Thursday, October 28, 2010

Gallants 打擂台 (2010)

I thought this was a great movie. I watched a couple of weeks ago (sorry for the late post), and the core theme of this movie is nostalgia. At its base, it is a traditional Kung-fu movie, but I think its really about Hong Kong people feeling lost and disconnected in the new age of technology and globalization of culture, and yearning for the old life style in Hong Kong, which is reflected by Kung-fu and the small villages around the edges of Hong Kong.

The movie starts out with Cheung, a dweeby guy that works for a real estate agency and is pretty unsuccesful, but Cheung is kind of a dick because, even though he is a skinny guy, he used to beat on his neighbor. So, his boss sends him to some tiny village in Hong Kong because they want to smash everything and construct high-rise apartment buildings. Being a dick, Cheung starts picking on some fat kid, but the kid's brother comes and scares him off, and then Cheung is saved by Dragon (or Tiger? I forget whose name is what), one of two aging kung-fu students who have dutifully waited by their master who has been in a coma for thirty years. Then, Cheung meets up with the neighbor kid he used to beat up because he is supposed to help them take over the village to build the apartments.

Anyway, I would not say its a "deep" movie, but there are definitely a lot of nostalgic elements flying around, and its a fun and entertaining movie.
Rating: 4/5

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I Shot My Love (2010) Tomer Heymann

This film won the audience award at the Taizhong Biennial Documentary Film Festival. It is an Israeli film which is compiled of a series of home videos, but not in the conventional sense that we regard "home videos". Heymann uses the camera to initiate serious discussions with his mother and his boyfriend, as well as recording their present lives, and bodies. His boyfriend is German and what I liked about the film was that it refused to focus on the "gay" relationship, instead focusing on the gay "relationship"; Tomer and his boyfriend discussed their relationship as two people and their families are both accepting of homosexuality. The difficulties and the focus of the documentary was love across two different cultures, especially across the sensitive bounds of Israel and Germany - with Tomer's boyfriend pursuing a policy of ignorance is bliss in terms of his possible Nazi heritage. The film was interesting because of its openness and reluctance to cower away from an invasive honesty; this included the boyfriend's discussion of life after being abused by his priest, and the doubts and worries he felt entering into a relationship in which he was willingly giving himself as well as the bitter pessimism of the director's mother about love given her divorce. The boyfriend's curiosity about himself and his relationship with his parents and Tomer is intriguing again for its honesty to his experience of emotion. He also points out that Tomer often saves up the "serious" conversations for the camera; this was not only pointing out the artificial nature of the presence of the camera recording "normal life" but also hinted at Tomer's retreat behind the camera, a safe place from which to carry-out serious discussions, which suggested a lack of self-exposure, unlike the vulnerability of the mother and the boyfriend, constantly subject to the objective gaze of the camera. In this way, he plays the role of the director, as opposed to revealing himself.

The perspective with which Stephen's examines his own role as "victim" and his rejection of the victim mentality stands in stark contrast with the caustic post-colonial self-victimization of Tahimik, who was also featured in the film festival as a focus director, throughout his films.

Film Rating 5/5

Thursday, October 21, 2010

"We needed each other desperately to survive so we wouldn't go mad and that's why we hated each other."

Crazy is a 1999 film by Heddy Honigmann, who will be featured in the Taiwan International Documentary Festival about to be underway in Taizhong (Oct 22 - 31, 2010). The film talks to former Dutch UN peacekeepers about their experiences of a variety of different conflicts including Bosnia, Korea andCambodia. The interesting thing about the documentary is that it asks the peacekeepers about their experiences by focusing on the songs that kept them sane throughout the conflicts. As well as classical music there were a good few almost comically dated songs, Guns and Roses hits, and Seal's "Crazy" to name a few, but these songs take on a more poignant meaning when the camera witnesses the former peacekeepers carried back into the horrors of their memories of what they saw and experienced. Even the most blasé of the peacekeepers were visibly affected by the music.

The movie is interesting whether you approach the it with an interest in terms of dealing with the stress of conflict, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or approach it with an interest in the definition or effect of music. A cheesy love song can become laden with unrelated pathos of tragedy of war, this film seems to probe the way different human psyches react to the pain of others, whether it is retreat into the fantasy of music, regarding one's job as just carrying out orders and thereby rejecting moral responsibility for the effects of those actions, or identification with the victims.

The excellence of the film comes through in its unwillingness to detour from its field of interest, and its refusal to indulge in heroising or criticism of the UN's role as peacekeepers; It's aim lies not in a political viewpoint which it wishes to forward but rather in the observation of the phenomenon of modern war and peace.

