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Thursday, February 28, 2008

*sigh* Dawn Yang and I Are Irrevocably Linked.

Dawn YangMy blog traffic hit an all-time high yesterday.

I didn't notice anything special in the morning at first, aside from seeing that there were numerous Google hits on my 2005 Dawn Yang-related entries. Suddenly reminded of those Dawn Yang webcomics that Justin and I did long ago (which were mostly broken for more than a year because I didn't bother to renew the server where the comics were stored), I began resurrecting some of the comics by putting them on Flickr instead.

So far, I have gotten 'Swifty and Justin Discover Dawn Yang', Romantic Pairing Between Dawn Yang and I = Incest?', 'My Farewell To Dawn Yang' and 'Xiaxue Probed Justin' to work again.

There's also Dawn Yang's little answer to our joke (she has an ironic sense of humour herself).

By noon, I already knew that my blog was on pace to surpass its previous traffic record (set just a day before), which left me even more intrigued, since most of the hits I got were for Dawn Yang-related entries. Why were people suddenly Googling for her again?

I followed some of my traffic sources, and finally found out the reason. A Chinese news site had just reported (in Chinese, obviously) about this particular post Dawn wrote on Star Blog regarding the Edison Chen Photo Scandal. Aside from illustrating a previous personal encounter with Edison on MSN, Dawn also pointed in her article that the whole sordid affair should serve as a cautionary tale for innocent young girls. I haven't had much to say about the scandal, but I'm beginning to feel that the women in the nude photos have just as much to blame as Edison, since the photos WERE taken with their consent.

Of course, I initially wanted to insert another lame joke that Dawn's veiled diss of Edison had a lot to do with our clandestine affair, but let's face it, that's stale. I guess I merely felt a mild bemusement that even though two years have passed, and Dawn and I have walked separated paths, with me embarking upon my own budding filmmaking and producing career, I can't seem to run away from my past.

No matter what, this blog and Dawn Yang are irrevocably linked.



... shit.



P.S. Maybe the best closure to this entire thing is for us both to make a parody of the following videos:


Sarah Silverman is f@cking Matt Damon


Jimmy Kimmel is f@cking Ben Affleck


Elizabeth Banks is f**king Seth Rogen


Inviting her to do this will make me no different from Edison.

But I'm human too, why must I be different?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY Shoot Begins

After having our rehearsal two days ago, the CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY shoot officially began today, on the 26th of Feb.

I'll be lying if I tell you that I wasn't nervous before the shoot. But then, I'm usually nervous AND excited before a shoot. Unlike the previous FROM BHOL LE WITH LOVE, which I shot using a Nokia N95, with the help of a one-woman crew (that's Erna), CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY is the biggest short film production I've ever undertaken to date. Possibly a longer story with a bigger cast and a bigger crew.

The first scene we shot for the day involved our main actor, Ming Wei, and the legendary actress Lai Meng (or Li Ming in Mandarin, her name 黎明, which means 'dawn', is same as the Hong Kong pop star Leon Lai), who plays the protagonist's grandmother.

Rising Actor and Legendary Actress, Ming Wei and Lai Meng


Involved in countless local and Singaporean productions, the veteran actress definitely has one of the most recognizable faces in the country. Even Mei Fen the Assistant Director couldn't resist herself from fangirling ("I've watched you on TV ever since I was little!") when Lai Meng entered the house.

Me speaking to Lai Meng


The scene was shot at my front porch. It's ironic that I never realized how nice the place looked until I saw it through a camera lens. I just came to a conclusion that the magic of cinema CAN turn the most mundane into something different, just like how something I see everyday outside my house becomes something else entirely.

Anyway, despite the initial scare that the audio wasn't working, the shoot went on pretty smoothly. (Hell, I was so excited during our first few takes that I pretty much cried out 'action' before the tape was rolling)

Ming Jin demonstrating how to use a boom mic
Ming Jin the Mentor demonstrating to Sound Girl Miharu how to use a boom mic

Ming Jin, Lesly and Miharu getting ready

Despite having not read the script prior to the shoot, Lai Meng immediately memorized what I gave her, and also ad-libbed and turned the character into her own. I've never went through such a smooth first day shoot.

