Friday, December 21, 2012

Overcoming the Yin

Gosh, has it been so long, months have gone by since I felt like putting something here.  Well, the solstice brings that to a point, can't neglect the yin, to which I attribute a couple of months of good sleeping weather and interesting travel, by planes and in my dreams.

Commuting home tonight, sans radio still, I was doing my occasional practice of numbers in French and Chinese by reciting, as quickly as I could, the digits on license plates.  Which got me to observing vanity plates and the slogans people put on their cars.  "Na Kane O Ke Kai" on the back of a pickup, which I think means "belonging to the man of the sea."  I know very little of Hawaiian language, but after a while, it just seems natural.

A vanity plate confused me.  F8HFUL. I think it is supposed to be "faithful" but I read it as "fateful." Who knows. (Although local people tend to say "th" as "t", as in Tanksgiving or one-two-tree, so it could go either way.)

Solstice observations:  the fateful spider is gone from my lanai, the faithful kolea are busy in the yard, and I was pleased to note that, despite my neglect (or perhaps because of it) over these past two months, the Christmas cactuses have set blossoms and look like at least a few will be blooming on Christmas Day.  Faith or fate seem to have nothing to do with that. Tao at work, the ziran of the Christmas cactus.

And at the rate I update this blog, the next time will be at the New Year...and I don't mean next week, but the lunar Year of Snake, in February.  So many calendars.  In any case, for the Gregorian New Year, I will hang up my 1957 scenic French ESSO calendar.  Turns out 2013 works the same as 1957 (and 1963 and 1974 and many other years). So if the Mayan calendar prevented you from investing in a 2013 calendar, you can just recycle an old one.  Look in your attic or go to eBay (where you will find among others, an incredible offering of old gas station Vargas and Betty Page pinup calendars...someone found those worth saving!) In fact, I also just found in my storage a gorgeous Sierra Club calendar from 1991, works too. A reminder of the beauty of the earth, which still exists for preservation.  I won't be buying calendars this year! But not because the Mayan Calendar ended.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Running Silent, Nothing Happens

When you are out of touch with media, does anything really happen? If you don't hear/see the alert/storm/debate, did it really happen?

A few weeks ago my car radio was stolen again, so I am again in meditative driving mode.  I miss the Teaching Company lectures, but I am regarding this as a sort of term break.  And the radio wasn't my source of news anyway.

I'm not sure, apart from Yahoo headlines when I log on here, I have much of a source of news anyway.  Some hurricane jokes blew completely over my head this week. "So how's that hurricane, Sandy?"  (Sandy is a misspelling of my real name.)  

"Oh she's calm now," I said after meeting a critical milestone on an difficult project. "Downgraded to a tropical depression."

It was several days before I realized the jokes weren't really about ME.  There WAS a Hurricane Sandy (a Sandy Cane) building on the east coast.  Well, so far away, and we have problems of our own.  The volcano is spewing again (causing itchy eyes and asthma-like breathing even several islands away) and a tsunami alert last night caused a lot of traffic accidents.  (There was no wave to speak of, just a lot of panic and fighting at gas stations.)  Alerts can be as bad as the real thing.

A friend on Maui who lives in the "inundation zone"called me during the alert period. She'd loaded up her car with all her meds, checkbooks, mobile devices, and was waiting it out on higher ground.  Her boat captain SO was a mile out at sea riding it out.  

It would have to be a HUGE tsunami, Biblical proportions as they say, to affect my living area.  The only thing I consider a real threat is that punk Kim Jong-un and his toy army. Did you know the country has an official website?