Rating: 4.5/5 Definitely worth seeing

The trailer is soundless unfortunately because of copyright (!?!)

and there's an interview in Spanish with the director:

and English

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Kadu, in my home there is nothing much, I can go camping for a month, nothing gets lost. That is my wealth"

Turumba is the 1981 film by Philippines director Kidlat Tahimik. The film is narrated from the perspective of a young boy called Kadu. It gives an account of the dehumanizing effects of the European system of mass production on the village where Kadu lives. The local craft of Papier-mâché prepared for a local festival called "Turumba" is distorted and homogenized by a German woman who starts to export the craft works to Germany en masse. What had originally been a family enterprise laden with tradition, becomes a sudo-sweat shop, and the models that had been used before are discarded for the 1971 Munich Olympic Games mascot. Kadu's father who originally had been the Kantore at the festival every year becomes the boss of this enterprise and becomes obsessed with accruing status symbols of wealth, including a TV, a Mercedes Benz, foreign travel. This material wealth is contrasted to Pati, a machete maker, who lives simply but happily without the pressures of trying to prove wealth in material possessions.

The theme of the film is consistent with Tahimik's debut film, Perfumed Nightmare which also talks of a disillusion with the Western "developed world" and a pastoral longing for a simpler life uncomplicated by a imported system of values.

This film reminded me somewhat of the short story 蕭蕭 (Xiaoxiao) by 沈從文 (Shen Congwen). The short story, in one interpretation, conveys a longing for life on the margins of civilization, as yet untouched by modernization. The old society's rules and laws although seemingly chauvinistic and oppressive are regulated by the institutions and the men and women within the society. This is represented within the story by the horrible things we hear about how women are treated in the society in which Xiaoxiao lives, but the relatively benign treatment of the protagonist herself. The film like the book seem to be praising this cultural wilderness while simultaneously acknowledging its coming destruction. Both the film and the short story question the prizing of the modern above the native, and seem to point to an already void desire to found an alternative Eastern modernism, independent of the perils of what is often called "The American Dream".

This film lacks some of the wit and creativity of the first film but it's definitely worth watching.

As far as I'm aware it's all available on youtube.

Film Rating: 5/5

Interesting Quote:

(Referring to moulds for Papier-mâché) "Suddenly they all have time. The lovers, the general, the horses, they're now unemployed for the first time in 50 years. [...] For 40 years the sound of her sewing machine created Turumba fashions, creations of love. After the Olympics, Papa's factory shall rise here, creations without soul."

Les Roseaux Sauvages (Wild Reeds)

"Wild Reeds (1994)" is a French coming of age film by director André Téchiné.  It centers around the sexual awakening of four high school students with the backdrop of the ongoing French-Algerian war.  The moody, sulking Henri Mariana is French Algerian and after witnessing his father's death has become withdrawn and unmotivated to graduate.  The main protagonist, Francois, discovers he is queer after a chance encounter with an Italian immigrant, Serge Bartolo, who struggles in French class.  Serge has a proposal that they become friends since they are complete opposites and thus complement each other.  Serge is good at math and precocious in sexuality, while Francois is exceptional in French and knows many females but doesn't score with them.  Francois' best mate is a female named Maïté Alvarez, whom both Serge and Henri lust after, but Maite is afraid of intimacy with men so she avoids their individual company and instead clings to her best friend, Francois (At one point, Maite says, "I don't like guys who look at girls just as girls" and Francois replies that "It's human nature."  She states, "Then I don't like human nature.")  Maite admits that she wishes she could just grow up and be rid of her mum and Francois but at the same time she loves them both dearly.  After Francois admits that he has been with a man, she quickly reassures him that she doesn't care and that she still needs his emotional support.

The namesake of the film comes from a fable by Jean de La Fontaine, "The Oak and the Reed:"

The oak said to the reed:
"Nature did you wrong.
To you a tiny wren is a burden.
A mild puff of wind forces your head low.
I, a huge Caucasian peak, defy the sun's rays and the raging storms.
A gale for you is a breeze for me.
If you let me shelter you, you would suffer less.
I would defend you.
But you were born on the edges of the kingdom of storms.
Nature was unfair to you."

"Your pity," answered the reed, "is kind, but unnecessary.
I fear not the wind.
I bend without breaking.
You have borne its gusts without flexing your spine.
But wait and see."

And as he spoke, from the distant horizon
came the worst storm the North has ever known.

The oak remained rigid, the reed bent.

Harder, the wind uprooted him whose head touched the sky
and whose feet, the empire of the dead.

