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My Short Films

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

VIDEO: Mi Ki's Birthday

Been a while since I've actually posted a video done by myself. Just returned from my Grandmother's house. There should be numerous Chinese New Year-related videos to cement my place as Malaysia's most prolific vlogger, just give me some time to edit them all. Updates might be pretty few until I'm done with some videos.

As for this birthday video, it is of a friend's, done almost a year ago. I'm uploading it here after receiving permission from Mi Ki, the birthday gal in the video. Have fun.

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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Swifty Reviews 'Fearless', Jet Li's Last Martial Arts Film.

Jet Li's Fearless Film Poster
Visiting the cinemas thrice in five days can be quite mindnumbing, but nevertheless, it is the Chinese New Year period, thus it is a little tradition of mine to see every single Chinese movie that's showing at the cinemas.

Fearless is widely-publicized as Jet Li's very last martial arts film and is a highly-fictionalized account of Huo Yuan Jia, founder of Jing Wu Men, a martial arts school in Shanghao, and a semi-prequel of sorts for Bruce Lee's film, Fist of Fury, and its 1994 remake, Fist of Legend (a Jet Li film!). (Huo Yuan Jia is the master of the films' protagonist, Chen Zhen, played by Bruce Lee and Jet Li)

There are a couple of reasons why this is the most looked-forward Chinese New Year blockbuster:

  1. Jet Li's first Chinese film since Hero.
  2. A non-Hollywood Jet Li film, thus it's unlikely to suck that much.
  3. Even if it sucks, it won't suck like 'The One'.
  4. or Cradle 2 the Grave.
  5. or Unleashed
  6. Unleashed isn't THAT bad, but hey, to see a guy who had played heroic figures for such a long time acting like a dog is kinda disturbing.
  7. Jet Li is dressed up like Wong Fei Hung, or Fong Sai Yuk, the characters of his breakthrough films, Once Upon A Time In China and Fong Sai Yuk. Thus this film will bring back memories.
  8. The trailer is cool.
  9. Jay Chou is doing the theme song. Even if the song consists of nothing but the sound of him farting, everyone will still love it.
The fighting scenes are choreographed by Yuen Woo Ping, he who did the fighting scenes for Matrix and Kill Bill, and yes, most of those Jet Li classics like the Once Upon A Time In China series and Fist of Legend, that it's pretty obvious Jet Li's saying goodbye to martial arts films by returning to his roots and allowing viewers to revisit the films that made him the household name he is now.

Unfortunately for me, they even brought back such nostalgic elements like dubbing Jet Li's voice. Despite the fact that his voice was dubbed in every single one of his HK films (except for the 1998 Hitman/King of Killers), I've gotten so used to his actual voice during his seven years in Hollywood that hearing him speak in a low-pitched, supposedly manly, heroic voice again just kinda irked me.

Plot in a nutshell: Arrogant and ruthless martial arts master (Jet Li) has defeated almost every single challenger that stood in his path, but a violent battle with a rival fighter triggered a chain of tragic events that destroyed his life. Losing the ones he loved, he fled to a peaceful village, discovered what it is like to live again and becomes a better and more noble person. He returns to Shanghai, becomes famous for fighting in a highly publicized match against a British boxer/wrestler, then is invited to an even more highly publicized match organized by four foreign ministers/investors (not sure) eager to let China see the fall of their hero.

Martial arts isn't about defeating your opponents, or getting revenge, it's about strengthening your mind, your soul, and your body. You must not strike fear upon others, all you have to do is win their respect. The best martial artists aren't the ones who can kick anyone's asses, they are the ones with HEART. They fight only to protect their loved ones, and cease fighting if it is necessary. One fight to discover himself more, his ultimate opponent is himself, and he has to defeat this opponent to become MIGHTY.

Right, lots of Zen Buddhism elements and other stuff that Jet Li had wanted to convey in the film, he had said that being his last martial arts film, he wanted to let his audiences know about his own philosophy about martial arts. Well, despite being rather preachy at times, it isn't as blatantly wince-inducing like 'The One', even so, his determination to deliver this message to his audiences disrupted the pacing of the film. I have to warn you all, it's not a testerone-charged film like those Once Upon A Time in China flicks, and unlike Wong Fei Hung (Once Upon A Time In China) who worries about big issues related to nationalism, patriotism and honour that make him larger-than-life, infusing within him a mythical quality that allows viewers to remain riveted throughout those films, this one's more like a drama, with a number of great fighting scenes scattered throughout. In most of the film, the demons Huo Yuan Jia deal with are more personal, which will very easily alienate lots of viewers who cannot relate to this character.

However, the fighting scenes are really good, albeit a little too brief. Just a swift burst of violence and brutality and BAM! It's over. Many of those impressive-looking fighting scenes shown in trailers actually lasted only for a few seconds. It's disappointing, but other than that, these fighting scenes in the film really did showcase Jet Li's true martial arts skills (no wire-fu rubbish or special effects), and remind people that no way you could ever see Jackie Chan doing the nifty moves Jet did in the movie.

I mean, c'mon, how many people besides me are actually tired of seeing Jackie Chan repeat the same routine in his films OVER AND OVER again.

  1. Jackie the reluctant hero goes on an adventure at some exotic country.
  2. He meets some a hot babe who is pretty useless throughout the film. (normally NOT a HK actress)
  3. Minions of bad guys appear, usually big white dudes, and instead of standing there and fight, Jackie runs off with hot babe.
  4. He gets to ACCIDENTALLY grope the chick whilst running.
  5. Jackie picks up all kinds of improvisional weapons and beats up the baddies.
  6. Jackie shows everyone that he can actually kick everyone's butts, and that there's really no reason at all that he has to run away from the big white dudes.
Why am I dissing Jackie Chan in a Jet Li film review? It's simple, I'm somewhat worried about Jet Li's future. The fact that he doesn't want to appear in anymore martial arts film is somewhat reassuring, you won't see him recycling his bag of tricks for another twenty years like Jackie Chan does. However, if he does NOT appear in a martial arts film, what the hell is he going to be in?

A comedy? Er... right.
Horror film? ... wait, you mean I'm supposed to believe that Jet Li's defenseless against ghosts?
Romance? AAAAAAAAAAARGH!

Warm-hearted family drama? Action thriller? Political satire?

Jet Li is a better actor than most people give him credit for, but I'm not sure whether he can really reinvent himself as a character actor instead of an action star (like Bruce Willis did).

When the film ended, the guy sitting behind me was weeping. I'm not sure whether it was because of the emotional ending, or because the idea of seeing Jet Li in a romantic film in the future.

(Note: It's been announced that Jet Li has signed up for a film called 'Rogue', which co-stars Jason Statham of Transporter fame. Jet's going to play a brutal and ruthless assassin. I have mixed feelings for this one)

P.S. Happy Chinese New Year!

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Friday, January 27, 2006

Swifty Reviews 'My Kung Fu Sweetheart'


There are times when I want to become Malaysia's Wong Jing. I know this is a startling revelation for you all, that I would choose to be Wong Jing, instead of, say, Wong Kar Wai, or Ingmar Bergman, or Truffaut, or Godard, or Fellini, or even Tarantino, but the fact is, judging by the current indie film scene, Malaysia needs a Wong Jing-type guy.

His productivity is just simply prodigious (he made 5-6 films in a year, I struggled to finish one short film in a year), and the way he capitalizes and exploits the current popular trend in Hong Kong to rake in some cheap bucks clearly shows that he's a damned good businessman, after all, this is a guy who knows that he's doing his films for commercial and entertainment value, and not high art, unlike a certain filmmaker who had just directed the very first 'cantonese art film of Malaysia'. After all, most Malaysian indie films are pretty morose and sullen, where they touch upon DEEP issues, with these DEEP issues happening on ANGSTY characters.

Let's take everyone's most beloved Sepet for example, I would die to see a parody of it. (cooler if the cast members are enough sport to reprise their roles) The same can be said about most other local films not named Senario, come to think of it. A comedy version of Puteri Gunung Ledang? A spoof of James Lee's The Beautiful Washing Machine called The Ugly-Ass Crickety Broken Down Washing Machine?

And thus, I continue my fantasies. But let's get back to Wong Jing. Yes, he's known for making lowbrow comedies and generally unfunny parodies who are funny because of their unfunny-ness, but at least this is a guy who tries to do nothing but to entertain. One can say that Wong Jing belongs to another level of excellence, an excellence in consistently creating films that cannot be easily measured by critics, that he has already defied what is usually used to measure the merits of a film. Entertainment value? Humour? Most of the time, his jokes fall flat, but it is like meeting a guy who is constantly trying to make you laugh with ridiculously unfunny jokes, you may end up laughing, not at the jokes, but at the guy's efforts.

