Monthly Archives: December 2005

Notice: Tsai Ming Liang

As published in Cinema Online:

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30 Dec – Internationally-acclaimed director, Malaysian-born Tsai Ming-Liang, is returning to make a film in his home country for the first time. Born in Kuching, Malaysia, Tsai graduated from the Drama and Cinema Department of the Chinese Cultural University of Taiwan. Since then, he has built a successful career of film and arts, including “Vive l'Amour” (1994), his second feature film which won the Best Picture Award at the 1994 Venice Film Festival.

The director is scheduled to be in Malaysia next year to make the movie “Dark Circle”. Shooting will begin around March 2006 in Kuala Lumpur.

On New Years' Eve tomorrow, those who are interested to participate in the making of the movie by Tsai Ming-Liang can go for an interview at B-1-2, Happy Mansion, Jalan 17/13, 46400 PJ, Selangor, from 11am to 3pm. Bring along your resume and a copy of your photograph (passport size) to the venue as the production company is seeking for production assistants and interns to join the production crew.

Cinema Online, 30 December 2005

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” Another outstanding director is Tsai Ming-liang. Awarded a Golden Lion at Venice for Vive l'amour (1994), followed by a Silver Bear at Berlin for The River (1996) and an invitation to compete at Cannes with The Hole (1998), the Malaysian-born Taiwanese director intends to return to the land of his birth to make his PPP project, Dark Circles. As in all of Tsai's films, the focus is on an outsider caught in a web of sex and money, of events and intrigue beyond his control. When the identity-seeking protagonist suffers a black eye, it serves as a giveaway symbol of his illegal status.”

– quoted from Kinema

Cool….. ;-)

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The Shapolang Defense

Okay, this is a spur of the moment entry. I have been a lurker on the Mobius Home Video Forum (Asian Cinema) for quite some time now and enjoyed reading many of the very well informed posts there. I am a lurker not because of anything but because my application for membership fell on silent ears and I will have to assume that membership for that forum is really for the top class elite in Asian Cinema only.

This is not really a problem as I did not plan to post anything there because those people (or most of them) are really, really good and there is really no need for my two cents to be made known there. After all, I have my geeky friend who is a regular in the forum and made many interesting and well informed/researched posts there.

However, I feel that I have to somewhat defend “Sha Po Lang (SPL)” against a post there since I have made SPL my number 2 movie in the 2005 Hong Kong movie list. I am surely not as good and as well informed as that guy but well, let’s see if I can defend myself in my decision.

[NOTE: WHAT FOLLOWS CONTAIN SPOILERS. DO NOT PROCEED IF YOU HAVE NOT WATCHED THIS MOVIE AND INTEND TO WATCH IT UNSPOILED]

Here’s the quote from the post:

“I just got finished watching this Hong Kong film. The buzz behind this film has been tremendous for the past year so imagine my surprise when it turns out to be just a routine cop drama with one decent fight (Donnie Yen vs. Sammo Hung). Good but not great. People are calling this an amazing return to the HK cinema of yesteryear when it is far from that. Have they ever seen a HK film before this? Or is it like having your mom tell you how amazing the martial arts in CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON are. Seriously, we’ve been down this road and it has been better many times before. A lot better.”

Let’s take this one at a time:

“Routine cop drama”

Now, we will have to define this phrase. What is a routine cop drama? A few cops whom we cannot be 100% sure if they are good or bad?

We feel that they are good, because 1) they want to put to rest the triad king whom they know is a menace to society, 2) they have strong feelings (“yi hei” – a highly prized personal trait in Chinese culture) for their boss (Simon Yam) who is suffering from a terminal illness and is taking personal care of the daughter of the witness that got murdered by the triad king en route to court to witness against him, 3) they love their family and display strong filial emotions between father-daughter, father-son.

