Jon Moritsugu’s grungy biker flick Mod Fuck Explosion (1994) must have been the epitome of cool two decades ago, when it debuted in town at the Chicago Underground Film Festival. Screening this weekend at Music Box in a pair of midnight shows, the movie has crossed over from cool to cute, but like the teenage heroes, it goes its own way. A retro plot about warring gangs of mods and rockers collides with Moritsugu’s more timely exasperation with Asian stereotypes in U.S. media; obnoxious punk conceits such as a garden of raw meat are undercut by a tender romance between two virgins deeply concerned about their sexual adequacy. With its unprintable title, sick jokes, and defiantly low-grade look, Mod Fuck won’t be showing up on Netflix anytime soon, but no one can say it hasn’t survived its moment.
The British mod subculture of the mid-60s had been reheated once already with Franc Roddam’s movie Quadrophenia (1979) and new wave bands like the Jam when Moritsugu got to it in the early 90s. He goes roaring off on it anyway, opening with pop-art credits in which the title words zoom into the camera one after the next and video footage shows a jetliner landing on a runway and bursting into flames. London (Amy Davis), the high school heroine, gets hassled on her way home by Asian-American bikers set to rumble with her brother, X-Ray Spex (cool-boy ham Victor of Aquitane), and his fellow mods. Symphonic recordings provide the overheated backdrop for scenes involving Madball (Jacques Boyreau), the mods’ ace face, who tools around on his scooter in a black suit and wrap-around shades. “You are my mod god, my grade-A daddy!” declares his adoring girlfriend. Later in the story, a shot of an Asian biker tearing along on her motorcycle is intercut with the word SPEED blinking red against a black screen. When she wipes out, a title announces, Death is always the winner.
Despite all these retro trimmings, Mod Fuck was ahead of the curve in smashing through decades of Asian stereotypes. Moritsugu (who was born in Hawaii and educated at Brown University) contributes an animated performance as Kazumi, leader of the bikers, though in a wise-ass parody of martial arts imports from the East, his dialogue has been poorly overdubbed in English by another actor. The Oriental, a title explains, besides being hairless over most of his body and lacking in any natural body odor, is emotionally underdeveloped, sexually unskilled, physically unimposing, but naturally inclined towards committing acts of violence against ol’ whitey. In a blog post earlier this year, New York Times editor Dave Kim recalled how “Jon Moritsugu’s movies, in all their anarchic glory, were a revelation” to him when they came along in the 90s. “These are not the greatest movies ever made, but they meant a lot to me because they ignored the standard immigrant-experience formula and seemed to say: ‘Yeah, we’re Asian. Now shove it.'”
A generation later, Mod Fuck is a retro experience itself, not least in the sort of jubilant tastelessness that would incite hordes of P.C. trolls if the movie came out today. (“What’s the worst thing about having sex with a four-year-old?” one mod girl asks her friends. “Hearing its pelvis crack.”) Moritsugu subjects poor London, who wants nothing more than a black leather jacket, to a gauntlet of disturbing sexual influences. Her mother drinks, pops pills, and comes on to London and her brother, telling them, “The whore is the emblem of womanhood!” A succubus in a seaweed bikini materializes in the bathtub, identifying herself to London in a gauzy, reverberating voice as “the descendent of evil Jezebel, heir to the throne of shit!” The surreal climax of Mod Fuck is a dream sequence in which London, clad in a flaming red gown, steps gingerly across a carpet of pink, bloody flesh, severed pig legs dangling on wire from the ceiling. (This disgusting vista was constructed from 800 pounds of raw beef in the garage of producer Henry Rosenthal.)
In the end, though, what keeps Mod Fuck Explosion fresh is the innocence and vulnerability of London and her schoolmate M16 (Desi del Valle) as they fret over their virginity and sniff around each other sexually. Near the end of the movie, London circles the darkened floor of a factory, pistons pumping all around her as she lists the things she worries about: “Exams . . . fucking things up . . . terminal cancer . . . getting kicked out of school . . . not knowing how to fuck . . . not having ever fucked . . . getting old . . . going nowhere . . . being no one.” That’s funny—I worried about the same things 20 years before Mod Fuck came along, and teenagers are still worrying about them 20 years after the movie was released. There must be quite a blast radius from this explosion. v
Ben Sachs interviews Jon Moritsugu on the Bleader.