And for this, Wong Jing is godly. During the late 80s and early 90s, he was the one who had the HK film industry in his hands, constantly racking one megahit after another. The gambling films (God of Gamblers and the numerous sequels), and then most of Stephen Chow's biggest hits (Fight Back To School), and some non-Once Upon A Time In China/Fong Sai Yuk Jet Li films. Then he fizzled out, and he ceased to become the box-office juggernaut like he was before, everything he made since then, beginning from the late 90s... they were well, Wong Jingesque. Films that aren't high art, but not exactly entertaining either, just Wong Jingesque. Films that make you, well, maybe smile with amusement (or shake your head in disgust) for a while, and then once they're over, you'll probably forget about them immediately. (this is proven by the extensive research I've done to joy my own memory while I am writing this review)

But he did try to prove to critics that comedies weren't the only thing he was capable of, as he would usually churn out a serious and dramatic film once or twice a year (the most recent ones being Colour of the Truth and Colour of the Loyalty, both triad films, Slim Til Dead, a crime thriller, Moving Targets, a police drama), they aren't masterpieces, but at least they are passably involving. After stomaching that many pop culture references and recycled jokes, these are at least somewhat... not very Wong Jing-esque, and you can see that he might not really be as complacent as his critics have claimed.

His latest effort, 'My Kungfu Sweetheart', marks the third collaboration between Yuen Qiu and Yuen Wah since the massive hit Kungfu Hustle. The cast also includes Cecilia Cheung (who seems to be in every single HK film these days) and cantopop singer Leo Ku (might be a film debut, I'm not sure, but I can't remember him being in anything besides TV dramas). It is the first Wong Jing film funded by Mainland China, and according to him, his homage to martial arts films and books (Wong Jing is a hardcore Louis Cha [Jing Yong] fan, he has a full collection of his books), plus his attempt in making an 'Eastern Harry Potter' since Wuxia books have always been the Eastern equivalent of sword-and-sorcery fantasy literature.

Phoenix (Cecilia Cheung) is the daughter of martial arts experts (Yuen Wah and Yuen Qiu), but she didn't know about her identity until she was 14, when she was brought to learn martial arts in this mountain during her summer vacation (replace martial arts with magic and you'll get Harry Potter). Years later, when a renegade kungfu master, Paimei (yeah, the one in Kill Bill) begins killing his business rivals in his bid to become the richest man in Asia, Phoenix and her parents (now estranged) has to save the day, as one of Paimei's targets is Phoenix's office boss, Dragon (Leo Ku), whom she has a crush on.

I'll go straight to the point. This film isn't that good, but it does not suck either. There are some jokes that work (the initials for COOO), and elements in the film that will make you go 'WTF?' for its SHEER SURREALISM (the mythical condor from the 'Legend of Condor Heroes' is a guy dressed up in a bird suit), some supposedly emotional scenes ended up feeling hollow because of the thin characterization, the fighting scenes aren't choreographed that well, the special effects, like most Chinese films these days, are distractingly bad, there are just too many plot strands that were ignored completely (or forgotten) when the film ended. But Sammy Leung (he plays the archrival in Ronald Cheng's Super Model) steals the film as Dragon's lecherous and assholish buddy, to the point where I wish that the subplot he's in would've expanded further, unfortunately, Wong Jing just isn't that good a storyteller, his films usually involve him linking some humour skits together, and for such a film, it really doesn't work. What surprised me was that I actually saw this film having the potential to be pretty good, which isn't something I would usually say for a Wong Jing film.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Swifty Shows You Stunning Photos of Waterfall, Rude Babies and Cute Puppies That Will Make You Cry.

Yeah, I still have quite a number of photos taken during my trip in China that I haven't posted yet. The reason being that I wanted to finish making the videos of the trip (yes, it's still ongoing) before showing y'all this, but I guess it doesn't really matter. (If you want to view the earlier videos of my trip, check out my vlog section.)

Just click the photos for the large versions and their descriptions. They are all arranged in chronological order, taken at Wuyishan, China. The rest (from Shanghai) will come later.

Obnoxious Baby

Bridge to Green Dragon Waterfall

In front of Green Dragon Waterfall

Green Dragon Waterfall

Tiptoeing Little Sister.

A cute puppy. Wuyishan, China.

A litter of puppies. Wuyishan, China.

All right, that's all, going to cook up a review for the latest Wong Jing film, 'My Kung Fu Sweetheart' later.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Swifty Reviews 'Fun With Dick and Jane'.


Maybe it had to do with Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or maybe it happened even earlier, maybe it happened with Truman Show, or maybe it had to do with this long-kept secret of mine, that I actually ENJOYED the sentimental schmaltz The Majestic (I'm a sucker for courtroom scenes and all those generic BIG speeches).

But somehow, I just seem to enjoy Jim Carrey in a drama more than in a comedy these days. Despite being his personal top-grossing movie, I wasn't that impressed with Bruce Almighty (it was kinda good, but not THAT good). And despite the great-looking settings, Series of Unfortunate Events left me rather underwhelmed (and it didn't really strike me as a Jim Carrey film). Perhaps I am more impressed with his dramatic acting skills than his talent for humour, and that I am just as disgusted with the Academy for never giving him an Oscar nomination for either Truman Show or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. But I'll get back to that later.

His latest, Fun With Dick and Jane is a comedy, but it's not as funny as everyone would have expected. In fact, to me, this is more a tragicomedy than a comedic comedy. We see a man, Dick, (Carrey) who finally gets a long-awaited promotion after 15 years of serving his company, only to realize that his new role as vice president in charge of communications is to serve as spokesman as his company's stock is plummeting. His company is exposed as nothing but a lie and worth less than zero, and he has to suffer the consequences. (it's supposed to be a satire of Enron)

His wife, Jane, quits her job because of his big promotion, but with this cruel blow of fate, both of them lose their retirement savings, their lawn, their furnitures, the electricity, everything. Things become so dire that the couple and their son have to shower under the neighbour's lawn sprinklers. The husband tries to get a job, only to be laughed at for his meltdown on TV by interviewers . Then he suffers all kinds of indignity, gets beaten up, and arrested when he tries working as a supermarket greeter and a day laborer. The wife signs up to be a lab rat for a cosmetic product testing, and her face becomes swollen after going through its negative effects. Suffering from sheer poverty, they even have to eat at the local soup kitchen.

The scenes of our protagonists' misfortunes elicited some laughter, but it's undeniable that Dick and Jane are indeed suffering for real, and that what was played laughs in this movie could very easily been a tragedy in another. So, Dick and Jane decide to overcome this adversity by robbing banks, and we get to see them trying to get their revenge against those who have wronged them during the first half of the movie. Whatever poignancy I sensed at first dissipated once the film becomes a slapstick, light comedy.

There isn't much for me to say about this film, except for the surprise I felt when I realized that it isn't as fun as its title suggested, and how sad it actually has the potential to be. But why am I harbouring such thoughts when I was only watching a Jim Carrey comedy? Perhaps I share this reviewer's sentiments. Here's an excerpt from that review.

It's a real shame, and I blame us for it. He was great in more dramatic roles like Man On The Moon, The Truman Show and The Majestic, but Jim never received Oscar nominations or high praise for those. Instead, while George Clooney is allowed to grow up and make acclaimed films like Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck (and rack up all sorts of golden awards and nominations for them), Carrey is forced to dress up like Cher in Fun with Dick and Jane. That's right, LAUGH CLOWN LAUGH. The world is telling him to act silly, put himself through physical torture and entertain us. Just don't try to be serious anymore. It's a shame because he deserves better than this movie, which almost took away my Christmas cheer.
Even WILL SMITH has gotten an Oscar nomination... in spite of Bad Boys 2, Men In Black 2 and Wild Wild West, yet all these are denied from Jim Carrey, it's kinda ridiculous really. So, I'm sure many will prefer to see Jim Carrey in a comedy, but for me, I will wait for the day when Jim Carrey is in a drama again.

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

Swifty Reviews 'Good Night, And Good Luck'


I believe one has to do some research on American history to really appreciate 'Good Night, And Good Luck', George Clooney's sophomore directorial effort, more as it is about an important political case that affected the entire nation back then. (Click here for the Wikipedia entry about McCarthyism, and here for the entry about Joseph McCarthy). I actually did some readings about this a couple of months ago when I learnt about the existence of this film and its subject matter, and well, to me, it was rather interesting.

A brief summary about McCarthyism:

From 1950-1954, in their attempts to counter the American Communist Party subversion, people suspected of being Communists and Communist sympathizers, the US government subjected all kinds of people into aggressive witchhunts based on questionable or inconclusive evidences.

During that period, Senator Joseph McCarthy would destroy his political opponents by accusing them as traitors. Many lives were ruined, the nation was simmering with tension, even numerous Hollywood stars were driven out of the country for possibly being associated to communism (Charlie Chaplin was one of them).