I'd been watching a movie, The Silent War, with Tiny Tony Leung (Chiu Wai) in his second role as a blind man (that I know of).
"Stop staring at me," she said. "I'm not staring, I'm blind," he said.
Blind Swordsman
Not a swordsman this time (at right), but a blind piano tuner recruited as a spy by a People's Republic of China agency doing intelligence work against the Nationalists just post-1949.  At least in Ashes of Time you could see his eyes, which are two of his most endearing features. (And his hair wasn't cut like Kim Jong-un's.) In this one he was always wearing shades, or a blindfold, or cloudy contacts to simulate damaged corneas, or bandages after he gouged out his surgically corrected eyes.  Seeing had conflicted with his hearing.  There was some sort of ethical/moral thing going on, but without any Oedipal connotations, I think.

Anyway, in the middle of The Silent War, I chatted with my friend.  Since I haven't turned on broadcast or cable television in months, I was at a loss to discuss the debates (I know who I'm voting for); the related satire of Stewart and Colbert;  the analysis of MacNeil-Lehrer (although isn't one of them dead?).  Fortunately since I have acquired a bad cold, which I attribute to vog,  temperature inversion, and stress, I had an excuse to not really say anything.  I can barely breathe let alone comment on politics.  

So morning after the non-tsunami, I suppose I could poke around and find out what's happening on that East Coast, (or even in Alaska where the earthquake that generated the non-tsunami originated).  Or I could ignore it. Someone is bound to tell me about it tomorrow. And it won't make a difference to me at all.  Like none of it ever happened.  Not listening.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Bargain Books

Apart from a sizable and growing collection of mostly Asian DVDs, I don't buy a lot of stuff--unless you count books.  I buy a lot of books.

How delightful it was, as I was cruising my Amazon wish-list, and drooling for the 61st time over the pricey The Routledge Encyclopedia of Taoism edited by Fabrizio Pregadio, to discover that I could apply $67 worth of earned credits to this coveted purchase, 1,500 paperbacked pages originally priced at $99.  What Taoist doesn't love a bargain?  And a legitimate one, not pirated like the copy of  Graham Horwood'Tai Chi Chuan, the Code of Life" I bought in Wudang a few years ago (and which still gives me a little pang of guilt when I pull it from my shelf).  In my defense, I should note that I only determined it was pirated after I bought it.  (But in China, I should have assumed as much.)

Yes, guilt. I am from a generation that respects copyright (or at least attempts to; I have probably posted some photos of actors on this site that are protected, but I have made no profit from it). I have only ever once downloaded a piece of music that I could have paid for.  (And I subsequently acquired a legitimate copy.) There was a little discussion of this topic on a Facebook Taoism forum just yesterday.  Someone, very young I'm sure, probably a master downloader and torrent user,  suggested that copyright was the source of all evil in the world.  "Shouldn't ideas just be contributed to the universe without thought of expecting personal gain or recognition?"  The best retort came from a Wudang priest who noted that ripping off his DVDs was depriving him and his family a modest livelihood.

And so my grand encyclopedia, published just over a year ago (2011 for the paperback, 2008 for the way more costly hardback),  has arrived, and I am obsessed.  Taoism is of course a "practice," doing (or actively not doing) things.  But why then is there a Taoist canon of hundreds and hundreds of scriptures and manuals of how not to "do" and practical advice, mostly esoteric and metaphorical, studied by Taoist monks and nuns and priests and lay people?  (You have to have something to do when you're not doing something, I guess.)

In contrast to the brief Tao Te Ching, which you can read (but probably not really understand) in less than an hour, the introductory overview in the Encyclopedia is 196 pages and could easily stand as a volume on its own.  The index is 70 pages and there is also a sizable bibliography and other references .  The entries themselves, written by an impressive group of contemporary scholars of Taoism,  are extensive, though arranged alphabetically by the pinyin renderings and accompanied by helpful Chinese characters. It will require a little familiarity with Chinese to find specific things, but browsing is productive, and we are all used to doing that with the internet anyway.  This is the most intriguing and useful thing I've got on my shelf since my Oxford Dictionaries of the Christian Church, the Bible, World Religions, and Classical Mythology.   And the OED.

