Monthly Archives: July 2005

Calvin's Take on Popular Art

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This is just so good….

Just came back from the cinema after watching “Crying out Love, In the Centre of the World”.

Every once in a while and if you are lucky, you will come across a movie that needs no words to describe it simply because words are inadequate to describe the feelings you experienced while watching the movie.

Since the link I have provided above will lead you to a review, I shall say no more than this:

Do yourself a favour and go watch this movie. Please.

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Recently seen in cinemas

Someone informed me via e-mail that he was not able to post a comment to the blog entry. I checked the site and indeed it is true. I have no idea what's the problem. If you need to contact me, please do write to me at hdoong at yahoo dot com (I'm spelling my e-mail address this way so that I can avoid e-mail spam robots. When you write, just use the normal @ and . as usual).

Have seen the following movies in the cinema lately.

“Batman Begins” – Finally! I have been wanting to watch this movie for the longest time and was curious about how good it is given so many good word of mouth about the movie. Indeed, it is quite good. Chirstian Bale played the Batman role very well and his transformation into Batman is very convincing. Other superb performance include that of Michael Caine (I really like his performance in “The Quiet American”. I also liked the movie a lot) and Liam Neeson (but perhaps Steven Seagal would be a better choice?). However, I did not quite like Katie Holmes' performance. Her role was also not very convincing. I think it is the only thing that really sucks about the movie. Christopher Nolan did not disappoint. That guy has talent.

“War of the Worlds” – One thing we must really give credit to the Hollywood team is their ability to create such cinematic spectacles. We are not talking about great cinema. We are talking about great spectacles. To see and hear something that a lot of us will not be able to see nor hear in our whole lifetime. In this, it is engaging and exciting. It entertains. It is also dumb but like a person that I know said, great movies exist because dumb movies exist. So, overall, War of the Worlds is not really that bad although you would like to scream out loud how stupid it is. But afterall, it was based on H.G. Wells' story, so is H.G. Wells stupid as well? hmmm…. I think it is really in the execution of it. Somehow the story did not come out well on the big screen. When you read the book, it was really engaging and you won't feel it's stupid. Maybe it's all due to Tom Cruise's face.

“Seven Swords” – What is quite obvious after watching this movie is that Tsui Hark is trying to go back to his earlier style as we have seen in “Once Upon A Time in China”. However, somehow, the movie did not really work. However, it is definitely much better than “The Legend of Zu”. That movie was an embarassment, with all due respects. Anyway, apparently Tsui Hark said that “The Legend of Zu” was only an experiment and he will never attempt anything like that again.

One major dissatisfaction I have with the movie is the very weak character development for each of the roles. It appears that Tsui Hark is rushing through the movie without giving enough time to properly flesh out the characters. Apparently, he will be doing so in the much longer DVD release (it was said that the DVD will play for 4 hours!).

In general, there is nothing much that is new in this movie. The fighting choreography is really nothing spectacular. Too many tight shots and you see weapons flying on the screen without seeing much what is really happening. The editing is rough. The sound (especially the dubbing) is rough. The cinematography is quite good although I felt that several scenes are under lit. There are also a few scenes that I felt dragged on for so long and can actually be cut short so that more screen time can be allocated to develop the characters more solidly. You will notice that most scenes featuring the beautiful Kim So-yeon has some extended screen time.

Well, anyway, not really that bad. This film is watchable and if you like Hong Kong movies and/or like martial arts movie, you should go.

“Gol & Gincu” – This is one of the latest Malaysian movies that is supposedly part of the Malaysian New Wave, comprising of people from the advertising industry (Yasmin Ahmad, Saw Teong Hin, Osman Ali, Bernard Chauly et. al.) and some short films makers (James Lee, Amir Mohammad, Ho Yuhang et. al).

This is Bernard's maiden feature length movie and you will be able to see that he and his team is pouring their hearts out for this movie. The production design, the screenplay, the cinematography is up to par and is better than our average Malay movie. However, the story is quite weak. I cannot but feel that this is the Malaysian remake of “Legally Blond” with a touch of “Ada Apa Dengan Cinta” and “Bend it Like Becham”.