And so, annoyed with McCarthy's bullying ways, a group of newsmen, led by television journalist Edward W. Murrow, attempted to remove this political cancer from office to ensure freedom in their country. This happened with the airing of Murrow's critical 'Report on Joseph R McCarthy', and also the broadcasting of video footages showing McCarthy's controversial interrogating methods. Witnessing him in action for the first time (and not just a mere name in a newspaper article), there was a negative backlash against him from the public.

Desperate to save his reputation, McCarthy appeared on Murrow's show three weeks later and threw silly accusations and personal attacks at Murrow. The senator ended up making an ass out of himself (... Murrow was really popular), his popularity declined further, and that signaled the end of his powers.

The film 'Good Night, And Good Luck' is about the conflict between Murrow and McCarthy, from the show that criticized McCarthy, to the show where McCarthy foolishly tried attacking Murrow. It's pretty short (90 minutes), and besides a banquet scene, a bedroom scene, and a jazz lounge the entire film takes place in the CBS station. The tension Murrow (David Strathairn, cool beyond belief, looking more like Humphrey Bogart than Murrow) and his colleagues felt when they decided to launch in the attack, how Murrow and his faithful producer, Fred Friendly (George Clooney) had to pay for the losses suffered by their station when advertisers backed out.

It's black and white, and shot in such a way that one would indeed believe that it was a film of the 1950s (I know I would if I couldn't recognize the actors in it), no showoffy camera techniques were used (like Clooney did in his directorial debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), everything was driven by dialogue, and the atmosphere, where everything's shrouded in shadows and swirling cigarette smokes, is perfectly noirish. And most interestingly, instead of getting an actor to play Joseph McCarthy, Clooney actually used stock footages of that actual guy, thus making things seemed much more realistic, it wouldn't be strange when one would start to think that he was watching a documentary instead of a film with George Clooney in it.

So yes, it's entirely dialogue-driven, it does not take place in anywhere else but the CBS station, but it's riveting, to see how these courageous newsmen would cope at the face of adversity, when all odds were stacked against them. I have described what the film is like, it's now a matter of whether it'll interest you enough to check it out.

And many have said that the situation faced by the Americans then during the McCarthyism era is similar to what they're facing now. I would like to say that it is similar to the current political climate in Malaysia, but most of all, I couldn't help but think of the blogospheres in Singapore and Malaysia. People tend to have different viewpoints on certain situations, and conflict arises when none of them agree to disagree, although the actions of one party is deplorable and perhaps inexcusable, the actions taken by the opposing party to perpetually harp about the former's wrongdoings, their beliefs in binary oppositions, their inability to accept anyone who does not agree with their opinions definitely do not make them any better as individuals. After all, what was meant to be a noble service for McCarthy's own country became a selfish display (or sheer abuse) of powers. One does not simply become a 'good person' just because the things he opposes are 'bad', yet because some people are so stubborn in their beliefs that opposing something bad will immediately make them good that they can find all kinds of justifications for any questionable actions they have done against their oppositions.

"We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and our doctrine; and remember that we are not descended from fearful men. Not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate, and to defend causes that were for the moment unpopular."
- Edward W. Murrow, 9th of March, 1954
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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Swifty Reviews 'The 3rd Generation', A Malaysian Film Masterpiece.

It happened more than a week ago, when I chanced upon Jesscet's entry (I believe she's a writer for KL Lifestyle and possibly a journalist for Malay Mail) about the Malaysian production, 'The Third Generation' where she mentioned that the film being billed as the very first 'Cantonese art film in Malaysia'.

Never much of a fan of anyone who labels non-mainstream films as 'art films, I left a comment showing my curiosity.

"First Cantonese art film in Malaysia? Really? What about those stuff by James Lee? I just feel that the term 'art film' is highly subjective. Usually used to describe aethestically-pleasing (that's rather debatable) non-mainstream films ala Wong Kar Wai's works, or in America, non-mainstream films that are shown in arthouse cinemas (instead of those cineplexes), knowing that 'art' films are generally non-profitable, I find it strange that the filmmakers of 'The Third Generation' would label their own film as an 'art' film. Let alone, the first ever in Malaysia."

(Note: I mentioned James Lee because his 'Beautiful Washing Machine' was mostly in Cantonese, whilst both Ho Yuhang and Tan Chui Mui's works were in Mandarin)

However, this RM1 million production is indeed marketed as THE first art film in Malaysia, and Malaysia's submission to the 2006 Cannes' Film Festival (according to this Think Online review). I wasn't sure whether it was worthy of making such lofty claims, but after seeing this film just now, I realized that 'The Third Generation' will most likely win the Palm d'Or award, and make massive ripples throughout the international circuit, leading to its inevitable Oscar nomination for next year's Best Foreign Film award.

This film is art.

Its settings, 1970s Penang, came alive in its own, drapped in lush romantic colours, accentuating the diverse and complex Malaysian Chinese culture. Not even Tokyo was portrayed that well in Lost In Translation, and Wong Kar Wai and his cinematographer Chrisopher Doyle were made to look like amateurs in their portrayal of 1960s Hong Kong in 'In The Mood For Love' and '2046'. For, this was a 1970s Penang unlike anything we've seen before, .

There is a Chinese proverb that said that a family's accumulated wealth cannot be maintained past the 3rd Generation, this is a tale of the Chan family headed by a patriarch (a magnificent Cheng Kam Cheong, as dignified as Anthony Hopkins) who believes in preserving the Chinese traditions and customs, and his relationship with his UK-educated son, Charlie (the Clark Gable-esque Nicholas Teo), and Charlie's westernized bride, Susan (whose luminous beauty rivals Audrey Hepburn's).

Can Charlie handle his family's business, when he is torn between the love of his wife and his beautiful secretary Linda (a marvellous Carmen Soo)? This is actually a sci-fi film, time had ceased to move around the characters, the clock was eternally stuck at 3 o clock, and the clandestine meetings between Charlie and his mistress Linda consist solely of them stretching their sentences and then speaking simultaneously and incorrigibly whilst giggling at each other at the empty night streets.

But then, there was no need for them to speak comprehensibly as the viewers were all bearing witness to a highly private moment between two soulmates, and the words they whispered to each other were so secretive and seductive that it would be an injustice to be portrayed onscreen, for, what they said to each other were only meant for themselves, and not for the viewers.

Time never moved. Always stuck at 3 o'clock. Because ambitious first-time director CL Hor is implementing the great Russian director, Andrei Arsenyevich Tarkovsky's 'Sculpting in Time' theory upon his own film. Basically turning his film into a medium that takes our experiece of time and alter it, by using long takes and few cuts in his films, Tarkovsky aimed to give viewers a sense of time passing, time lost, and the relationship of one moment in time to another. But CL Hor took this a step further by infusing upon the film a feeling of stillness and immobility, a sense that the film would never end and all scenes would linger, trapped within time. It was how I felt when I saw the 'Third Generation', that it would never actually end, and that I would remain in the cinema for eternity, experiencing the pains of timelessness like the film characters.

Dialogue meant nothing in this film, everything that was spoken were meant to be mysterious, haunting and lyrical, like the lyrics of a song from heaven. One will never discern what the characters were saying to each other, there was no need to, the love between the three protagonists were illustrated most in two impressively shot dream scenes that paralleled one another. Susan dreamt of her dancing with her husband, but all she could see were two silhouttes dancing in a room shrouded in darkness, whilst minutes later, we see Linda dreaming of her dancing with Charlie, and this time, both characters could be clearly seen. Why? To illustrate the fact that Susan's relationship with Charlie had reduced to nothing but a fading shadow, whilst Linda and Charlie's forbidden relationship was represented by a smoldering, erotic dance. It was the most sizzling and sexy scene I've ever seen in years.

A normal person could try analyzing and reviewing this film using conventional methods, and then criticize it for its soulless, emotionless core. (like Malay Mail's review here) But that would be superficial, for this is a practice of minimalism at its finest, director CL Hor had drawn his influence from the likes of Godard, Truffaut and Antonioni, but surpassing all these three cinematical masters by conjuring a climatic romantic scene of sheer exhuberance. Instead of using dialogue, or facial expressions exchanged between our ill-fated lovers, a pop ballad was used, and we were able to see our two leads each taking turns to strike poses before the camera, culminating with the male protagonist weeping by himself.

This was a love shared only by two people. Their surroundings meant nothing.

And things weren't meant to be, and we knew it.

After all, the furthest distance in our world is not the distance between one end of the universe to another, nor is it between life and death, or between one who cannot return her affections to another. The furthest distance in our world is the distance between two lovers ignored their own feelings despite their great love for each other.

Nothing summed this up better than the scene.

It was surrealism.

It was filmmaking mastery.

It was sheer genius.

I wept and knelt in reverence after the film was over. I had just seen the one film destined to change the face of Malaysian film history, and I was grateful of my own existence.