If you have a serious and scholarly interest in the vast tradition that is Taoism,  I highly recommend this set.  It's worth every legitimate penny.

This post should have appeared on My Yang Side (where there are some movie related comments today), but as it is the autumnal equinox, I find it doesn't matter.  It's six of one and half a dozen of another, a phrase I once quoted to a Chinese person, who just didn't get it. Go figure.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Wudang Woes

My plans to return to Wudangshan this September completely fell apart today.  Thus, although the verse primarily pertains to meditation, I am concentrating on the travel wisdom of Dao De Jing 47:

Without going out of your door,
You can know the ways of the world.
Without peeping through your window,
You can see the Way of Heaven.
The farther you go,
The less you know.

Thus, the Sage knows without travelling,
Sees without looking,
And achieves without Ado.

(tr. John C. Wu)

Well that's wisdom, but for real consolation, last night, in some sort of prescient synchronicity, I had a pleasant surprise.  A movie released just this summer that I thought I might see or buy in China during my trip was made available on YouTube. I have been eager to see Vincent Zhao in The Great Wudang for over a year, when I first heard about it. 
The Great Wudang
So without peeping out my window, just by peeping at my computer screen, I visited Wudang anyway, albeit homesickish the way ex-pat Hawaii people might be when they watch 5-0.  (And equally puzzled when the locations don't always make do you get from the North Shore to Diamond Head on foot in an hour?...How do you get from Golden Top to Purple Cloud in five minutes? It took me six hours to walk that route down the mountain once.)

Turning away from Episode 66 (of 77) of Yi San, my current Korean escape, I watched my favorite MA star in a kind of typical wuxia story, set in post-Qing/early Republican times.  In the first few minutes, there is a kick-ass fight in an airplane flying over Hubei on the way to a martial arts competition at Wudangshan.   Everything about it--the time, the plot, the romance, the quest--has led me to call it "Indiana Zhao and the Temple of Tao." (Vincent seems to be channeling Harrison Ford a little bit:  motorcycles, leather coats, scholarly spectacles, and a daughter. No fedora. Or maybe there was. Need to watch again. And where was Sean Connery?)
Indiana Zhao
I'd like to have seen this done as a 20-episode TV series (20 hours of Vincent) with more character and plot development, but it's fun anyway. Scenery is all familiar and authentic (except possibly the mountains in the competition arena: they looked CGI to me, more like Hua Shan).  I have mixed feelings to see sacred spots used this way, but it's not the first time...Jackie Chan's Kung Fu Kid and the 2009 TV series, Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre, were both filmed there too. (Contrary to popular belief, CTHD was not.) The Great Wudang was fun if you like the wuxia action genre and Vincent Zhao. (I certainly do!)

It was nice to find it on You-tube just at this moment, and I'll probably watch it one more time before it disappears. Still, I'll buy it when my DVD vendor calls me and tells me she just got it in.  Just for the locations, you know...and Vincent.
Vincent, where are you?

Monday, July 16, 2012


I've been watching a 77-episode Korean drama, Yi San, from 2007, that is intriguing me in part because one of the characters is a "damo," a commoner in the Imperial art department, a talented young woman who, with some support from her childhood friend, the Crown Prince, rises above painter's assistant to actually being an artist. In a time when women aren't permitted to do such things, it always helps to have an enlightened friend in a high place, even if the main theme of the drama is that virtually everyone in the corrupt Royal Court is trying to kill him.  If I had started watching this in 2007, I'd be done now.  I had Volume 1 on hand a couple years ago, but at the time didn't realize it was only the first of four.  It's almost as long as Jumong.  But a little slower.  Not until episode 34, when the Crown Prince finally has a beard and comes to realize he actually loves the damo, and the King falls into easily manipulated senility, does the plot get really interesting. 

