Jordan Wong’s 2016 short Ugly but Good takes a minute to come into focus. In its opening moments, the narration is buried and the images abstract; it’s like Wong is asking you to lean in before he’ll speak. But once it opens up, it’s clear that something special is happening here. Based on a zine written by Wong, the narration feels deeply personal, an impressionistic scattering of moments and emotions that hint at a much richer portrait.

Wong willfully obscures that narration by moving it in and out of the mix, pushing it behind layers of distortion and visceral sound effects, making it almost impossible to take in the film as a passive viewer. The visuals, meanwhile, make sense emotionally more than logically, only occasionally showing something clearly representational. In one stretch you’ll feel like you’re being pulled deeper into the screen; in others like you’re catching glimpses of memories or watching neurons fire and thoughts forming. It never settles long enough to orient yourself, let alone to get comfortable, and yet it feels intimate, not distant.

Wong’s fascination with texture and detail comes through even more clearly in the 2018 follow-up, Mom’s Clothes, but even though Ugly but Good isn’t as explicitly about material, the director’s knack for creating tactility through image and sound serves the film well. Like the zines, screenprinting and textiles that Wong uses in their practice, Ugly but Good feels hand-made and grounded, and impressively tangible.


dir. Jordan Wong, 2016

“Learning to be at peace with eventualities and things you know you can’t ever know.”

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