"When asked why he wanted to do an 'art film' in a Malay Mail interview, CL Hor said,

"There’re three dimensions to it. First, an art film usually gets more recognition at film festivals and competitions. I was thinking what I could do for my first movie. If I were to do a comedy, I don’t have Stephen Chow; action film, I don’t have Jet Li and Jackie Chan; and romance, I don’t have Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung. The second thing is though our resources are limited, I discovered we have many talents in Malaysia and I need to find a platform for them. I also wanted to do something which will make Malaysia proud. And third, as Malaysian Chinese, sometimes we don’t seem to have an identity of who we are. I want to portray that identity in an artistic way so people in other countries would have a better understanding of who we are. Why Cantonese? Because many of us grew up watching Hong Kong TV drama series. We speak Cantonese with a mixture of other dialects. So, it’s easier for us to distribute the film in the Asian market, like China and Taiwan, as a foreign language film. As for Hong Kong, I want to tell them we speak the same language, but with our own ‘gist’. "

His answer showed that CL Hor had done something film legend Orson Welles had never done, considering the marketability and commercial viability of his film, this is a man who will not try to get his film studio in trouble. There was no need to lament about his inability to get Stephen Chow, Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung in his debut feature, for it was THEIR loss to not have the opportunity to collaborate with this genius.

I had learnt much from him after reading his Malay Mail interview, despite being a filmmaker myself as well, I had always been naive, and I didn't really try make the kind of films labeled as 'art films', and then ship them to film festivals. Simply because I dare not make such bold assumptions like CL Hor did. One line in 'Perhaps Love' by Jackie Cheung (who played a filmmaker) stuck with me.

"There's no indie or commercial films, those are only methods for me to make my films, and I only strive to make good films."

But after seeing 'The Third Generation', I realized that I should adhere to CL Hor's way of thinking. Instead of trying to make a 'good' film, I shall aim to make 'art' films for the sake of gaining recognition overseas.


[UPDATED 24/12/2008: Two years later, in 2008, the highlight of THE 3RD GENERATION, Miss Carmen Soo, would star in a very nice little award-winning film called KURUS, or known to overseas audiences as DAYS OF THE TURQUOISE SKY, which you can read about in detail here in this blog. I really think that DAYS OF THE TURQUOISE SKY is a good film with a wonderful performance from Carmen, but then, I may be biased, being one of the film's producers and editor. *winks*]

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Swifty's Blogosphere Tale Part 3: Heroic Xiaxue Slayers

This is a Paul Di Filippo-inspired fictional (satirical?) dystopic, sorta sci-fi/fantasy tale that is serialized on this blog every week.

Part 1: The Political Activist And His Murderous Little Birds is here.
Part 2: Bloggers Who Do Lots of Cutting And Pasting is here.




Jeff Ooi
Liewcf
Kahsoon

I wrote their names on a piece of paper, taking note of the once-mighty Malaysian bloggers I've met in Kuala Lumpur thus far, and then struck them off, a reminder that I won't interview them for a future documentary, considering their rather unstable emotional state.

Petaling Street was near, the omnipresent stalls, the pirated dvd and vcd vendors, reduced to half of their original number since the death of the Internet, yet the rumbling and buzzing of noises remained, people screaming the prices of their wares, and potential buyers haggling with them. Rumours have said that many bloggers have chosen to stay here, Petaling Street, the place, the chinatown in Kuala Lumpur, being treated as a replacement of the former blog aggregrator, Project Petaling Street. Oh the irony.

Yet I was weary and hungry, especially after all those running, hiding, sneaking, snooping and emotionally-charged confrontations I had with those 'big-named bloggers'. (pardon the inverted commas, but somehow, to regard bloggers as celebrities is still too strange a thing for me to do)

My stomach groaned.

I was hungry, and there wasn't a sight more welcoming than the familiar Golden Arches sign. The McDonald's near the entrance of Petaling Street. A calming presence before a maelstrom of Chaos. I would've prefered a Burger King, since a regular Whopper was twice the size of a Big Mac, but I wasn't in the position to choose.

I walked in.

Not many others were in there, the workers were already cleaning the floor and only one girl remained behind the counter. I ordered myself a Big Mac (since there weren't any bigger burgers in this sorry place). She disappeared into the kitchen, and reemerged moments later with a tray of food I've ordered.

Finding a seat at the corner of the place, I started eating in solitude.

That was, before a group of black-hooded midgets entered. Their skin were shrivelled and pale, their eyes piercing and fierce, searching, scanning about, until they fixed their attention upon me, and headed towards my direction. I ceased eating and looked at them.

"My good sir," said the midget leader. "I can see from the weariness in your eyes and the sorrow upon your face that you have suffered much from the negative influence of Xiaxue. But fear not, we will help you purge this venomous presence that linger within your innocent soul. Please read this expose, that exposes all her evil deeds, and also, sign our petition."

"Hm? What can the 'Blogging Queen of Singapore' do when the Internet has died and she has lost her blog?" I stared in confusion.

"Continue spreading filth as columnist of Strait Times." The midget leader said. "The traditional media remains a dangerous tool for her to further her own evil ambitions. The youth of Singapore, nay, not just the youth, but people of all ages are poisoned and corrupted by her malicious words. We need more people to sign this petition. She must die!"

"Will it be effective?" I frowned.

"Aye, if she sees the petition, with hundreds of people signing it, she will be ashamed of her sins, and chooses to step down. After all, people of pure evil like her can never withstand the collective fury of righteousness and justice." The midget leader said. "Yes, we will send her the petition."

"Yes, it is a pretty impressive number." I said.

"Otherwise, we can send the petition to her superiors at Strait Times. Although we form only a tiny percentage of the entire populace, our souls burn brightly with anger, our cries of anguish will be heard! The people of Strait Times will ignore the fact that there are thousands and thousands of readers who are reading her filth and cave in to our demands. The people of Strait Times will preserve their integrity and fire Xiaxue!"

"Yaaay! Let's run her over with a truck!" Said another excited midget.

And then they all burst into a song, for a few seconds, before the midget leader continued speaking.

"After all, there shouldn't be any shades of grey in this world of ours! There can only be black and white. And nothing can be blacker than that racist black-hearted bitch! We are white, you see! Everything we do, we do it for the sake of humanity and justice. We are smart, thus we know what is right for everyone. It's either you are a XX sympathizer, or you're with us. XX sympathizers are poor wretched fools, we must approach them one by one and convert them. There is no other way, they MUST conform to our ideals, otherwise, the world will continue its decadence."

"How noble." I said. "It is rare to see people fighting so hard for the things they believe in. Sad sacks like me are too indifferent to such matters, I doubt I can ever generate enough passion and spend almost every single minute of my life fighting against a single person like that. And to force everyone to follow my ideals! Geez, that's even more daunting!"

The midgets glowed happily at my praise. The midget leader spoke out. "Ah, you flatter us, yet this is a difficult mission, and we are forced to mete out punishments against those who have fallen too deeply into Xiaxue's web of lies and deceit. We need a new world, a world without sinners. Those who have sinned will have to pay, even though it is painful for us to be their executioners. But everything we do to bring Xiaxue down is justifiable, since we ARE doing it for humanity, whilst Xiaxue's a bane of mankind. We are good people, but we are often misunderstood. No one can blame us for trying to make the world a better place. People are stupid, once they don't take what Xiaxue writes seriously, they'll all burn in hell. There is nothing out there that can remedy the seeds of evil Xiaxue had planted upon their minds and soul. Xiaxue deserves no sympathy, that vile bitch isn't human, she is merely a personification of everything that is wrong with our world."

"Ah, guess I'll have to sign the petition." I said cheerfully, eyeing the petition.

"Your aid will be invaluable to us in this noble quest to liberate the minds of people from Xiaxue's curse." The midget leader said. Meanwhile, the other midgets have removed a sack from their suitcase, covered entirely in blood. They opened the sack. Stench of rotting flesh assaulted my nostrils. "This is baby Penny. We visited her parents begging them to sign the petition, yet they turned us away. We killed them, and then we smashed the baby's head into the wall. The filth that linger within the treacherous place known as their home can only be cleansed by the blood of sinners. We were emulating the execution of Caligula, third emperor of Rome. After all, he was an evil man who disembowelled his sister when she told him she was bearing his child."

"Yeah, Caligula's an asshole." I said, signing the petition. "I'm sure you were doing the right thing. You guys always do anyway."

"Thank you." The midget leader wept tears of manly emotions whilst the others were carefully keeping the baby's corpse into the suitcase again. "I assure you, we will continue our crusade against Xiaxue, and soon she will be overthrown. I swear by my soul. And can you spare some change? All proceeds will go to the Exelex foundation. It will be productive, I swear."

"Sure." I rummaged for some coins in my pocket and handed it to them.

The midgets bowed in unison and left, continuing their noble quest to supplant this dehumanized evil entity known as Xiaxue.

I continued eating, the Big Mac was becoming more tasteless than ever.

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

Xialanxue Should Just Kiss Swifty's Gorgeous Behind.