Facial hair seems to be a symbol of coming of age and maturity and in this case it certainly makes the Crown Prince look a lot more authoritative (and sexually attractive), even if he is only 25 years old.  There is another character, a loyal advisor to the Crown Prince, who has the most attractive eyebrows, like perfect kaishu calligraphy strokes.  I haven't been so fascinated by eyebrows, also a staple of Asian operatic costume, since the long multi-colored ones on the crazy old doctor in The Herbalist's Manual.
Crown Prince in childhood

Young Crown Prince recalling his childhood.

The mature, bearded Crown Prince

Trustworthy kaishu eyebrows
The "damo" plot recalls Painter of the Wind, another K-D that had oriental painting as a sort of character, and is just perfect as I start brush painting lessons with yet another teacher who has kicked my enthusiasm up a notch: he practices qigong and has promised to help me with my Chinese.

But back to my theme...77 episodes of commoners and the court is kind of the mirror opposite of "The King's Speech," the Oscar-winning two-hour movie I only just watched, about King George VI and his speech impediment.  It's a great movie and in addition to illustrating the grace of good manners (the Queen mum apparently had 'em; who knew Helena Bonham Carter was so regal), it is about a commoner, an Australian no less, who supported the reluctant Bertie in his destiny to become the King after the Prince of Wales abdicates (and it was a good thing, we think). 

As the damo and the Joseon king forge an alliance (I think she becomes a concubine and produces an heir, sometime in the next 20 episodes), so too did the uncredentialed speech therapist become King George's friend and supporter.  He apparently coached the King through every public speech he ever made, turning his stammering into an "asset," as Churchill said (at least in the movie) of his own tongue-tied condition.

As an American, I am always bemused by the way some cultures cherish their royalty--Asian dynasties, the British empire, the Hawaiian monarchy.  Sometimes I think the problems we have today in American politics are because we DON'T have a stable royal presence to look to.  We want our president to be a royal leader, a strong symbol of our nation, but alas, the candidates are all just commoners.  Usually rich, but common, still. All of our popular royal icons are sports, entertainment or business superstars, all of whom we like to point and laugh at when they prove to be, through failure, as common as the rest of us.  It is with some nostalgia we look back on the illusions of the Kennedy "dynasty" era, the "Camelot" which couldn't last and will never come again. 

In both Yi San and The King's Speech, there is a theme of loyalty and royalty, friendship and respect across the palace border, two-way service, that actually secures a better future for the people. 

The Yellow Emperor is my damo. But he won't let me paint!

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Clamming Down

Has it been more than two months since I have posted something to this blog?  Yes.  Not that I haven't been indulging in lots of Asian film and serials, but I have been under pressure with a professional project and have neglected chronicling the whimsical side of my life.  So on another three-day weekend,  during which we are celebrating a holiday the rest of the country doesn't, King Kamehameha Day, and having completed the intense deadlined project which had been giving me mild anxiety attacks (thank goodness for Taoist breathing exercises),  I can finally clam down.

Intentional typo that, "clam down."  In my current wuxia series one of the subtitled bits of dialogue admonished a raving character to "clam down."  I have often been advised to "clam up," with its vaguely mafioso innuendo, but no one ever told me to "clam down."  Although I often say I am "happy as a clam," a phrase which usually omits the meaningful part: "at high tide." A sort of Taoist clam.  A bivalve not at risk of being dug up and steamed and drenched in clarified butter.   Maybe that's what clamming down might mean.  Like hunkering down. Clam creeps down.

Still, I would like to have had this as a tool during my project to clam everyone up or down.
Now this is a clam digger!
It's very creepy that this sword allegedly is infused with a spiritual aura as a result of having been crafted with human bones in the mix.  Personally, I would clam up about that.

