Friday, June 3, 2011

『再見,母親』 Mom, Bye

Wang Molin (王墨林)is clad in a Che Guevara t-shirt, the same one angry teenagers and naive politics students across the world are probably wearing at that same moment. His manner is distracted during the Q&A, and as in the interview we conducted with him previously, he brushes off any difficult questions with a sneer and a "Do I have to explain everything a thousand times?", seemingly a smoke and mirrors technique to evade addressing any of the arguments directed against him. The assumption that anyone who disagrees with him is illiterate or locked into a capitalist ideology that only he and people who agree with him are able to see through makes conversation with him tiring. This was mirrored in the way the play was presented, tiring.

There were a few very basic errors from a practical point of view that, given the director's long career in the "little theatre" (小劇埸) were preventable. These were little details, like a semi-transparent cloth hanging mid-stage with a light shining from behind it, that made the subtitles of the Korean dialogue in the play (the play was performed by a Korean theatre troupe) difficult to read, and resulted in people stretching their heads in different directions to try and look past the cloth. This wasn't aided by the reams of gas that were pumped out at random intervals throughout the performance, that made the subtitles slightly more difficult to read and triggered the asthma of a guy in the row behind me.

The play was about a protester in 70s' South Korea who fought for rights for labourers and died at the protest and his mother's reaction to his death. Although the topic was interesting, it was delivered stiffly and the attempt to humanize the hero through the mother/son relationship didn't move me as it must have attempted to. The play read like a Union propaganda film, with martyrs of the protest flashing up on the screen with rhythmic drums. It was then unsurprising to learn in the Q&A that the actors were in fact not actors but social activists and that the play had a very one sided political message to preach. This was then reinforced when Taiwanese "labourers" (I put quote marks around this word because in Taiwanese popular usage the word for labour "勞工" includes white collar office workers), who were basically people who had been hired by the government to do the same job as civil servants without the benefits of being a civil servant, bemoaned their plight. At one point one of them stated that their situation was worse than Korea in the 70s and worse than the plight of foreign labourers (勞工) and workers (工人) in Taiwan. Although to be fair I don't understand completely the nature of their situation, although it has been quite high profile in the media, but to be honest this seemed like a massive exaggeration as many of the plethora of documentaries about foreign workers in Taiwan can attest to. The preaching style of the play, did no justice to the issue, and the images and dialogue were cliche, reminiscent of the early works of Taiwanese literature and mainland socialist literature. This cliched dialogue and symbolism reinforced the image of the hero as an idealized hero, and had none of the depth of understanding of the disenfranchised classes of society of works like Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman or John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath and Cannery Row. Which suggests the distance of Wang Molin from the working class in Taiwan, as he only seems to conceive of them from a theoretical, iconic ideal as opposed to exploring them as more complex human beings with aspirations and vices.

On my way home from the theatre I saw the director again, grabbing a beer by the roadside with a group of youths that I supposed to be members of the stage crew, still wearing his Che Guevara shirt, and most likely still spouting the half-baked idealism of a 1st year politics university student.

Image taken from:

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Performance Friday 15th April 2011, 7.30pm

My teacher gave me some tickets to see this performance, by the Tainaner Theatre Troupe. I'd been to the theatre in the Xinyi branch of Eslite before to see a play inspired by the songs of Chen Qizhen, a Taiwanese singer (膚色の時光 Once, upon hearing the skin tone). I remembered so clearly having been there before because the stage is slightly unusual in that it is a round stage that divides the audience into two sections at either side of the stage, which means they enter through two separate doors. The last play I'd seen staged here had been interesting technically but weak in terms of plot. This play was similarly weak plot-wise - think a school production of Back to the Future fused with the cheese factor of popular Taiwanese TV dramas (Meteor Garden, The Devil Beside You). The story is about several connected love stories gone wrong. The death of the female protagonist's mother halts her wedding to a closeted gay man, and her mother comes back through time via a magic doorknob acquired in Tibet from an antique seller (who was portrayed with possibly the weakest piece of acting in the whole play). This sets off a series of events which changes the lives of the protagonists (in Sliding Doors fashion), so that they get the chance to "Re/turn" to the scene of their unresolved regrets and "amend" them. The female protagonist is reunited with her lost love, and the gay man is accepted by his best friend as a teenager (again thanks to the magic doorknob) so gets the confidence to come out early in life and so avoids the pitfalls of soliciting rent boys and using (God help us all) marijuana (there is an amusing scene where a major police bust over one joint).

