Volume 43 Number 07

Doomed balloon

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REVIEW Quantum of Solace begins with the taut energy of an over-inflated balloon, picking up where Casino Royale (2006) left off with an arrestingly shot car chase on a crowded Italian highway. At first, the air leaks out as a trickle; a fistfight on a collapsing scaffold intercut with a bareback horse race establishes Daniel Craig’s Bond as the jockey astride a steed of international chaos, and the expected litany of double-cross and intrigue unfolds with practiced but forgettable verve.

Soon wayward bullets and even more wayward dialogue punch holes in the balloon, and the hiss is almost audible as all the excitement and fun begins to leak out of the movie. Overhyped screenwriter Paul Haggis plods away with execrable emotional grand narratives of revenge, love, and betrayal that have no place in a Bond film. French actor Mathieu Amalric does his best as a tousled sociopath masquerading as an environmental crusader, but by the time his eeeevil plan is revealed, it’s hard to care. Newcomer Olga Kurylenko is serviceably sultry as the requisite arm-candy, but one wonders why the producers went all the way to Moscow to cast a Russian model to play a Bolivian secret agent. As for the title, it still doesn’t make sense.

QUANTUM OF SOLACE opens Fri/14 in Bay Area theaters.

Quiet strength

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REVIEW Gray skies, "Silent Night" plucked on kayagum, indoor ice-skating at the candy-financed mall/amusement park Lotteland, negotiating slippery mandoo with slick metal chopsticks, and girls holding hands everywhere you look — those are my wintry memories of 1990s Seoul. Those cozily clasped lasses found strength — and safety from predatory dudes — in sisterhood, and the recurring gesture seemed to speak volumes about the quiet struggles of women in Korea’s stringently Confucian society. It finds its parallel in the muted ink washes on silk chiffon banners by Jung Jungyeob that dangle gently from the lofty ceiling of Mills College Art Museum as part of "The Offering Table: Women Activist Artists from Korea." Traced in watery outlines, Jung’s women are unobtrusive, almost ghostly beasts of burden, lugging shopping bags through hazy city streets. She flags the barely visible.

In keeping with the museum’s continuing strategy of shedding light on art by women here and abroad — witness 2007 shows like "Take 2: Women Revisiting Art History" — "The Offering Table" focuses on the seldom-seen work of Seoul women artists, namely the seven who belong to Ipgim (Exhaled Air) collective, which notably collaborated with the Guerilla Girls at the Busan Biennale in 2004. A slender but invaluable catalog gives the history of art in Korea by and for women, and offers some background on pieces such as Rhu Junhwa’s reworkings of traditional munjado folk painting, or letter painting. Rhu plays off traditional forms while feminizing the Chinese ideograms that describe hidebound virtues like filial piety and propriety. For me, the works that seem to break with propriety are the ones that resonate. Two standouts: Je Miran’s "Million Years Pillow" series — composed of pillow ends paired with texts hinting at the hopes, fears, rage, and passion poured into the embroidery by countless muffled women — and Yoon Heesu’s iconic Offering, in which gold-hued bowls of red thread flow up toward the ceiling like blood lines extending into an unseeable future.

THE OFFERING TABLE: WOMEN ACTIVIST ARTISTS FROM KOREA Through Dec. 7. Tues., Thurs.–Sat., 11 a.m.–4 p.m.; Wed., 11 a.m.–7:30 p.m.; Sun., noon–4 p.m. Mills College Art Museum, 5000 MacArthur, Oakl. Free. (510) 430-2164, www.mills.edu/museum

LEVYdance

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PREVIEW LEVYdance company is small: only five performers. But they dance big — hugely physical, totally in charge — and they also think big. They once performed at ODC Theater, but that was too small. Last year they pushed themselves onto the much larger stage of Kenbar Hall at the Jewish Community Center, yet even that space proved too confining. So for the fall season LEVYdance created its own space on the street outside their studio, where they built three stages connected by catwalks. Audiences are interspersed between them. The location: one of the city’s smallest alleys — with very supportive neighbors. No wings or sets. Graffiti will have to do. Since it’s November, the company will provide hot beverages. For sweaters, blankets, and hats, you’re on your own. The program includes three world premieres: Physics, with a commissioned score by composer-DJ Mason Bates, which looks at the forces the body is subject to; Wake, a duet about the essence of communication for company veterans Brooke Gessay and Scott Marlow; and a yet-unnamed ensemble work performed to music from the Middle Ages. The event also introduces LEVYdance’s newest member, Aline Wachsmuth. Last year’s pop music-inspired and now-reworked Nu Nu completes the lineup.

