every hour). Phil is also craving raw meat, but even his sister’s werewolf-researching boyfriend dismisses his fear of a full moon as paranoia.
In another strand of the story, a demure wife named Katherine (Jeanne Chinn) adopts an alternate personality: a lesbian waitress named Trinh, whose poofy blond wig and ever-present sunglasses mark her as a cinematic descendant of Brigitte Lin in Chungking Express (1994) and Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity (1944).
Like Lin’s breakout feature Better Luck Tomorrow (2002), Shopping attacks the racist myth that Asian Americans are the “model minority.” The more Phil and Katherine are urged to be stoic and submissive, the more they rebel (as does Phil’s mane, which eventually grows to his shoulders, making him look like a slacker Jesus).
After his Bruce Lee-inspired mockumentary Finishing the Game (2007), Lin became a Trojan horse filmmaker, smuggling subversive ideas into the Fast films and Star Trek Beyond (2016). I’m glad he did, but the beauty of Shopping, Better Luck and Finishing is that they allow him to sink his fangs into some unambiguous truth. Tubi.