Thursday, October 30, 2003

Bought an officially licensed release of Infernal Affairs (Wu Jian Dao). For an non-pirated VCD copy, I expected better quality. The content still looks as if it was recorded in a cinema, just with a better camera and without people in the audience talking or getting up halfway. You'd think they would have used the master copies or something. Eh -- at least I only paid $8. Less than the cost of a movie ticket on the weekends.

The movie is certainly above average. Moreover, compared to most of the stuff that the Hong Kong film industry tends to churn out, it's damned good. The plot has been done to death but the packaging this time is special. Storytelling over guns and explosions, and director Andrew Lau doesn't let the movie get bogged down in sentimentality or moralising.

Events move along at a fast clip when they're supposed to, and fadeouts between scenes complement the interim periods that slow things down before they pick up again. The subdued and nuanced script is well carried by the actors -- kudos especially to Anthony Wong and Tony Leung. No complaints there, and I expected as much from the vets that make up most of the cast.

Bright, high contrast shots bring out the contrast between the dark-suited characters and their surroundings (more ironic, moral imagery). Speaking of which, I really like that much attention was paid to the costuming. For instance sharp, dapper suits for Andy Lau's suave, ambitious young gun. Strict, no-nonsense business suits for Anthony Wong's hard-nosed inspector. Tony Leung's unkempt, slept-in leather jacket and shirt fits his desperate outcast role. Black never looked this good, not even in The Matrix.

The major flaws, imho, were the poor characterisation of the women and the rushed ending. Sammi Cheng's character comes across as too airheaded to be a novelist, but maybe that explains her sudden switch at the end. (The book subplot is also horribly cliched btw). Kelly Hu's psychologist character remains largely unexplored. The ending (including the nice but really unnecessary twist) seems tacked on to make audiences happy -- maybe the ones who wanted it were hedging their bets just in case they couldn't make the sequels. But it kind of steals the thunder from the third film.

Overall, a very good film but one gets the sense that it's more of a prologue. Kind of like what A New Hope was to the original Star Wars trilogy.

For another balanced review, have a look here, courtesy of

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

A Newsweek article that raise serious questions about the implementation of US reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

The $87 Billion Money Pit

Public Policy Implementation. No one ever appreciates how complicated and frustrating it is until it comes, bites you on the behind, and poisons you with a slow-acting venom that paralyses all your extremities.

Let's see how long a flagging US economy can throw money at the problem. What I want to know is, with Dubya's tax cuts where's all this money gonna come from?

Monday, October 27, 2003

Kuriyama Chiaki is disturbingly cute as psycho schoolgirl bodyguard Go Go Yubari in Kill Bill: Vol 1. Only 19 and already famous in Japan, mostly for her role in Fukasaku Kinji's blood-and-gore fest Battle Royale (which I should catch sometime). Luckily for her admirers she's much more amiable in real life, and cho kawaiiiiiiiii too! ^_^

Interview with the actress about her role in Kill Bill

A fansite in English, by a clearly... umm... determined fan."

Sunday, October 26, 2003

From about a year ago, on 26th Oct 2002:

A whole bunch of us from the UofC went to hear Neil Gaiman himself read from his latest book for children -- Coraline -- in a school here as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival.

It was, of course, great to see him in person. He hadn't shaved in a while, and dressed in leather jacket, black jeans and boots he looked more like an aging rocker than a bestselling author.

Listening to him read wasn't incredibly exciting, but he put lots of effort into it and I did enjoy the reading. A British accent, after being surrounded by various American voices day in and day out, sounded so refreshing. His wasn't too pronounced, and he did pull off some ok Eastern European and Scottish accents.

Coraline may be billed as a children's book and is written in a style befitting one. However the imagery in true Gaiman fashion become quite macabre and scary at times -- almost in opposition to the simplistic sttyle of writing he adopts here. I probably wouldn't read it to an 8 year-old unless I wanted to give him nightmares, but a 14 year-old would probably not have the patience for the children's book style. Nonetheless it is a very good book, considering that it's difficult to fit his usual style of writing and subject matter into something fit for the consumption of your average kid. Or maybe children these days are more desensitised to these things�

I got to shake his hand. Bought a paperback copy of American Gods and a hardback copy of Coraline, both of which he autographed in a kids-go-first session. I wish I had my first copy of American Gods with me, the one I took on the road trip in June, so I could show him the battered spine, torn cover and dog-eared pages. Mr Gaiman, this book went with me on a road trip to Yellowstone -- Shadow's journey within my tiny journey wwithin my larger journey here from halfway across the world. To me I see it as symbol of my time here. I know this means nothing to you of course but I just wanted to say that to you. But that copy is sitting on top of some books on a shelf in Singapore.

Who could have known?