We feel that they are bad, because 1) they want to take down the triad king not purely because he is a menace to society but also to get even with him personally, sort of like a personal revenge, 2) they break the law and attempt to frame the triad king by altering evidence and stealing from the triad king himself for their own ends (the “end” itself is unselfish by the way – so we have again the good-evil dilemma), not really to benefit society in any ways. In short, point 1 and 2 above are the same, they are selfish people, abusing their power for personal ends and thus betraying the trust placed upon them.

Also, to take this a bit further, Sammo Hung’s character (the triad king) is also not entirely bad either. There is also good in him, which was very well portrayed in the movie, via Sammo’s superb acting and the director’s good judgment. So, black and white is not entirely clear again.

Now, how is this a routine cop drama? I may not have been watching too many cop movies but I have watched enough to know that this is not your routine cop drama. Routine cop dramas have a very clear line between good and evil and the cops win. In this case, all the cops, except Simon Yam, dies in action. Simon Yam dies of his illness. ALL DIES! and Sammo Hung LIVES! (although he suffers in another way). And the way the story was told, the audience (at least me), felt that, yeah, this is the way the movie should end. So how is this your routine cop drama?

“with one decent fight (Donnie Yen vs. Sammo Hung)”

Now, I may be mistaken but I thoroughly enjoyed the fight between Donnie Yen and Wu Jing. It was such a superb display of martial art! Well, if this is not “decent fight”, I don’t know what is.

“Good but not great”

He was referring to the fight between Donnie and Sammo? When was the last time you see Chinese wrestling techniques being employed and shot in such a beautiful and artful way as was in this fight? It was GREAT!

On top of that, we experienced great cinematography, great acting from the entire main cast AND key supporting cast and more importantly, it has that kick, a certain edginess that I really admire. How do I define this sense of “edginess”? I really can’t. I can just feel it. Like how I feel a certain performance of Mahler’s fifth symphony being more edgy compared to the rest.

“has been better many times before”

Wow, how long ago was this “before” exactly? I don’t recall watching any “action-martial” movie from Hong Kong, at least in the past two or three years, that impressed me this much.

I hope I have made my point and justified myself in putting SPL in the number 2 spot in my list of 2005 Hong Kong movies.

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A Wagner Mahler Monday

In an afternoon on a post-Christmas day, it is so nice to just sit at home. The weather is not too hot and not too cold. Just perfect with some wind gently sending the leaves and the norens dancing in a very graceful way. The neighbourhood is quiet, with an occasional “twang” from some avid golfers teeing off in the golf course nearby. Add to that symphony, some birds chirping happily around the trees. Chirping, mind you. Not winding spring thank you very much.

It has been some time now that I have been to any performances by the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO) and it is such an excitement waiting for the performance of “Das Lied von der Erde” this coming March. This is one of my very favourite Mahler pieces, but then again, all of Mahler’s pieces are favourites of mine, just that I tend to like his later symphonies more. Mahler’s 9th symphony is such a great work, I still seem to funnily find some tears welling up everytime I listen to it seriously.

On looking at the booklet of programmes for the 05/06 season, it is sad to note that not even one piece by Wagner was programmed. Of course I am not asking them to programme an opera but at least some overtures from his great operas will do the great master some justice. No? Why this has happened, I could not understand. Perhaps the programming people at the MPO do not like Wagner.

On thinking of Mahler and Wagner, I can’t help but think of the great surge of geniuses during the era and the spin-offs from these people. Norman Lebrect’s “Mahler Remembered”, noted the following people, among many others, in the Chronology of Contemporary Events which was put side by side the Chronology of Mahler’s life and work:

Wagner completing “Tristan and Isolde”, Tolstoy completing “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina”, Alexander Graham Bell invents the telephone, Mark Twain completing “Tom Sawyer”, Dostoevsky publishing “The Brothers Karamazov”, Nietzsche publishing “Also Sprach Zarathustra”, Freud publishing “The Interpretation of Dreams”, Richard Strauss completing “Salome”, Schoenberg completing “Pelleas et Melisande”, Einstien publishing his first theory of relativity, the Wright Brothers flying their aeroplane, Picasso painting the “portrait of Gertrude Stein”, Henry Ford produces the first Model T, Marcel Proust begins “A la recherche du temps perdu”, Stravinsky completing “The Firebird”, etc.