The social issue that it tried to potray, i.e. the incest, was not, in my opinion, well handled. If the director and screenwriter want to address the issue, it should deal with it in more depth. Else, just let it be a passing remark instead of making it part of the character. I also felt that there is a homosexual undertone to it and I felt that the director was trying to make it a bit subtle by making use of metaphors.

It was shot with the Panasonic Varicam HD camera and the video post production was done at Siam Lab. The HD is quite good although definitely not as good as film. It is still quite flat and do not have the depth and feel a 35mm film can give you. But it has to be noted that the HD people do not intend to equate HD with film. That is not their purpose. They merely offered a digital alternative and expanding the tools of which the directors can showcase their dreams on the silver screen. HD is really great if you intend to do a lot of CGI like in Star Wars or if you need a lot of retakes such as using inexperienced stars and/or crew.

Fazura did well in her role and she did appear to be quite charming. I look forward to more roles for her in the future. However, the male lead is quite bad.

So, in summary, great effort. Good production standards. Two things that really mar it. The weak story (not screenplay, mind you) and an inexperience team of actors. It also needs some originality.

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Tough Week

This recent few days has been quite hectic. Seminars, previews, meetings – seems never ending and there are still so much to do in the office. The schedule looks something like this:

Monday – Finance off site meeting at Hilton Sentral
Tuesday – Shortcuts Forum 2005 at the KL Performing Arts Centre
Wednesday – Dialogue session with the Ministry of Finance at Putrajaya, then the “Seven Swords” Preview at GSC 1-Utama
Thursday – “Gol & Gincu” preview at GSC 1-Utama
Friday (tomorrow) – three meetings, two of which are off-site
Saturday – two meetings

It's quite a tough week, plus there are so many things that are due and is utterly urgent – tax filing deadline, statutory financial statements filing deadline, etc. etc.

It is a miracle that I can still find some time to post on this blog although I have just done the following:

Back from work at about 8pm, took bath, ate dinner, watched “Sin City”, work on the 10 year financial forecast and business plan which is due tomorrow, and now posting blog entries.

I intended to actually comment on the Shortcuts Forum a bit on this posting today and I do have something to say about it. I also wanted to talk about Tsui Hark's “Seven Swords” and Bernard Chauly's “Gol & Gincu” but I feel that my mind is shutting down.

Maybe I'll just go wind down now with a shot of whiskey, read a chapter of that Murakami novel and then hopefully to be able to sleep after that.

Will talk about the Forum and the movies in the next post….

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Goods and Services Tax

The other day, I was required to attend a dialog session with the Ministry of Finance regarding the proposed new Goods and Services Tax (GST). The plan is to enforce this tax from November 2007 onwards, replacing the current sales tax.

Almost everything will be affected by this tax and we shall see a general increase in inflation as happened in Singapore when they first introduced the tax, for example. However, the plan should be to reduce the general income tax rate but then this does not really help much since we pay GST as we consume but the income tax will only affect us once a year. Effectively, we are paying upfront tax.

After the presentation comes the Q&A session. I was compelled to ask about the impact this has on the price the ticket price at the cinema box office. Would the tax be imposed on top of the Entertainment Tax that has already been levied at 25% of the net ticket price (or 20% on gross ticket price)? If it is indeed additional to that, is it then not fair and shouldn't they somehow re-examine the entertainment tax that is really quite out of date?

As someone told me, the “entertainment tax” in the olden days was imposed for a very specific reason. Film projectors in those days were not as hi-tech as it is now and it was common that films get burnt and starts a fire. If you have personally experienced it or if you have watched “Cinema Paradiso”, you will be able to understand that.

Now, the authority needs to get fire engines on standby near the cinemas in case a fire breaks out and these “entertainment taxes” are used to pay for that cost. But in this modern time, films rarely get burnt and the reason for the existence of this tax is no longer valid.

Well, back to the point. The officer could not answer my question on the spot and said that they shall need to consult with the respective state governments.

