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May 2, 2008 |

By Ted Boynton | Boozehound Cinephile | May 2, 2008 |

Pop culture item consumed: My own version of Hangover Theater, starting with the hugely underrated The Replacement Killers on pay cable, followed by the likewise underrated The Corruptor on DVD, because once you’ve had Chow Yun Fat, you never go back. Several months ago, Mrs. socalled and I endured our first Level 4 hangover in quite some time. Strangely, Chow Yun Fat goes much better with pizza than with lo mein, especially during bed spins.

Beverage consumed: Icy, icy Moosehead, chased with tiny, tiny Ted-tears. When drinking beer on a hangover, go with bottles opened first (important!), then left in the freezer till the pizza man arrives. Moosehead has a clean, snappy finish not overly reminiscent of alcohol, especially when served very cold, while at the same time providing the crucial hair of the dog. Between each half-beer, 12 ounces of cold water, all served on top of your painkiller of choice. Advil is pretty good, but for serious hangovers, illegal = effective. Ganja is good; ill-gotten codeine is better, though one must be careful with taking Tylenol-3 or other drugs containing acetaminophen while alcohol is in your system.

Summary of action: Pajiba’s Hangover Theater has covered adeptly the elements of good hangover films. I want to examine in more detail the hangover itself, in all its bittersweet, headcrushing, stomach-emptying glory.

First, a little about what happens during a hangover. A hangover combines a mini-drug-withdrawal with an overload of the less desirable side-effects of drinking. As the kidneys eliminate alcohol and the victim stops replacing it, the body begins to crave more, causing typical withdrawal symptoms such as muscle weakness, tremors in the fine motor nerves, and general aches and pains. At the same time, the body goes into a toxin elimination state, cleansing the blood at an elevated rate to remove the waste products of alcohol metabolization, resulting in increased elimination of moisture — stale, stinky booze pee. Without elevated hydration, moisture is depleted, causing dehydration symptoms such as headache and intestinal pain. The stomach and intestines are somewhat sensitive to alcohol, and a large amount can cause inflammation and even a minor poison reflex, leading to nausea, cramping and possibly vomiting, further increasing dehydration.

In sum: A hangover makes everything hurt, on a spectrum from “ouch, I should have known she was pouring her drinks into the plant,” to “uggle-uggle-uggle-uggle-bwaaauuuuhhhhhh-hic-puh!-uggle-uggle-uggle-guhhhhh, where’s my revolver?” Drinking is fun!

It should go without saying that it’s best to avoid this situation by knowing your limits and avoiding large amounts of booze. Instead of three more gin and tonics, try a wine spritzer. Even better, get an Abstinence Buddy who will drink only soda water with you the whole night.

Still with me? If anyone ever delivers the prior paragraph to you with a straight face, punch him in the throat, then walk away quickly. Behave normally and don’t look back. Now that we’ve all laughed ourselves silly at the type of advice generally restricted to Redbook for Kids! and flowery-cursive letters written by women named Myrtle in 1872, let’s get some teenagers pregnant behind the middle school!

If you expect to drink heavily, try to plan ahead. Eat a good, starchy meal and pace your drinking to the amount of time you expect to be imbibing. Drink eight ounces of water between each drink after the first four or so (three for women under 120 pounds). Stock up on RU-486. Once you realize you’re drinking more than usual, hydrate aggressively: 12 ounces between each drink. If you can’t plan ahead on RU-486, irradiate your loins at a nearby power plant between bars.

No amount of precautions, however, can prevent every hangover. On the night before the morning in question, the missus and I were walking to the F Train after consuming one whole duck and a nice bottle of Nuit St. George Burgundy. We unexpectedly ran into some friends near our favorite watering hole, and you can probably map out the rest.

10:49 a.m., Mssrs. Laphroig and Lagavulin knocking loudly on the top of my skull, I scratch open one eye to draw a map to the park for the Wookiees - they are not very smart and have only two minutes’ short term memory - then steady myself against the nightstand leg and set out at a haphazard-yet-determined crawl for the kitchen. Years of experience teach a “read-and-react” skill set placing an emphasis on recognizing the scenario and defeating the bandit … okay, that might be lionizing my familiarity with overindulgence.