It was an era of great literary and scientific breakthrough in the West and solidifies the West’s dominion of the world. Come to think of it now on this quiet and windy Monday morning, Mahler’s lifetime is truly an amazing period in the history of our World.

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On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl

One beautiful April morning, on a narrow side street in Tokyo’s fashionable Harajuku neighborhood, I walk past the 100% perfect girl.

Tell you the truth, she’s not that good-looking. She doesn’t stand out in any way. Her clothes are nothing special. The back of her hair is still bent out of shape from sleep. She isn’t young, either – must be near thirty, not even close to a “girl,” properly speaking. But still, I know from fifty yards away: She’s the 100% perfect girl for me. The moment I see her, there’s a rumbling in my chest, and my mouth is as dry as desert.

Maybe you have your own particular favourite type of girl – one with slim ankles, say, or big eyes, or graceful fingers, or you’re drawn for no good reason to girls who take their time with every meal. I have my own preferences, of course. Sometimes in a restaurant I’ll catch myself staring at the girl at the table next to mine because I like the shape of her nose.

– From “On Seeing the 100% Perfect Girl One Beautiful April Morning” by Haruki Murakami.

This is such a nice short story. Wished I could type the whole story here but better still, if you like it, just go to a good bookstore nearby and buy the book and read.

Is what he described love at first sight? Anyone ever experienced love at first sight will know that the feeling is like what Murakami described. For no good reasons, you get attracted to a girl. You try to understand why you like her. Her eyes? Her nose? The way she talks? No, more than that. It’s a combination of everything and something more. You will be really lucky if you can experience that intense feeling for once in a life time. Once is really enough.

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Of Two Monkey Kings

Finally managed to watch a movie in the cinema yesterday. The “King Kong” craze is crazy, jamming up all the cinemas and eating into other screens. “King Kong” is doing very well here in Malaysia although not really up to expectations world-wide.

Our movie, “Baik Punya Cilok”, started playing in the cinemas on the 22nd December and did really well in the box office. The feedback is great as well. Let’s hope this movie has enough legs to break into the new year.

Today, despite the huge jam due to the year end buying spree, we managed to go watch “The Chronicles of Narnia – the bla, the bla and the bla” (so long!). Felt nothing for the movie. It felt so childish to me and so Hollywood. Well, the movie did very well in the box office, thanks a lot to its marketing and positioning as a family, politically correct movie.

Now, after re-watching “A Chinese Odyssey” on the Celestial TV channel as noted in my previous entry, I went to watch “A Chinese Tall Story” helmed by the same director that did “A Chinese Odyssey”. After watching the trailer some time back, honestly, my expectation of this movie was not high.

And the movie met my expectations. The smart thing that the production people did was not to try to surpass “A Chinese Odyssey” but to do something totally different altogether, with the focus on the monk instead of the monkey and deployed a huge array of CGI. With many spoofs of the old “A Chinese Odyssey” including the monkey’s famous “love you 10,000 years” dialogue (which in turn is a Wong Kar Wai rip-off), plus a new rip-off from “In The Mood For Love”, the movie can be quite fun to watch at times.

The movie is totally out of the world (literally) and very whacky. Just see how they depict the Buddha at the end of the movie and the use of aliens (which is actually our ancestors – a stale idea, though), the evil army inspired by Japanese anime etc., it is just made intended to be a fun and crazy movie. Nothing more. Just keep your expectations very low. This movie is surely not in my top ten list of 2005 Hong Kong movies.

Next to watch: “The Promise”.


