Monthly Archives: July 2008

Sartre and Batman

“If I choose to kill Brisseau, I am defining myself as a murderer… By choosing my action, I choose it for all mankind. But what happens if everyone in the world behaved like me and came here and shot Brisseau? What a mess! Not to mention the commotion from the doorbell ringing all night. And of course we’d need valet parking. Ah… how the mind boggles when it turns to ethical considerations!” – Woody Allen, “The Condemned”.

In response to my earlier blog post “Kantian Morality”, my geeky friend left a comment (in my old blog) and ended it with a question. She asked, “Another sage (Descartes?) one wrote that “I think, therefore I am.” Do you?”. When Descartes asked that question, his point is to proof that we exist, that we are not a figment of our imagination or other people’s imagination. How do we know that we really exist in this world? Well, according to Descartes, the fact that we think of this question is proof enough that we exist.

I often think about this question when I was a lot younger, when we still have time for fanciful thoughts and the heart is still not hardened by the realities of the real life, so to speak. I sometimes wonder if the tree that I see is really there, how do I know 100% sure that the tree really exists? After all, we are a culmination of our feelings. We think that the tree exist because 1) We see it with our own eyes, 2) We can go and feel the tree and indeed it is there, 3) Other people who also sees it confirms that it is there, 4) When a car rams into the tree, we hear the sounds, etc. But remember, we get all these because signals are sent to our brains that will then interpret the signals, i.e. when we see, we don’t really “see”. It is just that through a complex chemical process, the data or information is translated from our sensors to our brains that then interprets it and let us know what we see. Given this, how can we be 100% sure that what we see is what is really out there?

Well, after all these years, I gave this up and just take things as they are. I am pretty sure that the tree is there and even if my brain decides to trick me, I don’t think I want to test it by knocking my head into it. So, yeah, ok. The tree is there. But at the back of my mind, I try to be careful when I experience new things or when I face questions or situations. From my experience, really, what the brain and the senses tell you is really wrong. One really has to have that judgment but that will come from experience.

Now, I am more of a Sartre and Nietzsche person but not really wholly an existentialist. Instead of “I think, therefore I am”, it is more like “I am, therefore I think”. There is a whole world of difference. Now, I believe that I exist above all, that this is what there is and I better make good use of what exist now. I am responsible for my own actions and so is everyone else. When everyone is responsible for their own actions, everyone will be happy. So the fact for me now is I am able to think now BECAUSE I exist. Not that I exist because I think. Come to think of it now, “I exist because I think” sound rather foolish, isn’t it? It has to be the other way round. Or does it really make much difference? Aren’t they both sides of the same coin?

After one watches the latest installment of the Batman movie, THE DARK KNIGHT, one cannot help but be philosophical. At least a little bit. This is really great because when was the last time one watches a Hollywood blockbuster which is a sequel to a comic book adaptation that is a top grossing movie but is at the same time well made, deep and inspire philosophy? Whoa, a long time ago if you ask me. Despite a couple of things that annoy me re this movie, most notably the horrible Hong Kong linked story and the cliched Chinese bad guy, I think that this is really a superb movie.

Above all, it raises a lot of moral and ethical questions. Are human innately good or evil? At the face of extinction, will human remain good or will there be anarchy and to each his own? I have heard many times that when there is really no food, when mankind fights for survival, well, as Darwin will put it, only the fittest will survive and thus there will bound to be anarchy. All moral foundations will collapse and the only thing that will be in person’s mind is to live another day. Is this really the truth? If you ask me, I think this is not. Because if I put myself in that situation, I would rather die than survive in such a horrible world. I don’t think I am alone and if really everyone thinks like I do, then there is bound to be solutions to our problems. When all of mankind can decide to die together, I think nothing in this universe can match that power. Maybe.

The DARK KNIGHT’s two main characters are of course the Batman and the Joker. Supporting them are Gordon, Rachel, the two faced man Harvey, Fox and Alfred. Each of this characters is distinct in itself and each represents a different philosophical proposition, so to speak.