Twenty minutes later: services of Pizza Orgasmica retained; Moosehead iced; Alka-Seltzer consumed; War on Drugs resoundingly demonstrated to be an abject failure — seriously, they were fighting this “war” when I was in high school 20+ years ago. I sure hope the War on Terror doesn’t entail the same ass-kicking our government has taken from a gang of teenagers. Um … never mind.

“But Ted!” you cry, assuming the pitch and cadence of a Jane Austen novel, “what are these ‘Levels’ of which you speak?” Having demonstrated my mastery of quotes-within-quotes, I proceed to dispense the Boozehound wisdom. (Extra douchebaggery provided free of charge)

There are five levels of hangovers; no more, no less. Snake oil salesmen will try to convince you — inexplicably, as there is no money to be had in delineating hangovers — that there are more. In fact, there are five; no more and … okay, here we go.

Level 1, aka “Little Flower” - : This is what most addle-pated, jiggledy-porker Americans call a “hangover” after consuming one extra Bartles & Jaymes — wait, I’ve just been informed by our fact-checker that there is no Bartles and Jaymes any more — so, er, Seagram’s Black Cherry Fizz (WTF?) . (Editor’s Note: It turns out that, while utterly irrelevant culturally, the B&J (heh-heh) wine cooler is alive and kicking. Unlike the brand’s famous 80s spokespersons. Moving on.) Level 1 can assume a range of symptoms, but generally we’re referring to significant discomfort in one or two areas, readily defeated with one or more over-the-counter pharmaceuticals or substantial amounts of water … and Bob’s your uncle within a couple of hours of waking up. Only two levels have a nickname, and Level 1 bears my first wife’s pet name. For two years I thought some chronic affliction was giving me a minor headache, a mild urge to throw up, and periodic diarrhea. Heh, turns out it was being married to Beelzebub’s cousin.

Level 2: Hangover levels are like the Richter scale - moving up a notch is an exponential increase in severity. Level 2 means multiple symptoms that don’t just disappear like your daddy after payday. Level 2 may not test your knowledge of Schedule II narcotics, but your medicine cabinet had better be ready - anti-gas, anti-soft-serve, anti-throbbing pain; while Level 2 should not keep you from going to work, you should consider a PTO day if you have any to spare. In your condition, you are unpleasant to be around, sweat a little too easily, and have no sympathy for the plight of war orphans, hemophiliacs, and displaced Katrina victims. You are in roughly the same shape as the fat guy who didn’t get the memo about the canceled fire drill and climbed 28 floors back to his desk, except you haven’t moved since the copy guy tried to take the last donut. The sooner you plunge to earth and sleep for twelve hours, the sooner we can all pretend you didn’t pass gas in the reception area.

Level 3: Again, this is a substantial jump from the prior Level. You are unfit for social interaction for at least 24 hours. You have a distinct odor. You could be confused with a marathon survivor or a fresh zombie, and your breath fairly reeks of decay. Actual productive work is a laughable conceit meant for people who still have their spleens. If you’re married, then awkward, unusually-postured sex almost certainly happened, and now you don’t really want to look the other person in the eye since either an untoward sexual congress occurred or words fouler than Courtney Love’s thong rubbed against Ann Coulter’s taint were uttered and should be left unaddressed. If you’re not married, it is to be hoped that your parents will adopt the one-eyed offspring of your RU-486 mishap.

Level 4: You are crippled and retarded. Stephen Hawking titters as he elbows you aside for the last pop tart. Sleep is either of the restless, difficult variety or the knocked-out-cold variety; either way, a few hours does absolutely nothing to stave off the pain or regenerate the severed nerves between your flash-fried brain and your hobbled, broken body. There is nothing for you, sad wraith, except to lie on the bed, battered and humbled, and wait out the pain. The Level 4, while generally not life-threatening, is completely debilitating and requires complete bed rest, copious comfort food and fluids for 24 hours. Order your favorite slab-o-fat, sip ice-cold beer and water, and count the hours till tomorrow.

Level 5, aka “Braveheart”: Remember that scene in Braveheart where they hang, stretch, disembowel, then behead William Wallace? Imagine if, while that was happening, they sawed off the top of your head and poured in a school of piranhas, then doused your neck, shoulders, back, stomach, and intestines in demon piss and rubbing alcohol and set you on fire, and then denied you the beheading. You have the pain of early stages of alcohol poisoning without the blissful death of alcohol poisoning. You cannot sleep, cannot think, cannot read anything more complicated than your own obituary, and cannot stop emitting gas and waste from various openings. You are pathetic and vile and can only wish you were a zombie stripper.