Totally crazy

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Journey to the West & Weekend Movies

I noticed that I have not been writing more on the movies that I have been watching lately. Well, maybe I can use this post to write on the movies that I have watched over this weekend.

The Celestial TV channel has just played a re-run of “A Chinese Odyssey – Part 2” starring Stephen Chow, among other stellar stars, and directed by Jeff Lau. I am a Stephen Chow fan and have watched most, if not all, of his movies and many of the movies, countless times, including the movie mentioned above. In my very humble opinion, of all the Stephen Chow performances, I think this is his best performance. Flanked by a great team of supporting casts and production crew, this movie, in fact, is one of the very best Stephen Chow movie I have watched. Athena Chu was superb in this movie as well. Oh, she is just so lovely and her eyes in one of the closing scenes (picture below), has such longing, it is not often seen in movies.

With the coming release of “A Chinese Tall Story”, a comparison with this Stephen Chow classic will be inevitable. Honestly, my expectations are rather low. Well, I will go watch the movie anyways, given that I will try to watch all Hong Kong movies released in Malaysia as a form of support for that ailing industry there and hoping that I will find a gem among them (as in the case of “Crazy N’ The City”.

Earlier in the day, I have watched Rave Fever, a film loaned to me by my geeky friend via our video exchange programme. It is a very engaging movie, sort of like a mystery movie and very well made at that. Helmed by Alan Mak, the co-director of “Initial D” and “Infernal Affairs” among others, it tells the story of a bunch of partying young people who happened to cross each other’s path in search for a mysterious “girl” called Sonia. A very interesting movie indeed, especially the editing technique employed by the director in telling the story.

Watched “The Constant Gardener” yesterday. The movie lived up to its expectations and what a good movie that is. Helmed by Fernando Meirelles who also directed that superb “City of God”, the movie tells of the story of a diplomat (Ralph Fiennes) and his wife (Rachel Weisz). The wife is a very passionate activist and in a series of investigations into malpractices and conspiracies, she got murdered. The husband who has not much clues on what his wife was doing, started going around attempting to uncover the secret that lies behind his wife’s death. A very engaging and well made movie. If you like “Hotel Rwanda”, you will also like this movie.

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Floating Clouds, Falling Leaves. Hong Kong Films

The year is coming to an end again. It is completely clear to me that the division of time is a human creation and any line is necessarily arbitrary. Who can really say when is the beginning and when is the end? However, without this, society cannot function in proper order and thus the division of time is necessary for practical reasons, if not anything else.

Nature has its own way to tell and demarcate the passing of time. Floating clouds and falling leaves, for example. However, these phenomenon does more than just tell the passing of time. It also inspires and fires up imagination. In this, nature’s way is far more superb, as in everything else.

With the artificial demarcation of time, we have now come to the end of the year, and this enables us to rethink on what we have achieved over the last 11 months and to think of what we want to do in the coming year. December is always a very difficult month for me. Have I achieved the things that I want to achieve as I have planned last December? Have I achieved anything at all, or did I fall back, degenerate, instead of progressing and moving on? What are my plans for the coming year? Can I even plan at all given life’s unpredictability? Is it a waste of time planning? Should I just face life as it comes and change my plans as I go along? I will keep thinking of these in the next few weeks.

Now that the year is also coming to a close, it is time to look back at the movies released over the last 11 months and up to now and come up with a list of top movie list for 2005. This is really my first time doing it and publishing my list. I will do only Hong Kong movies as I am more familiar with it than with other movies from other territories.

The list of Hong Kong movies released in 2005 can be found here. I have made a count and I think I have watched about 30+ of the movies listed. Here is the my short list in the order of their release date:

1. Crazy ‘n the City
2. It Had To Be You
3. AV
4. 2 Young
5. Initial D
6. Seven Swords
7. Wait ‘Til You’re Older
8. Election
9. SPL
10. Perhaps Love

Out of these, here is my top 5 in order:

Number 5: 2 Young

Number 4: Crazy ‘n the City

Number 3: Perhaps Love

Number 2: SPL

Number 1: Initial D

This will be it at the moment. This list is very personal. It reflects my personal tastes. These movies leave a very deep impression on me.