The major problems with the play was not the acting, which was convincing, but rather the whole concept of the play, certain elements of which seemed to be lifted right out of Taiwanese popular culture and films. The obsession with making the play "international" without incorporating any international actors was also a problem for the play. It pandered to the Taiwanese obsession with European and Japanese culture, in that a lot of the play was set in London - where the male lead Charles had apparently grown up with an American accent; there was also a Taiwanese actress playing a Japanese dancer, two very Taiwanese sounding Americans as well as a Taiwanese playing a British postman. Only the latter was vaguely funny, with deliberate use of British English terms designed specifically to make the audience laugh, and none of them sounded natural in english. The director and writer Cai Bozhang (蔡柏璋), though a good singer, was a little self-indulgent as he sang in Taiwanese inflected English through most of the play. My companion for the evening, one of my classmates pointed out something that I think speaks true of my experience of the contemporary Taiwanese Theatre: that because the writers of a lot of the plays produced nowadays also act as director and actors, the scripts that they write are not really the focus of their work, and do not stand alone as literary works. Rather, the event and the production takes first place. The result is the rather paltry, soap-operaesque dialogue seen in this production.
It was a pity that the talented acting of the actors wasn't put to a better use, more worthy of the stage, otherwise the only role of theatre in Taiwan would seem to be to give a live experience of soap operas.

If we are to take the piece seriously as a piece of theatre, the other thing I have a problem with is the moralistic pedagogy of the production, and its assertion that there is "right" path in life that we are diverted from, which seems a rather simplistic and egotistical exercise in self-affirmation by the director (people who don't follow my liberal ideology are following the wrong path). Any deeper exploration of the idea of regret and "fixing the past" is absent, sexuality too, receives quite a superficial treatment in the play. There are two major gay stereotypes in action within the play. The director plays the role of the "gay best friend" of the protagonist, described as her "妺妺" (little sister) that we "might think is a little unusual". There is, however nothing unusual to a Western viewer about this kind of character: the emasculated, non-predatory inocuous gay male referred to by terms usually reserved for females (think of a slightly updated version of Are You Being Served's Mr Humphries, or a character lightly based on Taiwanese celebrity Cai Kangyong (蔡康永). His "one true love", Peter, (pause - wipe off the vomit - continue) is dead, so his sexuality is essentially safely removed from the present for the audience. The closeted gay fiance reversion to type after coming out also suggests that his previous masculinity was but a ruse, and at the end of the play he is shoe-horned into the "gay best friend" role as evidence of his acceptance of his sexuality. The other two representations of gay men, are also stereotypes, the predatory older man who chases the closeted gay man when he is a high school student, and the rent boy, whose brazen sexuality and drug-use lead him to arrest, which can be seen as divine justice within the play. As opposed to representing sexuality in a more diverse way, the production instead homogenises sexual and gender roles.

To sum up, the play is easy watching, its ending is predictable and safe. This is the territory of liberal morality and its pedagogical unfolding is suitably bland. None of which is what motivates me to go to the theatre, why pay 600NT or more to see a low-budget, albeit live, rehash of a feel-good movie. The night I went the production overran by about 40 minutes, so expect to be impatiently looking at your watch while you watch the happy-ending play out at length to the crooning wails of the directors singing.

Don't expect much and you'll have a long but vaguely entertaining night. 2/5

For more information go to the blog here.

