Talking about Peter Chung's career based on his past interviews is tough. But this is probably the best way to get to know the guy. You think you can know someone based on his or her work, but no, there truly is something amazingly different about this guy. About the only person I can think of with a creative thinking that's just as unconventional and controversial as this guy is John Kricfalusi, of Ren & Stimply fame. Peter Chung and John K. are guys whose cartoons made waves in the 90's, pushing envelopes and crap.

Regardless of whether you like any of these guys or not, their works are still... unique. I mean, gosh, look at this episode. This is an Æon Flux episode starring Æon, her female partner, and the bleached-hair dude Trevor Goodchild tryign to escape this off-shore oilrig. You may have to watch it several times to at least get the story because there is no frickin' dialogue. Peter Chung actually told these crazy stories without any dialogue! Watch:

Anybody got that? Crazy, huh? I may have just begun unearthing a lot of classic and weird
American and Japanese animation, but never have I seen something as wicked or as intellectual as this. In animation, no doubt. I like it when directors tear down preconceived notions about stuff.

An old interview by Emru Townsend and Peter Chung:

Emru Townsend:
"I liked that undercurrent of people always being watched by somebody. There's always some camera, some person, some... thing floating around just looking at people all the time..."

Peter Chung:
"..obviously, and I was interested in making the dialogue somewhat mysterious. And the idea of people knowing that what they were saying was being observed, and recorded, and monitored, made them say things which weren't necessarily what they were thinking.

They say things that
they want other people to hear. In other words, you sort of have to interpret what people are saying, as well as what they're doing visually. So dialogue became another layer of stuff that you had to figure out."

Eh? An American cartoon that wants me to think? Wants me to interpret things visually? But I am so used to directors spoiling things for the audience! So used to villains spelling out their intentions, for heroes to speak as if he or she is talking down on the audience! Blashphemy!

Emru Townsend:
Æon Flux was one of those shorts that I found you could look at one way--you know, people can just look at it and say, "Wow! People shooting each other!"--this is in the first and second seasons, of course--but you can look at it another way, and really look at what's happening, and say, "Ah, okay!", like the one with
the elevator running between five different floors. That one's great. (episode posted above this post)

...You sit there the first time, saying, "What? What?!" And you get the obvious joke at the end with the plug, but when you watch it a second time, you catch all the little details, you go, "Ooh, I see!" Or the one with the video camera where
she goes to assassinate the guy in his house.(episode found in the bottom of the first part of Peter Chung Special) It took me three times to watch it before I really paid attention to the time on the camera, on the videocassette, and on the clock. Then I realized, okay, this is what she's doing now, this is what happened a few minutes ago, and so on and so on. And after all that it fits together perfectly."

I will have to rewatch that actually... But Peter's next reply is a sensible one. One that many people in the creative industry also struggle to maintain.

Peter Chung:
"It's a delicate balance to get, because you can turn people off by confusing them, and just get them to disengage totally, which is not what I want. The strategy really is to get them to feel
encouraged to pay closer attention. So far the response has been pretty good... I mean, the idea with the series was that MTV wanted to reach more of a mass audience as opposed to sort of the cult following that the shorts had had. But I wasn't really interested in doing something formulaic in the way most shows are. I..."

So there. You can see how this turned out... The trend never caught on. A lot of mainstream American animation (Remember: Æon Flux was being marketed as mainstream) is still catered to simpletons and pre-teens. Stuff like this 'Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles' movie perhaps. You know, kids stuff. The kind of adult-style visual narrative, audience-participation kinda thing usual exists only in that indie/underground stuff I have
no idea about. It's a shame really, but yeah, that's how the market works. No wonder the ads of the anime Paprika were mocking this 'preconceived notion'.

Here's how Peter Chung combated that 'notion'.

