Saturday, July 31, 2004

Unfortunately, Zhang Yimou has fallen to the seductions of CGI and gratuitous slow motion shots. House of the Flying Daggers (Shi Mian Mai Fu) starts out okay, but gets sluggish in the second half and dies a slow tortuous death from ludicrous setpieces, excruciating melodrama and uninspired fight scenes. Everyone struggles with the pseudo-classical Mandarin lines, and there's little chemistry between any of the three leads. The plot borrows heavily from Infernal Affairs (Wu Jian Dao) -- in fact House might as well be titled Infernal Affairs: Tang Dynasty instead. Heck, it's even got Andy "Wo Shi Jing Cha" Lau in it.

The only things going for the movie are Zhang Ziyi's acting, Kaneshiro's impishness, the beautiful landscapes and Emi Wada's lusciously reimagined period costumes. And yes, there are a few gems -- the bamboo forest sequence is actually rather cool to watch. The CGI is fun at first, but tires extremely quickly. You will want to throw a few daggers yourself after watching, for the umpteenth time, close-ups of a CG-rendered dagger as it flies. The gratuitous slow-mo makes the film even worse.

In all, don't believe the hype (incidentally, the guys who came up with the promo displays should be fired -- a crucial plot point is given away in the publicity photos!). There're many good reasons why this film wasn't in competition at Cannes.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Is there anyone who didn't think The Return was very, very good? Watched it yesterday and was impressed too. A hermetic blend of motif, fable and allegory tied by parallels, efficient dialogue and brilliantly constructed visuals.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Here is another face of a woman spun out of the familiarity of years, concealing a lifetime of episodes, splendidly recorded by a listening photographer. It is a face, I thought when I first saw it, of our life at home. Six months later I was showing the pictures casually to my sister. "There's Mrs. Farraj," she said. Indeed, it was. I first saw her in 1946 when my cousin married her daughter, who was the first beautiful woman I encountered in real life. Then I saw her in the fifties, and then again now, in Jean Mohr's picture. Connected to me, my sister, my friends, her relatives, her acquaintances, and the places she's been, her picture seems like a map pulling us all together, even down to her hair net, her ribbed sweater, the unattractive glasses, the balanced smile and strong hand. But all the connections only came to light, so to speak, some time after I had seen the phototgraph, after we had decided to use it, after I had placed it in sequence. As soon as I recognized Mrs. Farraj, the suggested intimacy of the photograph's surface gave way to an explicitness with few secrets. She is a real person -- Palestinian -- with a real history at the interior of ours. But I do not know whether the photograph can, or does, say things as they really are. Something has been lost. But the representation is all we have.

-- Edward Said, After The Last Sky

Sunday, July 25, 2004

The Scriptwriting for Film seminar yesterday was mostly quite basic and rushed, as expected. No surprises, and a lot of handouts and worksheets. For my part I was hyped up on caffeine most of the time, thanks to periodic infusions of the instant coffee provided. However, as Justin stoically and sensibly pointed out, the trick was staying hyped up in the days-weeks-months after the seminar.

Watched The Ronggeng Dancer (Nji Ronggeng) and Magnifico in the evening.

The Ronggeng Dancer, made in 1969, is one of the first colour films made in Indonesia. I'd let the writeup provided by the Arts House describe the remarkable nature of the film:

... the film reconstructs performances of the ronggeng dance as they are supposed to have occured in village squares and carnivals in West Java in the 1930s.

The ronggeng dance, similar to the Balinese joget, is a subtle and sensuous dance performed in public spaces by both paid and unpaid female dancers. In these dances -- which duly provides an erotic spectacle as the woman, usually a professional dancer, invites men from the crowd to dance with her -- the woman sometimes has the power to dismiss their partners if their dancing is not satisfactory to her. In the film, the form of ronggeng dance is one wherein male partners are invited to try to touch the woman's hair, and where, through her dancing, she tries to evade them and even deflect their attempts to touch her hair by using defensive hand movements used in silat (a traditional Indonesian form of self-defence). Hence, the dance, as depicted in the film, is more than simply an erotic spectacle. Like the Balinese joget it is a highly structured social ritual in which the male partner's attitude to the woman, his exhibitionism, his pride and his capacity for self-control, also become part of the public spectacle. This, in fact, becomes the dramtic subject of the film Nji Ronggeng.
The blurred distinctions between martial art/combat and dance was particularly interesting imho, and this is clearly shown throughout the film. The opening credits of the film are imposed upon a ronggeng performance, and halfway through the dancer begins going through silat patterns -- first barehanded, then with small parangs in each hand. In another instance, young men take part in a kind of sparring contest with short bamboo cudgels, while music plays in the background. The men approach each other using dance and react accordingly as the music changes tempo. In another instance, when the villain's henchmen attempt to kidnap the "damsel" in the dance troupe, combat comes easily (if not too effectively) to the troupe members -- including the "damsel" herself.