Below are some interviews with cast members in and out of character:

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Shortbus (2006) John Cameron Mitchell

I liked this film because of the way it dealt with emotion and sex, and the labyrinthine sexual and emotional struggles that people have to deal with. Its graphic nature lends itself to an argument that the so-called "pop philosopher" Slavoj Žižek made in The Pervert's Guide to Cinema:

Pornography is, and it is, a deeply conservative genre. It's not a genre where everything is permitted. It's a genre base don a fundamental prohibition. We cross one threshold, you can see everything, close ups and so on, but the price you pay for it is that the narrative with justifies sexual activity should not be taken seriously. The screenwriters for pornography cannot be so stupid. You know, these vulgar narratives of a housewife alone at home, a plumber comes, fixes the hole, then the housewife turns to him, 'Sorry, but I have another hold to be fixed. Can you do it?' or whatever. Obviously there is some kind of a censorship here. You have either an emotionally engaging film, but then you should stop bust before showing it all, sexual act, or you can see it all but you are now allowed then to be emotionally seriously engaged. So that's the tragedy of pornography.

This film's graphic sexual portrayals are more akin to the reality of sex in the strong attachment with emotion that they have - and the aspirations, deeply held unease that is held in our sexuality surfaces in the characters - pressure to perform, the pressure to enjoy sex with someone you love, pressure to convince yourself that you are happy and fulfilled.

There were definite moments of recognition for me in the film, whether it be the struggle to deal with and embrace the physiological reality of your body, the emotional payload of sex or just learning to interact in a relationship that is both sexual and emotional. I found a lot of the dialogue was funny and rang truer than either the aforesaid pornographic vulgarity or the archetypal demands of romance films or rom-coms.

I can see where the film might receive some flak - the self-conscious reference to 9 11, and a hipsterish romantic notion of "New Yorkers" and sex clubs, but on a whole I never felt the film lurched into pretentiousness, and the situations and characters were believeable to me within the context of the fim.

I liked the idea that the structure in one's life being portrayed as such a fragile thing, and that the surface actions of your behaviour can go on from one day to the next while underneath everything has already changed.

Here's the trailer:

And a rant from Slavoj Žižek:

Thursday, March 17, 2011



法1。言論的人都認為「海」對台灣人來說是一種陌生、可怕的存在。 這部紀


預告片可以去 下載

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

나쁜 남자 Bad Guy (2002)

What struck me most about this film was how a series of events can completely alter one's world view, what had seemed so important to the female lead, a clumsy romance with a conventional boyfriend, an art history degree, sexual purity, loses all it's relevance in light of her experiences in prostitution. One way of looking at the male protagonist's actions towards her would be a kind of leveling; she spat on him in the first scene and slapped him humiliating him, and he revenges himself by making her realise how fragile her morality and her dignity really is. The bond between them seems two-fold though, he watches her be violated, but then avenges this violation by beating her violators. He too, tries to violate her, but turns to one of the other girls instead to release the sexual tension; she knows he tricked her into prostitution but is drawn to him at the same time. The female lead at the start of the film is unlikeable, and it is through the eyes of Hangi (the male protagonist) peeping through the glass at her repeated violation and subsequent resgination, that the audience sees her change and become more in touch with human emotion. The protagonist on his first meeting with the girl stands out of the crowd, with a scar drawn across his neck, and her look of disgust is because she knows what kind of person he is. So instead of trying to leave the world he is in, he brings her into his world, he becomes her pimp, as opposed turning (in a familiar Hollywood trope) into her Prince Charming.

I felt for a moment on hearing Hangi's high pitched voice, that the film would lull into cliché with the anti-hero being ashamed of his voice but getting up the courage to say he loved the heroine. This didn't occur, although the protagonist perhaps is reflecting on his own feelings of inferiority when he beats up his friend, shouting at him that it was stupid for a hooligan to have dreams of love. It is not love that wins out at the end of the film, but a kind of acknowledgement of and resgination to the bond they have which they consumated when she spat in his face and he watched her lose her virginity by a paying client.

