Saturday, December 30, 2006

New Year Letter

Under the familiar weight
Of winter, conscience and the State,
In loose formations of good cheer,
Love, language, loneliness and fear,
Towards the habits of next year,
Along the streets the people flow,
Singing or sighing as they go:
Exalte, piano, or in doubt,
All our reflections turn about
A common meditative norm,
Retrenchment, Sacrifice, Reform.

from W.H. Auden's "New Year Letter"

Thursday, December 28, 2006


The first thing I usually do in the morning is check my e-mail. And I had an e-mail from my sister asking about the earthquake and if I was still alive. Of course, I was more like "What there was an earthquake?" I read a newspaper later that day and found out that the aftershocks had hit northern Taiwan around 8:00. At that time I was taking out the garbage. I didn't feel a thing.

Monday, December 25, 2006

An Open Letter

An Open Letter to that Dude in the Neighboring Building Who Hawks Up Phlegm at 4 in the Morning,

You have some impressive vocal power. Not only do I hear the hawk, in all its moist detail, the sound of the spit actually echoes throughout the neighboring buildings.

Also, why are you up at 4 in the morning hawking up phlegm anyway? Either quit smoking or drink some hot water, dude. The present state of affairs really isn't working out for you.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Banquet or Why do I keep watching these movies?!

It's got to be some sort of self flagellation on my part, why do I keep watching these movies?

Ok so here's my review of Feng Xiaogang's (馮小剛)'s The Banquet. So although the genre might annoy me I do have some genuine reasons for watching the movie. For starters, it's based off Hamlet. As a literature nerd, I have always liked Hamlet. Possibly because lots of people die. So seeing it adapted to ancient China sounded kind of interesting. I mean Akira Kurosawa adapted King Lear into Throne of Blood. Furthermore, it's then a film targeted at Western audiences, selling itself as a traditional Chinese story, which is in fact based on a Western play. How very meta.

Some of the plot devices work pretty well. For example, Gertrude's incestuous tension (some say) with her son makes a lot more sense if she's in fact his stepmom. And since she was first engaged to the Crown Prince, but was later married to the Emperor, it seems like a good indication by ancient Chinese standards of the moral weakening of the regime or the rotten state of Denmark etc. Furthermore, the part where Claudius sends Hamlet off to England is adapted to sending Prince Wuluan to the Qidan in the North as a royal hostage. Which was a nice detail, since Chinese history has many stories of hostages being sent north.

I guess for my taste, The Banquet followed Hamlet a little too closely. So I already knew what was going to happen. Also a lot of the relationships between the characters weren't really explained. Most importantly Prince Wuluan's (Hamlet's) relationship to his father. Like Hamlet he's bent on avenging his father's death, but Hamlet's father didn't marry Hamlet's girlfriend. Clearly this relationship was a little bit twisted to say the least, but the movie doesn't go there. However, knowing that this event took place makes his single mindedness a little unconvincing. Furthermore, Wuluan isn't really crazy enough. Hamlet's indecisiveness and erratic nature is excusable because he's acting insane or he is actually insane. Wuluan broods a lot, but he seems more or less mentally sound.

Zhou Xun, who I normally really like, plays Qingnu, the Ophelia character, but she doesn't really connect with the character, and honestly the character is so blindly loyal to her lover, that she comes off as annoying rather than tragic. Kudos go to the guy (who looked a lot like Shawn Yu) who played Qingnu's brother. He does exhibit the kind of obsessive (and seemingly slightly incestuous) love for his family members that Hamlet is really all about. But he's only onscreen for about 20 minutes.

Ge You, who I also normally like a lot, is underwhelming as the Emperor. He was incredibly creepy in Farewell My Concubine, he's not really all that creepy here. And at the end, seemingly acts on his feelings, and dies somewhat nobly. Which seems an odd way to go for a guy who poisoned his brother, married his sister-in-law, and tries to kill his nephew.