[What is ahead may contain spoilers]

Batman’s purpose is to create law and order in the society but he can only choose what he defend and he cannot defend everything. By taking the law into his own hands, he is himself an outlaw and the citizens of Gotham demands that this outlaw be put to justice, even though all he does is to protect Gotham from the bad guys. This image that he created “inspired” a legion of Batman wannabes, and like Batman, they take the laws into their own hands and creating chaos. Batman knows that his existence is important to the order of the society there but he also knows that he cannot continue to be Batman, the hero that is an outlaw that lives and works at night. He knows that he must give way to the proper and correct way of justice, via the constitution and the law and their enforcers. Only then can real justice and peace be attained. To pass the baton to a person capable of doing that is his retirement plan and he found that candidate in Harvey Dent and plans to pass the baton to him.

However, here comes the Joker from practically nowhere. His origins were not said although some of his dark histories are pointed at when the Joker proudly tells the story of how he got the “smile” on his face. “Why so serious?”. The Joker is the opposite of what Batman is. If Batman is for law and order, the Joker is for anarchy (or so it seems). If Batman is for certainty, the Joker is for surprises. If Batman believes that mankind is innately good and can self-govern, the Joker plans an experiment to prove to Batman that he is wrong, that mankind is selfish to the core and will kill for survival. Ultimately, we see the struggle of the two opposing forces throughout the movie and how that played out. There are no right or wrong answers and there are no clearcut win or lose. It is a process of mankind’s self discovery, of the understanding of their own nature. In a sense, the Joker is very successful in pointing us towards that direction of discovery.

Ultimately, there is no black and white answers. The truth may not be the Truth and the Truth can be hidden for the better good of mankind. Is this right? Should the Truth always be told no matter what? I think perhaps this utopian idea that the truth must be told 100% of the time is truly not practical in this very complex world that we live in. We need to sometimes not tell the Truth so that the world can be a better place, so that Mankind can still dream and can still have hope. But then again, who should have the power to tell or not tell the Truth? Who can say that he is perfect and can be the guardian of Truth and can be relied on 100% of the time that what he does is 100% for the benefit of mankind? Maybe God? So, when Lucius Fox got to know that Batman has used the ultrasound technology to map the city, he said that no one, not even Batman or himself, should have this kind of power.

I think, in short, this is why THE DARK KNIGHT impressed me, by being bold and asked these questions, have the guts to not answer the question but instead make us think and at the same time, make an insane amount of money in the box office. Wonderful eh?

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What it Takes

“No discipline and not focused”

This was what I thought when I got quite pissed off with the staff at a coffee shop in Low Yat Plaza today. I was at Low Yat to fix my phone and what I experienced at the phone repair shop is 180 degrees different from what I experienced at the coffee shop.

There are a lot of things that a person need to have to do a job well, such as one must be well equipped with the skills and knowledge for the job and one must be honest. These are the bare minimum requirement for anyone to get hired. But above that, I really think that the key two things that one must have to perform at the job is really Discipline and Focus. Of course, moving up there are many other things that one should have such as planning, organisation and strategic skills but there is no need to talk in such high level if the basics of Discipline and Focus are still lacking.

From my observations, most people are honest and they are somehow skilled enough to do the job but what separates them from performing and achieving results is that they are not disciplined enough and they are not focussed enough on the task at hand. By Discipline, I don’t mean that that one has to be like in the military although that helps but by disciplined, I really meant that one needs to do the things that one has committed to do and do it well. It also means that one must be disciplined enough to NOT do the things that they are not supposed to do.

To illustrate this point, at the phone repair shop, someone came to the service technician with a slide phone and said that she can’t hear from the receiver. That guy took the phone and examined it for a while and told the lady that apparently the wiring to the receiver is not quite right and they are not specialised in wiring and thus referred the lady to another shop which will get the job done better. This is really professional. Also at the same shop, I was wanting to also change my phone casing and I opted for the AP type which is supposed to be of much better quality. The service guy got one from the store and tried to change it for me but somehow something didn’t fit. He immediately went back to the store and found one that really fit my phone, sparing no effort to make sure that the best case fits my phone. This kind of service level simply makes me feel so happy inside. It brightens up my day.