I thought it was a great film, the intensity of the male protagonist was played fantastically, and the way the plot played out was original and uncannily real.


Kawut na Cinat’kelang

片名:Kawut na Cinat’kelang / 划大船 / Rowing the Big Assembled Boat

本片的焦點便是達悟族朗島部落為了2007年的Keep rowing海洋練習曲的計畫而造船、出海的過程。這部紀綠片很特別的一點就是達悟族人,尤其是郭建平(Shyman Vengayen),對自己的傳統文化的手工業的禁忌的肯定,這些禁忌同時也意味著對漢文化、全球化的工業經濟觀念的批評。為了持續、推廣蘭嶼的南島文化傳統,某些禁忌需要被破壞。不過這種破壞還是以傳統儀式來應付。據郭建平來說在二十一世紀對漢人來說台灣原住民文化的角色不再是像之前一樣,為一種玩樂、有趣的題材而已,而是一種另類的生活模式的教育對像。台灣的漢人失敗的社會方面,譬方說環保、可持續的發展等社會議體,可以向原住民社會找解決的方法手段。這種概念跟菲律賓導演奇拉‧塔西米克(Kidlat Tahimik)的紀錄片《土倫巴》和《為什麼彩虹的中間是黃色》有類似的目標:從原住民文化找到一些可以幫助所謂「先進」的世界的智慧來教育西方、漢人。

電影討論原住民的禁忌作用的轉換,讓他們可以參與這分為 外地人而造船的手工業活動。原住民面對推廣自己的文化需要尊重這個文化,而不是出賣他們的文化為一種玩樂而已。片中也包括造船的一些傳統歌曲的母語、中文和英文的紀錄,同時也是因為這是一個新的生活經驗,而是還記錄新造出來的歌曲。 電影的品質很好,很值得看。

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Le tribunal itinérant Directed by Zheng Wenqing

A woman tearfully reads a letter from her paraplegic husband which grants her a divorce from him. The husband looks on as she reads his words advising her to divorce him so that she can have time for herself and to look after their son instead of being a full time carer for him. The wife breaks down in tears and we catch a glimpse of something approaching smugness at the emotional outpouring he has elicited with his self-sacrifice. The court official, frustrated with the lack of efficiency first tells the wife to calm down, then asks her to pass the letter to a court official who reads the letter as disinterestedly as if he's explaining the rules of Monopoly - the emotional words of the wife, punctuated with breathy cries are transformed into a dull bureaucratic legal confirmation, a tick in column A and column B so to speak. These two elements of the documentary were the elements that most lucidly translated to my own experience of China. The first being the naïve sentimentality woven into the framework of personal tragedy, be it a wife eulogizing her husband's self-sacrifice, or the evident pride with which the husband perceives himself in her reaction. These scenes, which are common in Chinese soap operas and films (think A World without Thieves, Together or even Infernal Affairs in the scene where the policeman is thrown off the roof.) They seem at times to be the equivalent of corny lifetime movies, when children get cancer but remain irritatingly upbeat about it or the emotive conceits of film noir. There is an unashaméd yank at the heartstrings that is counterbalanced by the other element of Chinese culture that hit me hard in the culture clash, that is the unrelenting Kafkaesque nature of bureaucracy, where people's (overly-) emotional rending is treated like a tax receipt that has been filled out incorrectly. The itinerant court sets up in absurd locations, carrying the plaque of the republic which is hung over classrooms, and in muddy village squares. The judges seem reasonable enough though they play to the crowd at times who seem to have come for the entertainment value (I'm reminded of the staring immobile faces that surround Chinese car accidents.) The documentary's grasp of these elements of Chinese society, both its strength and its weakness, make the documentary interesting for foreign viewers, as this is the elements of culture that are so alien to the contemporary Western world.