As for Zhang Ziyi's character, the Empress Wan'er, she wasn't out and out bad exactly. But the movie clearly intends her to be a devious monster. Instead, for a large part of the movie, she seems like a cold woman, who was caught up in royal intrigue, rather than the irredeemable monster that she's supposed to be by the end. Also her feelings are pretty obvious from the start, which makes their revelation at the end kind of underwhelming.

Aside from acting problems, there's total gratuitous martial arts stuff in here. I mean randomly characters will bust out with martial arts stunts, that seem both out of character, and also they disrupt the narrative. Also, this is the Chinese nerd talking but, there is NO WAY that every member of the royal family is an accomplished martial artist. And furthermore, I can buy that the dead Emperor was a skilled warrior, however, that he taught his young wife his skills, I do not buy for one second.

Finally, as usual in these movies, Zhang Ziyi takes off all her clothes multiple times.

checklist of CTHD clones
Zhang Ziyi: Check
Gratutitous martial arts scenes: CHECK
Philosophical/nihilistic ending:Check
Yuen Woo ping: Check
Use of bright color for symbolism: kind of but not really
Golden finger: No, although Ge You does have this large jade pendant that he uses in creepy ways

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Other things which are not ok

The cat who is in heat, and chooses to announce that to the whole frickin' world at midnight for the last couple nights. So so very not ok.

Things which make me distinctly unhappy

Running out of gas on a rather cold winter morning and having to take a shower with freezing cold water.

Talking to people from the phone company in Chinese. (I hate talking on the phone.)

Talking to the gas company on the phone, also in Chinese.

Wasting 2 hours of my life watching The Banquet. Is there a movie with Zhang Ziyi in it where she doesn't take off all her clothes?! Perhaps secretly this is why she's famous. Come to think of it, Gong Li did that too back in her Zhang Yimou days.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Marijuana US Top Cash Crop

I believe I've mentioned before that life in the US is kind of surreal. Well it's gotten slightly more surreal.

Over wheat and corn and...other, uh, legal crops?

Sunday, December 17, 2006


A cold front came in yesterday and now it's rather cold. I've been feeling really sluggish and I've been wanting to eat a lot. Therefore I assume I must be hibernating. In order to keep warm, I've closed all my windows and doors and so I feel like a hamster in a small box.

I've also watched all of Wang Kar-wai's movies in the last three days except for Chungking Express, Ashes of Time, and As Tears Go By. For the record, that means I have watched Days of Being Wild, Fallen Angels (1.66 times), Happy Together (2 times), In the Mood For Love, and 2046. Clearly it's been rather existential. A student of mine once said that 2046 is like a summary of all of Wang Kar-wai's movies, so you have to see them all to understand it. Now that I've seen almost all of them, except Ashes of Time, I think I agree with her. Although this doesn't really make me like the movie a whole lot more. It also didn't make me like Zhang Ziyi a lot more either.

I will say there were a good ten to fifteen minutes where she impressed me with her acting, and about 35 minutes where I sort of understood why people say she's hot. However I think one of the reasons the film suffered was because she had no chemistry with Tony Leung. In the Mood for Love is a compelling story because you can believe that the two characters are in love. However Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi's characters are supposed to be in love, but I never really felt it. Since their affair takes up a large part of the movie, this really hurts the movie's credibility.

That said, Faye Wong, Gong Li, and the Japanese guy (Takuya Kimura) are all very good. Tony Leung is ok. He was rather smug throughout the movie which made it difficult to connect with his character. I know he's supposed to be hiding fear and a broken heart, maybe he hides it a little too well for me. At least the heartless cad in Days of Being Wild had a reason of sorts for being heartless.

