Tuesday, June 29, 2004

I've taken a liking to Ladytron. And Boney M's Ra Ra Rasputin was stuck in my head all of yesterday.

I'm trying to find some common thread between these, and maybe Daft Punk. I've always had trouble telling people what kind of music I like, mainly because I don't think I'm able to properly convey what I mean. How do you represent an aural experience in words? So I usually end up resorting to names of performers rather than naming a genre. I especially have this problem when it comes to electronica. I like some house, but not all house. I like some lounge, but not all lounge. I like some stuff with 80's-style electronica, but I don't go for all 80's-style electronic music. And so on.

That's not really what people expect in response to the question: "What kind of music do you like/listen to?", is it?
Teck Loon brought this to my attention: The Shell Economist Prize. I admit that the first thing that leapt to my mind was the prize money. US$20,000 for the top Gold prize. Two Silver runners-up get US$5,000 each, and five Bronze award winners will take home US$3,000 apiece. Not bad for an essay that's less than 2000 words.

Winning essays from previous years are also on the website. Worth a look.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Given that I've watched Interstella 5555 more than once, it seems fair to conclude that I like that movie:

Like Pink Floyd's The Wall, the music for Discovery and the storyline for Interstella 5555 were conceived simultaneously. The videos for "One More Time" and "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger", which had both seen a fair bit of MTV rotation around the time of the album's release, were not simply clever vignettes for the songs, nor was Discovery purely a film score -- in fact, Interstella 5555 makes clear the degree to which each influenced the shape of the other. Ultimately, Daft Punk intended Discovery to be heard in the context of Interstella 5555, and it's no wonder: Matsumoto's animation enlivens some of the less formidable tracks, and the details of scenes in Interstella 5555 often are inspired by the music itself.

Beautiful 70's style animation seamlessly integrated with great electronic tunes, with fine direction. What's not to like about good storytelling?

I had a fantastic weekend, filled with animation, music and laughter. Thank you all! :)

There was an article about the growing popularity of manga drawing courses in today's paper. As usual, our papers do an excellent job of spotting a treand long after it's entrenched itself here.

What was interesting was the unanimous opinion of instructors from all three schools -- that the work produced by students and manga enthusiasts here "lacks maturity".

How true. Technical skill was never an issue, not here. It's imagination; the ability to break out of rehashed plots, slapstick and cliched devices that we lack.

In my personal opinion, this is because the artists tend to be in their teens or young adulthood, and they don't read much outside of Japanese manga. In fact, often not outside particular genres of manga. Without exposure to other forms of story-telling and other drawing styles, no wonder their work lacks depth.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Just watched The Seventh Seal. Gripping stuff, and I'm amazed by the economy of the whole film. Black and white of course, and a modest budget with 35 days of shooting only. The film manages to convey its weighty, existential and theological dilemmas so well with so relatively little. Pure allegory -- and not afraid to flaunt it.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Picking up Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft was one of the best things I did all month. This little gem was lying amidst a messy pile of books in one of the bins at a book fair.

I have come to believe that there is usually little point in rummaging though stacks and mounds of anything at reduced prices, searching for that one object to buy. It's simply not worth the effort. I'm a firm believer in serendipitous finds. If I'm supposed to read it, it will find me. Stephen King's candid little autobiography/writing guide, only proves my point.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

If you have been wondering why I have not been writing lately, it's not that I've been doing anything that productive. On the contrary, I was preparing for what turned out to be a tortuous Legend of the Five Rings tournament (termed a Kotei) this past weekend.

I did guess how the weekend was going to turn out. That I actually went ahead with it is probably a testament to my idiotic optimism. Even so, I did not anticipate the degree to which vastly different outcomes depended on the smallest decisions. Almost like butterflies causing hurricanes. I say almost, because it was all luck.

Hence, even though many will call it a learning experience (and I did learn a couple of things too), I still think I would've spent my time more fruitfully by burning the money I've spent on the game and flogging myself repeatedly with one of those flails in Mel Gibson's presumptuous Passion of the Christ.

Without saying, in the grand scheme of things all this is nothing compared to the sheer madness out there. But my regrets twisted like knives in flesh, and the pain is not all gone yet.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

To me, Jack Neo's films are the equivalent of morality tales for heartlanders. Unpretentious, straightforward characters coupled with an equally straightforward narrative heavily flavoured with moral messages.

This not to say that the films are inherently bad. On the contrary, Neo makes excellent entertainment with the mix of verbal and visual comedy, original songs that act as commentary, and a script packed with lively dialogue and amiable and sympathetic characters. Home run is the clear exception to this -- Neo's originality zings and zooms when it isn't crimped while reinterpreting someone else's work.

What sets Neo's latest -- The Best Bet (Tu Ran Fa Cai) -- apart from his earlier modern-day parables is a more focused narrative, the predominantly-Hokkien dialogues and experimentation with darker, more violent undertones. Unfortunately, focus groups apparently disliked Neo's attempts at growth as a filmmaker, and he was forced to adjust the movie accordingly, including tacking on an anti-climactic ending out of a Primary Three student's written composition. A criticism of artistic cowardice may be in order here.