I have not watched all of the movies released in 2005, of course, but this is just for fun. No offense if this is not agreeable to you.

Initial D: Still Number 1

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Sacrifice Strategy, Malaysia-Singapore Friendship Match

In Go as in life in general, we need to have the courage to sacrifice something in return for some things that we deem more valuable. There are some considerable risks involved. What if you have sacrificed something but in return, you did not also get the things that you have sacrificed for?

However, in life and in Go, you need to have the courage to sacrifice in order to advance further. If you become too timid, you will get stuck at the present level or status quo and advancement will be slow, if it ever comes. You must know what you can want, and what you cannot want. You must know what you want so that you know what you can let go.

The skill in recognising and effectively implementing a sacrifice strategy comes a lot with experience. Once you have accumulated the needed experience, you will have a greater certainty on the success rate of the strategy and thus helps you to evaluate your current position and then plan your moves. It is still sort of a “gamble” sometimes, but with experience, you will somehow be able to reduce the risk tremendously.

As Takemiya Masaki 9p said, “There are two types of sacrifice stones: those that you play specifically as sacrifices and those which were not originally planned as such but which have become weak or burdensome. It is important to learn to sacrifice the latter. This will lead to spectacular improvement.”

Yesterday was a very much awaited day for us Go players in Kuala Lumpur as the scheduled annual Malaysia-Singapore friendship match was to take place. There were in total 16 matches and we were lucky to have won 9 of the matches. It was a very great experience, with many friendships renewed and new friends found. The group that came are all quite strong, mostly Dan level players and we had a small trouble coming out with the same number of players to match them. Luckily our members did not disappoint and came to play.

I played my tournament game against a 2dan and with some luck, I won that game, thanks to a sacrifice strategy that I have used that have secured the lead which I have maintained until the end. In the middle game, I have somewhat created a string of stones that was weak. These stones arose from a reducing move that I have played to reduce the opponent’s moyo potential but have somehow been turned into a rather heavy group. I did not feel like running the group as running it does not create any points, merely running on Dame points and will put my other positions at risk. I have therefore devised a sacrifice strategy and used the string of stones to squeeze out a favourable position on the right side of the board. It worked well and I was happy to contribute a win to my team :)

We had a few friendship games as well and I played another 2 dan. It was not an easy game as this 2 dan vowed to take “revenge” for his friend’s earlier defeat (of course in a friendly way meant to be a joke). Towards the middle game again, I managed to create a group of weak stones at the top side. However, I also saw that he has a weak group at the bottom. My weak group, however, was weaker that his. I figured that if I can sacrifice and squeeze the top group, I can seal off his lower weak group and launch an attack. If I can capture the group, I can win the game. I am not very confident if I can do it but I figured I have to. Afterall, simply running my weak group will again lead to nowhere.

The strategy was executed and many moves after that, I managed to capture the whole of the lower side. It was again success due to the sacrifice strategy.

In life, I figure, it will be the same. You must know if you can sacrifice something and take a bit of risks to take on something bigger and potentially more rewarding. For example, many people I know risks the comfort of a fixed income and took on the risk to venture into something bigger, own business, overseas working opportunity, etc. and come back and be better off than just sitting here in the comfort zone.


Gu Li 9p (China) vs. Lee Sedol 9p (Korea). Lee Sedol’s hand is so stylish.

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Perhaps Love, Perhaps it is love

“After Florentino Ariza saw her for the first time, his mother knew before he told her because he lost his voice and his appetite and spent entire night tossing and turning in his bed. But when he began to wait for the answer to his first letter, his anguish was complicated by diarrhea and green vomit, he became disoriented and suffered from sudden fainting spells, and his mother was terrified because his condition did not resemble the turmoil of love so much as the devastation of cholera.

