Wang was the Walter White of her 1980s Bay Area campus. When her financial aid
suddenly stopped, she combined her chemistry know how and club kid social
contacts to become a major manufacturer and distributor of MDMA. The good times
will be fun while they last, but there will come a reckoning in Angie Wang’s Cardinal X (clip here), which screens
during the 2017 CAAMFest in San Francisco and Oakland.
grew up in Newark, so you can’t judge her too harshly. She had it especially
difficult, thanks to her severe father and the erratic mother who bailed on
them. Yet, through hard work and academic achievement, Wang earns admittance to
a prestigious Northern California university that is absolutely, positively not
Stanford. She is also awarded some financial aid, but it will not be enough.
her privileged party girl roommate Jeanine Rockwell, Wang gains entrée to all
the campus frat parties, where she learns of the voracious demand for MDMA
(ecstasy). When her grant money falls through, Wang rather enterprisingly sets
herself up in the ecstasy business (which wasn’t even illegal at the time).
However, the lure of easy money and the hard partying that go with it takes
Wang to some dark places. Even Tommy, her chem lab buddy and the angel perched
in her shoulder cannot prevent her hard fall from grace, but unlike the Breaking Bad protag, Wang might have a
shot at redemption.
can only hope Wang the director did not live the life of Wang the character,
chapter and verse, but she is clearly drawing on sufficient personal experience
to give Cardinal X the ring of authenticity
completely lacking in thematically similar films, such as the laughable White Powder. You can tell some serious
street cred went into the film. However, Annie Q’s performance as Wang never
allows cynicism to set in. Thanks to her, we can always see the vulnerability Wang
tries to hide beneath her tough-talking façade.
Cardinal X also showcases a
side of action movie regular Ron Yuan that we do not often get to see.
Honestly, he is just terrific as Wang’s father Michael, a hardworking cook, who
is incapable of expressing his emotions (his big climatic scene is
extraordinarily well written and well played). Francesca Eastwood brings
greater depth and dimension to Wang’s hot mess roommate than you would ever
find in an average college melodrama, while Scott Keiji Takeda is winningly
geeky as poor old Tommy. Arguably, the subplot involving the distressed inner
city school girl Wang counsels as part of the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program
is way too on-the-nose, but Aalyrah Caldwell’s work as young Bree is still remarkably
Despite the somewhat lurid subject matter, Wang’s
gritty execution and the quality of her cast make it a serious indie drama
rather than a guilty camp pleasure. When it is over, viewers will feel like
they have been through a lot with Wang, which is impressive. To her further
credit, she also totally nails the Eighties vibe. Recommended as both nostalgic
and cautionary viewing, Cardinal X screens
again this coming Saturday (3/18), as part of CAAMFest.
Labels: Annie Q, CAAM Fest '17, Ron Yuan