Variety’s chief film critic Justin Chang participated in a Reddit AMA this morning, where he answered questions ranging from his favorite movie to how he avoids tabloid noise surrounding celebrities and filmmakers. Below are five things Chang said about his life as a film critic:
Have you ever had second thoughts on a review after publication? Have you ever come around to different view about a movie you panned or raved?
I don’t think I’ve ever had a dramatic reversal on an opinion that made its way into print, but I do recall having a very bizarre aversion to “School of Rock” when I saw it more than 10 years ago, and since then it’s become one of my favorite [Richard] Linklater movies. (Hey, sometimes you just have a bad night.)
How did you wind up writing film reviews? Did you start as a filmmaker yourself or did it grow out of telling your friends which movies sucked and which didn’t?
I became fascinated with movies and movie criticism in high school, specifically the notion that two or three (or 40 or 50) intelligent people could watch a film and come away with completely different reactions to it. I wanted to understand my own reactions … to grasp why I liked or disliked something, and to see if that had any objective bearing on whether it was good or bad … I see criticism as its own art form, at least when it’s done well.
How do scandals around the makers or stars of a film effect your reviews?
To some extent you have to simply turn off the noise and look at the work. But when you’re writing about work that is inevitably influencing and influenced by the culture surrounding it, it’s impossible to turn it off entirely. Interpreting a film strictly through the prism of tabloid headlines can be pretty risky, but film doesn’t happen in a vacuum, either.
Do you approach a film that you’re reviewing differently than a film you’re just watching?
I wasn’t even a critic when I saw M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs” and it actually moved me to take out pen and paper and start writing down everything I hated about it.
When you write film reviews, do you ever think about the people behind the projects and how your words affect them?
I’d be lying if I said I never gave it a moment’s thought [to the filmmakers], especially since I write for a publication that speaks directly to filmmakers and the entire movie industry. But my responsibility as a critic is not to them; it’s to the reader.
I would take them all on simultaneously, but only at a Béla Tarr retrospective. The 100 duck-sized Scott Foundases would be too distracted looking for seats, and the horse-sized Peter Debruge would immediately roll over and fall asleep.
Bonus Question Number Two: As a connoisseur of Korean BBQ, what’s your favorite place in K-Town? Also, what’s the best movie to watch pre- or post-meal?
I’m a big fan of Hae Jang Chon, Park’s BBQ and the Corner Place and (although the BBQ at the Corner Place isn’t as good as the dongchimi guksu, aka cold noodle soup, which is sublime). But my new favorite is probably Kang Hodong Baekjeong, which has not only exceptional meat but an amazing kimchi stew. My wife and I went there twice in one week recently and didn’t regret it. The best movie to watch pre- or post-meal is “Mulholland Dr.” — always good to have something for your mind to digest while your stomach is doing the same.