Me rehearsing Ming Wei and Lai Meng
Me rehearsing Ming Wei and Lai Meng


As the sun began to set, we hurriedly shoot another scene featuring Ming Wei and Mei Fen The Assistant Director's cameo. Mei Fen herself is a model (for Deal Or No Deal) and an actress (you know the Brand's Bird's Nest advertisement where a young woman found her mother after 20 years of separation, and the mother looked even younger than her? Mei Fen played the mom), so it was easy for her to improvise her own lines too. Her lines were in Hokkien, I don't understand Hokkien, but I THINK I've gotten something special...

Femme Fatale moment: Ming Wei and Mei Fen


It was too dark for me to take a still photo of that scene, but it worked perfectly as a 'femme fatale'-style scene I wanted (the film plays on noir conventions).

I'm excited. The next day of shoot begins on this Saturday, and I'm getting even more unexpected cameo appearances. :)


Monday, February 25, 2008

CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY Rehearsal

Despite being sick during the past few days, my short film, CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY (mentioned the completion of its script last December, and also announced its casting last month), is being fast tracked for a shoot next week.

The protagonists of the script were Mom, Dad and Son, I wrote the script with the child actor, Lim Ming Wei of FLOWER IN THE POCKET, in mind. And also imagined that Dad would look like a certain actor (I'll conceal his identity) who was in a James Lee film last year. To my surprise, the first person who contacted me after I posted up the casting notice was this very person I imagined.

However, it took quite a while for everything to finally fall in place, casting the 'Mom' role for the film was agonizing. It's really difficult to find someone convincing enough to play the mother of a 12-year-old kid, and also fit my own criterias. Most of my candidates then were in their late teens and early twenties, even if I had a great enough make-up artist to age them properly, I still believe that it's too much of a gamble to take.

I eventually seek Kimmy Kiew, playwright and actress (I got to know her because I was momentarily attached to her upcoming theater production as a producer last year, I dropped out in the end because of other commitments) for help. Late last year, when telling her over Gmail Chat that I was working on the script, she mentioned in passing that she would be interested to act if I had a role for her. I was suddenly reminded of that one morning, when I was aimlessly surfing on my friend's list on Facebook, and saw her photo. I then thought of Kimmy's antagonistic 'femme fatale'-ish roles in FLOWER IN THE POCKET and HIDDEN SUMMER IN MY HEART, and went 'aha!'.

After she agreed to help (that was just before Chinese New Year), I immediately went after Ming Wei for the central role of the script. Calling his supportive parents on the phone, they sounded totally cool about it. On Tuesday (Feb 19), despite being bed-ridden most of the day because of flu, I met up with Ming Wei and his father at night, and finally confirmed his involvement in my project.

The film's (probable) one and only rehearsal was held in my house on Sunday (Feb 24). Just a night earlier, I had painstakingly translated my own script (which was originally written in English) into Chinese.

My dear friend Soo Han was there to help me (I generally need a second opinion when conducting rehearsals). Both Ming Wei and his father came to my place, with his father helping the boy out with his lines, calming him down, cheering him on, reminding him of previous acting experiences. Being a very quiet boy, I was slightly anxious because I didn't know whether Ming Wei was prepared or not.

I had directed children before in GIRL DISCONNECTED, three sisters, one was 8, another was 11, and the eldest was 13. It was a vastly different experience then because I merely needed to choreograph a ballet scene with the trio (and their mother was truly helpful in encouraging the girls to perform), and didn't need to ensure that they would 'immerse' themselves into characters, or 'feel' the story etc. But even doing THAT scene was challenging already. (Justin, Brian the Cinematographer and cute Grace who were all involved in doing the scene, would probably remember that experience fondly.)

Ming Wei actually plays the protagonist in CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY, and I thought I needed to painstakingly let the boy understand the story, his own characters, his psychology etc. I was pulling every single trick (aside from the VTL) that I've learnt from Annie Murtagh-Monks in my Directing Actors module two years ago.

The boy barely uttered a word, quietly nodding at my questions, nonchalantly flipping past pages, while I croaked out (my voice is still affected by the flu) the whole storyline, eventually putting the script down and walking around the room, examining the decoration.

"Are you nervous?" I asked.