Until I went to that stupid coffee shop where I tried to order some food. The waiter practically ignored me when I waved at him and I know he saw me because we crossed eyes. But he just simply continue doing whatever he wanted i.e. talking to other waiters and making jokes with the cashier girl. He didn’t have the discipline to get the work that he is supposed to do done and he did not have any focus on his job. In fact, I bet his mind is wondering somewhere, day dreaming perhaps. This is beyond lazy. This is simply just no disciple and not focused. 

Being focused on the job that needs to be done is incredibly important because by just focusing on getting the job done, one will do whatever one can in his or her capacity to ensure that the thing that is expected of him or her gets done. If not, other people’s life also suffers because of his or her lack of focus or discipline. In many of our jobs, our work is interlinked. If one person does not get the job done, it will affect other people’s job as well and that weak link will eventually result in the whole team or organisation not achieving its objectives or target. 

By not being disciplined and not focused, one is not a responsible person because most of the time, they make a pain of other people’s life. And other people, if they are responsible, disciplined and focused, do not deserve to be treated like that. For one, I believe that in whatever organisations, these not disciplined and not focused people should be weeded out, counseled and let go if necessary so that they will not infect other people and becomes the barrier to other people and the organisation to achieve their goals and aspirations.

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Seems like Yesterday

Time really flies and without realising it, I am back from India for almost 2 years now and have worked on the channel since. Maybe what they say is right, i.e. when you do the things you love, you never have to work for another day and time passes without you realising it. Working on the movie channel is like a dream job. It allows me to make use of my financial and management skills, my knowledge of the industry and the people in it and most importantly, it allows me to work with movies which I love so much. Unfortunately, this has to end, for one reason or another, but I am very happy and felt very lucky to have such an opportunity to immerse myself in the channel. 

When I started, it was really only me in the channel and had to do stuffs by myself, such as requesting for computers, interviewing people, understanding the job of a channel manager since I practically have zero TV experience, and little by little, things fall into place. From nothing, we built the channel into something that we can be proud of. It was such a wonderful experience.

I will be moving to another industry working as CFO for that company. So it is practically going back to finance and will utilise my financial skills, experience and training as a chartered accountant. Not a sexy industry this is but I feel that there is still going to be a lot of excitement and challenges in this new role. I am hoping for the best and movies will always be my love.

Last weekend, during our weekly poker games, a fellow asked me about some movies shown this summer and what I thought of them. He also planned to go watch a movie during the weekend and asked me for recommendations. Well, I basically told him how I ranked the movies and I would share it here. I will use a ratings of 1 to 10 to give an indication of how I rank them.

DARK KNIGHT – 9/10

RED CLIFF – 8.5/10

INCREDIBLE HULK – 7/10

IRON MAN – 5.5/10

SEX AND THE CITY – 8/10

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH – 6/10

HELL BOY 2 – 6/10

HANCOCK – 8/10

WANTED – 6.5/10

GET SMART – 6/10

WALL-E – 9.5/10

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Murakami’s New Book

It seems like one of my favourite authors is releasing his memoir soon. The title of the book is “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” and I think he got the inspiration for the title from Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” which is an excellent story and Murakami is one of Carver’s fans, having also translated all of his works into Japanese. In fact Murakami has been hugely influenced by Carver and when he read Carver for the first time, Carver’s “So Much Water So Close to Home”, he was “literally shocked” and regarded Carver as his teacher and literary comrade.*

The publisher’s blurp:

“What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, the new memoir from Haruki Murakami, is on sale July 29th. Pre-order now and get free shipping!

In 1982, having sold his jazz bar to devote himself to writing, Murakami began running to keep fit. A year later, he’d completed a solo course from Athens to Marathon, and now, after dozens of such races, not to mention triathlons and a dozen critically acclaimed books, he reflects upon the influence the sport has had on his life and—even more important—on his writing.