You will drink again.

My most impressive Level 5, out of three in 24 years of active drinking, was a college-freshman incident involving playing quarters with Budweiser, Jack Daniels, Andre champagne, and Canadian Mist. My stomach roils at recalling the event, which began at 5 pm in my dorm room and ended at 5 pm in my dorm room … three days later. At 2:00 the first morning, my ambushed intestines finally realized what was happening and rebelled in a truly impressive fashion, fulfilling the “Technicolor Yawn” prophecy of my misspent youth. By the time I started vomiting, however, it was too late — the alcohol had mostly metabolized, so not only was I eliminating useful moisture and not purging harmful booze, I was getting drunker as I got sick and was unable to hold down any water. After turning myself inside-out in our bathroom for five hours, I commenced hugged one of those plastic wastebaskets for two days, intermittently wailing Negro spirituals. I actually don’t think I could survive that now, especially the draining of 90% of the fluid in my body. Guh. Bwuh. Pppuhh!

I haven’t had a Level 5 hangover in over a decade, though Bay Area seismologists insist there’s a 99% chance of another Level 5 within the next 30 years. (That’s a little earthquake joke, for you non-West Coasters). On the other hand, I haven’t had a Level 1 in nearly as long; call it tolerance, a practiced hand, brain calluses … if it’s enough to feel the next day, I’m right into Level 2.

So, back to the morning in question. Only 30 minutes till the The Replacement Killers on Encore, just enough time to arrange to stay in bed all day. If ever a film deserved an Encore, this is it. Chow Yun Fat’s first major American film — after a decade of impressive work overseas — The Replacement Killers served as a prep lesson for director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) and could be described as John Woo without that extra “o” at the end. Chow plays an illegal Chinese immigrant doomed to work as a hit man for the overlords who imported him and still control his family in China. When Chow refuses to carry out a hit on a child, he is forced underground and seeks illegal papers to return home to protect his family. Post-Oscar Mira Sorvino — I’m not even kidding — plays the sassy career-forger whom Chow approaches for false papers, dragging her into fight and flight. Beautiful and stylish to the extreme, slickly violent without gushing arteries or exploding heads, The Replacement Killers is substantially less violent than Chow’s more stylized Hong Kong offerings, intelligent enough not to cause excessive eye-rolling, and still perfectly silly. Did I mention Michael Rooker as the honest cop with whom they repeatedly cross paths?

The Replacement Killers leads to one place, of course: the equally essential The Corruptor. This film was to have been Chow’s debutante ball as the mainstream bringer-of-Woo to American shores. Like TRK, The Corruptor was a genre-crosser, fusing Hong Kong cop thriller with Marky-Mark MTV actioner, marrying two emerging stars in a buddy-cop picture with a diamond-hard edge: Chow as the vice king cop corrupted (or is he?) by New York’s Chinatown, paired with Mark Wahlberg’s idealistic, fish-out-of-water detective. Full of dark alleys, double-crosses, and bang-bang shootouts, The Corruptor is a great bridge for American cops-and-robbers fans to sample the mythology and sensibility of Hong Kong action films of the 80s and 90s.

Both films are worthy of their own Hangover Theater entries, and both are well-suited for a long Saturday of slow, foggy beer-sucking. Easy on the eyes and on the brain, Chow’s short-lived American invasion will help you recover your strength to fight another day.

And you must. I’ve heard there’s more liquor out there.

How well the pairing held up: What do Marky-Mark and Mira Sorvino have in common? They both wish they were good enough to get railed by Chow Yun Fat.

Tastes like: Two parts gunpowder (to cauterize the hole in your soul), two parts blood spatter (from the obligatory shoulder wound), one part betrayal (from someone you thought you could trust with your life).

Overall rating: 19 out of 20 slow-mo white doves rising in a hail of .45 slugs.

Ted Boynton is a dedicated sot who would leave his barstool only to stalk Whit Stillman, if anyone could find Whit Stillman. Ted also manages to hold down a job and a wife, three hours each per day, whether they need it or not. Readers may scold, hector, admonish or taunt Ted by e-mailing him at [email protected]

The Five Levels of Hangover

The Boozehound Cinephile / Ted Boynton

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