You all know me, I'm generally a peace-loving guy who seldom, hell, almost NEVER gets involved in any of those bloglitics, blog wars, blogblahblahwhateverthehellyoucallharhar crap. I'm seldom provocative, I'm not even much of a shit-stirrer, ultimately, I'm just a peace-loving, good-natured writer filmmaker trying to use this blog as a medium for me to communicate with the public, and also to sharpen my personal writing skills, a medium for me to make myself heard.

My decision to distance myself from such matters is simple, I'm just not the type of person who likes immersing himself too much into something as it would affect my rationality and judgement. Hence my mild annoyance, back in October, when, after a meeting with dear old Kenny Sia at Perth, I was repeatedly asked by some others who were also present at the meeting to help... 'clean up' some mess that involved a certain beauty pageant's little sister who wanted to keep her own identity private. I was annoyed because non-issues were blown out of proportions, and that was the particular period when I started the whole 'I am a guy with a blog, but not a blogger' thing.

So, while my attention is usually on foreign blogs ever since my Sellout Week, I am not entirely oblivious to some going-ons in both the local and Singaporean blogosphere (... updates usually provided to me by bloggers on my MSN list).

Obviously, I know about Xialanxue's existence, how the hell not? That blog is a favourite gathering place for all Xiaxue haters. Where discourses of sheer intensity would usually occur between the haters, and the apologists, whilst Xialanxue would just sit back and laugh, and giggle at the traffic he's getting. I had never considered Xiaxue to be important enough to really give a rat's ass about her opinion (it also had to do with the fact that I can't seem to muster any emotions when I'm online), thus I was just as easily indifferent towards Xialanxue as well.

Then, the whole Dawn Yang fiasco occurred. Which coincided with my Sellout Week. People began capitalizing on Dawn Yang's name to get some free hits upon their blog by simply peppering their blogs with Dawn's name.

"Dawn Yang! Oh, I thought it was her, but it wasn't actually Dawn Yang, it seemed that I was thinking so much about Dawn Yang that every women I met I would thought that they were Dawn Yangs, which was a bad thing when you have so many Dawn Yangs floating upon your heads, why, Dawn Yang, are you doing this to me, Dawn Yang?"


((Of course, Dawn Yang had officially became Dawn Yeo now, which elevated my suspicions that we may actually be distantly related, and thus making our subtle, and somewhat imagined romance rather icky and incestuous))

Where was I? Ah, yes, Xialanxue, being the smart opportunist he was, decided to take advantage of this situation by positioning himself (or herself?) as the ringleader of the Dawn Yang witchhunt, the one who screamed the loudest when calling out to her to explain about her surgery. Whilst my Sellout Week was a blatant attempt to score some publicity for my underrepresented, underrated, underappreciated self. Xialanxue's tactics somehow put me to shame. For a while, I had wished that I would be just as devoid as conscience as he, but that would make me a paparazzi, not the idealistic and thoughtful, and very poetic and romantic writer filmmaker I am now.

Of course, despite being mildly annoyed with Xialanxue's over-the-top methods to generate traffic (narcissistic I may be, I'm still sensible enough to remain silent when someone tries so hard to steal away my limelight), I had not said anything until I noticed that Dawn Yang was writing back to him. And then, I interfered. But that is not a tale I intend to share here.

So, months have passed, I was in semi-hiatus (more with experimenting on video blogging, gathering ammunition to improve my blog, look at how 'Web 2.0' it is now) for quite some time, masking my disgust with certain machinations of the blogosphere in general with silence and indifference.

But today, I'm finally pushed to the edge. A rare Xialanxue ping emerged upon Project Petaling Street. I clicked it. Knowing that it would either be related to Xiaxue or Dawn Yang, since only these two topics (most probably the former) would really draw any interest from Malaysian readers. So, based on that Xlx entry, there was more drama at the Singapore blogosphere. The feud between Blinkymummy (another renowned Singaporean blogger... maybe er, Singapore's version of 5xmom?) and Xiaxue had somewhat escalated to the point where Xiaxue created a hate site for herself and imitated Xialanxue to diss Blinkymummy.

That's the gist of it. I might be wrong about the details.

Normally, I would've just read through the entry, grin in amusement and move on. No big deal, not much for me to really get involved in. I was disinterested. And then, some weird shit happened, despite all the efforts I've made with protecting myself from popups, spyware and such, A FREAKING POPUP AD APPEARED when I was there.

Hmmmm. I frowned slightly. And closed the popup window.

There were some screenshots on the entry which Xlx asked readers to click. Inquisitivity had always been an unfortunate trait of mine, thus I clicked it. And gasped in horror when the thing was a FREAKING ADVERTISEMENT.

I thought I might have been affected by spyware, thus I went back, refreshed, and click the pic again... ANOTHER ADVERTISEMENT.

Outraged by this... violation of privacy, I've decided to leave a comment on the blog, to reprimand Xlx for taking advantage of me LIKE THAT!

... clicking to the comments box led me to another advertisement.

I shrieked in anger, ripped out my monitor and flung it against the wall. I've never been that angry. I kicked at the ruined computer until my leg started bleeding profusely, I screamed until my voice went hoarse. I had no idea how long I've lose my consciousness, but when I woke up, I was lying on a puddle of blood. Gritting my teeth in pain, I struggled to get up, and limped my way towards another computer at home. And so, I ended up writing this entry.

A vulture of commerce, preying upon discord, benefiting endlessly from the seeds of dissonance. I had long known Xialanxue to be this, yet my carelessness had made me another fool who fell for his trafficmongering, moneymongering ways. You people can say all you want about Kahsoon or LiewCF, or say all you want about ME, but when it comes to traffic whoring, Xialanxue has no equal in both Singapore and Malaysia. Once again, it's unfortunate that I have a conscience.

And what have I done? By launching myself angrily into writing this entry, I had unknowingly contributed free publicity for Xialanxue again. And I don't have the heart to erase such a long entry after spending such a long time writing it. Now let's see whether I can latch myself upon every single one of Xialanxue's blog entries with the backlinks feature.

The Great Swifty had sunk into the level of normal mortals by posting this entry and participating in this mudslinging. And because of this, I have positioned myself at a tricky position as well. Despite everyone's anger towards George W Bush's infamous 'you're either with me, or against me' quote, we DO live in a world of binary oppositions*. You're either with the haters, or you're with Xiaxue. There's no in-between. It's a sad fact I learnt when I wrote an entry which I agreed with Xiaxue's 'person with a blog is different from a blogger'/ 'person who swims is different from a swimmer' comments. Some started denouncing everyone who agreed with her as, what? Xombies? Grunts? WTF? It sucks when you're with the minority, eh?

So, it seems that by lashing out against Xialanxue, people will now look at me and label me as a 'Xiaxue sympathizer'.

What. Have. I. Done????

(Imagine the last line spoken like Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode 3 after he helped kill Mace Windu....

(... man I'm such a geek)

Edit (13/1/2006): Seems that Xialanxue had listened to the Great Swifty's roar of righteous anger and made the necessary changes on his blog. The Great Swifty is content and will not press charges nor demand for the medical fees needed to nurse his broken foot inflicted upon himself when he kicked his computer in frustration last night.





Pretentious and unnecessarily long footnote (that you can just skip past and leave a comment):
* In order to gain a clear understanding of the term “binary opposition” it is of primary importance to acknowledge its origins in Saussurean structuralist theory. According to Ferdinand de Saussure, the binary opposition is the “means by which the units of language have value or meaning; each unit is defined against what it is not”. Essentially, the concept of the binary opposition is engendered by the Western propensity to organize everything into a hierarchical structure; terms and concepts are related to positives or negatives, with no apparent latitude for deviation: i.e. Man/Woman, Black/White, Life/Death, Inside/Outside, Presence/Absence, and so on. Thus, the binary opposition is fundamentally a structurally derived notion which acknowledges the human inclination to think antagonistically. Significantly, the primary elements of binary oppositions are delineated by what they proscribe: for example, Black excludes White, Man excludes Woman, and as long as these divisions are sustained, then the entire hierarchical structure can operate agreeably. Essentially, it is the desire for a centre which generates binary oppositions, and it is, as Derrida’s work illustrates, distinctive of deconstruction to reveal the problematic character of all centres. Derrida states that all of Western thought forms pairs of binary opposites in which one component of the pair is privileged, arresting the play of the system and marginalizing the other component. With the application of deconstruction, Derrida employs a tactic of decentering; destabilizing the primary term so that the secondary term temporarily overthrows the hierarchy. For example, in the case of the speech-writing opposition, where speech has been deemed the privileged medium of meaning by Western philosophy, Derrida shows that writing comes before speech, thus inverting the standard hierarchy. However, Derrida acknowledges that this practice in fact merely reinstates the hierarchical structure, thus he recognizes that the new hierarchy is equally as unstable as the old one, thus, the only remaining option is capitulation to the complete free-play of the binary opposites in a non-hierarchical way. A propos the text, this decentering and acknowledgment of the free-play of opposites results in the realization that there is not merely one, or even two readings of a text, but many. Therefore, deconstruction operates on binary oppositions in a threefold manner; first, it illustrates how the opposites are related, and how one is privileged over the other, secondly, it temporarily destabilizes or decentres the hierarchy and thirdly, it deconstructs both terms and advocates the unstable, “play” of meanings. However, this promotion of “play” within texts is not the haphazard, chaotic “free-play” that some commentators misinterpret it as being. Rather it is the notion of “play” within a limited structure and with a specific purpose. As Derrida makes clear in the 1967 essay “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences”, “play” translates as “give” or “tolerance”, which is opposed to the establishment of fixed meanings and instead encourages the undoing of texts with a view to stirring up their fundamental levels and exposing their limitless interpretative possibilities.