So I now have a pristine copy of American Gods on my bed right now. Perhaps I will reread it sometime.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Zhang Yimou's Hero (Ying Xiong) is one the most beautiful movies I've ever seen. The locations (like the dusty plains of Dunhuang in Western China, the mirror-like lake reflecting the wondrous colours of the mountains of Jiu Zhai Gou in Sichuan) are gorgeously and painstakingly captured on film. Scenes and sequences are saturated in rich colours (although he probably went overboard with the fight-among-falling-leaves scene) -- a Zhang Yimou characteristic that also tunes the audience in to the different moods and tensions that permeate each retelling of the movie's events.

For this is not just another pretty art movie, but also a questioning of ideals and morals surrounding the "hero" archetype in Chinese culture. The movie also casts the evil of Qin Shi Huang's bloody war of unification in an ambivalent light -- which will no doubt offend proponents of Western liberal ideals. The Rashomon-like structure is handled well, with the cast of accomplished actors bringing to life a tight, unpretentious script. Martial arts fans will most likely find little fault with the sequences -- those were excellently choreographed. Graceful, dynamic and fluid. None of the slow-motion Matrix-ish effects that plague martial arts sequences these days.

The soundtrack fits the movie to a T. Itzhak Perlman's violin complements Tan Dun's work but the effect has been heard before in the latter's collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. This time Tan dun includes pieces with taiko drums as well.

The costumes by Wada Emi made me think of Julie Taylor's Titus. Black, stylised Chinese armor for the soldiers, court officials and Qin Shi Huang himself. Single pastel colours for the others. Chang Kong is the only one who has a costume with two colours � a brown roughspun vest that contrasts very nicely with the bleak courtyard in his fight sequence at the beginning (too bad he then disappears for the rest of the movie).

I love this film.

Went to see Quentin Tarantino�s latest last night. Kill Bill: Vol 1 is campy, cheesy and quirkily funny in Tarantino�s own idiosyncratic way. Larger-than-life, pulp fiction characters and enough movie references to spawn a hundred fansites. The animated sequence in the middle (by Production I.G. no less) is a much appreciated touch (another homage by Tarantino). The big fight in The House of Blue Leaves makes me wonder though if Tarantino was paying tribute or being sarcastic. Probably just having fun, which is what this movie is really all about. It�s a very self-absorbed movie, but Tarantino isn�t just wanking away. The editing is spot-on, and the pacing flawless. Nonetheless perhaps the movie has been a victim of too much hype.

The person who really steals the show, is Uma Thurman, who makes her nameless (every time someone names her, it�s bleeped out) character believably vengeful yet vulnerable at the same time. Tarantino and Thurman have stated publicly that they work very well with each other. The director treads the line between B-grade and A well, but his synergy with Thurman is what truly pushes the movie into the realms of the classic.

Friday, October 24, 2003


Speaking of Friendster, after a couple of weeks of playing around with the service, I've discovered what it's best for: toying with the delicate psyches of your friends and acquaintances. Ah, the bitter joy. Ah, the delicious power.

Top Friendster Power Games:

The Pre-Rejection
You just signed up for Friendster, and you notice that I've been using it for a month, and didn't invite you. Perhaps we're just not as close as you thought we were.

The Delayed Approval
You can see by my profile that I was active yesterday. You sent me a "new friend request" three days ago. I haven't approved it. Maybe it's because I'm waiting to see if anyone worthwhile signs up to be your friend before I commit to having you on my friends list.

The Unreciprocated Testimonial
You wrote me a very nice testimonial three weeks ago, yet your page still displays the pathetic notice: "No testimonials yet. You can add the first!" Gosh, it looks like you're more interested in me than I am in you, doesn't it?

The Mexican Standoff
You're one of John Smith's friends. I'm one of John Smith's friends. We know each other, we can clearly see each other in the "John Smith's Friends" page, and yet neither of us has attempted to add the other as a friend. It's a battle for status, and the first person to send the new friend request will forever be the loser.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Friendster is my new Waste Of Time (TM) here at work. A more appropriate name for it should be Acquiantster or something. I'm just plugging emails in, just to see how many people I potentially know. :p It would be nice to get a date from that site, but really, what are the chances?

Monday, October 20, 2003

Saw Royston Tan's 15 yesterday, albeit the censored version. The cuts were pointless -- songs with gang names and a scene with a penis were deleted when the movie had an R(A) rating slapped on it anyway. Yah, like Singaporeans above the age of 21 would actually want to be like the kids in the movie. The pointless censorship makes me wonder: were the censors and the police rep who wanted the song change sitting on chairs or on thin metal poles?

Beyond the hype (the censorship, the fact that Tan's crew had to each contribute $20 to pay for the last roll of film 'cos he was that broke), the movie isn't great. Very good or excellent -- certainly. The best film since Eric Khoo's 12 Storeys -- maybe. But not the best since, I dunno, City of God or something.