This is interesting. You will want to know that the entertainment tax is actually collected by the state government, not the federal government. It is sort of like an extra income for the state but GST is federal income. Inevitably, if the federal government is to do something about the entertainment tax, the people at the state government will surely not let this source of income go so easily.

There are also 'rumours' that the state governments intend to cease to refund local producers via the entertainment tax rebate incentive. Without this tax rebate, it is really hard for local film producers to survive, and it is already very hard now that the tax rebate takes so long to come back to the producer.

In any case, if they were to abolish the entertainment tax and impose GST instead, the party that is to gain is actually the cinema operators, not the producers, assuming that they are still getting their tax rebates. Some sort of arrangement will need to be made to keep the balance intact.

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Annual Finance Meet – Dress

Today, our group had our annual dinner for the finance function and I was invited to join. The theme was “Go Green and Hat Trick”. I just realised today that I do not have anything in green, so I went to one of those shops at Berjaya Times Square to get something green to wear. BTS has many of those very interesting small shops selling very interesting items of clothing. And these items are not expensive at all.

I found my very striking green colour Jamaican shirt and bought it at 70% discount, costing me only RM24. It matches really well with my pants. Upon my entry to the hall, the other finance people were clapping and cheering. It was amazing. I didn't know such a simple shirt will get such a reaction. There are other very interesting costumes there as well.

Well, to cut a long story short, I was made to compete in the male best dress category and was made to do cat walk and all, and finally managed to get the third prize. It was quite fun.

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Weekend Escapade

I have not been to Genting Highlands for the longest time now. I have very fond memories there. There was where my wife and I went for a trip for the first time. Of course, we were not married yet. We just met for the first time via a mutual friend and as it was so often when we were young, it was a group outing. It was at Genting Highlands that she first knew my name. My name is not easy to pronounce, so I had to spell it to her and it stuck in her mind. Of course :)

I did not know what got me interested with her. Perhaps it was due to our mutual love for music. Perhaps it was the Enigma that she was listening to in her earphone. I have never heard anything by Enigma before and I was impressed. Perhaps it was just her very pleasant and extraordinary personality. I don't know. These sort of things are hard to know for sure. You can only guess and this made it mysterious.

In everything, there has to be some mystery and cheekiness. If something has lost its mystery or has ceased to inspire us to be playful at times, it will very soon become dull.

Thanks to my geeky friend (yes, the one who is a walking encyclopedia on Hong Kong movies), we managed to get 2 prime seats at the Sally Yeh concert at Genting Highlands last Saturday. Sally Yeh was really superb. Her voice is really crisp and clear, yet powerful and masterly. I have heard many of her songs previously and I do admire her a lot. And she acts really well too. “Shanghai Blues” and “Peking Opera Blues” come to mind immediately. Her husband, George Lam, made a guest appearance. They are really a very lovely couple. And they are still playful with each other. That was so sweet.

I also enjoyed the midnight chat at the park as well, having fried chicken and french fries under the sky and overlooking the KL night skyline. The air was cold, but not chilling, except when the wind blew once in a while. In the midst of the quiet night, the cold wind, a warm stomach, great company and sincere conversations, I felt really great. It reminded me of how we used to get together when we were very much younger, during our secondary school, with a bunch of great friends, and chatted until the morning, without really much clue of what we were really talking about. We just simply enjoyed each other's company.

Thinking back now, I remember even getting reprimanded by policemen because we were chatting until very late at night in Taman Dr. Seenivasagam. We just talk about everything, but mostly about our love interests and girls. Sometimes we talk about how to improve the standard of our band and orchestra. Sometimes on how to arrange a piece of music for performance. Sometimes composing romantic songs. And we were so innocent and ignorant. My heart felt warm whenever I think of those times. I hope I can remember those feelings until my old age, if I ever get to old age.

The next day, we played roller coasters at the theme park. I survived. My heart did not stop. My blood did not burst out of my mouth. It was such a long time ago when I last took a roller coaster ride.

So, it was a really great weekend. Great fun. Great music. Great company.

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