It is crucial to recognize that Derrida in no way concurs with the structuralist notion of binary oppositions; in fact, this oppositional method of classification is one with which deconstruction is completely at variance. Derrida argues that these oppositions are fundamentally unreliable and intrinsically flawed. Although he acknowledges the human inclination to think in terms of opposites, he does so in a way which suggests that the opposite of Man is not Woman, but not-Man, and the opposite of Alive is not Dead, but not-Alive. The unsteady character of these repeated bifurcations can be demonstrated by presenting the possible intermediary states which frequently inhabit these supposed “binary” oppositions: i.e. Man-Androgyny-Woman, Alive-Zombie-Dead. With the application of deconstructive theory, these oppositions are destabilized, or at the very least, shown to be mutually undermining. As one commentator astutely notes, Woman is the opposite, the “other” of man: she is non-man, defective man, allocated a predominantly negative worth in relation to the male primary element. However, it is crucial to acknowledge that man is recognizable as man only on the strength of interminably excluding this Other or opposite, distinguishing himself as Man only by virtue of this total exclusion of Woman. Therefore, Woman is not merely an Other in the sense that Man cannot directly comprehend her, but an Other connected to him as the representation of what he is not, and therefore she remains a crucial reminder of what he is. This Other is essential to Man, even as he rejects it. Thus, the attention shifts from the dominant term (Man) to the dominated term (Woman), from the centre to the margin. It is characteristic of deconstruction that it functions within the conditions of a particular structure with the specific intention of disrupting the structure. Essentially, Derrida’s strain of deconstruction exposes the conditional foundation of the dual structures of binary oppositions, and it does so not with the objective of supplying a superior basis for knowledge, but in order to displace the supremacy of one oppositional term over the other, and to produce an aperture that allows for absolute diversity. Derrida’s deconstructionist position on binary oppositions implies that the division between two terms can no longer be validated or established by the exclusive primacy of one term over the other. Thus, Derrida elucidates how deconstruction is an expression of the significance of alternative ideals rather than an extremist, destructive mode of criticism.

Derrida embraces the cause for “undecidables” in his analysis of binary oppositions. Essentially, undecidables disrupt the oppositional logic which is fundamental to hierarchical structures; they skim across both sides of an opposition but don’t appropriately correspond with either. They exceed the clearly defined boundaries of the opposition, and therefore challenge the very tenets of oppositional structures themselves. Having established that binary oppositions classify and structure the world, and indeed, texts themselves, the play of undecidables within this ostensibly ordered system generates confusion; the limits of order are thrown into disarray and categorizational stability collapses. Taking Androgyny as an example of an “undecidable”, it is clear how oppositional logic is disrupted with the acknowledgement of this intermediary state. An androgyne is the inscription of the failure of the Man/Woman opposition. Like all undecidables, androgynes contaminate the oppositions clustered around them. These oppositions ought to institute steady, unambiguous, enduring categories, but when undecidables are brought into play, the entire oppositional system is called into question. As one commentator shrewdly asks; what happens to Man/Woman, White/Black, Master/Servant, Life/Death, Civilized/Primitive, when white colonialists can also be the androgynous zombie slaves of black power? Undecidables therefore devastate classificatory stability and the oppositional logic which characterizes these classifications. It would seem that the most favourable course of action when dealing with these undecidables would be for them to be restored to order, for their undecidability to be neutralized so that the conceptual order may be reinstated. However, a restoration to order would require a complete removal of undecidablility, which presents further difficulties, in that the androgyne and the zombie must be returned to one side of the opposition or the other so that order may be restored. They must be “decided” as belonging to either Man/Woman, or Life/Death respectively. However, as one commentator accurately notes, zombies are already dead (while alive), thus they are neither dead nor alive. Similarly, androgynes are simultaneously Man/Woman, yet are not entirely either. Quite apart from the fact that the resolution of these undecidables would appear to be impossible, it would also seem that Derrida’s deconstructive standpoint demands that they remain ambivalent, unresolved concepts; thus illustrating the contradictions inherent in the world, uncovering the inadequacies of Structuralist thought and offering an alternative to that thought. Derrida’s perspective on binary oppositions also illustrates the contradictions inherent in the textual sphere. Fundamentally, deconstruction strives to illustrate how oppositions, with the purpose of sustaining their antithetical condition, occasionally cave in on themselves. In order to maintain their dichotomous position, these binary oppositions need to eject certain awkward minutiae which may reappear and beleaguer them. Derrida’s own distinctive practice of reading texts is to capture some seemingly negligible piece in the work – an annotation, a minor idiom or idea - and carry it insistently through until it reaches the point where the oppositions that preside over the text are irrevocably endangered. For example, in Plato’s Pharmacy, Derrida draws attention to Plato’s use of the Greek word “pharmakon”, the meanings of which range from “poison” to “remedy” to “cure”, and explores the ambiguity at work in the pharmakon and its complex signification. Similarly, in Dissemination, Derrida concentrates on the word “hymen”, ultimately declaring that it occupies a sort of “non-space” between inside and outside, that it illustrates what happens in the unspecified, uncertain “place” of the in-between. Therefore, deconstruction toys with the binary oppositions which appear to govern ideologies and texts, ultimately illustrating how these oppositions are in fact unreliable and frequently self-destructive. In his discussion on the hymen, for example, Derrida ultimately concludes that while the hymen inhabits a type of “non-space”, it also functions to establish the distinctions between interiors and exteriors. Thus, the hymen thrives on its own simultaneous absence and presence, in that its existence is paradoxically affirmed by its non-existence, its “non-being”, which in turn establishes its being (much like Man distinguishing himself as Man by virtue of the total exclusion of Woman, the Other who stands as a representation of what he is not, and therefore serves as an essential reminder of what he is). This “third place”, the hymen, may therefore be considered as the third component to the Inside/Outside binary opposition, belonging to neither, yet at the same time, both. Thus, by revealing the unreliability of the Inside/Outside opposition, the hymen acts as the undecidable, that which, like the Androgyne or Zombie, cannot simply be restored to one side or the other, as it inhabits both. This hymen, this marginal place is, according to Derrida, also the site of writing, since writing is what happens in the in-between space between author and reader.

Fundamentally, it is evident that by affixing itself to the contradictions and endless possibilities for interpretation inherent in the text, and moreover in the world itself, deconstruction constructively challenges the tenets of classical structuralism and offers an alternative to the rigid boundaries which typify binary oppositions.

- From the Literary Encyclopedia



Steven Erikson - Midnight Tides

If you call yourself a fantasy fan, and you have yet to read anything by Steven Erikson (or George R R Martin), you ought to be ashamed of yourself. After I finished reading Storm of Swords by George R R Martin back in 2000, I had no idea that I was going to wait for more than half a decade for the next Song of Ice and Fire to come out.

I had outgrown Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms since then, and that was the period when I started devouring all kinds of other fantasy books that could assuage my hunger, satiate my thirst for some good fantasy that can fill in the void left by the last Song of Ice and Fire book.

It was the period where I managed to discover some pretty fantasy authors and series (Shannara, Sword of Truth and other rubbish like that had been put behind me), Tad Williams' Otherworld (it's debatable, but there are elements of fantasy), those Neil Gaiman books, that fanfic-hating Robin Hobb's Liveship Traders, the genre-bending China Mieville, but somehow, as good as they were, none of the series left me awed. Otherworld was somewhat shallow, Neil Gaiman's Stardust was superb, but his other books were just pretty damned good, not insanely mindblowing, Robin Hobb's promising trilogy failed because of the way she sequenced some parts towards the end etc.

Then I discovered Steven Erikson's Malazan books, and immediately, I was blown away. Never, I meant NEVER, had I ever read a fantasy book filled with such COOLNESS. The magic system (it's totally complex, not your generic Dungeons and Dragons bullshit), the characters, powerful they may be, were always pretty realistic (a character could easily kick Drizzt Do'Urden's ass, but he's, ah, afraid of his wife), the plot, the world, the culture of the world, the backstory, my god. It was mindblowing.