Interesting but not essential viewing 3/5

Friday, February 25, 2011


Named after the song by Patsy Cline, "C.R.A.Z.Y." (2005) is a French-Canadian coming-of-age movie set in the '60s by Jean-Marc Vallée (sort of reminiscent of "A Christmas Story" (1983)).  The protagonist is the youngest son out of the four brothers with an overbearing father and doting mother.  The youngest son, Michel, is the oddball since he's sensitive, intuitive (said to possess a gift by the "tupperware lady") and is close to his mother.  He also happens to be homosexual but I think this movie has universal appeal as it focuses on the strained relationship between brothers with conflicting personality types as well as the complex father-son relationship, much less adding sexuality and Catholicism to the mix.  He also had a long-term relationship with a ginger, Michelle, for most of the movie though has been conflicted since he has reached puberty.

The father openly condemns but secretly relishes when Michel breaks the rules while reinforcing traditionally masculine vices, such as when he brings a girl over and when he gets sent home from school for beating up another student.

The eldest brother is the 'Casanova' and also the bad boy who rides a motorcycle and never commits to a relationship.  He's the one that has always butted heads with Michel, calling him a "faggot," but he was also the one who stood up for him at another brother's wedding when relatives were gossiping about Michel's sexual orientation.

This is a very realistic, humorous, and emotional portrayal of family life.  Showing how human parents really are and how redemption can come even after decades of emotional trauma.

I couldn't find a YouTube trailer with English subtitles...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

"If you eliminate the scourge of bottled water, you'll be eliminating one of the biggest problems facing our environment."

A marine biologist said that in the documentary titled, "Tapped" (2009).  He has for many years been studying the dramatic decline of water quality in our oceans.

In 1999, they did a survey and found that there was 6x more plastic particles in the seawater than plankton. In 2008, they found there was 46x as much plastic as plankton.  And fish are consuming these smaller plastic fragments.  The researcher found 26 plastic pieces in a single fish.

Some may say that they always recycle their plastic bottles but they don't realize that in the U.S., less than 20% of water bottles get recycled (versus the 50% worldwide rate).  Part of this is due to low public funding.  Each city is responsible for recycling but with low funding and staff they cannot handle the demand, so then it just fills up a landfill or it goes to an incinerator.

Disregarding the environmental impact of bottled water though, you can take a look at the economics of it.  Most bottled waters have been shown to be nothing more than filtered municipal tap water and yet the major companies like Nestle, Coca Cola, and Pepsi charge 1900x the price of tap water.  Also, due to the plastic packaging additional chemicals are introduced to the drinking water.  Independent testing of various brands found there to be petrochemical compounds present like toulene, styrene, and pthalates, which are all carcinogenic and/or endocrine-disrupting.  This is due to the PET plastic bottles, many of which are made in Corpus Christi, Texas at an oil refinery plant called Flint Hills.  In Corpus Christi, the birth defects rate is 85% higher than the national average.  The cancer rates are also significantly higher.  Many of the residents were ignorant of the effects of living close to a plastics plant and now they cannot move elsewhere since they can't sell their houses; plus they already have health ailments.  A previous EPA employee quit due to his moral qualms over working at a regulatory agency that is being manipulated by special interests and corporations.  He stated that many of these chemical plants have ground level leaks, where the waste seeps into the groundwater -- in addition to the benzene and other volatile compounds spewing into the air from the smokestacks.

The bottled water industry has been remarkably adept at convincing the public that their product is superior to the municipal tap water through extensive marketing campaigns (i.e. Aquafina -- "Drink more water;" using models and celebrities in their magazine ads, promoting water's health-promoting attributes, etc.)  The municipal water plant on the other hand doesn't have the funds to compete with marketing ploys.  The municipal water processing plant is required by law to check the water quality several times a day and posts the results online for the public to see.  On the other hand, private bottled water companies are not required to provide any water quality tests to the public.  They send their own studies to the FDA and the FDA doesn't require or conduct any independent studies on their water quality.  There is only one person in the FDA that oversees the entire bottled water industry and that person also has to attend to other duties.  The FDA is severely understaffed and underfunded.  The big scandal with the FDA over this issue was when the bottled water industry and the petrochemical industry told the FDA that BPA was perfectly safe despite independent scientific organizations that said otherwise.

