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Review–Chop Socky Boom!

Chop Socky Boom (2012)

Genre: Comedy Webseries

Directors: Darlene Sellers, Heath Ward

Writers: Heath Ward, Darlene Sellers

Stars: Khanh Doan, Darlene Sellers, Jennifer Page, Jay Irwin,  Andrew McMasters, Brandon Ryan,

A gaggle of shitty Seattle actors are consigned to indie webseries hell.

No, this is not your life, this is Chop Socky Boom! But Chop Socky Boom is not shitty—it’s cute and engaging. And it’s not just another fucking zombie weberies. It is a webseries about a kung fu webseries called “Final Zodiac Warrior.” I couldn’t be more pleased. Well, technically, I could be more pleased. After all, I am the Douchebag.

Chop Socky shows us what happens when a bat-shit loon is given free rein to ruin the lives of a group of actors and crew in the single-minded pursuit of his junky vision. What happens is—wait for it—Seattle independent film. (Ba Dum, Ching!) This loon is Trick, the director, played with singular weirdness by Andrew McMasters. Trick is an auteur, a creep, a martinet. A Martian. He runs his actors through preposterous exercises to assess their qualities: “Be a pig, a yummy pig!” he cries in one audition. He commits sexual harassment. He abuses actors emotionally. He’s every actor’s nightmare, and all too real.

I heard a rumor that many of the situations that appear in Chop Socky actually occurred, and that Trick is based on a real Seattle director. Before you ask, I don’t know who, and if I did I wouldn’t tell you (here). McMasters gives the best performance in Chop Socky Boom. But wait, there’s more!

Right now I am drinking (this is how I review), and I’m going to take a moment to raise my glass of lukewarm gin and say: JAY IRWIN! If you raised your glass and joined me, then you have probably worked in Seattle theater.

Jay Irwin plays Scotty, the “Rat” in the Chinese zodiac, and Final Zodiac Warrior’s costumer. Jay Irwin is a fixture in Seattle theater and has the singular distinction of being the only theater actor in the continental United States to have a drinking game named after him. It’s a long story, but the game goes thusly: if there is an awkward pause in the conversation, someone raises their glass and says “JAY IRWIN” in a majestic voice, and all must drink. Ironically, Jay doesn’t drink.

I’ve seen Jay be absolutely brilliant. This was good. It makes me think Jay was screwed on the deal.

Chop Socky is a series of gags and uncomfortable situations that our poor actors find themselves in. Few of them have martial arts experience, and none of them can act to save their ass. Daisy, played by an adorable Darlene Sellers, wants to be “Tiger.” (Everyone wants to be Tiger, and the guy who actually has a tiger tattooed on his back gets assigned to “Horse.”) But Daisy is assigned “Rabbit.” Trick demands that she show him Rabbit. Right now! And he pounds the table. Daisy jumps. With her pigtails, huge eyes, and twitchy nose, Daisy looks exactly like a frightened lop ear.

Khanh Doan, who winds up playing “Dragon,” is Vietnamese. Not Chinese. Not Japanese. Vietnamese. Like her agent or the director give a shit. “Do you know Jackie Chan?” the director asks. I think he means: does she know him personally? I mean, why wouldn’t she? They’re both Chinese, right? “Jackie Chan—do that!” the director insists. And Khanh gets the job by taking on a ridiculous Asian accent. It’s so retarded that it is actually racist. The only person I’ve heard do a more racist Asian accent is S. Joe Downing, who appears for like two seconds as the Viking helmeted “Ox.” Joe is a genius at racist Asian accents.

But back to Khanh. I wish they would have included a William Shatner-esque “KHAAAAAAAAAAAANNNNNNH!!!!!!!” moment. I would have loved that. Even so, they gave us the next best thing: in the most preposterous scene of the series, Khanh confesses to Scotty that she does not know any martial arts, immediately before their martial arts audition. “This may come as a surprise, but I don’t either. Just follow me,” Scotty whispers, and leads her in a round of “Dance Fighting” culminating with the traditional jazz-hands flourish.