Equal parts training log, travelogue, and reminiscence, this revealing memoir covers his four-month preparation for the 2005 New York City Marathon and takes us to places ranging from Tokyo’s Jingu Gaien gardens, where he once shared the course with an Olympian, to the Charles River in Boston among young women who outpace him. Through this marvelous lens of sport emerges a panorama of memories and insights: the eureka moment when he decided to become a writer, his greatest triumphs and disappointments, his passion for vintage LPs, and the experience, after fifty, of seeing his race times improve and then fall back.

By turns funny and sobering, playful and philosophical, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is rich and revelatory, both for fans of this masterful yet guardedly private writer and for the exploding population of athletes who find similar satisfaction in running.

To celebrate the publication of What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, from now until August 15, 2008, get free shipping when you order this or any of the other incredible works of Haruki Murakami from RandomHouse.com. Simply enter the code MURAKAMIRUNNING at checkout. ”

*Reference: Haruki Murakami and the Music of Words by Jay Rubin

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Wall-E Can Fly!

Wall-E is an amazing movie. I was totally captivated by this new Disney-Pixar movie. Not only does it has heart, it has lots of brains too and the makers are really geniuses. What a smart movie this is. Probably the best movie I watched this “summer”.

On another note, we managed to acquire the license for the movie TURTLES CAN FLY for our Indonesian feed, thanks to our friends at Jive who also has a hand in the very happening Blitz cineplexes in Indonesia. Jive brings in some really quality movies not only to the Blitz cineplexes but also for release on DVD there as well as the licensing of the rights to TV channels like ours. What a blessing that we have these very talented, informed, cultured and bright people at Jive and Blitz.

TURTLES CAN FLY is really one movie of a kind. It is a movie that is excellent in so many ways one wonders what the hell is Hollywood doing churning out idiotic remakes and sequels to dumb movies. Well, Wall-E is an exception this summer but still, TURTLES is heads and shoulders above any one of the recent Hollywood makes.

I mean it is well and all to have a dumb blockbuster movie to watch once in a while but too much garbage in will only make us rubbish dumps. We need to have good quality movies once in a while, if not a consistent all year round of quality movies, so that our intellect and soul (if there is one) can be nourished. Call us snobbish or geeky or anything you wish but those people that watches exclusively Hollywood movies are really missing a lot of great stuffs, so trust me on this one, at least go and get a copy of TURTLES CAN FLY, and if you live in Indonesia, don’t forget to watch it on Astro Kirana.

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Symphonies of Life and Death

“Why did you live? Why did you suffer? Is it all nothing but a huge, frightful joke?”

Like many people, Gustav Mahler struggled with these questions all his life and his feelings about these questions can be heard in his works, most notably his second, sixth and ninth symphonies. I was just listening to his second symphony this morning, with Leanord Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1963, Sony Classical, which is a fine recording, one of the finest among my collection of about 15 of Mahler’s second symphony recordings. Being a rather crazy Mahler fan, I have spent a considerable amount of money collecting recordings of his works plus other stuffs, such as books, concerts, etc. and therefore it is not surprising that I have in my collection more than 10 different recordings of each of his symphonies and several recordings of his song cycles.

Mahler’s second symphony asked if there is really a meaning to life, whether we have lived in vain. Of course, it is always dangerous to try to read the music as music is primarily an emotional experience, not an intellectual one but in Mahler’s music, such an endeavour is possible. In fact, Mahler wrote about this in his programme to the music, although he later sort of regretted in trying to write about the music. As he said, whatever he can write, he will write. But whatever he can’t write but felt deeply about, and all words exhausted him, he put them into his music. However, his general outline of what the music is about will be useful for those who wants to get an idea on what Mahler is trying to reach out to.

The second symphony, also called the “Resurrection” answered these questions in the Christian belief, as is according to his belief at that time. At the end of the tunnel, he thought that Mankind will live forever, will be resurrected and we have not lived in vain. However, in his sixth symphony, titled “Tragic”, this view took a literally tragic turn, that everything, really, is in vain and this is what we have. There is no afterworld, no paradise and mankind is here to live, to be happy, to love, and to suffer and at the end of it, mankind’s fate is tragic, i.e. when he dies, he is extinct.