It helped that Steven Erikson was a anthropologist and archeologist, thus he could infuse his world with so much depth and realism. The world in these Malazan books, cruel and unforgiving it may be, is so fascinating and mysterious that a typical reader might wish that they were living in a place like that, just to experience firsthand everything described by Erikson.

The series just got better and better. The first book was the World Fantasy Awards nominee Garden of the Moon, then followed by the tragic and immensely moving Deadhouse Gates, after that, the stunningly, emotionally-draining Memories of Ice, and then a somewhat smaller-scale and simpler House of Chains.

These Malazan books are interesting because each of them tend to have a neat resolution in the end, with some loose ends picked up in later books (but they won't bother you as much as, say, those Song of Ice And Fire's cliffhanger endings). In fact, each of them are like epic blockbusters, so huge in scope that lesser writers (hellooooo, Robert Jordan!) would need an entire freaking series to finish what Erikson did with one book.

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Summary from a customer review by Mr AF Whitehead in amazon.com.uk: The Kingdom of Lether and the neighbouring Tiste Edur tribes are planning a peace conference to resolve their differences. The fearsome Tiste Edur Warlock King is actually keen on peace, having expended his strength and troops on uniting the tribes. However, one of his warriors concludes a dark pact with the Crippled God (the series' primary unifying force and the only 'person' whose presence is felt in all the novels) and is resurrected to become the new Tiste Emperor, equipped with sorcerous weapons of mass destruction, which are rapidly hurled in the direction of the Letheri capital. In the capital various political games come to a head as new characters take centre stage.

Midnight Tides is the fifth book of the series, and it is highly different from the previous as it featured an all-new settings and characters (one of the protagonists in this book appeared only a couple of times in the previous book, House of Chains).

The much loved humour in the interaction between Tehol and Bugg, master and servant, was indeed fantastic. What I liked about it was the fact that it wasn't as self-consciously funny like Pratchett, it's humour so understated that one would find it a relief than an annoyance in this grim and dark book.

What do you want in a good fantasy book? Gripping characters? Well, you have it, you'll probably be so emotionally attached to some of these characters that their deaths will devastate you (the body count in this book is pretty high). Good fighting scenes? Battle scenes? I don't think I've ever read anything better than the Malazan books in this aspect. Political intrigue? Though not as into it as those George R R Martin books, this one has plenty too. Good pacing? Romance? Humour? Check (I'd wished that it didn't end that early), check (it's somewhat subtle) and check (refer to previous paragraph).

Erikson is highly productive, almost a book a year, and to see him churning out books of such quality and scope is pretty freaking insane. After not reading fantasy for quite a while throughout 2005, I was glad that he reminded me how good fantasy stories can still be.

I can't go more into it, but I'll just quote the last two paragraphs of SFsite.com's review.

Erikson's productivity remains prodigious, and unlike other authors that have reached a similar point in protracted series, there is no evidence that either his imagination or energy has flagged; if anything, each new novel moves from strength to strength, improving on what has gone before. Granted, there is a sense near the end of abbreviation, of resolutions that might have been better fleshed out. But in a serial world where others have stalled or are engaged in reiterative narratives, Erikson's accomplishment is no mean feat, and this series has already clearly established itself as the most significant work of epic fantasy since Stephen R. Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, published twenty-some years back. The same and more might be claimed for heroic fantasy.

Those of you that have yet to read Erikson don't know what you're missing, though this is not work for readers seeking romance or unadulterated escape. Fans that have discovered the imaginative and percipient vision which inspires this author's work, always propelled by vigorous action, will not be disappointed here -- Erikson can accomplish more in a few pages what it takes others dozens to realize. And he does so better and with far greater style.

How to go back to Eddings, really.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Swifty Reviews 'The Promise 无极'


Nicholas Tse saved this film from the pits of suckiness.

Now, don't scoff. When his once-promising career was hindered by the numerous scandals he was involved in during the past few years (messy breakups, brush with the law etc.), the likes of Shawn Yu and Edison Chen managed to flourish in his absence with their undeserving appearances in high-profile HK films, but once Nicholas Tse is at the top of his game, not even Jang Dong-Gun could compete with him in terms of charisma and coolness, let alone those two pretenders.

As the preening, flamboyant prettyboy villain in 'The Promise', Nicholas Tse easily stole the show away from the rest of the cast. So impressive he was that the film would feel flat and lifeless during his absence, and one would long for him to appear again just to have him torment our boring protagonists.

And that was the core of the problem with 'The Promise'. Being hyped as the 'Lord of the Rings' in the east, this film is currently the most expensive Chinese film ever made. And it made me wonder where did the money go to? The props? The decoration? The set designs? The cast salary? Or... the god-awful special effects?

The god-awful special effects deserve a mention, because it almost ruined the entire viewing experience for me. And that's a bad thing for a film that's supposed to be a visual spectacle. At the beginning of the film, there was a raging stampede of bulls and barbarian slave Kunlun (Jang Dong Gun) trying to outrun them, the scene was like the Brontosaurus stampede in King Kong again, but without the thrills and realism (many complained that the sfx in that particular scene was bad... wait til you see The Promise).

"That's soooooo obviously CG!" Said my sister, who was sitting next to me. And of course, she was right.

Perhaps it would be unfair to compare The Promise with King Kong, but Chen Kaige should've understood the limitations of his own SFX team (I think it's a HK-based), and attempt to rely less on the special effects, which looked even less impressive than some generic PS2 game I bought. That's because the most interesting parts of the film were when everything slowed down and the plot kicked in.

Kunlun (a mandarin-speaking Jang Dong Gun) the primitive becoming the slave of the ruthless General Guang Ming (a mandarin-speaking Hiroyuki Sanada) after aiding the latter in winning an important battle. But pretty boy Wuhuan (Nicholas Tse) had invaded the capital because he wanted the King's concubine, QingCheng (a dubbed Cecilia Cheung) for himself and General Guang Ming was called back to protect the king. Unfortunately, he was wounded by Wuhuan's assassin Snow Wolf (Golden Horse winner Liu Ye), and had to send Kunlun in his stead. The poor slave ended up disguising as the general and made his way to the capital. Some confusion occurred (the King turned against QingCheng), and Kunlun killed the king, rescuing the damsel in distress.

He fell in love with her, but she thought he was General Guang Ming. A convoluted love triangle occurred. Oh, and Nicholas Tse continued being a badass.

What made Lord of the Rings successful was the fact that the characters were realistic enough for viewers to invest upon emotionally, and the Middle-Earth, despite being a purely fantasy setting, was infused with so much life and realism that one would find it difficult to see such a place being destroyed by evil forces.

In The Promise, the fantasy settings were mere props, so that certain fantastic elements could be inserted within the film (ah, Kunlun running so fast that he could time-travel) without having people laugh at for being too silly. Some sceneries were beautiful, but other than that, the world was so simplistic and shallow that one wouldn't really immerse themselves within the movie, especially when the protagonists were so shallow, forgettable, cartoonish and difficult to relate with. A plausible culture and politics were entirely absent in the settings of the film, After all, the best fantasy stories, besides having interesting settings, must have characters who can serve as the eyes of the viewers. A hint of normalcy.

What made Harry Potter so popular? Harry himself was easy for children to identify with. What made Lord of the Rings so great? It was the extensive work Tolkien had done in the world-building, the characters may not be much (in the books), but Middle-Earth seemed real. And Narnia? Despite a fantasy world, the four protagonists were normal people with normal problems, so they may be thrust into extraordinary circumstances, but it was easy for readers to feel what the Pevensie children felt in the story.

Once again, the world in the Promise wasn't something Chen Kaige wanted us to explore, he didn't bother developing any mythology or backstory for it (the Russian film, Night Watch, did much better in this area), and the characters were just too abnormal and unsympathetic for any emotional investment. Thus the hollowness of the film.

Now, don't get me wrong, this film is far from being a pure stinker, it had its entertaining parts, and some actions scenes did thrill, some sentimental scenes were MILDLY moving, but it could've been so much more. For a film of such a collossal budget, I had wanted to see a grander storyline, not just some B-movie featuring four people backstabbing and feuding against one another with some mundane fighting scenes (you won't remember any fights in here like you did with Hero, or Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, hell, even the stinker House of Flying Daggers had more memorable action scenes).

I could launch into the technical aspects of the film, voicing out what I think about the acting, but there is nothing remarkable about the cast except for Nicholas Tse's standout performance (Liu Ye was decent too). Therefore, I dare not imagine what the film would be like without him. I think it's time for Nicholas Tse to rebuild his career.

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Monday, January 09, 2006

More Indescribably Beautiful Photos Of Wuyishan China!

Realized that I didn't put up all the photos I took when I was climbing Tianyou Peak, so here's more, along with some photos taken at the 'town of tea makers'. I'm doing this in chronological order. Be awed. Just click the pics for the large version.