Florentino Ariza’s godfather, an old homeopathic practitioner who has been Transito Ariza’s confidant ever since her days as a secret mistress, was also alarmed at first by the patient’s condition, because he has the weak pulse, the hoarse breathing, and the pale perspiration of a dying man. But his examination revealed that he has no fever, no pain anywhere, and that his only concrete feeling was an urgent desire to die. All that was needed was shrewd questioning, first of the patient and then of his mother, to conclude once again that the symptoms of love were the same as those of cholera…”

From Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

I am a sucker for love stories. I cannot resist a great love story well told and “Love in the Time of Cholera” is one of the greatest novel that I have read that has touched me deeply.

In movies as well, I enjoy watching a great love story and I let my feelings flow with the movie, often with tears welling up at certain dramatic and touching points in the movie.

This desire for a work on love is demonstrated by my love for love poems as well, as my earlier blog entry testifies.

And in life in general, I am always touched by a great love story, whether my own or other people’s.

If I were to make a movie, it will surely be a movie about love.

I was at the Malaysian Premiere of “Perhaps Love” last Saturday. Our company played host to our guests as well since we are one of the three companies that funded that USD10 million production. During the premiere, we met the stars, Takeshi Kaneshiro and Zhou Xun. It is odd to see that Takeshi is actually not very tall despite looking like very tall in the movies.

Anyways, we got a mixed reaction to the movie after the screening, with many people saying that they didn’t like the movie while some colleagues in the office told me that they actually liked the movie.

As for me and my wife, we liked the movie and there are certain parts in the movie that made my eyes welled up a bit. The music is great as well. Of all the music in the movie, I loved the catchy “Ai Meiyou, Hen Meiyou” (Love – Don’t Have, Hate – Don’t Have) number, The Jacky Cheung number at the end of the movie and the Ji Jin-hee song during the circus scene where Takeshi and Zhou Xun were on the swing, where Zhou Xun denied remembering anything from her past and that she is happy now.

The cinematography is great although the editing can benefit from a less “experimental” hand where certain parts makes you feel a bit sick due to the intercutting of shots.

If you are the sort that like romantic movies and like musicals, you will like the movie. If you cannot stand musicals, then forget about it. There are some parts in the movie that reminds me of “The Phantom of the Opera”, especially the part where Jacky Cheung sang solo in one of the scenes. Anyway, I felt that the storyline somewhat resembles “The Phantom of the Opera” too. Two person who knew each other from the past, wanted to be together but cannot due to certain circumstances and a great “master” is actually in love with the girl but the girl actually loves the young guy. You get the picture?

The movie was also quite West-centric (perhaps intended for a wide Western audience). It will be a much greater movie, in my opinion, if the movie can stay true to its oriental influences and feature those oriental details in a greater manner.

Oliver?

This coming weekend, about 18-20 Singaporean Go Players will be coming to Kuala Lumpur for a friendship match as we do every year. It is looking to be a very exciting weekend and I look forward to it very much. Hopefully our players can perform well against them, all of them are Dan players…… Two professional players who are their teachers will be coming as well, one being Mr. Philip Hsia (2p) and the other Mr. Yang (6p). I met Mr. Yang once in the Singapore club and attended one of his lessons. He is truly a great teacher. I learned a lot about fighting in that one lesson alone (which he has kindly let me in free of charge).

One more quote before I end this romantic post:

“I asked for permission from my mother to bring Yun and stay there for the summer. She stopped embroidery during the summer months because of the heat, and the whole day long, we were either reading together or discussing the ancient things, or else enjoying the moon and passing judgements on the flowers. Yun could not drink, but could take at most three cups when compelled to. I taught her literary games in which the loser had to drink. We thought there could not be a more happy life on earth than this.”

From “Six Chapters of a Floating Life” as translated by Lin Yutang. One of the greatest love story of a married couple that I have read. Simple life, great love.

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