Then there is the social injustice aspect.  Due to these companies' cache of high-powered lawyers they found a loophole in the law, where Nestle can go into Maine and pump as much water as they want without paying a dime for it and then charging $19 per gallon for it.  The small rural community that was affected by this pumping requested Nestle pay 1 cent per gallon that they pumped so that it would return to the community but Nestle (operating under the name of Poland Springs or Ozark) refused.  Then in Atlanta when there was a water crisis and residents and local businesses had to follow stringent water restriction policies, Coca Cola was completely exempt and continued to pump millions of gallons from a lake that was already far below normal levels.

(The video, "How pharmaceuticals end up in our water?" is very interesting.)

I've always just carried a resuable water bottle to fill with filtered or tap water for environmental, health, and economic reasons, but after watching this documentary I feel compelled to do more and to spread the message.

("Blue Gold:  World Water Wars" (2009) was a similar movie and probably even better than this one but I didn't write a review on it.  "Blue Gold" was more comprehensive on the subject of commoditizing water, while "Tapped" focused in on the bottled water industry.  Both movies are highly recommended.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Beyond Hatred (2005) Olivier Meyrou

This French documentary discussed the murder of a 29 year old gay man by three skinheads in Rheims, France. It was interesting in that it worked in a distinct way from the way events such as this are normally covered by the press or in other films that portray the events as they happen like the melodramatic Matthew Shepard Story or Prayers For Bobby

that intentionally pull on heart strings for a big impact. The more introspective style of the documentary started 780 days after the death of Francois Chenu, and focused on the journey of the parents and the siblings of Francois as they reluctantly let go of their anger towards the perpetrators, and faced them in court to hear their testimony and defense. The documentary portrayed brilliantly the very banal nature of the proceedings surrounding the trial, and the way in which the grief played out for each member of the family. It cuts through the performative rhetoric of the victim, that one sees already polished whether in press releases and or in lawyer's prepared statements, by showing us the emotive discussion and preparation, even debate over a single word in the prepared statement. In this way the audience is brought to the realization that the strong face that the family show under the spotlight in the documentary is revealed to be more complex.

I thought one scene was particularly interesting, in which the mother tells the camera that some part of her does not want to confront the perpetrators, because she knows when she sees them her anger will be dissipated by hearing of their deprived background, and the anger and rage will be diluted by pity or a desire to comprehend. She felt that, by the very fact of communicating and talking about the case, she was being dragged forward to a more rational place than the pure desire for vengeance. She realises the necessity of moving forward but is reluctant to leave that state of mind.

During the trial in the film, the audience observes that the family are torn by their rational democratic and humanistic principles and horror at the loss of someone they love at the hands of imbeciles. The better angels of their nature draw them to sympathize with the destitution of the perpetrators' lives, and the irresponsible actions and indifference of the parents of the accused.

Another interesting aspect to the trial was that the youngest perpetrator's legal representative was a Frenchman of "Arabic" descent. Given that the skinhead gang was intensely anti-Arab (one of their friends had pushed an Arab into the Seine where he then drowned), I thought it was extremely interesting to see how much the lawyer was involved with the young man and how much he pushed for leniency towards him. I also thought that his frank discussion with the family and about the remorse (or lack of) felt by the boys was incredibly powerful in that he was able to acknowledge their grief and appealed to their conscience at the same time, which he was able to do in part, because of his ethnic origin. During this discussion we can recognise the family's internal struggle, in that they want to know how to forgive, but are unsure of the remorse of the skinheads.