(This translated version is transcribed from the Andre Techine's film.)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Your mother is wise to know a simple tribute is more powerful than the giant monuments of our civilization

This film, Perfumed Nightmare (1977), is directed by and stars Kidlat Tahimik, a Phillipines born director who released this film with the help of Francis Ford Coppola. Although it will be shown as part of a documentary film festival in Taizhong at the end of October, the film does not follow the style of the conventional documentary, and incorporates what could be called performance art, or a performative rendition of memory, experience and emotion.

The director, in what seem to be fictionalized sequences traces his memory of setting out from the Phillipines to France and then the US. The director seems to attempt an experiential or sensous recreation of the trip. First setting out from his imagination of the West, a kind of Occidentalist structure with its foundation in Voice of America broadcasts and dealings with American soldiers. The film employs a lot of surrealist imagery to fragment the logic of the narrative, the events on screen quite often happen in contradiction to the narrative voice of the film.

The film seemed to be countering the notion that modernization in the guise of progress is a good blueprint for what in the West is referred to as "The Third World". The protagonist who had been eager for progress to occur rescinds his membership from a fan club of an immigrant to America who helped to build the Apollo space shuttle. The signals his realisation that the American dream is not the path to happiness. At first heis awed by France but as he grows accustomed to life there he realizes that technological progress does not endow places or things with the meanings and emotions that places and things are endowed with in his hometown. The faceless encroach of the supermarket on the 4 seasons market confirms for him this absence of meaning that he comes upon in the West.

Some excellent bits of the film include the Phillipino cast "whiting up" in a scene where they act as the white guests at a farewell party that make Kidlat feel small, prompting him to say:

I am Kidlat Tahimik, I'm not as small as you think, nothing can stop me from crossing my bridge.

Another scene, earlier on in the film, is where religious self flagellation is portrayed, and Kidlat goes to pray to the Virgin Mary, who speaks to him in a very crude manner, revealing the snideness of an icon who demands the pain of self-flaggelation. Mary describes Kidlat in the garb of self-flaggelation as "sexy".

The final quote I want to mention is the following:

The white carabao is rare, it is born against nature. The white carabao is beautiful but inside its cold and aggressive. One day, Kidlat, you will understand that the beauty of the white carabao is like the sweetness of the chewing gum the American soldiers gave you.
This seems to me to indicate the illusion created by Eastern imagination of the Occident.

Film rating: 5/5

The picture above is from a painful scene of circumcision - village style.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

"Solitude begets originality, bold and disconcerting beauty, poetry. But solitude can also beget perversity, disparity, the absurd and the forbidden."

A Single Man is a 2005 film by director Tom Ford. The movie is subtle but brilliant. It follows the life of an English professor in an American university, in the days after he hears the news of his lover's death. His life begins to fall apart as he sinks into grief and lonliness. In the film there are four threads of human contact in his life which run throughout the film.

The first is the relationship he has with a female friend he knew from London. Despite the fact he is gay, she still holds a flame for him and sees his relationship with his dead lover as indulging in perversity and avoiding true love and happiness with her. The second is his relationship with his neighbour, who, with her family and her slightly homophobic husband, seems to represent normal heterosexual America, or what is accepted in terms of life purpose. When the little boy squashes the butterfly while George peeps in from next door, it seemed to address this conflict between "straight" man and "gay" man, in dialect, as we see the pride and aggression of the homophobic father passed on to the son, the father and son both assume to have justifable and purposeful lives. I thought it seemed to allude to the more ephemeral nature of homosexual love, in that it stops at the first generation, squashed like a butterfly, being so much more delicate and fragile than heterosexual love. I thought this was interesting in that his partner's death challenges George's jusitifcation for living.It reminded me of a bit of Notes of a Desolate Man (荒人手記) by Zhu Tianwen (朱天文):
在那裡,性不必擔負繁殖後代的使命,因此性無需雙方兩造的契約限制,於是性也不必有性別之異。 女女,男男,在撤去所有藩籬的性領域哩,互相探索著性,性的邊際的邊際,可以到哪裡。性遠離了原始的生育功能,昇華到性本身及目的,感官的, 藝術的,美學的,色情國度。這樣,是否就是我們的終極境地?我們這些站人類百分之十屬種渴望到達的夢土?

From atop the palisade, a brief glance down was enough to make me dizzy. As I stood there, I felt something that maybe Foucault had experienced: erotic utopia.
There, sex would not have to shoulder the mission of procreation, so there would be no contractual demand on either partner, and gender difference would no longer matter. Women with women, men with men, in a sexual realm where all barriers would have been dismantled, exploring sex together and the borders of the borders of sex, as far as they wanted to go. Sex would now be removed from the primitive function of child-bearing, sublimated until sex became its own objective, an erotic nation built upon sensuality, artistry, aesthetics. But was this the ultimate realm for us? Was this the dreamland so earnestly sought by those of us who comprise 10 percent of the human race?
Foucault was silent.
Standing there, I seemed to understand that many erotic nations must have appeared in the course of human history. They were like exotic flowers that disappeared after blooming but once. Later generations could only dimly detect their existence amid vanishing, decaying texts, for they could neither expand nor grow. They became extinct in the frozen sorrows of indetermination and slow degeneration.

