Cardinal X

Whatever the hell I was doing in 1985, I should have been in New York hanging with Angie Wang.

Actually, of course, I know exactly what I was doing:  I was in Valdosta, GA enduring an Air Force term of enlistment and a starter marriage. The enlistment outlasted the marriage. New York would definitely have been more fun.   

In the early 80’s Angie Wang (Annie Q)  leaves her home in Newark, NJ to attend a prestigious West Coast school that she can barely afford. When financial aid gets cut she figures out how to synthesize her own version of MDMA, the star of the show: Ecstacy. Angie successfully makes it and sells it and sells it and sells it. Walter White was not as hot or as cool. When Angie breaks bad she goes all in all at once. As a point of order it’s important to note that X had not yet been made illegal so her misdeeds don’t necessarily involve breaking drug laws.

Her fragile roommate Jeanine (Francesca Eastwood) comes from a wealthy dysfunctional family, which Angie learns about on a trip home with her to celebrate Thanksgiving. Jeanine’s friendship with Angie becomes a dependency for her.

“Imagine any John Hughes film as a drug-fueled drama.”

Angie serves as volunteer big sister to a little girl named Bree who’s troubled home life complicates the situation for everyone involved. In her wake of personal destruction, Angie also leaves a friend named Tommy: an innocent she drags into her chaotic orbit who’s in love with her. Angie’s energy is as compelling as it is toxic and it goes badly for her and everyone around her.

This is a fantastic film. Imagine any John Hughes film as a drug-fueled drama. The Dead Poets Society on X. (I missed this part of the 80’s. Did you?) The music and club culture is captured artfully. This movie kicks ass directly, brutally, and unmercifully.  Director Angie Wang is telling her own story here or at least largely her own story, semi-autobiographically. She says it’s a dramatized memoir of her days as San Francisco’s Queen of X. 

She wanted to tell the story of how she came to found a non-profit to work with at-risk children, but it occurred to her that she needed to tell a version of her own story of abuse, misadventure, and redemption first. 

“If you don’t have the sack to tell your own story, then you should just hang it up. You don’t have the right to tell other people’s stories.”

The seems to be for her a rite of passage. In an interview with SFGate, Wang says “My little voice was like, ‘If you don’t have the sack to tell your own story, then you should just hang it up. You don’t have the right to tell other people’s stories.’”

Now the kicker: this is Wang’s first film. The achievement is stunning given that.  Everything about the feature is polished and professional from the sound to the camera work and it all serves to focus the intense performances delivered by the cast. 

Cardinal X will teach you an important life pro-tip: When someone tells you that he/she is crazy, you should believe them immediately and without question.

Angie circa the Billy Idol years was tough as hell giving us a wonderful realistic portrayal of an Asian character in her own words through her own eyes, no stereotypes or bullshit. These events happened (or something like) and it’s real.

Cardinal X (2017)  Written and Directed by: Angie Wang. Starring: Annie Q, Henry Zaga, Francesca Eastwood, Yetide Badaki.

9  out of 10

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