However, 2046's ending is rather interesting, since it states that love is all a matter of timing, sometimes two people are right for each other but the time's just not right, so nothing happens. After having seen most of Wang Kar-wai's movies this does seem to be a fitting conclusion for most of them. Many couples have missed connections in his films, Andy Lau and Maggie Cheung in Days of Being Wild, Leon Lai and Karen Mok, and Takeshi Kaneshiro and Charlie Young in Fallen Angels, Chang Chen and Tony Leung (possibly) in Happy Together, Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung (famously) in In the Mood for Love, and Tony Leung and Gong Li, and Tony Leung and Faye Wong in 2046. Clearly I have watched a lot of Wong Kar-wai in a short amount of time.

Well, I have nothing more to say on the subject. Except my theory that perhaps the graphic sex scenes with Zhang Ziyi was Wang Kar-wai's way of apologizing for coercing Tony Leung into doing a sex scene with Leslie Cheung in Happy Together.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Promise

I'm not sure if Chen Kaige's The Promise 無極 is out in the States. If you have a chance though, I kind of recommend it in sort of a car crash kind of way. Although Chen Kaige is probably the second most famous Sixth Generation Chinese film maker, (The most famous director being of course Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige's former cinematographer, but I digress.) I guess I've never really enjoyed his films all that much. I've seen quite a few of them, I even wrote my thesis on Farewell My Concubine 霸王別姬. The only one I enjoyed was The Emperor and the Assassin. I guess to me, Chen Kaige's movies tend to be sort of overly ponderous. And recently people have criticized him for making that art house type of movie starring Gong Li that was pioneered (with great success) by Zhang Yimou. At his best, Chen Kaige uses his films to discuss interesting ideas. The Cultural Revolution, in Farewell My Concubine, which had a great deal of personal impact to him. In The Emperor and the Assassin, the idea that power corrupts. As for Temptress Moon 風月 , I have no idea what that was about. It was also just kind of bad.

Ok, so with that paragraph of Chinese studies nerdiness aside. The Promise was a highly anticipated movie. Chen Kaige's great fantasy/martial arts(ish) epic. In roughly the same vein as Crouching Tiger and Hero. The cast is pretty good, although most of the actors are unknown to Western audiences. Cecilia Cheung and Nicolas Tze, Hong Kong superstars, Liu Ye, of Lan Yu fame.

Cecilia Cheung plays the most beautiful woman in the world, who as a starving orphan was made into the most beautiful woman in the world by a mysterious goddess, under the condition that she never know true love. Anyway, naturally, she has a lot of guys chasing after her. Such as an arrogant General, his slave who can run at superhuman speed, and the Duke, who wields a golden finger on a stick (DON'T ASK).

Cecilia Cheung falls in love with the slave, but he was wearing the General's armor at the time, so she think she loves the general. And the slave, Kunlun is too obedient of a guy to set her straight. Anyway, the general naturally loves her too. Meanwhile she's sometimes caught by the Duke who puts her in a giant bird cage and puts a bird costume on her. Meanwhile Kunlun is trying to find out about his past, and why he runs so fast that he can apparently run through time. Meanwhile, the Duke's assassin Guilang, who seems to know a lot about Kunlun's past, follows him around in a bird cloak that the Duke put on him. Hopefully, this plot outline makes some sense, I don't know that the movie made a whole lot of sense to me in particular.

To be fair there are some good things about the movie, so let's get them out of the way first. Cecilia Cheung does look like she could be the most beautiful woman in the world. Liu Ye is good in his secondary role, he's probably the only character that I cared about. Sometimes the movie does look quite fantastic.

However, the plot is so incoherent that it's difficult to connect with the characters. You never really know why people are doing what they're doing. Why is the Duke evil? All he seems to do is put bird costumes on people, does this make him evil? Why is he more evil than the General, who is seen sending some slaves to their death with very little remorse at all? Why is Kunlun so loyal to the General, who never really shows much concern for him. Stealing his girl, taking him as a slave etc. Why is the goddess wandering around manipulating events? What does she want? The movie never really answers these questions. Furthermore the ending is rather unsatisfying and seems to be one which we're supposed to think is "deep" or "philosophical," although it mostly comes across as pat.