LEVYDANCE Wed/12-Sat/15, 8 p.m., $20–$30. Heron Street, off Eighth Street between Folsom and Harrison, SF. www.brownpapertickets.com.

Kowloon Walled City

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PREVIEW If it sounds like metal, and it looks like metal, it’s gotta be metal. Right?

Vocalist-guitarist Scott Evans of San Francisco’s Kowloon Walled City doesn’t think so. "I think it’s heavy, but it’s not metal," he said after KWC’s recent Annie’s Social Club show. "We occasionally throw in metal parts, but I stand by us not being a metal band."

Guitarist Jason Pace disagreed: "It may not be a heavy metal band, but it’s a fucking metal band. Despite Scott’s reluctance to say we’re a metal band, I think, within the metal genre, there’s about 800 subgenres, and I think we’re somewhere in there."

It doesn’t really matter how you categorize KWC’s music. What does matter is the group’s impregnable wall of sound, driven by Scott Evans’ throat-ripping, barked vocals, Jeff Fagundes’ groovy, syncopated drumming, and fuzzy, imposing riffs reminiscent of a mutant Chia Pet.

In the 1970s and ’80s, the Kowloon Walled City, a neglected tenement in British Hong Kong, grew into a squalid, dilapidated enclave of prostitution, drugs, gambling, and all around good times. Unsurprisingly, the outfit sees many parallels between that labyrinthine dystopolis and the portion the Tenderloin where they rehearse. Named for a street in that neighborhood, KWC’s new Turk Street EP (Wordclock) is an uncompromising slab of downtuned power with Fagundes and bassist Ian Miller forming a taut rhythm section and allowing the guitars to deviate from each song’s base without compromising the prodigious grooves. Still, while Turk Street rocks ass, I can’t help but think KWC are at their best onstage, feeding their fans’ faces with second and third helpings of their sludgy, hardcore-influenced … metal. There, I said it. Sorry, Scott.

KOWLOON WALLED CITY With Helms Alee. Mon/17, 7 p.m., free. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. (415) 923-0923, www.hemlocktavern.com.

Lucky Dragons

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PREVIEW Los Angeles’ Lucky Dragons make music that’s not very musical: many of the sounds Luke Fishbeck and Sara Rara use could come from faked field recordings or electronic noodling, and these ethnographic forgeries are further subjected to intense sampling that reduces the sense of space or regular pacing that usually marks sounds as music in our brains. Still, listening to the chirping, loop-happy compositions found on the pair’s recent album, Dream Island Laughing Language (Marriage), without the aid of Fishbeck’s peculiar brand of new-primitive modern dance or the duo’s stuttering, gentle videos, you only get part of the story.

Lucky Dragons don’t make music to prove that making music is foolish or to exaggerate its narcissism. Their work is radical because it encourages connections between show-goers over the standard-issue connection between a band and their creation and the audience’s emotions. Lucky Dragons’ music may convey a sense of pastoralism, but it works here as a conduit for a futuristic kind of sociability, upsetting the standard band–audience interaction by establishing fragile, temporary human networks that stand in stark contrast to obligatory social networks.

If there were a way to describe the disarming piece that YouTube calls "Make a Baby" without getting into technical details, it would go something like this: in the middle of a rock concert, you suddenly find yourself on the floor with strangers, touching their skin, creating shorts and flows that change the course of a fizzing, neon synth drone. When I saw Lucky Dragons perform at 21 Grand last year, I remember the tentative then bold ways kids’ bodies inched towards each other, this organic sculptural mass of flesh and fabric and finally, at the end, the way those bodies unstuck from one another, not unsweetly and not without some regret. You came to receive and ended up creating, came to stay in your bubble and ended up drawn into a strangely open, nascent community.

LUCKY DRAGONS With Hecuba and Pit Er Pat. Sun/16, 9 p.m., $10. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. (415) 923-0923, www.hemlocktavern.com. Also with Hecuba, Pit Er Pat, and Chen Santa Maria. Mon/17, 8 p.m., check site for price. Lobot Gallery, 1800 Campbell, Oakl. www.lobotgallery.com