SFIAAFF: Multiculti cock-meat sandwich

Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay and invade the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival
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superego@sfbg.com

When we last left crazy-ass Kumar (Kal Penn) and his more straitlaced college pal Harold (John Cho), at the end of the 2005 stoner epic Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, they'd just victoriously satiated their munchies with enough sliders to block a rhino's colon. That movie was a classic bong-wielding buddy road-trip flick — Question: How long does it take two potheads to get to a drive-through? Answer: Neil Patrick Harris on ecstasy — that was improbably hailed by serious critics as a multicultural breakthrough. Kumar is Indian American and Harold Asian American, a combination of lead ethnicities that was new to the American mainstream. And even though lineage figures little in the characters' daily realities, Harold's and Kumar's difference from the cartoonish honky inbreds and skinheads (and candid others of color) that exist beyond their postmillennial collegiate bubble — and who often mistake them for Arabs — fuels the plot. Dude, where's my kufi?

White Castle screenwriters Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg giddily foreground the first movie's subtext in their follow-up (which they also directed), Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantánamo Bay, a special presentation at this year's San Francisco Asian American Film Festival. Mistaken for terrorists when they're caught with a "smokeless bong" on a flight to Amsterdam, weed capital of the world, our hapless heroes ("North Korea and al-Qaeda working together," gloats their bumbling FBI nemesis) are imprisoned in Gitmo. After being presented with a jailer's massive "cock-meat sandwich" — "I've never sucked dick before," quips Kumar. "I bet it sucks dick!" — and submitted to various tortures, they eventually escape, crashing a "bottomless" hot tub party, impersonating Crockett and Tubbs from Miami Vice, and lighting up with George W. Bush himself. No shit.

I caught up with Hurwitz, Schlossberg, and actor Cho — a surprisingly intellectual type who studied English at UC Berkeley — as they prepared to promote the new movie at wacky comics convention WonderCon.

SFBG For Arab Americans like me, this movie is like a nightmare come true. People gasp whenever I stand up on an airplane, and 9 times out of 10 I'm the one who's pulled over for "random" searches. I know that Indian Americans often experience similar treatment. But Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantánamo Bay seems revolutionary in that it expands that situation to include the feelings of Asian Americans, and it's playing at the [SF International] Asian American Film Fest. Do you think Asian Americans relate?

JOHN CHO I would assume that every immigrant group has their own bag of individual problems. I don't know if Asian Americans get hassled at the airport — maybe they do. Traveling with Kal on the publicity tour for the first film, I got to see firsthand how he was treated — and that's real; he was patted down all the time. We were traveling together, and he's the one that got pulled aside. I'm really happy that the film's playing at the festival. I feared that Asian Americans wouldn't accept this movie — the subject matter isn't discussed much in the community — but it seems that the programmers feel they will.

SFBG Not to state the obvious here, but Jon and Hayden, you're a couple of white guys. I'm wondering if these scripts come from your own experiences, or if you do a lot of research?

JON HURWITZ We're white guys, but we're Jews. So we're already a minority subset, but I don't really know if that plays into it. We've always had a large group of multicultural friends and been able to observe and have conversations with people with different points of view. As a writer and director you're just hoping to put something out there that's new.

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