But who cares? The Best Bet looks to be another money-spinner for Raintree Pictures (and thus Mediacorp). Jack Neo, in all likelihood, will not see the lion's share of the profits and royalties. The in-your-face product placements do bear slight hints of irreverence but at the end of the day Jack Neo knows that film-making, for his backers, is a business. Some of us may want to sneer at his pandering to the masses, but artistic freedom doesn't pay the bills.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

How to make a strangeknight

1 part intelligence

1 part ambition

1 part empathy
Combine in a tall glass half filled with crushed ice. Top it off with a sprinkle of sadness and enjoy!

Am reading Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander, the first novel to feature "Lucky" Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. The book is bursting with nautical and historical detail, dialogue slathered with slang and accents, understated humour and vivid glimpses into the risk-filled, uncertain life of a ship's crew.

Fun stuff, fun stuff. I've always had a soft spot for old sailing ships. Nautical terms fascinate me, knots and navigation continue to flummox me. I wished I'd ended up in the Navy for my National Service, even though a former close friend of mine who did receive a posting there complained vehemently about life on a ship. If I recall correctly, his diatribe revolved around seasickness and violent puking. Especially during storms.
Superficially, this site looks like a set of FAQs about a novel that I wrote entitled QUICKSILVER. As time goes on, we hope that it will develop into something a little more than that. We don't know how it will come out. It's an experiment.

Why put the information on such a complicated system, when a simple FAQ is easier? Because we are hoping that the annotations of the book on this site will seed a body of knowledge called the Metaweb, which will eventually be something more generally useful than a list of FAQs about one and only one novel.

Monday, June 14, 2004

Didn't know Shostakovich composed the music for The Battleship Potemkin. I thought that was his 5th Symphony I heard, but when it turns out the 1976 recreated score was a combination of the 10th and the 11th.

I borrowed The Emperor and the Wolf for a kind of trial reading, to help me decide whether I should actually buy it. I doubt I'll be able to go through all 630+ pages (the last 200+ pages comprise an extremely extensive filmography of Kurosawa's and Mifune's works. Mmm... Reference value!) within the three weeks the library has allotted to me. Particularly since I don't have space in my bag for the bulky mass of the US hardcover version, so I won't be lugging it to work too often.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

I have tried to explain to people Neal Stephenson's novels Cryptonomicon, Quicksilver and most recently The Confusion, and I find that I fail horribly. Although the flashback-present day method of narration is hardly surprising, I find my explanations sidetracked and warped by attempts to convey the wit, the imaginatively-constructed setpieces that stretch ideas of historical fact, the candid portrayals of characters. Most of all, Stephenson's uncanny ability to take the most esoteric and complicated topics and infuse them with a startling energy and clarity. Suddenly topics like cryptography, trade and chemistry are essential elements in a rip-roaring adventure spanning the entire globe. I can't convey the depth of these ideas purely through words, let alone in an off-the-cuff conversation on an MRT train or over a meal.

Friday, June 11, 2004

We went to see two Iranian films at the Goethe Institut here last night. Fortuitously, copies of this collection of photos by Beat Presser of Herzog at work were still on sale. These volumes were brought in for the Werner Herzog Retrospective, part of the Fringe at this year's Singapore Film Festival. Grabbed a copy at $15, with scenes from Aguirre, The Wrath of God still raw and bleeding in my mind.

Close Up by Abbas Kiarostami was a curious mix of truth and fiction, constantly challenging the divide between some objective reality and the fundamental deception behind acting. But as so many others have already realised and imbibed (and subsequently the fact no longer astonishes them), the camera makes no such distinction.

I enjoyed Mohsen Makhmalbaf's The Cyclist more. Everyone naturally gravitates towards pain and suffering.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

The Mathematics of the Chinese Calendar.
Ah. Found the font I wanted.

The devil opened up his case
and he said, "I'll start this show."
And fire flew from his fingertips
as he rosined up his bow.

And he pulled the bow across the strings
and it made an evil hiss.
Then a band of demons joined in
and it sounded somethin' like this.

(violin plays)

When the devil finished, Johnny said,
"Well, you're pretty good, old son,
but sit down in that chair right there
and let me show you how it's done."

Fire on the Mountain. Run, Boys, Run!
The Devil's in the House of the Rising Sun.
Chicken in the Bread Pan Pickin' Out Dough.
Granny, Does Your Dog Bite? No, Child, No!

-- The Charlie Daniels Band, The Devil Went Down to Georgia

Well, u-- um, can we come up and have a look?

What Monty Python Character are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Have you read Murakami Haruki's Tony Takitani?

Have you seen the movie website? (requires Japanese browser support).

