Ghetto Pass Revoked: A Retrospective of Mission Movies

Alright folks, today I’m going to a screening of La Mission with the amazing Margarita Azucar. I’m down with the Bratt brothers, we’re all LHS alumni, but I haven’t seen a movie that Benjamin Bratt has been in since Catwoman. It takes a lot of fuckin’ guts to give a movie a monolithic title like La Mission so it better be good.

It’s been surreal to see this movie get national press attention and hear film critics discuss the dynamics of the Mission District. This might lead one to think that La Mission has been the only “Mission” movie-but not so. There have been many pretenders to the throne.

First up is a movie simply titled Mission. I remember the main draw of the film when it was initially released was that it starred a cast member of the Blair Witch Project. Here’s its official synopsis:

“A young aspiring writer, Marvin, from New York moves to California to write a novel. He ends up rooming with a chaotic, bohemian musician named Jay. Marvin finds himself inexorably drawn into the vibrant youth culture of San Francisco’s Mission District as both Jay and himself watch their worlds disintegrate. They discover that each has a lot to learn from the other. Mission is a coming of age story casting a spotlight on a place and time, moments before artistic aspiring types yielded the Mission to the dotcom entrepreneurs.”

As a movie, Mission is alright. The only thing saving it from mediocrity is that it captures a unique moment in time for the neighborhood. It shows the Mission while it was experiencing gentrification (as opposed to already being gentrified) during the upswing of the dotcom economy. It’s interesting to see creative and eccentric young White people in the Mission before the emergence of hipster culture. Funny enough, Mission Street is almost nowhere to be seen in the film. Of all the areas in the Mission, Guerrero Street gets the most play.

Next up is Mission Movie. I know a lot of people who are hesitant to give an honest assessment of this film because it was supposedly a sincere “community effort” but I’m here to tell you that it’s utter dog shit. To view Mission Movie‘s official trailer CLICK HERE. Here is a section of its long winded synopsis:

Mark, a white, traditionally trained artist, is forced to seek the help of Roger, a Latino artist born and raised in the Mission, to confront a group of kids who have been tagging his mural. Meanwhile, Mark and his troubled hipster roommates amble into activism as they face eviction from their apartment. Also being evicted from the building are Rosario and Rene, recent immigrants whose marriage is tested by their new environment. Antonia, a third-generation resident, finds the fruits of her success making her an “accidental” target. And George, a Palestinian shop-owner struggles as his love for his decidedly American children is challenged by conflicting values.

Mission Movie plays out like a Disney fairy tale version of the cultural and class conflicts that occur in the Mission every day. Taken straightforward as a piece of cinema, Mission Movie is bad. The acting is terrible, the camerawork is sloppy at best, and it’s just straight up corny. Each character is an ideal depiction of the different demographics that populate the Mission District and in the process of simplifying and sanitizing what they represent Writer/Director Lise Swenson has sucked the soul out of all of them. I’d take Mission‘s depiction of an angst-filled White writer over Mission Movie‘s all encompassing storyline that does a disservice to everyone involved. There’s no other way to say it, this shit is all kinds of fucked up.

Unlike Mission, I’ve only viewed Mission Movie once but I’m still haunted by one particular scene of the movie. In it, a young woman walks down Mission Street (pretty much the only scene actually shot on Mission Street) and is followed and harassed by a group of stereotypical cholos. The sad truth about Mission Movie is that with the exception of one central character, this is the only time you see young Latino males. For the most part Latino males are depicted as either cute lovable kids or wise and respectable men. Watching it was a like a punch to my Chicano gut; the pain of which I still haven’t forgotten.

If my assessment of movies filmed in the Mission is a little depressing, don’t despair. There is at least one masterpiece out there that’s been filmed in the Mission District. One such work of cinematic excellence is The Wesley’s Mysterious File (and no that’s not a typo the title really is “The Wesley’s Mysterious File”). It’s a Hong Kong production filmed in San Francisco and it makes better use of the city than any other film before or after it.