The lush music was also a joy to listen too. Alas, the acting wasn't too good, and the plot was very simple with erratic pacing. An interesting ending with a political moral. All the same, Ronggeng is a visual and aural feast -- if you have the patience.

I liked Magnifico as well, even if everything fell into place in that movie a little too neatly. The soundtrack was hideously overbearing and stagnant -- out-Glassing Philip Glass even. I wanted to rip my ears out halfway through. The acting in that film was quite competent -- the child actors deserve the most praise. Solid direction and visuals; solid crowd-pleaser

Friday, July 23, 2004

I used to have lots of foolscap paper pads lying around, but now that I want to find them they all seem to have disappeared.

Maybe they went off and wrote on themselves, having tired of waiting. Wouldn't that be pleasantly efficient?

Since I last posted, I've seen Mean Girls and Osama. The former is actually a well-scripted comedy, as far as the American obsessions with high school shenanigans go. The latter is sombre, brutal and uncompromising in its portrayal of the zealotry of the Taliban, particularly with respect to their dehumanising of women. Well-crafted stuff.

Naturally, the movies are worlds apart in every sense. An image of galaxies furiously spiralling away from each other comes to mind.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

All realize the reality

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Finally got round to watching Red Beard (Akahige). I feel fulfilled.

Over the weekend, I picked up some old anime VCDs for cheap. The first two Patlabor movies and Bubblegum Crisis 2040. I have no idea when I will get around to watching those.

I've always had a soft spot for Patlabor, which unfortunately is an extremely underrated series outside Japan. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that there're no babes (the main protagonist is a tomboy and actually looks like one), no fancy dogfights and no fanservice. Instead, the series deals with the everyday efforts of policemen -- albeit policemen who get to pilot giant mecha -- in 20th Century Tokyo. It deals with their personal lives, with inter-unit politics, and with the simple but difficult matter of just getting along with your colleagues. Then throw in a shadowy conspiracy for some added punch -- it is anime after all.

The Patlabor movies were directed by Oshii Mamoru. I don't care if the picture quality sucks -- I love his work. Which reminds me that I should get around to reading that Kerberos Panzer Cop manga someday. Yeah, someday :p

Friday, July 16, 2004

I have to stop buying more books. Even if they're interesting, in used but good condition and cheap(er).

Must. Stop. Hoarding. :p
Managed to catch The Other Side of the Bed last night. Superficial Spanish comedy of musical-chair-sex. The actors randomly burst into charming, slightly off-key song and dance. Witty dialogue (although the best lines are at the breakup at the beginning), and the slightly goofy, sincere acting save the day. Not to mention Paz Vega and Natalia Verbeke are great eye candy. Predictable and all feel-good but immensely likeable stuff.

Alas, I could have gone for One Day In The Life of Andrei Arsenevitch too but it completely slipped my mind.
'All that was once directly lived', wrote Debord, 'has become mere representation.' Nowhere is this dictum more starkly illustrated than in the case of Che, who, in the four decades since his death, has been used to sell everything from china mugs to denim jeans, herbal tea to canned beer [...] Today, Che lives! all right, but not in the way he or his fellow revolutionaries could ever have imagined in their worst nightmares. He has become a global brand.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Been sleepy all day. Watched the disappointing To Kill A King last night. I thought Tim Roth was a bit disappointing as Cromwell, with a forced accent to boot. Dougray Scott was a passable Fairfax, but not convincing at all. The best acting came from the supporting cast imho -- Olivia Williams as the conflicted Anne and Rupert Everett as a desperate yet dignified monarch facing certain doom. It was a good effort at a character-driven movie. Above average, but not remarkable.