"No." He replied.

"He never feels nervous." Ming Wei's dad said.

"Whoa." I said in disbelief.

Of course, in the end, I realized that my initial worries were for naught. When Kimmy arrived for the rehearsal, everything went smoothly. The two had already known each other since they both co-starred in FLOWER IN THE POCKET, and Ming Wei immediately came alive when doing the line-readings, making each adjustment properly when I asked him to.

Gradually, like all good rehearsals go, I felt that I could start envisioning what the film would look like. Of course, the funniest thing was, after conducting rehearsals for the previous productions CINTA TIGA SEGI and KURUS, I forgot how short this session would be compared to the other two. The length of the short film would most probably be less than a quarter of the latter two, so rehearsal ended earlier than expected.

We ended up going to take chicken rice at this restaurant near my house. My excuse was to let the actors 'go further into characters'.

The following is a photo we took yesterday afternoon to commemorate our rehearsal.

Having chicken rice after rehearsal for the short film, CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY
From left to right: Kimmy Kiew as Mom, Lim Ming Wei as The Son, me, and Soo Han, who will helping out with the production

My Prediction For The 80th Oscars

The 80th Academy Awards is mere hours away. Predicting the Oscars was something I've liked doing with Sebastian back in our high school days, but the guy is so pissed off over this year's nominations (he hated frontrunner NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN) that he decides to sulk and boycott it. I'll do it myself. Anyone else who actually gives a rat's ass about the Oscars, or has an opinion about it can post their comments here.

Here we go (my prediction in bold):

Best Picture

* Atonement
* Juno
* Michael Clayton
* No Country for Old Men
* There Will Be Blood

THERE WILL BE BLOOD is the only one that I've never seen. But based on momentum, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, which I liked for its sheer badassness, will most probably win the big one. But I don't mind JUNO winning it just so I can finally see a comedy get some Oscar love.

Best Director

* Paul Thomas Anderson - There Will Be Blood
* Joel Coen and Ethan Coen - No Country for Old Men
* Tony Gilroy - Michael Clayton
* Jason Reitman - Juno
* Julian Schnabel - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

It has to be the Coen Brothers' year.

Best Actor

* George Clooney - Michael Clayton
* Daniel Day-Lewis - There Will Be Blood
* Johnny Depp - Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
* Tommy Lee Jones - In the Valley of Elah
* Viggo Mortensen - Eastern Promises

It's really a lock.

Best Actress

* Cate Blanchett - Elizabeth: The Golden Age
* Julie Christie - Away from Her
* Marion Cotillard - La Vie en Rose (La môme)
* Laura Linney - The Savages
* Ellen Page - Juno

They'll probably want to honour an illustrious career if they give it to Julie Christie, and yeah, she's really good in AWAY FROM HER, but Marion Cotillard's performance in LA VIE EN ROSE was a tour-de-force. It's almost a landmark performance. My brain tells me Julie Christie, my heart tells me Marion Cotillard.

Best Supporting Actor

* Casey Affleck - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
* Javier Bardem - No Country for Old Men
* Philip Seymour Hoffman - Charlie Wilson's War
* Hal Holbrook - Into the Wild
* Tom Wilkinson - Michael Clayton

Casey Affleck and Tom Wilkinson were really great in their respective roles. But Javier Bardem's baddie in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is iconic.

Best Supporting Actress

* Cate Blanchett - I'm Not There
* Ruby Dee - American Gangster
* Saoirse Ronan - Atonement
* Amy Ryan - Gone Baby Gone
* Tilda Swinton - Michael Clayton

Ruby Dee was barely in the damned film. But she's a sentimental choice due to her place in film history.

Best Original Screenplay

* Juno - Diablo Cody
* Lars and the Real Girl - Nancy Oliver
* Michael Clayton - Tony Gilroy
* Ratatouille - Brad Bird
* The Savages - Tamara Jenkins

It's really a lock.

