Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982), a dystopian science fiction film about corporate robots with identity crises, ends (in the director's cut) with an origami unicorn falling to the floor as a couple enter an elevator. One is a replicant, and the other may be as well; their future is left deliberately ambiguous. Shu Lea Cheang begins I.K.U., her "Japanese sci-fi porn feature," with her own take on that scene. Reiko, a replicant, and Dizzy, a technician with the Genom Corporation, step into an elevator whose doors then open to reveal floor after floor of a wonderland of sex in the year 2030. After Dizzy activates Reiko, an "XXX" tattoo glows on her wrist and she is set loose on a picaresque journey of sexual encounters. Her mission: to harvest orgasms. Her tool is her arm, which morphs into a penislike probe that enters her partner's vagina or rectum and downloads raw pleasure. When her hard drive hits its quota, Dizzy packages the collected ecstasy into chips that are sold in vending machines. The virtual pleasure is called I.K.U., after the Japanese for "I'm coming"--iku.
"I feel comfortable to have sex for sex's sake," says Cheang. "I feel comfortable to claim myself as machine and consider the body as a big database." The Taiwan-born, NYU-trained artist, once a contributor to the anticorporate media collectives Paper Tiger and Deep Dish TV, got her start in movies working on porn as a boom operator in the early 80s. Her first feature, Fresh Kill (1994), involved ships hauling toxic waste and radioactive fish lips, and cast a jaundiced eye on corporations. Her next film, Fluid, imagines a mutant strain of HIV that makes endorphin-spiked ejaculate and--once again--a corporation that conspires to corner the market on this new pleasure drug.
For I.K.U. she teamed up with a Japanese producer who once imported art films by queer English auteur Derek Jarman. They consorted with yakuza types to grease access to the Tokyo shooting locations, including an underground parking garage. They cast Japanese porn stars and transgendered actors whose infrequent dialogue is delivered in truncated phonetic English that fits the synthetic mise-en-scene. Critic B. Ruby Rich lauds Cheang's "cyber-satiricon" as "perfectly suited to the post-hypertext world of post-verbal storytelling."
I.K.U. premiered at a midnight screening at last year's Sundance Film Festival but didn't quite cross over to indie-cinema types--almost half the audience walked out. Yet, says Cheang, "We couldn't really distribute it within porn circles because it's not really hard-core enough."
Cheang will be present at a free screening of I.K.U. at 10 PM on Friday, July 13, at the Julia Friedman Gallery as part of her "SciFi Digi Porn" exhibit, which includes six ten-foot-long sequences of stills from I.K.U. and a mural of images from her casting session for Fluid. The opening begins 5 at 118 N. Peoria. Call 312-455-0755 for more information.