Spirit of the Sword, typical wuxia, but not the greatest (so far, I'm only at episode 18 of 40),  has been kind of fun, featuring Nicholas Tse with a funky haircut, which distracts from his usual minimalist display of a maximum of two expressions in his acting.  Nick is always very pretty to look at, but his emotional range appears somewhat limited.  Here's a sample from the series:

Since April, I have also enjoyed several Korean dramas (including one with the delectable Bae Yong Jun that my Chinese DVD version's title, Wang 4 Credited Gods, should have alerted me that the subtitles might be truly bizarre: whenever the dialogue would have been "want to" it was rendered, Beijing-inflected, as "wanner").  There are also several movies that I watched, largely as escape mechanisms from the professional project, but I honestly can't easily recall what they were; since I was not particularly clam, I didn't even take time to jot down the titles. (Although it's beginning to
come back to me--fodder for a subsequent post.)  It's as if between the last holiday dedicated to Hawaiian royalty and this one, I have been in some space/time warp, all clammed up or clammed down.

But now I am emerging from my shell.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Spring Cleaning

No time like the present...better late than never...I have finally been doing some spring cleaning. When the energy moves me, I move.  Dunging out, mopping up, polishing things,  dealing with the accumulations of the past some closet cases, over the past 15 years.  And who knew there would be a Wikipedia entry on "spring cleaning," where I learned that my timing is perfect:
IGreece, and other Orthodox nations, it is traditional to clean the house thoroughly either right before or during the first week of Great Lent, which is referred to as Clean Week. This also often corresponds with the Julian New Year, or April 1.
In the same way my elderly Japanese orchid-fancier neighbor says, lamenting the latest dent on his Honda, "I'm not a very good driver," I always say to people who take their shoes off, local style, before entering my apartment, "Don't bother, I'm not a very good housekeeper."

I didn't learn much from my mother, really, about domestic order.  She made me stop "dusting" after I broke the antique vase and she never much involved me in kitchen duty. She mostly taught me how convenient a dishwasher can be.  And there were the negative lessons: to remove stains from a bathtub, do NOT soak it overnight with a strong solution of chlorine bleach.  (It completely destroyed the stains, along with the fine porcelain finish of the tub.)  What I did learn from my mother was summed up in a commentary she wrote on a essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson: 
"We do not know today whether we are busy or idle. In times where we thought ourselves indolent, we have afterward discovered that much was accomplished, and much was begun in us." --Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Awakening from a daydream, one may be filled with much guilt at the thought of such idleness when there is perhaps something more important to be done.  But this sense of guilt may not be valid, for a man is not necessarily idle when he is absorbed in thought.  The private workings of the mind often prove creative.  In such seemingly idle moments, we have the rare chance to find ourselves, develop a sense of values; the truths which are not to be found in the laboratory or in the classroom may thus be discovered in such private explorations Such thoughtful periods store treasures for the years ahead." -- My Mother 
My approach has always been random and delimited by a fairly high filth tolerance and a predilection to daydreaming.  Basic hygienic maintenance --cat boxes and toilets-- I keep pretty much under control, but sometimes I do dishes the way people do the load, and sorted.  For some reason, I have always found it more satisfying to make something that's really dirty clean, than cleaning something that already falls far below the limit on my tolerance scale.  There are so many more interesting things to do.

Like watching Star Appeal, (in Chinese, Xingxing xiangxi xi) a movie I couldn't resist that turned up in my Netflix suggestions.  I'd never watched a "Chinese gay-themed sci-fi movie."  I never knew there was such a genre.  I assume it was the "Chinese" tag and not  the "gay sci-fi" that put it to me.  But still, I'll watch anything once.  And I'll only watch this one once, not that it was that bad.  A blue movie, in the technical sense, erotic and blue-toned, like a Viagra vision (I'm told), but sensitive and arty enough to elevate it above porn, although I did learn something about yang-yang intercourse that I probably didn't need to know.  Interesting, and if anything, so what?  Maybe watching this would build all sorts of tolerance in the gay-bashing community (to say nothing of Chinese-bashers and Martian-bashers).  They're just like us!
"Xiao Bo, a bisexual man who discovers a stranger by the roadside, naked and claiming to be from Mars...takes the Martian home to his live-in boyfriend and girlfriend, and together, they begin instructing him in the ways of earthlings.  But when the mysterious stranger lapses into a coma, only the discovery of true love can bring him around."  
The dialogue was pretty simple for my limited Mandarin ear, and I can remember at least one line clearly: "Wo ai ni, ET." Though not everyone loved ET. In the end, love triumphs, if a little weirdly.