Best Adapted Screenplay

* Atonement - Christopher Hampton, from Atonement, novel by Ian McEwan
* Away from Her - Sarah Polley, from "The Bear Came over the Mountain", short story by Alice Munro
* The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - Ronald Harwood, from Le scaphandre et le papillon, memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby
* No Country for Old Men - Joel and Ethan Coen, from No Country for Old Men, novel by Cormac McCarthy
* There Will Be Blood - Paul Thomas Anderson, from Oil!, novel by Upton Sinclair

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN will sweep everything. But I won't mind if the gorgeous THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY wins this.

Best Animated Feature

* Persepolis
* Ratatouille
* Surf's Up

I liked SURF'S UP, but THE SIMPSONS MOVIE was really robbed. I'll go with RATATOUILLE because it's indeed awesome. But I'm in the midst of watching PERSEPOLIS and it's really unique.

Best Animated Short

* I Met the Walrus
* Madame Tutli-Putli
* Even Pigeons Go To Heaven
* My Love
* Peter and the Wolf

Just a wild guess. I didn't see either of them, and maybe Sebastian can once again help remedy that like last year :(

Best Art Direction

* Arthur Max and Beth Rubino - American Gangster
* Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer - Atonement
* Dennis Gassner and Anna Pinnock - The Golden Compass
* Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo - Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
* Jack Fisk and Jim Erickson - There Will Be Blood

Tough one. I haven't seen THERE WILL BE BLOOD so I wouldn't know. SWEENEY TODD and ATONEMENT have the nicest art direction, to me. But I'll pick ATONEMENT because it's the less obvious choice?

Best Cinematography

* Roger Deakins - The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
* Seamus McGarvey - Atonement
* Janusz Kaminski - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
* Roger Deakins - No Country for Old Men
* Robert Elswit - There Will Be Blood

I think it's either NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN or ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES. But Roger Deakins' work in the latter was more.... show-offy and visually impressive, I think. So it'll get it. I thought Janusz Kaminski's work in THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY was really amazing too.

Best Costume Design

* Albert Wolsky - Across the Universe
* Jacqueline Durran - Atonement
* Alexandra Byrne - Elizabeth: The Golden Age
* Marit Allen - La Vie en Rose
* Colleen Atwood - Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Kiera Knightley's green gown.

Best Documentary Feature

* No End in Sight
* Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience
* Sicko
* Taxi to the Dark Side
* War/Dance

Tough one. I want SICKO to win so I can see what Michael Moore has to say now after getting booed off the stage couple of years back for dissing the president during his BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE acceptance speech.

Best Documentary Short

* Freeheld
* La Corona
* Salim Baba
* Sari's Mother

Don't know a damned thing about any of the nominees either. But I pick Freeheld cos' it's the only one with a single-word title.

Best Film Editing

* Christopher Rouse - The Bourne Ultimatum
* Juliette Welfling - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
* Jay Cassidy - Into the Wild
* Roderick Jaynes - No Country for Old Men
* Dylan Tichenor - There Will Be Blood

THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM, because a great Hollywood popcorn flick HAS to win an important award. But Welfling and Jaynes' works were great too.

Best Foreign Language Film

* Beaufort (Israel) in Hebrew
* The Counterfeiters (Austria) in German
* Katyń (Poland) in Polish
* Mongol (Kazakhstan) in Mongolian
* 12 (Russia) in Russian

THE COUNTERFEITERS is the only one I've heard of. But yeah, this category sucks.

Best Live Action Short

* At Night
* The Substitute
* The Mozart of Pickpockets
* Tanghi Argentini
* The Tonto Woman

I pick it cos' it has the longest title. Wish I can watch either one of them too.

Best Makeup

* Didier Lavergne and Jan Archibald - La Vie en Rose
* Rick Baker and Kazuhiro Tsuji - Norbit
* Ve Neill and Martin Samuel - Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

They transformed Marion Cotillard into Edith Piaf.

Best Original Score

* Dario Marianelli - Atonement
* Alberto Iglesias - The Kite Runner
* James Newton Howard - Michael Clayton
* Michael Giacchino - Ratatouille
* Marco Beltrami - 3:10 to Yuma

Atonement's is more gimmicky with the typewriter thing, so it'll get it. It's also the only score that I can remember.