Furthermore, for a movie that seems to rely on the visuals to carry part of the movie, it doesn't always look that good. The armor is clearly made of plastic. And the silly props, such as THE FINGER really make it hard to take the movie seriously. To top it all off the action scenes don't even look all that cool.

So to sum up, the plot and the sort of over the top visuals really kill the movie. The acting's mostly ok. But the plot makes it really difficult to care about the characters, and only Liu Ye actually made enough of a connection for me to care about him. I mean, it's kind of bad when the one person who resonates in a movie, is the tragic assassin. Chen Kaige just seems to waste a lot of opportunities, I mean if you're going to pay money for Nicholas Tse to appear in your movie, shouldn't you at least make him look cool? Instead, Chen Kaige saddles him with a golden finger and silver lipstick. And by the time he's whining about his child hood trauma, I've ceased to care whether any of the characters live or die.

checklist of CTHD clones
Zhang Ziyi: No
Gratutitous martial arts scenes: Check
Philosophical/nihilistic ending:Check
Yuen Woo ping: No
Use of bright color for symbolism: Check

Monday, December 11, 2006

Rosie O'Donnell Ridiculousness

angryasianman has been covering this pretty well so if you want to learn more about this just visit his site.

Here's a link to the segment on the show which is up on Youtube

This morning (12/5/06) on "the View," Rosie O'Donnell and the gang were discussing the Danny Devito "incident" when Rosie remarked that this was such big news everywhere that people in China were probably saying "ching ching ching chong Danny Devito ching chong ching chong drunk on The View ching chong (etc.)" I was sort of surprised about her lack of insensitivity especially considering her outrage at Kelly Ripa's Clay Aiken comments recently. I guess it's another example of how stereotypes/ racially insensitive comments about Asians can be made and no one thinks much of it, or even bats an eye. Not even sure how many others who were watching the show even noticed it, but it bugged the crap out of me!

anyway, apparently she just takes the usual cop out "it's not a big deal" route. Anyway, if you want to write to various people to tell them what you think of 'em you can write them here. It's super easy. There are three women you can e-mail. I just e-mailed them all. I guess I'd encourage all 5 people who read this to write, just because Rosie O'Donnell's show reaches a much larger audience than the assholes who make lame comments on talk radio stations. It's a good opportunity to show that Asians can't be pushed around in a bigger way. And also it just freakin' ticked me off.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Things that make me angry

Sometimes I'm hard pressed to decide what kind of person I hate more. However, articles like this make me lean more heavily towards rich people. I've sort of been irritated on a low level about the decrying of the "ipodification" of America. And now apparently the downfall of Tower Records. I guess what sort of annoys me about this is that the people who moan the loudest are liberals. This seems slightly like wanting to have your cake and eat it too.

I mean ok, if by your theory many people in America are poor, they don't have a lot of spending money right? Which means our budgets for buying luxury items, such as music, is relatively limited. So, if you can go to Tower Records and buy a CD for $20 or you can download it off iTunes for $9.99, or download it illegally for free what are you going to do? I mean if you supposedly support the rights of the working class and lower middle class, don't blame them for the downfall of Tower Records. People have a hard time making ends meet, don't blame them for not patronizing the "cool" independent record store. Also apparently the downfall of Tower Records equals the downfall of civilization, or musical civilization, perhaps they amount to the same thing.

Perhaps people gravitate towards iTunes, Amazon, Target, and Walmart because they are cheap and affordable. They offer services which Tower doesn't really offer, significant discounts, free shipping, lower prices etc. The economy is bad, people have less money to spend. When that happens, chains go out of business. It happens.

I may just be ranting though.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

O Life

Stupid things I've done this week.
Broken my water heater
Broken a mug
Life 6 Me 0

Sometimes it's a wonder to me how I manage to survive daily life. This is not a reassuring thought.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Sean Bell Shooting and Institutional Racism

I thought this article was quite interesting. It's nothing I didn't know already, but it's quite a powerful piece of writing. Read, discuss if you want.