While some have speculated that The Wesley’s Mysterious File is one of the worst movies ever made; I contend that it’s one of the most fun movies ever made and perhaps the most hilarious movie filmed in San Francisco. Here is the completely nonsensical official synopsis:

Wesley, is responsible for handling all the incidents that relate to extraterrestrial life on Earth. One day, Wesley meets Fong when he is looking at a blue human bone in an antique shop. Fong is an alien from the Blue Blood Planet, she left her home 600 years ago to look for the Blue Blood Bible. Wesley tries to stop Fong going away, the Double X Unit lead by Wai and So is ordered to handle the case. At the same time, Kill and Rape arrive Earth from Blue Blood Planet. They come here to take Fong back to the Blue Blood Planet.

If that’s confusing check out this awesome trailer

Simply put, The Wesley’s Mysterious File is batshit crazy. Its genius is that it takes the Mission District to a place it’s never been before: science fiction. About ten minutes into the film there is a scene in which main character Wesley stumbles onto a residential motel that’s been taken over by zombie-like aliens. The Wesley’s Mysterious File earns its ghetto pass by setting the scene on 15th and Valencia, right across the street from the notorious Valencia Gardens housing project. It doesn’t get much more Mission than that. The scene includes a Mexican stand0ff followed by Wesley and a swat team storming the building and blowing holes in the occupying aliens. Eventually they are overpowered by a massive demonic-looking computer generated creature and the fight breaks out into the streets again. It has to be seen to be believed.

The Wesley’s Mysterious File can be purchased in Chinatown at almost any DVD shop or from Amazon. Mission can also be purchased from Amazon. Mission Movie, thankfully, can’t be found anywhere and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Well, that’s it for now. I’m off to check out La Mission. I will report back with a review later this weekend.




11 thoughts on “Ghetto Pass Revoked: A Retrospective of Mission Movies”

  1. Thanks for this Rio, awesome assessment and dismal state of cinema’s take on the Mission, I look forward to your review of the Bratt movie.

  2. hahahaha wow I cant believe you posted the cray cray HK sci fi flick!

    Rio, you rule!!!

    isn’t that the most random shit ever?
    Id tell people about this flick and nobody believed me ‘cuz I couldnt remember the english name… man thank you!

    I remember when they filmed this flick by VGs as my friend’s sister told me about it ‘cuz she wanted to peep this well known cantopop singer who stars in the flick… I guess he’s a top dog actor now but whatevs!

    saw it on vcd as soon as it was out, wish I still had it… you right, it’s hilarious HK sci fi but inept beyond belief.. I remember the “American” actors had fob accents haha
    but hey alien research in SF, fuck yea! all hella bugged out and bad– I was lovin it!

    probably just coincidence but I thought it was cool since that’s where most Asian families were clustered around.. we moved toward Mission to try to get outta craziness in TL back in the late 80s into the 90s

    Im kinda shocked as to how much has changed by my old stomping grounds, but just be glad bullets stopped flying like it used to!

  3. Hi Rio,

    Thanks for turning me on to “The Wesley’s Mysterious File.” I’ll check it out real soon.

    One fairly sincere locally-produced Mission flick worthy of mention is “Quality of Life (2004).”
    It focuses on graffiti artists and the struggle against gentrification, and at least one of the main characters is ostensibly Latino. Plenty of Mission flavor and familiar locales, although the plot gets a little melodramatic. Still, worth a look you probably won’t regret.

    The guys who made it definitely have their hearts in the right place, and deserve some support. “Quality of Life” would make a great double-bill with the Bratt’s “La Mission!”

  4. Never heard a word about the new Mission movie out here in the rustbelt.

    Did you give props to Los Bratt Bros.’ “Carry Me Home”? Not about the Mission, but I liked that one when it showed at Japantown cinema.

    Oh man, sorry to learn that Lise’s “Mission Movie”—which I’ve never seen—doesn’t hold up. She moved into 47 Clarion when Chrysanthe & I moved out. Guess she didn’t learn what she ‘spose to there.

  5. Hi Rio,
    I’m sure you’ve heard of kick ass renowned chicana film maker Lourdes Portillo. Well one of her earliest short films was filmed in the mission….”Despues del Terremoto” I was lucky enough to see it because i took chon noriega’s chicano cinema class when i was at UCLA. It is slightly experimental and shot in black and white. You might like it.

  6. oh yeah and i forgot to mention that there is that greenday video that shows them walking around sf/mission in front of us video….i forgot the song but i remember recognizing the spot.

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