Best Original Song

* Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova - "Falling Slowly" from Once
* Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz - "Happy Working Song" from Enchanted
* Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz - "So Close" from Enchanted
* Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz - "That's How You Know" from Enchanted
* Jamal Joseph, Charles Mack and Tevin Thomas - "Raise It Up" from August Rush

PLEASE PLEASE LET IT BE FALLING SLOWLY! Let the underdog win, sheesh! I don't mind if THAT'S HOW YOU KNOW win, but FALLING SLOWLY is more magical!

Best Sound Editing

* Karen Baker Landers and Per Hallberg - The Bourne Ultimatum
* Skip Lievsay - No Country for Old Men
* Randy Thom and Michael Silvers - Ratatouille
* Matthew Wood - There Will Be Blood
* Ethan van Der Ryn and Mike Hopkins - Transformers

Tough one.

Best Sound Mixing

* Scott Millan, David Parker, and Kirk Francis - The Bourne Ultimatum
* Skip Lievsay, Craig Berkey, Greg Orloff, and Peter Kurland - No Country for Old Men
* Randy Thom, Michael Semanick, and Doc Kane - Ratatouille
* Paul Massey, David Giammarco, and Jim Steube - 3:10 to Yuma
* Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell, and Peter J. Devlin - Transformers

Tranformers is louder.

Best Visual Effects

* The Golden Compass
* Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
* Transformers

Transformers' visual effects are pretty groundbreaking.

Here's hoping that tomorrow's show will not suck. I'm catching the live telecast as usual.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Remembering The Day I Met Lydia Sum



I met the late Lydia Sum Din-Ha (her name is also spelt as Lydia Shum) during a 2004 trip in Singapore, months before I went to Perth.

It was an afternoon, and we were eating at the Wo Men De restaurant, famous for its fish head curry. The restaurant was relatively empty that day, I think we were the only ones there.

Then all of a sudden, I heard the restaurant door opening behind me, I didn't turn back, until both my mom reacted.

"It's Lydia Sum." She said.

I turned. And saw one of the most recognizable and legendary faces in the Hong Kong industry that many people like me have grown up watching. She was with her daughter Joyce Cheng (still in the midst of her diet, few months later she would make headlines with her remarkable transformation), and a young man who was either a friend or an assistant. They made their way past our table to another one further into the restaurant.

"Whoa. Fei Fei. In Singapore." I said softly. I grew up meeting many Hong Kong celebrities because my father was in the music industry, yet I felt excited seeing her. Not excited like a screaming fangirl, of course, just a mixture of joy, amusement and disbelief that, of all places, I would actually see Lydia Sum in a Singaporean restaurant. (Most probably because at that time, she was filming the series, LIVING WITH LYDIA)

My little sister was staring too. Despite growing up at different era, she had seen Fei Fei many times on TV too, especially on variety shows.

"Let's take a photo!" I hissed, but mom, of course, already had her camera out.

"Ask her politely." Mom said.

I hesitated. Lydia Sum was making her orders with a waitress.

My buddy and my mom's godson Alex, was with us too. He looked at Lydia Sum and asked who she was. I gave him a 'ARE YOU SHITTING ME?' look, but he really didn't who she was, so indifferent to her presence, he continued reading. (a little fact I brought up again when he was talking about the news last night, the guy works at Sin Chew now)

We waited for the waitress to leave before my mom walked towards Lydia Sum, and asked politely whether we could take a photo with her.

"I didn't put on any make-up though." Lydia Sum said, although she seemed flattered that my mom asked. "But okay."

We handed the camera to the young man Lydia was with, and stood behind her, posing for the photograph.

"Get one more person here." Lydia said. It was old-school Chinese superstition that a photo of only three people can bring bad luck to the trio. Over the years, I noticed many Hong Kong celebrities were pretty conscious of this.

My sister scurried over to join us. And we took the photo.

Thanking her, we went back to our seats and continued eating. After we were done, we left the restaurant, I remember we were waving to her, and she waved back.

Unfortunately, I don't have the photo with me anymore. Something happened when my sister was doing the photo transfers into the computer, and all photos in the camera were wiped out.

So no evidence of that encounter remained. Just that I was reminded of this incident shortly after I learnt of Lydia Sum's recent passing.

"I'm not the type who likes clinging to the past. But look at the HK artistes of today. There's really nothing about the present Cantopop worth dwelling in, at all."