Hiroake Murakami as Jubei
Moving to a different alien culture, I finished a set of samurai DVDs lent to me by my haiku-writing Chinese friend, Legendary Swordfights of Yagyu Jubei.  I told my friend I wasn't really into the bushido aesthetic (some very strange hairstyles, that reverse mohawk), but she assured me of Jubei (Hiroake Murakami), "He's very handsome."  But, I'll watch anyone once. And indeed she was right. He seems to have violated the hair regimen the way Sammo Hung did in The Shaolin Warriors.  And he would be an excellent driver. (Although maybe not with only one eye.)  So I learned some history about the Tokugawa shogunate, and was impressed with the sword style, slow and elegant really, a little like intense insects with curved razor sharp blades.

And maybe there is something to the whole Japanese style. Such sparse tidy homes. Nothing to clean up!  Zen housekeeping.  Something new to daydream about.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Lucky You Live...Someplace

Prince Kuhio
There is a saying we have..."Lucky you live Hawaii" and I'm thinking of that on this three-day weekend, celebrating a holiday that the rest of the U.S. probably doesn't even know about: Prince Kuhio Day, marking the birth of the last heir to the monarchy, and the first territorial delegate to the U.S. Congress.  It is in a way, the turning point of Hawaii's modern development and is probably marked with mixed emotion by the native population.  Hawaii is the only state that has actual holidays dedicated to royalty.

So how have I celebrated?  I watched The Descendants, the first Hollywood movie I have popped in the DVD player for a while.  (As usual, lots of Korean drama and Chinese films had priority.)  But The Descendants was on sale at Costco when I made my the regular 84-pounds-of-cat-litter run.  I'd heard about it, but not really paid much attention.  I live here, and I don't even watch Hawaii 5-0 and never watched Lost.  

The Descendants,at 115 minutes, has a plot (based on a novel) that Korean dramatists would stretch out over 20 compelling episodes, exploring character development and sub-plots with great emotional detail and exaggeration.  You can read about the story in the links (a hospital family drama mixed up with issues about real estate and property development). But what was compelling to me...apart from the comparisons to K-D (George Clooney can cry, with tears dripping off his chin, almost as well as Song Il-guk) was of course, the setting (and an extraordinary soundtrack of Hawaiian music).  It is a pretty accurate view of Hawaii, though I would point out if it isn't obvious, it was mostly set in very posh old-money neighborhoods and the usual beautiful beaches of Waikiki and Hanalei. We don't all live like that!  I live in a 1200-sf, three bedroom/two bath (all small) 10th-floor 35-year-old condominium in a wooded area of central Oahu; it's pretty low class. (I will sell it to you for a cheap $225,000. Needs work, fixer-upper, starter-home. Make me an offer.) I'm not sure, but the film placed Matt King's family in what I thought to be the house usually occupied by the president of the University of Hawaii.  But apparently not; the traditional old mansions of Hawaii all have a certain similar style, airy and spacious, and like New England in the tropics.

Still, this Hawaii was completely familiar to me.  In fact, when the cousins gather at one of the clan homes to finalize the big real estate deal, I was startled: I'd been in that house once, for a party hosted by some benefactors (not at all unlike the characters of the movie) of the non-profit I once worked for. 

I guess people who live in New York and L.A. or other big cities are used to seeing their neighborhoods in films and maybe even become a bit blase about it. I wasn't blase though when I watched a Hong Kong art film with a gay theme called The Map of Sex and Lovea Netflix find in the Chinese category.  It was 140 minutes of Hong Kong, some of which I'm not used to seeing in film: Lamma, Macau, and seedier parts of Mongkok and Central.  A Chinese-American filmmaker, who looked disturbingly just like a guy I used to work with in Honolulu, returns to Hong Kong to do a documentary on the new Disneyland deal--not too far from the theme of The Descendants.  He falls in love with a gay dancer/prostitute and both are friends with a girl who has suffered some sort of tragic breakdown in Belgrade, of all places.  (She makes lanterns and soup out of pomelo rinds.  I learn something new every day.)  In the end, I think the characters might say "Lucky we live Hong Kong."

Kim Nan-Jin
But maybe not Seoul. Possibly symptomatic of a serious addiction, I devoured the 17-episode K-D, December Fever, a sort of Cinderella tale of a woman in a loveless marriage residing in the in-laws' home, complete with horrible deceitful exploitative stepsisters and an utterly despicable MIL. She falls in love with a driving instructor. A younger man! How inappropriate! She's 30 and he's...27!  (Have they never heard of Demi Moore?) She ultimately leaves her children and neurosurgeon husband of 10 years (oddly with his blessing and medical instructions on palliative care) to take care of the young man as he dies (while she is washing his feet and telling a joke) of a brain tumor for which he has rejected treatment.  Seventeen episodes.  

The message of the story is that one should never be where one does not belong; one should marry for love, not position; one should marry their true love because second chances don't come around.  (Kind of like buying things at Costco: get it while you love it and it's there.) Of course, in typical K-D fashion, if people would just say what's on their mind at the time, a lot of misery (and episodes) could be avoided.  It was a sad crazy love story, but I'm not sure I would have stuck with it without the driving instructor, played by Kim Nan-Jin.  He could help me with parallel parking any day!  

Lucky you live...anywhere!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Must Share This! Kapoop!

Been a little neglectful of the Tao 61s lately; busy with other venues: LinkedIn and Facebook, where there is more dialogue and immediate gratification that one is talking to someone.  I was a late adopter of these things, thought blogging was the ultimate, the best thing since Anthony Trollope's letterbox, or at least email.  But along comes "social media," the FedEx and UPS of online messaging.  Or is that Twitter? I haven't gone that route yet.

Also, been reading novels, something I haven't done for a while, and of course film and Chinese and Korean Drama.  I need to update my list of K-D and Chinese overflowed my movie list.  I keep track of this mostly for myself, a weird timeline. Maybe I should track all these on Facebook.

Most interesting viewing lately was with the arrival of Spring in a Small Town in a Netflix envelope.  Didn't I already watch this?  (My timeline was useful.) But no, that was Springtime in a Small Town, a very faithful remake of the earlier 1948 movie.  Like most originals, Spring was better than the Springtime remake. A black and white film that captured the weird cultural torpor of China in 1948,  it was ignored in 1949 when the Communists came to power, which suggests that Communists have no taste.  It had no overt socio-political overtones of either persuasion, so therefore was understood as a rightist statement. Unlike its glitzier and more sensational reincarnation of 2002, it is delicate and captures a China of nearly 65 years ago in a way that is not chic or romantic.  Just real.  It feels authentic.

On the sillier side, not that Korean drama is silly, one scene in the 20-episode Iljimae, a Robin Hood story that took a while to grab me, had me belly-laughing.  The commoners are revolting against the aristocrats, who are harboring a Chinese diplomat who wantonly killed an innocent child in what was essentially a drunk driving race, albeit on horseback.  The people want an apology and are gathered to demand this in sort of an Occupy movement in the early Qing (in a Small Town). To emphasize their frustration, they begin to collect horse manure to hurl at the palace guards.  The aristocrats are fearful: they have been advised that while wet manure is just slimy and stinky, dry manure can be made to explode.  (Even in the Joseon Dynasty, common fertilizer was regarded as a terrorist tool.) 