The whole structure of the courtroom and the way the case was handled, gave a lie to the way that these things are represented on television. The grief shouldered by relations of the victims as they go through proceedings makes all the little details and the minutiae of the law heavy with melancholy. There are several shots of office spaces, and corridors, which in their dreariness, replace the dramatics of the murder with the dull realization of the reality of this kind of loss.

In contrast to more traditional media outlets, the focus on the film, was on those left behind, and the grief and justice process. Francois never appears in the film, nor do the aggressors, or any photos of the violence committed. In this way, we stand in the place of the parents, who are left imagining the pain that their son went through, but the film ends with an open letter to the perpetrators. It is hard to know how the family's actions are perceived by the killers, and at times the family seems worried that they are laughing at the liberal values of the family that compel them to get involved in the lives of the attackers rather than maintaining distance.

Definitely worth watching 4/5

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Legend of Liu Mingchuan

2005 Outdoor Taiwanese Opera Company Festival - The Legend of Liu Mingchuan
2005 外台戲歌仔戲匯演: 烽火英雄-劉銘傳

Performed by 一心戲劇團 (One Heart Theatre Troupe)

I saw this DVD in the library had English subtitles and my curiosity got the better of me. For 3 years now I have glimpsed bits of Taiwanese Opera performances in parks, in crowded night markets, and in the street where I live, but given that the scripting of the performances isn't very rigid by all reports and there is a lot of impromptu dialogue and improvising, they are rarely subtitled in Chinese let alone in English (and the language used is for the majority Taiwanese or Southern Min Dialect). The performances are quite kitsch to the Western (or even the Taiwanese) viewer, very brash colours and lots of women playing male leads. The performance I watched on DVD was selected from a festival of outdoor performances which meant that it was probably of a higher quality than your average Taiwanese Opera.

The Opera opened with photos of old Taipei with the modern place names in brackets which I thought was cool.

The opera turned out to be a dramatization of the adventures of Liu Mingchuan in Taiwan. I took a module on Taiwanese History last year (the teacher was amazing and really funny, if anyone's at NTU and has an interest in history I recommend you to take one of his classes Li Wenliang 李文良, he's got a class called Maritime East Asia and Taiwan (東亞海域與臺灣)) and the opera was laced with historical references to events that actually happened as well as to the folk mythology that surrounds Liu Mingchuan.

One doesn't really need to understand Taiwanese to realise that there is a lot of overacting and melodrama in Taiwanese Operas, but that is part of their charm in a way. The play reminded me in some ways of Brian Friel's (Yes, another Brian Friel reference, god help us all) Making History which deals with the legendary Hugh O'Neill, a major figure in Ulster's history. Both the opera and the play make history more accessible to the reader by endowing the characters with modern humour. The dryness of historical record comes to life in the (overly) dramatic style of the opera, much as Li Wenliang's comic delivery made history class so much more interesting. This is also a historiographical approach to history, wherein one realises the human frailty and doubt behind the great cycles of history that seem perhaps, in retrospect, to be predetermined.

The opera still deifies the wisdom of Liu Mingchuan and sets out from a determined ideological standpoint: Taiwan is a great new land of opportunity, Hoklo, Hakka and aborigines should unite against the evil French invaders. Although the segregation of different groups is brought up, it is very much underplayed, and Liu Mingchuan is an advocate of unity and a bringer of development (although a lot of Liu Mingchuan's fiscal reforms weren't actually realised fully due to the Japanese handover). Liu Mingchuan is definitely idealised, and the oppression of the aborigines seemingly ends with his arrival, and the aborigines in the opera seem to be treated in a similar way to Hoklo and Hakka, when in fact they weren't even considered human by the Qing. I remember one lecture in the history course when I happened to be sitting behind two of the girls from the younger year in my institute, one Aborigine and one Hoklo. The teacher told a story about two Han men who came across an aborigine and killed him, then buried him. Later they regretted wasting all that good meat, so they went back and cooked and ate the guy. They were brought to court, but were found innocent of murder because aborigines were not "people" (人). It was interesting to think how differently people could conceive of aborigines then, the two men wouldn't have even thought of eating a fellow Hoklo or Hakka, but they genuinely thought aborigines were some sort of animal. The difference was emphasized when the Hoklo girl leaned over and pretended to eat the ear of the aboriginal girl, much to my amusement.