I liked the way the mother was portrayed with a certain sympathy and sensitivity, in spite of the sardonic disdain in which he seems to hold her on the surface. This embrace of ephermerality is magnified when as his colleague talks about the threat of the Cold War, George's mind is on the shirtless bodies of students playing tennis.

The nature of experiential living, how one experiences life, is portrayed brilliantly in the film, seemingly pointing to the absurd nature of thinking beyong the bounds of your own life. The third relationship is with a guy he meets outside a drugstore, who offers to sleep with him for money, the scene is not shot in a seedy way however, and after refusing they continue their discussion, talking about life and love.

The most focus is put on the fourth relationship with the student. There's a sexual tension between the two of them that is all the more ideal because it remains unrealized.This was very reminscent of the relationship between Aschenbach and Tadzio in Thomas Mann's Death in Venice. Through this unrealized sexual relationship, George is saved from suicide.

The film is shot beautifully, and his depression seems visible on screen, as it lifts the brightness increases at moments like when he makes the university secretary smile, or when he stares at Russ in class, when he sniffs some lady's dog and when he observes Carlos's beauty.

I thought that some interesting quotes were as follows:

Of course the Nazis were wrong to hate the Jews but their hating the Jews was not without a cause. It's just that the cause wasn't real. The cause was imagined, the cause was fear... a minority is only thought of as one when it constitutes some kind of threat to the majority, a real threat or an imagined one. And therein lies the fear, but if that minority is somehow invisible then the fear is much greater

Carlos: Es la contaminación lo que le da su color
George: I've never seen the sky like this before.
Carlos: A veces las cosas más
horrorosas tiene su punta de encanta

Rating: 5/5

The title quote is taken from Death in Venice by Thomas Mann, the english translation for Notes of a Desolate Man is from Howard Goldblatt's translation.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"I've got knives in my eyes, I'm going home sick."

"Brick" (2005) is a taut, dark mystery/thriller directed by Rian Johnson.  It's a movie about a high school student that infiltrates a drug ring in order to investigate the possible murder of his ex-girlfriend.  It's an unconventional drama/thriller based around high school characters.  I especially enjoyed the clever, smart lingo employed by the Brendan and 'the Brain.'  The writing (dialogue) for this film also by Rian Johnson is brilliant.

It's highly stylized and not that credible, but I like how it delves into the darker elements of high school life rather than focusing on the cheery, saccharine caricature portrayed by movies like "High School Musical."  I do think the movie could have been trimmed up and the pace could have been a bit quicker, but I was in also in an impatient mood when viewing it. 

A lot of the acting is melodramatic and theatrical as well but Joseph Gordon-Levitt really carries the movie as the protagonist, Brendan.  Norah Zehetner also puts in a commendable while understated performance as Laura.

I liked the scene in the parking lot when Brendan confronts Tugger over seeing 'the Pin' and Tugger drives his car full-on towards Brendan and Brendan just shuts his eyes... 

This movie is definitely worth a rent.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Since the title of this blog is "Shida Book Club," I feel chagrined that this is my first entry regarding a book.  It's about time I guess.  It's not that I haven't been reading, but that the reading material I've been perusing has been abstruse, esoteric and in most cases so ancient and irrelevant to modern society that I found it inappropriate to write about on a shared blog.  This novel by Krakauer, though, both moved me and is relatively contemporary.  It follows the tragic tale of an idealistic youth that graduated from my alma mater, Emory University in Atlanta.  His personal code of ethics and compulsion for communion with nature are all aspects that I highly resonate with.  Hence, after watching the film (2007, directed by Sean Penn) by the same name,  I was committed to reading the book as well.

Chris McCandless a.k.a. Alexander Supertramp has been vilified by numerous Alaskans for his supposed hubris and ignorance and lack of respect for the Great White North, where he perished.  However, I am never one to pass judgment on another and on the contrary, I find his feat not to be a failure but an exultation of the human spirit in spite of apparent appearances.

I end this review with a short excerpt from a letter written by Chris himself to a man, Ronald Franz, who had only known Chris for a short period of time after picking up a lone hitchhiker (Chris) but grew so fond of the boy that he asked Chris for permission to be his adopted father.

"The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure.  the joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.  If you want to get more out of life, Ron, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be a crazy.  But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty."