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