The Agony of Ecstasy

The film was written and directed by Angie Wang and is based on her true story. The film works best when it uncovers the seedy side of the illicit drug trade.

Desperate for funds to pay her tuition, a college freshman learns how to manufacture a popular drug that she can sell at a huge profit.

CAST: Annie Q. (Angie), Francesca Eastwood (Jeanine), Scott Keiji Takeda (Tommy), Ron Yuen (Michael), Aalyrah Caldwell (Bree), Yetide Badaki (Anita)

It’s the mid-1980s, when big hair was in and First Lady Nancy Reagan was telling young people to “just say no.” Angie (Annie Q.), a first generation Chinese-American from a working class family starts college. Because she is not as wealthy as other students, Angie lacks self-esteem. Angie and her roommate Jeanine (Francesca Eastwood) become fast friends and enjoy life away from the immediate supervision of their respective parents. It’s also a way for Angie to escape her financial woes – she risks dropping out if she can’t cover her tuition. This includes an active nightlife of parties, alcohol and casual sex. A one night stand introduces Angie to a drug called 3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine (MDMA), or more commonly referred to as “Ecstasy” or “Molly.”

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When Angie discovers that there is a great demand for MDMA, but limited availability in the United States, she sees a huge opportunity. Angie calls on Tommy (Scott Keiji Takeda), her bookish friend to help her obtain the equipment she needs to manufacture the drug. The virginal Tommy is so smitten by Angie that he condones to what she’s actually doing inside the college laboratory. As a result of her labor, Angie quickly develops a profitable enterprise distributing MDMA. Now with plenty of money, Angie doesn’t have to worry about covering tuition, but struggles to keep up with the growing demand for the drug.

This bleak and cynical film had the potential to serve as a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of excess, substance abuse and materialism. Unfortunately, the film seems to revel in the more hedonistic aspects of the story without providing a clear message.

At the same time that Angie is developing her drug empire, she’s serving as a “Big Sister” to Bree (Aalyrah Caldwell), a young girl that is in desperate need of a role model. Anita (Yetide Badaki), Bree’s crack addicted mother, is clearly incapable of taking care of her daughter.

Eventually, the pressure begins to mount on Angie as she tries to satisfy her suppliers and not get ripped off by them.

The film was written and directed by Angie Wang and is based on her true story. The film works best when it uncovers the seedy side of the illicit drug trade. While the story takes place a few years before MDMA became illegal, it clearly shows its potential for abuse.
Angie’s character goes against several stereotypes about Asian woman, some positive and others negative. While she initially comes across as passive, she becomes much more assertive as she dives head first into the drug trade. While she is at times an intriguing character, she is by no means a role model despite her efforts to mentor Bree.

On the other hand, Tommy fits the familiar stereotype of the nerdy, sexually awkward Asian male. Anita, Bree’s drug addicted mother, is also drawn with broad strokes.

This bleak and cynical film had the potential to serve as a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of excess, substance abuse and materialism. Unfortunately, the film seems to revel in the more hedonistic aspects of the story without providing a clear message. As a result, we never get a sense of what Angie has learned about her experience as a drug dealer. It’s really a shame because despite the film’s downbeat tone, “MDMA” takes you into a world rarely told from a woman’s perspective, much less an Asian American woman’s perspective.

“MDMA” is scheduled for limited theatrical release on Friday, September 14th by the Shout! Factory. The film is unrated and definitely not recommended for children.

Trailer below:

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