Peter Chung:
Well, you know, I'm fairly realistic about that kind of thing, I've worked in the animation industry for about fifteen years, and, well, the character was really designed and conceived to be appealing, to be appealing on a visceral level, so that even if you didn't understand what was going on in the story, she'd be fun and entertaining to watch...

Emru Townsend:
The skimpy outfit doesn't hurt, I suppose.

Peter Chung:
Yeah, exactly. It's just very loaded, visually, to anyone who's even paying even a casual glance at it. And that was my strategy all along, to tell
extremely abstruse and kind of bizarre stories that were fairly non-commercial, fairly personal, with a character and a surface that was very appealing and accessible. I think a great deal of the time, MTV didn't really know what it was that they were buying [laughs]. But the fact that it looked neat and was fun to watch was enough.

"..the consistent thread throughout all of those shorts in the second season was that she
dies in each one. And she not only dies, but she fails to accomplish what she set out to accomplish in each one. In part, it was a response to my frustration to always seeing it being taken for granted that the protagonist would succeed in what they were doing and also survive in the end, which I think makes a lot of shows or films very... well, dishonest I guess is the word. Because they play this game of putting the hero in this life-or-death situation where you know they're not going to die, but the filmmakers sort of play this game of, "Well, he could die, at any moment...

What I was interested in doing was exploring
different aspects of a character's death, and each one of the episodes was really about different aspects of death. That's what I was interested in dealing with.

elevator episode, for example, was really--to me--about how she sets out to do something, she dies in the middle of doing it, without having finished, and somebody else picks up the thread, and not understanding what she was trying to do, kind of screws things up. Sort of a nightmare scenario for anyone who's engaged in some kind of ongoing project, to think they're going to die in the middle of it without finishing it, and somebody else is going to finish it for them."

It's statements like this that can turn a man, into a fan. (or a disgruntled jerk) Would they allow it if Spongebob kept getting whacked in each episode by a murderous jellyfish? Probably not.

"The look of Æon Flux is very much along the lines of Heavy Metal, other European comics, and whatnot. One thing that I've heard often from people who watch it is that it's
very Japanese animation-influenced. Personally, I don't see that at all, I tend to see it more along the lines of European stuff. Which do you figure influenced the design more? Or is it just a synthesis of all the things that have been percolating in your head?" (More on Heavy Metal in the future)

Well, that aspect of her was fairly vaguely defined in the first series of shorts. In the new episodes, which is really where my mind is at the moment, she's been defined in the series bible as a dominatrix. In the first episode that you saw, she receives a client who comes and gives her a pedicure and starts licking her feet...

That's what she does in her spare time. She receives clients and dominates them. Otherwise, the way that that works in the show is that we're not allowed to show hardcore genital penetration shots [laughs] so to get the sexual element into the show we sort of have to use a more kinky approach to sex.

I mean things that wouldn't normally be sexual take on sexual innuendo. I try to come up with substitutes for sex organs. Obviously, something like a gun is a sexual symbol. But in episode three of the new shows, one of the characters has a spinal injury, in which one of her vertebrae is removed, and there's a gap in the middle of her back and it becomes a sexual orifice.


Emru Townsend:
Man. Is this in any way related to... In the "alien egg" episode in the second season, Æon is walking around and she goes to the closet and she finds Trevor in this gear licking something. Now that, to me, looked like he was in some kind of bondage game. Is that what's supposed to be happening, or is it just far too weird for me to comprehend?

Peter Chung:
Yeah, well, if you notice, her kitchen is lined with a lot of different cabinets.

Emru Townsend:
Oh, God. There's a different person in each one, isn't there? [laughs]

Peter Chung:

I feel sick. You know that? Did you see that episode? Refer to my first post on this. Jeeezus. So that's the end of Part II of the Peter Chung special. If you enjoyed this post, please tell me! If not, then I will begrudgingly continue with a post on the irrelevance of Robotech in the modern world. Again! Hahaha!

I close with this commercial work by Peter Chung. Will she, or won't she?


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