JAY IRWIN! (Drink, motherfuckers!)

Now before I get carried away with praise (I’d have to turn in my Douche card), there are some things that did not work with Chop Socky Boom. For instance, S. Joe Downing appears out of nowhere as “Ox.” He is presented as an ensemble character, but there is nothing leading up to it. I felt like I missed something. (Turns out Joe was out of town during part of the filming, hence the holes in the edit. Ah, the trials of indie.) There is also another Asian martial artist who is presented as a possible ensemble character, but he just seems to disappear. I believe the idea was that he didn’t make the cut, but it was a little unclear.

In another example, Khanh, Doan, the lead character, does not feel enough like a lead character to me. Actually, Daisy (Darlene Sellers) seems to be just as much the lead as Khanh. But it doesn’t feel like a hand-off between the two, it just feels unclear. As if the director was going for an ensemble feel and wasn’t quite able to pull it off.

Also, there are a couple of gags surrounding “Pig,” the eponymous ‘ugly’ girl played by Jennifer Page, that simply misfire. The gags center around Pig’s lack of attractiveness—but Jennifer Page isn’t ugly. Yeah, Pig comes across as a little gawky and flat-chested in the series, but ugly? Nonsense! I would ask her out. Who puts glasses on a chick to make her ugly in the hipster capital of the world? The glasses just made her look smart, which makes me want to ask her out more. Dammit! Pig is hot!

In one gag, Pig is thrown into a gauntlet of fighters. They are told to do whatever it takes to be the last man standing. Pig flashes her opponents her tits, and the three men are incapacitated. One even pukes. It’s a hilarious gag. But it falls flat, along with Pig’s chest. (Heyo!) Maybe that was the joke. I can’t tell. The fact that I can’t tell what the joke was is not good. But the gags are great writing, so it’s a shame they couldn’t find someone less attractive, or go to the lengths necessary to make Jennifer genuinely unattractive—I would have respected that more.

One gag that I enjoyed, however, was that Pig’s mom speaks to her in a Charlie Brown “adult” voice. Remember? The ‘wah-wah-wah’ in the background? It’s dorky. I love it.

The actor who stood out to me the most was Brandon Ryan, who played Max, the hapless PA (Production Assistant). Max is a mess of nervousness, tics, and passive-aggressiveness. There’s something true about Max’s tormented world, in that PA’s live in a perpetual, caffeine-fueled haze of sour desperation. I can smell the bitter obsequiousness pouring off of Max. He was my favorite—I don’t care what anyone else says, he should have his own show.

If I have an overarching criticism of Chop Socky Boom, it is that I don’t care enough about the characters. Yes, they are cute and fun, but they are caricatures for the most part, not characters. And while many of the bits are ridiculous and fun, they often do not push the story forward. I would have liked a little more depth. Even so, it’s some of the more consistently executed Seattle indie writing I’ve seen in a while.

The directing and editing in Chop Socky lend to a complete, consistent story world. Thank god, because that is my constant bitch about Seattle indie, that there is no consistency to the worlds presented because of incompetent or lazy directing and/or editing. One botched take or cut can pull you right out of the story world. Chop Socky doesn’t have a problem with that, and God bless them!

What I like the most about Chop Socky Boom is that it has no pretensions. It’s a cute little Seattle webseries. That’s it. And it is comfortable in its own skin. It has modest, fitting, animated titles, a chipper theme song, and a dandy website. There are no delusions of grandeur here.

Am I blown away? Certainly not. For all its cuteness, Chop Socky is a little lukewarm. But I enjoyed my time in the Chop Socky world. I would like to see more.

Last I heard, Chop Socky Boom was getting ready for a round of fund raising to produce the rest of the season. I like it that they have given me a product before asking me for money. I can get down with this kind of fundraising. This is one of those rare cases where I will be chipping in a few bones in order to see the next episodes.

Go watch Chop Socky Boom. I wouldn’t be surprised if you give them a couple bucks too.

JAY IRWIN!!!

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