Friday, April 05, 2013

What's the Difference

I 've been slogging through The King and I, a 63-episode Korean drama, taking time out here and there for a movie or two because this tale of eunuch culture in the 15th century Joseon Dynasty was a little slow and dull.  Until this:

Apparently one of the eunuchs "regenerated his manhood", and a pregnancy among the court maids required that the culprit be found. I don't think "entertainer" was exactly the best translation for the person who did the patdowns. (This guy was innocent, incidentally, you can just tell.) And we think Washington politics is bizarre.

And it is.  One of my breaks from this costume romp has been revisiting The West Wing, where curiously, episodes from ten years ago seem just like the current news. Coups and mad cow threats and North Korean posturing and scandals involving hookers and secrets.  Nothing is new.  I am told that there are people who actually believed that Martin Sheen was the president, which is no surprise because his character was such a composite: Reagan and Carter and Clinton and maybe the elder Bush and FDR all rolled up in one who resembles a Kennedy.  With a staff of perpetual adolescents and one recovering alcoholic.

What strikes me though is the similarity (sans eunuchs) of the two power systems.  Ministers in silk robes and Congressmen in Brooks Brothers suits; a Queen or First Lady calling the shots (especially in the West Wing)  from behind the scenes; petitioning peasants and pissed off constituencies; wars and food crises and international imbalances of power.  And now that I think of it, the press corps is something like the eunuch department--seduced by power, privy to secrets, holding the cards but never really playing the game.   The eunuchs can look forward to being buried with their "three precious"; a journalist might get fame with a Pulitzer.

The distracting movies:
Back to 1942, a sad and moving look at the 1942 famine in Henan, exacerbated by Chiang Kai-shek and exposed by Theodore White.  This is a little like Flowers of War in gritty telling of China's misery during WWII.

The Last Tycoon, with Chow Yun-fat and Sammo Hung and a couple of younger guys I like a lot, including Gao Hu, who is equally interesting as an emperor or a loyal punk.  A Shanghai gangster story, something of a cross between the Godfather and Casablanca, based on some true history of the early Republican era and the Japanese occupation of the late '30s, The Last Tycoon is memorable for Chow Yun-fat's usual fine posture and gun-fu, and a strange scene with Sammo Hung as a stroke victim, naked and playing with a rubber duckie in a Chinese bath. 

Secretariat, from my Netflix queue, a Disney version of the great big-hearted red horse that won the Triple Crown in 1973. Actually, I remember that race, when Secretariat beat his serious contender by 31 lengths. The movie was a little like Titanic: you know how it's going to end, but this was more positive.  I thought my Netflix selection was  going to be the story about Seabiscuit...a race horse is a race horse...but I was confused.  I went back to look at the history of horse racing and praise youtube for making it possible to watch this race again. A race horse is a race horse, but Secretariat was something else:

Secretariat was lucky: no one messed with HIS genitals and he went on to sire something like 600 foals before he was put down at 19 because of a painful and incurable hoof condition. But like those eunuchs, Secretariat was buried as a whole horse (usually only the head, heart, and hooves of a winning race horse are buried, and the rest of the body is cremated).

Probably someone will protest something about horseracing; I always like to watch the horses run, and Secretariat and all those other famous thoroughbreds like Seabiscuit and Man o' War ...and Stewball, a dancin' and a prancin', clearly liked to run. I wish I coulda bet on one of them!

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