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Margaret Cho's "I'm the One that I Want" is an exhilarating celebration of self.

Culture Shock

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It's difficult to imagine anyone feeling wishy-washy about Margaret Cho. One either embraces her bracing wit and insight into cultural myths; or one doesn't. Frank, funny and aggressively honest, Cho's schtick tackles all those things, feelings and words nice young ladies are supposed to keep to themselves. The effect is twice as funny and twice as candid because it comes from the cherubic-faced Cho. But there's a great deal of pain beneath Cho's humor. Nowhere is this more evident than in her concert film, "I'm the One that I Want." A filmed version of her popular one-woman show and tour of the same name, the movie deals primarily with Cho's grisly experience with "All American Girl," the disastrous 1994-95 TV sitcom that starred Cho as the rebellious daughter of a conservative Korean-American household. Despite its painfully personal tone, Cho says people respond to the film because of its "honesty." Speaking by phone from the West Coast, Cho says the film may describe her torturous time attempting to match what ABC network execs wanted her to be, "but everyone knows what its like trying to fit in, those feelings of unworthiness and insecurity. "It was a very challenging time," says Cho. "Women are judged so differently from men, particularly in the entertainment industry, that when I talk about weight and the overlay of shame current culture puts on it, the audience immediately relates." Using the audience as therapist, Cho reveals how "All American Girl" became an extended lesson in humiliation. A phone call from her producer tipped her off: "The network is concerned about the fullness of your face. And do me a favor," the woman added, "Don't ever wear a miniskirt in public again." Only 23 and impressionable, Cho lost 30 pounds in a month and suffered kidney failure. The final insult: "They replaced my show with 'Drew Carey.'" Shot over two nights with four cameras, meaning you get Cho from eight angles, "I'm the One that I Want" is pretty basic filmmaking. If it weren't for Cho being so compelling and consistently funny, it could become irritating. But Cho is always "on," wandering across the stage, relentlessly playing to the crowd, almost demanding a response. Unlike other recent concert films, however, "I'm the One That I Want," doesn't bother with audience cutaways or reaction shots. "We did that on purpose," explains Cho. "We stay with the show, focusing on me as a way to make the people in the audience feel closer to the action. When people go to comedy shows, they're watching the performer, not the other members of the audience." Some of the funniest parts of Cho's show are her impressions of her mother. Watching those impressions, we get hints of how important a role her mother has played in Cho's career. Lovably clueless, Mrs. Cho's sense of wonder and innocence can also be found in her daughter's comic style — heavily laced, of course, with wit, cynicism and some raw language. What could have come across as grandstanding instead becomes liberating. By concentrating on her own struggles with conformist culture, Cho shows us how everyone is a part of it and is demeaned by it. "What makes it work," says Cho, "is that it's all told in the stand-up comedy format, which makes it fun."

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