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

The one day I don't bring a book or my discman to work, just has to be the day when I have nothing to do, and gobs of minutes to spend reading. Maybe listen to music too.

Ah well. There's always writing.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Hmm. Should I stick with this template? Or go back to my old one?

Decisions, decisions.
Enjoyed Shrek 2 a lot. By now you probably would have heard all about the spoofs, the fine animation, the witty dialogue and the admirable voice acting. So I won't go any further into those. Special mention goes to Antonio Banderas -- his Puss in Boots stole the show imho -- and also to Pui Kwan who burst out singing Holding Out For A Hero together with the Fairy Godmother.

Another good song from the '80s! I used to disown that decade of gaudy hair and bad fashion sense, but I cannot deny the fact that some of the most memorable songs stuck in my head are from that period. Part of the reason has to be that I grew up listening to those songs, but I like to also think that the music back then was better-composed, the singers less mass-produced.
It's incredibly annoying to spend a long time picking a suitable font, and then not have it show up on your screen 'cos your browser doesn't support it.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Thought I'd change my blog template. Bear with us for a while folks, but it's business as usual in the meantime.

This is what the OST for "The Story of Qiu Ju" looks like. The pic's a bit bleached, so make the colours a little bit darker using your imagination.  Posted by Hello

Saturday, June 05, 2004

To watch this week: Aguirre, The Wrath of God and Battleship Potemkin.

I always stop by HMV whenever I'm in Citylink and have time to kill. This is for three reasons:

1) To sample music

2) To peek at their unofficial bargains table. Wandered in there last night with Amanda and picked up a 1999 Wu Bai and China Blue album -- Bai Ge (Dove) -- and the OST for Zhang Yimou's The Story of Qiu Ju (Qiu Ju Da Guan Si). The former to satisfy my curiosity, the latter purely because of the cool packaging.

3) To gaze lovingly at the Akira Kurosawa: Four Samurai Classics DVD box set. The massive irony that I could have bought that box set instead of blowing my money on L5R cards, is hardly lost on me. In fact it comes to mind every time I heft the package off its place on the shelf. I want to draw comfort from its weight -- The Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, Yojimbo, Sanjuro . Instead, the burden in my trembling hands reprimands and shames.

btw, Thai Express is a very good place to eat at. Contrary to the smarmy-Chinese-takeaway connotations of the word "Express" in a restaurant name, the food's fine value for money and the decor chic and bright. Am definitely going back.

Friday, June 04, 2004

I missed Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World here the first time round, and regret has been gnawing a little pit in my heart ever since. But no more! Not after rushing to catch the inaugural MDA-Kodak Master Lecture yesterday, at the insanely early time of 6pm. Fortunately I made it with time to spare (and I didn't even need to take a cab).

Master and Commander is awesome on the big screen. Supremely awesome. Intensely detailed. Beautifully shot.

I hung around for the dialogue with cinematographer Russell Boyd, responsible for Master and Commander's Best Achievement in Cinematography Oscar this year. The good man gamely took on all questions with sincerity and honesty. He came across as a bit shy, without any airs whatsoever.

The key points I took away from the dialogue/Q&A were his thoughts on what a cinematographer does (doesn't just work to fulfil the director's vision at the least, and provides his own interpretation and input to complement and enhance that vision at best) and a patient "can-do" attitude towards working with diverse people in a film. Particularly fickle actors. "Roll with the punches," he said.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

I'm satisfied with the cheap $12 replica of the One Ring that I got at the Lord of the Rings Exhibition yesterday. Tomorrow's the last day, so I should have expected a crowd. Particularly on a public holiday. Perhaps I should've gone this evening (Open till Midnight!). Then maybe I wouldn't have to bump against parents with irascible kids in tow, find ways around bored girlfriends listening patiently to their boyfriends rationalise Middle-Earth and generally tolerate the bustling throng of humanity crowded into a small space.

It was great seeing all the cool weapons. I continue to be immensely impressed by the sheer amount of detail on the costumes, armor and weapons. Detail is all. The little things count.

Proceeded to Toa Payoh to visit a gaming store tucked away in a little corner of Toa Payoh Central, nestled within an agglutination of HDB flats. I wasn't expecting much, but it really was a hole-in-the-wall kind of shop. No air-conditioning, with enough room inside for one table only.

Considering that L5R is a fairly niche market compared to the slavering hordes that play Magic, WWF Raw and whatever card game is being marketed on Saturday morning cartoons, to hear that a new shop in firm HDB heartlander territory was selling and *gasp* successfully introducing the game to others was more than enough to pique my curiosity (which, admittedly, is an easy enough thing to do).

Went to join Justin for the SFS screening of Young Adam in the evening. I liked the movie better after sleeping on it. Other than the languid pace and some slight suspension of disbelief, I can't really think of anything to criticise. Script, most of the acting, editing and camerawork all very good. It's just that I don't particularly enjoy films about an aimless, amoral character who cannot or will not commit to anything in his life.

Here, the Sight and Sound review does a better job.