Laughing Buddha Statue At Wuyishan

A Lake Near The Town of Tea Makers

The Town Of Tea Makers in Wuyishan

Loads of People Climbing Tianyou Peak

Pavillion on top of Tian You Peak

A Rock In Front of The Wuyishan Inn

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Swifty's Blogosphere Tale Part 2: Bloggers Who Do Lots of Cutting And Pasting.

Chapter 2

by Edmund Yeo


I didn't know how long I've ran from the crazed Jeff Ooi and his murderous little birds. Running through the streets of Kuala Lumpur, I saw nothing but death and destruction, wrecked cars, collapsed buildings? Scavengers gathered around cars, breaking them apart, stealing whatever they saw from within. I snuck into the shadows, careful not to attract any attention as I filmed those people in secret, I was standing in front of the abandoned building which was once known as the Central Market. I knew I wasn't that far away from Petaling Street.

Petaling Street, the thought of the name made me frown, triggering memories of the days before the Digital Apocalypse. Petaling Street, the chinatown located in Kuala Lumpur, was the namesake of this popular Malaysian blog aggregrator/blog portal called Project Petaling Street. It was almost the hub of the Malaysian blogosphere, the very pillar of the blogosphere. 'Blogebrities' were born, cliques were formed, feuds were fought, 'bloglitics' (a term coined by famous Malaysian blogger Kenny Sia, whose whereabouts remained a mystery since the Apocalypse) were played. It was part of a game, those who could play by its rules flourished, whilst those who didn't were shunned and lynched (figuratively).

Voices emanating from within the Central Market interrupted my reverie, the realization that the abandoned building wasn't exactly abandoned dawned upon me. Shuddering slightly in fear, I peered through the entrance, wondering what manner of horrendous sight was awaiting me. A sacrificial ritual? A gang fight? A drug transaction? A stripdance?

I was hoping for the last one, but it seemed as if my guesses were wrong. I saw two men, dressed in rags, engaging in a conversation, around them were mountains of newspapers and magazines. I pointed my camcorder at them, and zoomed in, hoping to get a better view. They were cutting out articles from the newspapers and magazines, pasting them upon manuscripts.

One of them, a bespectacled man, saw me, I stiffened in fear, lowering my camera. But he merely beckoned me to them in a seemingly friendly tone. After the whole Jeff Ooi episode, I wasn't sure whether I should trust him. Besides, the smile upon his face looked rather, well, intimidating.

"Are you here to know about the latest technology, computers and Internet in Malaysian style?" The bespectacled man asked.

"Er. I don't think there's much to know about the Internet considering that it's already collapsed since the Digital Apocalypse." I said.

"Ah, yes." The man flipped through his manuscript and stopped when he found a particular page. "I have an article about the Digital Apocalypse. Would you like to read it?"

He didn't seem dangerous, but I wasn't going to let my guard down. I shook my head.

"What's your name?" The man said.

I gave him a fake name while throwing a brief glance at his companion briefly, but the other guy's back was turned towards me, and he was busy cutting out pages from magazines, possibly oblivious to my presence.

"Welcome to Liew Cee Ef dot com. I'm Liew Cheon Fong. I have information about the latest technology, computer and internet in Malaysian style."

I recognized the name immediately, and fixated my attention upon him. I've just found another blogger. The man who was known to all as LiewCF during pre-DA days, he who withdrew from the Petaling Street after accusations of him being 'too commercial' and was merely blogging for revenues generated from Google Adsense.

"What's the Malaysian style?" I frowned.

"It means that my notes will be in Manglish." LiewCF said, holding up his manuscript before me.

"But why in Manglish? Why not cater yourselves towards a wider audience?"

LiewCF smiled sadly. "Because the limitations of my mastery over the intricacies of the English language restrict me from appealing to readers who are not of my own country. It is, alas, a weakness I should have tried rectifying in the past, but never had the chance to. Perhaps I merely wanted to maintain a feeling of Malaysian-ness for the sake of generating some sort of connection between my readers and my blog. It is an identity I want to create for my product."

"I see."

"I know a special trick which can transform your computer into a bazooka. Do you want to give it a look?" LiewCF said. Showing me another magazine cutting.

"Er, no."

LiewCF was mildly disconcerted.

The other man stood up and greeted me. He was holding a manuscript too, and the pages of these manuscript were filled with photos.

Of beautiful chicks.

I groaned. He was a pimp.

"I'm NOT a pimp. I'm Kah Soon." The man said, answering my thoughts. "Do you think these women are hot?"

I looked at the photos.

I couldn't tear my eyes away from them.

I nodded.

"On a scale of one to five, how would you rate this girl here? One being ugly, and five being beautiful?" Kah Soon said, pointing to one of the photos. He held out a pencil to me.

"Four." I wrote on his manuscript.

"What about her?"

"Three."

"And her?"

"One and a half."

"Her?"

"Three point six nine six seven." I wrote.

"Thank you for visiting Hottest McDonald's Waitresses Dot Com. Your fee is three dollars."

"Right." I fished out some coins, counted them, and handed it to Kahsoon.

Then I realized what I've done, and gasped in horror.

"You exploitative bastard!"

"Please mind your language, my good sir, you parted with your money rather willingly." Kah Soon said.

I swore underneath my breath, the treacherous man had swindled me off my money. Mesmerizing me with photos of beautiful women, I had lost all rationality and had handed him my money without giving it any thought.

"Fret not." LiewCF said, "You can easily earn your money again. Read this article of mine about how to turn your printer into a multi-tasking money-printing machine. It's only fifty cents per read. Or here's a booklet about creating fembots which you can pimp out to get some money."

"I won't let you take advantage of me again!" I said to these two notorious cut-and-paste bloggers who were boycotted by the community of the Petaling Street site long ago. Kahsoon, most specifically, was the most notorious. "You goddamn swindlers!"

Their faces darkened.

"I could never understand why people like you are so against the very existence of commercial blogs. Things like these are common overseas, yet people here must always whine and bitch about the fact that I was earning money from my blog." LiewCF said slowly.

"The methods of earning them are questionable." I replied.

"Questionable? How? As in cutting and pasting information from other sources?" LiewCF sneered. "Oh wait, you are another one of those people who think that it isn't enough to merely place a link to the original source. Is that it? That all I am doing is merely to regurgitate information that have been posted by others. Perhaps if I have chosen NOT to credit my sources, your accusations towards me would've been justifiable, but information are meant to be shared, not being hoarded like a treasure, that was what the Internet was for."

Kah Soon spoke. "You have underestimated blogging as a medium, before the Digital Apocalypse, blogs have evolved from being mere personal diaries, they were the next step from personal sites, but with more interaction between readers and writers. Look at Technorati, look at the top 10 most searched words, look at the blogs entries about these topics. Do you see these people blaming one another for being 'cut and paste' bloggers merely because they were blogging about the same topic? Trackbacks were encouraged and one can search through the numerous blog entries to view the varying opinions of a particular subject, thus developing a broader perspective of something."

I shook my head, I was too polite to interrupt these two men when they launched into their tirade, but I needed to gather my thoughts before speaking again. "Perhaps one of your flaws was the myopic view you had upon your own products, your blogs. Your inability to focus upon the intangibles of running a business caused the negative backlash. Things would've been easier if you had better public relations, and established a better relationship with your readers and other potential market. After all, managing a business isn't only about developing the best products. To focus solely on the revenues you could generate was naive, and unwise."

"Do NOT patronize me." Kah Soon snarled. "People like you disgust me. Always believing yourself to be right and expecting others to conform to your expectations. You were a blogger, weren't you?"

"Nay, merely a person with a blog." I replied.

"It is highly ironic that in a supposedly collectivistic culture of ours, Bloggers in Malaysia possessed such individualistic attitudes when it came to blog content." LiewCF snorted.

Kah Soon fished out the money I paid him from his pocket and handed it out to me. "If THIS is what made you so disgusted, if the fact that I am using my own methods to make a living disgusts you, take my money and go. So high and mighty that you think you can judge me huh? You could've just walked away when I showed you the photos, but yet you lingered, and ravished the sight of those photos with your lecherous eyes. But I will not judge you for I do not think of myself that high and mighty, I do NOT delude myself into believing that I am always on the moral high ground. I am, after all, a mere merchant."

Oh. The drama. The irony to be lectured so eloquently by these two 'cut and paste' bloggers. I was glad that I filmed them throughout the entire exchange. I merely shook my head and switched off my camera. And without saying another word, I turned away from them and started walking away.

Who was right? And who was wrong? These opportunistic bastards? Or those who shunned them? What was it that separated one group from another?

Merely differing viewpoints.

I am such a fan of moral ambiguity.

And thus I continued my lone journey into the night, through the ruins of Kuala Lumpur, searching for more participants of the phenomena known as 'blogging' just before the Digital Apocalypse. After all, a slice of history has to be preserved before being completely obscured by the sands of time.

Man I'm pretentious.
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