- Me to May Zhee, last night

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

KURUS Featured on THE STAR (20 Feb 2008)

KURUS is featured on today's The Star.

KURUS featured on The Star (20 Feb 2008)


Props to them for including, well, a photo that has me in it :D

Anyway, KURUS, starring Arshad Zamir, Mislina Mustapha, Nam Ron and Carmen Soo was aired on NTV7 last Sunday (17th of Feb) due to some scheduling error by NTV7 (the film was originally slated for this week, 24th of Feb). Not a big deal, since it merely meant that I didn't have to wait that long for the film to appear on TV.

Although, I'm rather ashamed to admit that I was flipping between the NBA All-STAR SATURDAY and KURUS on that night. Can't blame me, the Slam Dunk competition was nuts.

Anyway, the film will be screening at the Hong Kong International Film Festival next month which I'll be attending, so even though the film's already aired here, I doubt you'll hear the last of KURUS.





A friend had commented on the shittiness of the above trailers (I made the second one). I'm still a little befuddled, being a 30 seconds long, I seriously have no idea what I can do to make it 'less shitty'. Throw in explosions? Cheesy special effects? hm.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Swifty Reviews 'Kung Fu Dunk 功夫灌籃'

Kung Fu DunkI don't really mind Jay Chou as an actor.

So far, to me, his films were either surprisingly entertaining (INITIAL D), unintentionally campy (CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER) or unexpectedly affecting (SECRET). But I had my doubts about his newest film KUNG FU DUNK. In fact, I was prepared for the worst.

The director of the film is Kevin Chu Yen Ping, whose numerous films in the 90s had given me nightmares due to their sheer crapness. Remember those Shaolin Popeye films? You know, the ones with that annoying bald fat kid and the kungfu fighting Shaolin kid which often star Jimmy Lin? Well, those are from him.

The comedy in his film tend to be lame and humourless, often I feel more ashamed with what was happening onscreen than amused. And I'm no highbrow film snob, since I can still be caught in TVB drama marathons, or watching chick flicks. And I have once told Ming Jin the Mentor that my belief is thus:

"It's better to watch a shitty comedy like Scary Movie than a shitty drama. At least you might still laugh when watching a comedy."

Of course, I forgot to say that the above only apply to most Hollywood lowbrow comedies, since the really bad Hong Kong comedies generally plunge to lower depths.

90% of the films with HK pop star duo Twins in it are such examples for me. TWINS MISSION, TWINS EFFECT 2, PROTEGE DE LA ROSE NOIRE etc. Watching them tend to make me want to stab my own eyes with chopsticks just so I could end my own misery.

But while watching KUNG FU DUNK, I was surprised that I wasn't consumed by the murderous hateful rage like I did when watching the aforementioned films.

What I felt when watching KUNGFU DUNK was mere numbness, and a sad resignation that I was sitting through another terrible film. In terms of production values, the film is definitely much glossier and sleeker compared to, say, TWINS MISSION, but the ultimate flaw would have to do with the screenplay and, well, Kevin Chu's direction.

Sports films are often formulaic, but effective. Just give us an underdog story with a ragtag bunch of characters to root for, throw in seemingly insurmountable odds for them to overcome, and then climax at a pulsating feel-good final tournament. That's all I need.

But how the hell can KUNGFU DUNK actually fail at something as simple as this? Is it because the filmmakers didn't want to adhere to the proven formula, and decide to go for something... 'innovative' instead? And what's so innovative about this film? That it had more lame jokes, and more focus on Eric Tsang and Jay Chou's characters relationship (it's like a love story between the two compared to Jay and Charlene Choi's character, I kid you not), some needless parodies of martial arts films, that's it.

KUNGFU DUNK had also stolen some concepts from the classic anime/manga SLAM DUNK, which, sadly, reflected the filmmakers' lack of knowledge, or passion, for the game of basketball.

'He who controls rebounds, controls the game', or 'learning to pass is the key to the game' etc. Both blatantly stolen from SLAM DUNK, I'm all right with that as long as the filmmakers themselves CAN show us WHY these concepts are important. In actual NBA games, when watching an awesome point guard like Jason Kidd or Steve Nash (or nowadays, Chris Paul), their passing abilities are almost like an art. A beautiful no-look pass can awe me just as much as an alley-oop dunk, a key rebound that decides the fate of a game can make me yell just as excitedly as a game-winning shot, but these were not portrayed in the film.