Then he gave us his ninth symphony, the greatest one in my own experience where he again dealt with the idea of life and death but this time, he seemed to be at peace with himself, taking the reality and facts of life in its stride. He accepted life as it is and came to peace with it, much unlike the stubborn rebel in the sixth symphony. The music of the ninth is peaceful, calm and progressive. I remember listening to this symphony so many times and whenever I listen to this symphony alone, sometimes in the dark, I cannot help but feel the deep emotions welling up inside me and tears begin to form, nodding away in the dark. This is the power of music.

This coming season, the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra will be bringing us again the 6th symphony, together with the hammer blows and all and it will be a great experience.

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The Battle of Chibi

The Battle of Chibi (or Red Cliff) is a decisive and important battle that led to the solidification of the Three Kingdoms, the historical period between around 180AD and 280AD following the demise of the Han Dynasty. Cao Cao rose to power in the Northern court, ruling over the puppet Emperor and by around 208, Cao Cao decided to march South and unite China by defeating his arch-enemies, Liu Bei and Sun Quan. This marching of the south campaign was when the Battle of Chibi happened and Cao Cao’s decisive defeat in this battle created the north-south divide and the division of China into three kingdoms, Wei (Cao Cao), Shu (Liu Bei) and Wu (Sun Quan).

The stories of this Three Kingdom period have been widely told, whether in Chinese opera or in literature and the most famous of them all is Lo Guanzhong’s “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”. Lo borrowed some historical material and romanticised the story, often exaggerating the characters especially that of Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhuge Liang and adding romance and magic (especially that of Zhuge Liang) to the story. John Woo joined the fray and made RED CLIFF and I was at the media screening today.

I have high expectations for RED CLIFF and I have been waiting for this movie for quite some time. This is what I thought after watching the movie:

1. I like the portrayal of the character of Zhou Yu, played by Tony Leung Chiu Wai. It showed him to be quite a personality, a great strategist with a great heart. This is unlike what is portrayed in Lo’s novel (although the movie draws a lot from the novel) and RED CLIFF is successful in avoiding the myopia created by Lo. However, I didn’t think that the bandaging part done with his wife, Xiao Ciao (played by the beautiful Lin Chi-ling) warrants such an extended screen time.

2. I thought that the movie dealt with some strategical aspect of the war quite well, in a way that the general audience can relate to.

What I didn’t like:

1. The main characters are over-played. I understand that the director would like each character to have very distinct personality but at the end, what we felt about the characters is this: Liu Bei (loser), Zhuge Liang (gay), Zhang Fei (clown), you get it? Yes, these characters are very strong, for example, I took greatest offense on the portrayal of Zhang Fei. He is a very brave, smart but sometimes loud person but the movie made him look so clumsy, stupid and stubborn. Another example is Liu Bei. He is a stateman who has a great heart for people and citizens, and that is the reason why great people like Zhuge Liang and Guan Yu followed him. But in this movie, this aspect of him has been so thoroughly exploited, he looked weak, meek, and a loser.

2. The movie sometimes look like a rip-off from a computer game, especially so the opening of the movie. The CGI work put me off initially but luckily the strength of the story pulled me back in.

3. The battle scene with the cavalry involving the Bagua formation is rather disappointing. I do not mean the execution of the scene, which is alright but the logic of it. Why would the commander risks the life of his greatest generals and put them to fight with the enemy troops while he still has many of his soldiers capable of surrounding and killing the enemy, especially so if the Bagua formation is so successful? To further exaggerate it, the commander, i.e. Zhou Yu, put his own life in jeopardy as well. This logic didn’t click with me.

Overall, I don’t think this is a bad movie but instead, I thought it is rather good, except that it can be better, for me at least. Also, the movie is in two parts and we can only watch the second part some time in December 08, so this is not much fun, even if I already know the story and how it concludes.

Ok then, initial top line thoughts. I think I will go and watch this movie again and maybe will comment about it more then.

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