I originally wanted to catch The Other Side of the Bed, but I was concerned about getting home too late and not sleeping enough. The irony, of course, is that I ended up sleeping close to 2am anyway. Must find time to go watch that, if only to make up for To Kill A King.

Picked up this awesome figure for cheap this evening. It's the redesigned RX-78-02 (the original Gundam we all know and love) in the Gundam The Origin manga series. Running now in the popular bi-monthly Gundam Ace comic anthology, Gundam The Origin reunites original character designer Yasuhiko Yoshikazu and original mecha designer Okawara Kunio for a retelling of the original Mobile Suit Gundam anime.

Yasuhiko is a good storyteller in his own right, and there's a kind of chic 70's aesthetic in his and Okawara's designs. The latter's mecha are more organic and curvy, compared to Katoki Hajime's angular, crisp designs for the Gundam franchises. For better or for worse, Katoki's designs now dominate all Gundam product lines and anime.

What I love most about the figure -- other than the price, the detail (the beam rifle has a detachable clip!), the paint, the design and the height :D -- is the amazing articulation it has compared to the standard MSiA line of mecha action figures. I tried to demonstrate this in the picture above.

The main flaws are that the multitude of joints are all quite loose (in fact, the elbows won't hold straight poses), and that some holes don't fit their corresponding pegs very well. I had to do some shaving with a craft knife. And I don't understand why the shoulder cannon (unique to this redesigned Gundam) wasn't included at all.
 Posted by Hello

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Good heavens! After reading Justin's blog, I realised I'd omitted Ishiguro from my last post.

Kazuo Ishiguro!

was born in Nagasaki, and moved to England when he was 6. For him too English was not a first nor familiar language, yet he found literary acclaim in that medium.

I wonder if I can add Ha Jin to this lot of uneasy, uncomfortable writers? He, too, started writing while in the US. Exclusively in English.

So, how fertile is exile?
Have put aside Na Han for a bit, and started on Edward Said.

Said's work was inspired by the deep feelings of dislocation and loss that he felt for most of his life. From his original work on Joseph Conrad, to the groundbreaking Orientalism, to his Palestinian activism.

Conrad was of particular interest to Said, who saw a kindred exile in the Polish-born writer. Conrad only wrote in English, and that these novels are considered some of the best of the 20th Century is amazing -- English was Conrad's third language.

Said himself specialised in literary criticism, and was a fine writer in his own right. Like Conrad, English was not Said's native tongue.

It must be said, of course, that both writers did manage to immerse themselves in an English-speaking society. Conrad became a naturalised Englishman, while Said spent almost his entire academic life at Columbia University, New York. Nonetheless, these writers were never quite at home in their Western (for lack of a more precise term) environments.

And then there is the attractive unpretentiousness of the Kings of Convenience. Norwegian-born, Norwegian-bred, but somehow ending up writing and singing in English. I wonder if they feel the same kind of uneasiness that Conrad and Said felt? Maybe not exactly, but maybe there is an essence of the exile at work (play?) here. In looking in, everything seems clearer. But the price of vision is friction.

Monday, July 12, 2004

I bought a budget release of Kurosawa's Red Beard about 2 weeks ago, but have yet to watch it. I hereby resolve to watch it before the week runs out and falls over into the abyss.

I bought a budget release of Zhang Yimou's Ba Wang Bie Ji (Farewell, My Concubine), which I impulsively popped into the DVD player as soon as I got home. Was surprised by the picture quality (the sound quality was probably top-notch too, but I can't quite tell without a proper home theatre system now, can I?) and the good English subtitles (which I turned off -- ha!). The viewing experience was marred by the logo of the releasing company which appeared in the top-right hand corner occasionally. Irritating and distracting. Otherwise, a wonderful three hours.

But I should go back and raid the Esplanade library's DVD collection soon too.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

If I had been in Osaka over the weekend, I'd probably be broke by now. The Gundam speciality store there just reopened on Saturday. You can see pictures here (courtesy of G-Spirit).

It looks like everything was on sale at 20% off. Wish I could've been there :(

Thursday, July 08, 2004

The third Harry Potter movie continues the fine tradition of being largely faithful to the source material. Alfonso Cuaron works The Prisoner of Azkaban with a decidedly darker, more gothic sensibility, and he handles shots and drama with far more skill than Chris Columbus ever did.