The Liu Mingchuan love story was far from moving, and the soppy romance between his nephew and the aboriginal girl lacked any realism, but these two parts did not dominate the opera and if you know to expect a bit of melodrama then you can find it amusing in a kitsch kind of way.

Would recommend it as an interesting way to understand the way Taiwanese people collectively conceive of their own history.

It's on tudou with Chinese subtitles only if anyone is interested.

Soundless Wind Chime (無聲風鈴) Directed by Kit Hung (洪榮傑)

This film had the same atmosphere as Lanyu (藍宇) and Miss Kicki (霓虹心), although it was slightly lighter and more self indulgent than the former and not as driven and funny as the latter. The film was low on dialogue and the plot was confusing, the denouement, as with a ton of recent indie films, lacked any sense of clarity. What the director seems to drive towards is an ambiance rather than telling a story, which takes away from the enjoyment of the film, as the typical indie desire to challenge the audience to come up with their own interpretation of the plot can often lead the audience to respond with indifference rather than curiosity. The film felt as if the director had thought up some good ideas for screen shots, and vague ideas of the relationship that was featured in the film, but these ideas were fractured and never really developed on from this point, so that the characters appear two dimensional to some extent. I appreciated the aesthetic and the music in the film, but it could have done with a clearer direction editing wise, and less indulgent crying shots.

By the end of the film I was confused as to which bits were real and which bits were fantasy or flashbacks, especially the Pascal/Ueli plot line which just ended without any hint of resolution. There were two possibilities I guess, the first that Pascal had died, and Ricky had traveled to Switzerland to grieve for him, then projected his memories of Pascal onto a Swiss guy. The other possibility was that Pascal lost his memory and returned to Switzerland. The former fits in more clearly with Ueli coming for his mother (taking her to her death). Neither is obvious, however, and by the time one reached this point in the film it is quite hard to care because there has already been too much jumping around in the film's narration.

The cross-cultural gay relationship was done slightly better in Miss Kicki, a film I enjoyed a lot more. I did think there was a good depiction of cross cultural relationships, and the inevitable problems that they run into.

It's not a film that is particularly worth watching, but it's not unpleasant to watch either, nice music, some nice shots of Hong Kong and China.


Sunday, January 2, 2011

Black Swan 2010 Darren Aronofsky

Black Swan is an interesting if confusing movie about ballet. The film portrays a ballerina cast as the Swan Queen in Swan Lake, as well as the trouble she has embodying the black swan's seductive vices in contrast to the white swan's perfection and innocence, which is more fitting with her character. As the performance draws nearer the stress weighs heavier and heavier upon her, and she starts questioning her reality and the motives of another dancer who for her embodies the lust of the black swan and also acts as a vessel for her repressed desires.

The film seemed to point to the unnatural nature of beauty, such as that of ballet, which wreaks havoc on the protagonist's psyche and body. The film's dénouement is as tragic as it is puzzling, and one is left with many unanswered questions, which seems apt given the repressed psyche of the protagonist.

The ending was brilliant and beautiful, and it made me think of the way people strive for perfection, and the ephemeral nature of that perfection. In a way one could understand her final decision when one contemplated the retired Beth, who now incapacitated by a car crash would never again be perfect. Life then needn't necessarily be about grand ambitions or acheiving greatness (which the insane glean in the eyes of failed American Idol contestents is testament to) but rather more about the more mundane yet brilliant things in life.


It's definitely worth watching. Can't think of much else to say about it though.