The other element of this drama, very popular when it first aired in 2008, that charmed me was the character of  a government assassin, basically a member of a death squad, who has deserted his post after being asked to wipe out a village, including a young girl.  Unlike the Chinese DUI equestrian, he can't do it and ends up adopting the girl. They become a team of con artists, he disguised as a mendicant monk who, when reciting his mantra says, "Dear Messy Buddha." Perhaps there is a Korean joke lost in subtitle translation of the usual "Amituofo".  (Among items he and his "daughter" sell are pornography and "gloves," condoms which appeal to the women whose husbands are buying the porn.) Dear Messy Buddha was a scene stealer and wholly redeemed character in the end, played by Anh Kil-Kang, who has me looking for the next drama where he appears.
Dear Messy Buddha and the Love of His Life

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Welcome Water Dragon

The second new year festival of the year, a yin start-over, and I fail as usual to cleanse the house of evil spirits, barely taking out the trash, let alone scrubbing floors and getting rid of chipped china. (I may however eat jai and gau tomorrow.) Today I finish reading a highly entertaining and useful book about China travel and language and watch Mao's Last Dancer and Kung Fu Panda 2, stories that have a lot more in common than you might at first think..

I'd read the biography that Mao's Last Dancer is based on when it came out, and forgot about it until a couple years ago when the film was showing locally in theaters with enthusiastic reviews. But I rarely go to theaters, so it wasn't until I saw the DVD in that evil purveyor of Chinese goods, Wal-Mart, at Christmas, that I picked it up.  Good story about defection and courage and dedication to craft (although the fact that it was filmed in part in China with a Chinese cast and crew suggests that defection isn't what it used to be), and the film features a stunning dancer, Chi Cao, from China via Britain, in the lead role.
Ballet, martial arts, whatever...levitation is levitation.
On to Kung Fu Panda 2, in which a group of animated stuffed animals skilled in wu shu, voiced by greats like Gary Oldman (the evil character) and James Hong, the panda's adoptive goose father, manage to save China.  With typical, classic wuxia themes of lost orphans, buddies, revenge, and lust for power (why did that White Peacock want to run China...I forget), it was cute and even brought me to tears (well, so did Mao's Last Dancer, maybe I'm just feeling soft these days). And it ends with Po the Panda's real panda dad discovering "My son is alive," thus guaranteeing Kung Fu Panda 3.  But it lacked one element I watch kick flicks for: hot martial artists with sultry expressions and swords and kick ass kicking.  No Vincent Zhao or Song-il Guk here.  CGI pandas just don't do it for me.

At least the ballet scenes in MLD were gorgeous and featured real men, and especially the one wherein Li Cuixin's peasant father sees his son perform on stage for the first time, quite lasciviously, compared to Madame Mao's requirements, in Rite of Spring. How strange it must have been for a peasant fresh from Shandong who probably hadn't even seen Peking opera. Dad hasn't seen his son for some ten years and asks after the finale, "But why aren't you wearing any clothes?" He doesn't need to worry about that, really.  Li Cuixin has since left the dance and become a stockbroker.

But I did get a little satisfaction from The Sorcerer and the White Snake, yet another retelling, with CGI, of the white snake legend, which I have enjoyed on stage in Chinese and English and in Zhang Yimou's Disney-esque light show fantasy in Hangzhou.  Not from Jet Li, though, but the singer/actor who plays the doomed love interest of  the White Snake, Raymond Lam, familiar to me from a few Hong Kong TV series.
OK, back of Ray's head, but Eva Huang is lovely as the love interest too.
Still nothing compares to Vincent Zhao (Chiu Man-cheuk) in Green Snake, where he plays the evil monk causing trouble for everyone.  He could cause trouble for me any time.

Does he look evil to you?