I had to abandon my UK Bloomsbury paperback editions of the first four Potter books, together with many others, when I moved from Chicago. It was painful at the time of course, but I don't miss those books at all now. Not even the Potter ones. Hmm... is The Order of the Phoenix any good?

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

If only life were as easy as resetting a blog template.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

I switch to Firefox, and my blog layout goes to heck. Fiddlesticks.
It's gonna take me a while to finish Lu Xun's iconic Na Han (Call to Arms). I picked up a copy in the original Mandarin at Kinokuniya on that last day of discounts, attracted especially by the photographs and illlustrations scattered throughout the pages. These provide explanations of places and activities referred to in the stories, while footnotes are reserved for the more esoteric and literary allusions.

I've always wanted to read Lu Xun in Mandarin, even though it feels like running with a ball and chain sometimes. It's even worse when I'm trying to read Japanese. I'm far more comfortable in English, like the vast majority of my peers, but I'm also a bit of a stickler for reading and watching media in their original languages. I have come to a comfortable understanding with translations, but dubbing remains grostesque to me. In my opinion, the struggle to understand someone isn't so much an issue of language as it is of time. Or is it just semantics?

Monday, July 05, 2004

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Bad weekend, bad weekend for me. Solid soap opera material.

You never know what will turn up at church sales. Once I found an old Charlie Parker CD -- Swedish Schnapps + Great Quintet Sessions 1949 - 1951. Today I picked up a Hamasaki Ayumi remix album. 2CDs for $2. There's some merit to this electronica, but I was never a fan of Hamasaki's music to begin with. To me Ayu-mi-x III: Non-Stop Mega Mix Version's main utility is to shut the world out. My kind of elevator musak.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Spiderman 2 was entertaining and competent. Really liked the dizzying, swooping, darting camerawork. No real complaints, although the train rescue was stretching things a little bit -- even for our friendly neighbourhood superhero. Look out too for the camp horror influences; probably Sam Raimi having fun with his earlier films like the Evil Dead trilogy and Army of Darkness. Chainsaws, lots of screaming. :)

Sony Pictures is really pouring money into the franchise. There will be a third movie, of course, and I hope it doesn't drown under a deluge of easy money and fancy CGI. We'll have to wait till 2007 to find out.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Changed the comments feature. Back to Haloscan, so no more discrimination against non-Blogspot folk and those to lazy to log in. C'mon people, let's hear from ya!
This is just... too damn cool for words...


A small internet phenomenon on Futaba Channel, the OS-tan (OS for Operating System, and -tan as an overly cute Japanese honorific for a person) or simply OS Girls are the personification of several OSes, most famously Windows, by various amateur Japanese artists. A pure fan creation, the appearance of each character is generally consistent among artists. OSes are always portrayed as women, the Windows girls usually as sisters, despite sometimes seeming the same age (or younger).

/collapses and dies
The massive blackout we had on Wed night is quickly fading from the minds of most. The whole experience was creepy more than scary, and I think some people are finding fault for the wrong reasons. For instance, some have complained that they weren't able to reach the police to ask for information, like "Was it JI?" and "When's the power coming back?"

These critics should reflect for a bit and then whack themselves smartly on the head for panicking. The police hotline is for emergencies, not information. If they want information, well, that's what radios are for. Besides, so what if the blackout was because of a terrorist attack? Would that have stopped these critics from wringing their hands? Maybe, if it made them panic some more.

The main concern here should be why this widespread blackout happened in the first place. Five blackouts in the last two years is unacceptable to begin with, and this recent one is by far the most severe of the lot. When all it takes is one malfunctioning valve on Jurong Island (effectively the same as cutting off the flow of natural gas from Indonesia) to result in 70%-80% of Singapore reading the papers by candlelight, it doesn't take a Clausewitz to realise that there's a blatant vulnerability there on the magnitude (or ineptitude) of the Death Star's thermal exhaust port. Government is making the right noises, but we'll see.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

... and the freaky-cute limited edition Murakami Takashi piece that came with Figure Oh Issue 71. Sorry 'bout the shakiness, but it was either this one or another with a lot of glare from the plastic packaging. Yeah, can't bear to open it... yet. Posted by Hello

My haul from Kinokuniya last night and tonight.  Posted by Hello