Can't say anything about the acting since they were all amateurs and playing themselves, essentially. Erick Chun deserves special mention though. The film itself suffers a little from being a bit unfocused, imho, with no real direction to the selection of scenes (Was this the intended effect? Hmm). In addition, where are the females?

15 has plenty going for it, other than sheer chutzpah. The camera techniques are well-executed, the humour is deliciously morbid and off-kilter (the "looking for a place to die" sequence is brilliant!) and the songs add flavour and irony. Most importantly, Tan manages to make what could have easily degenerated into another episode of Crime Watch, into a sensitive but unsentimental study of troubled male youth in contemporary Singapore. Tan refocuses on the topic of troubled teens through the lens of interpersonal relationships instead of filtering it through the local "secret society" problem here, and he does it well. The result is an excellent local film with universal appeal.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Finished A Storm of Swords last night. Now I have to wait a year for Book 4. :/

Started playing the A Game Of Thrones CCG on Saturday. The people seem nice and most of them are adults. More mature than your usual MTG crowd, which is a good thing. I'm buying lots of singles since I have zip to trade and I won't buy boosters. Prices are ok, and I like getting what I want even if it turns out to be a bad purchase. I just don't like buying boosters -- never had the best of luck with those. The powerful (and of course ultra-rare) cards I will have to find online :/

The group here plays a lot. No lack of opportunities to play. Winning on the other hand will be far far more difficult. Need the cards for that.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

I was really looking forward to getting my NSF Concession ezlink card, 'cos I thought I could get lower fares on public transport. That's what a "concession pass" is supposed to do, right? Turns out that I'm still charged normal adult fares whenever I use that card. In order to enjoy the "concession" I need to first purchase a "Concession stamp" and paste it onto the pass (or something like that).

The stamp for both MRT and bus costs S$111.00. I only spend about S$80 a month on public transport to and from camp, and I'm hardly going to rack up S$30 worth of transport fares elsewhere. So much for "concession". :/

I feel like I'm getting swindled a lot these days. Thought I'd start playing the A Game of Thrones CCG, so I went and got myself a House Targaryen starter (50 cards) and 4 boosters (11 cards each). After removing all the cards for other Houses, I still lack enough cards to make a standard deck (about 70 cards), let alone a good one. And I failed to get any of the good Targaryen rares from the 4 boosters of A Flight of Dragons (well I could always hope, couldn't I?). Suddenly dragons don't look so cool anymore. :(

S$41.00 gone, and I'm wondering how much more this CCG is gonna cost me. I wonder if I should have picked a different house? I wish I were still in the US, where I can order singles online or buy them off eBay -- here I have to rely more on trading. I hope the players here aren't bastards. If I have to buy boosters all the way I'm quitting. $6 a pack is too bloody much. Magic and Lord of the Rings boosters only cost S$4.00 each :(

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Channel surfing last night -- what's this? Baz Luhrmann's 1996 adaptation of Romeo & Juliet.. How come there were no ads for this?

This is a great adaptation, and it disturbs me to think that someday not too long from now this movie will be comsidered "old". These things can't be helped, but I hope people remember it the way they do Casablanca rather than some random old film.

Man, Claire Danes was sooooooooooooo cute back then......

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

The Esplanade Theatres on the Bay will soon be a year old. I've always hated their appearance. The hideousness, I believe, speaks for itself. The ugliness is intensified when you consider how incongruous those spiky ovoids look against the Marina Bay skyline and against the Padang. And let's not get into the sheer costs of building and running the place......

Is this really how we want to hurl our arts scene into that nebulous, semantic realm of the "first-class"?

However, there are fantastic views of the bay. Particularly from the Library@Esplanade on the third floor. That library is a wonderful place to relax with a good book, or just to think, with a mug of coffee and the bay sprawled out beneath you.

A good way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

Still reading. Done with at least 2/3 of A Clash of Kings. Time to start looking for a copy of the third book, A Storm of Swords, to borrow. I think I will take my time reading that one though -- the fourth isn't due until June 2004. Besides, I think I'm gonna literary indigestion from all that fantasy in such a short time.

Have sold off some of my MW Dark Age figures. Traded some others. The good pieces are going bit by bit and my small collection is even poorer now. I'm hardly earning profit, but cash in hand is better than plastic in boxes. I never play and if I can get a decent price for them, why not?

I should learn -- I've always had a fascination with games. But games are pointless when there's no one to play them with.

Hmm -- if life is a game, then...?

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Am about 2/3 of the way through George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones. Good stuff. Interesting enough to make me grab the second book in the A Song of Fire and Ice series last night before it disappeared from the library. I had to rent Thrones :/

I found out about the series via the A Game of Thrones CCG. Saw some folks playing it one weekend at a comic store and my curiosity was piqued. I have no doubt that it's a money sucking device -- all CCGs are. But it does look interesting.