Lovehkfilm's review was right. If learning selflessness is the key to winning for Jay Chou's character, shouldn't he be selfish the whole time, before finally relenting and learning to become a playmaker (with passing) when circumstances forced him to? Of all the things that they should've copied from SLAM DUNK, why not borrow the part where the teammates are constantly at odds with each other because of their personal ego, before finally learning to click together as a team in the end when they play against the national champs? For crap's sake, why WHY didn't the screenwriters give the main characters something that resemble character arcs?

Jie (Jay Chou) is a silly and likeable fellow who is so bland that one would hope that he'll be edgier, but the fact is, he had already gotten along with his two teammates, captain Ding Wei (Wilson Chen) and star player Xiao Lan (Baron Chen) relatively early in the film, and the two just seemed content with Jie usurping their place at the new star of the team, but can't we just have a MINOR conflict in the team? Shouldn't either Ding Wei or Xiao Lan be pissed?

We already have enough fangirls worshipping Jay Chou, do we NEED the film characters to do the same, just stay aside and let Jie hog the limelight? But since both Ding Wei and Xiao Lan's characters are cardboard cutouts with zero character development, I guess I'm not supposed to question all these. That, unfortunately, makes the lazy attempts to flesh them out even more laughable.

Just some quick flashbacks. One showing Ding Wei's sad and sorrowful past where his mistake cost a game, and thus turning him into an alchoholic seeking redemption. Another is even funnier, out of nowhere, we have Xiao Lan visiting the grave of a girlfriend never hinted nor mentioned throughout the film and having quick flashbacks of their happier moments. For a while, I wondered whether all these were done with irony, and I was meant to laugh through them. I never knew.

What's the joy of watching a basketball film when the basketball games in the film aren't even that exciting to watch? For some weird reason, the basketball teams in KUNG FU DUNK don''t have coaches, so we don't see nice and elaborate offensive and defensive schemes, we just see a bunch of people constantly running in nice fast breaks and throwing alley-oop dunks, or Jie taking half-court shots. Where's the tension? Where's the excitement?

Sheesh, that's it?

I CAN believe that Jie plays basketball like a superhuman because he's raised in a kung fu temple, but how come every single important character of the film plays like a superhero? How could Xiao Lan and Ding Wei, both normal blokes, soar so high towards the basket (their waists could almost touch the rim) for easy dunks? By making everyone so insanely powerful, Jie's kungfu background thing becomes less unique. Try imagine Shaolin Soccer where Stephen Chow's teammates are all just normal blokes, yet they could still play like Shaolin disciples, will that make Chow's character unique?

Maybe being a NBA fan makes me more picky when seeing how the game of basketball is portrayed in a film, maybe the complexities of basketball is beyond the filmmakers' capabilities to show, so all they could do was have boring one-note high-wire special effects-heavy matches to satiate the fans who just want to see Jay Chou's face. But damn it, the sheer incompetence of the filmmaking annoys the crap out of me. (Seriously, for a Jay Chou star vehicle, this film can't even make its star look good. I have never seen so many unflattering shots of Jay Chou in a film that made me go '... hm, man, this guy is kinda... butt-ugly'.) My reaction was... "how can they even mess THIS up when there are gazillions of sports films to serve as template?" I find the sports sequence in THE ROCK'S THE GAME PLAN even more exciting.

Right now, it seem as if I'm preaching that a sports film should adhere to conventions and formula, but c'mon, when you watch a sports film where the main team loses a match, and a guy does a special kung-fu technique that reverses time, just so they can play the last few seconds of the match again, can you STILL feel happy that they won, even if the time-travelling was needed to avoid the opponents from cheating?

I don't.


KUNG FU DUNK trailer


I felt more entertained seeing Dwight Howard do his Superman dunk in last Saturday's Slam Dunk contest...


Dwight Howard Superman Dunk


Sunday, February 17, 2008

OMFG! KURUS is showing TONIGHT! (17th of Feb, 2008)

Okay, the NTV7 person probably made a mistake when she told us that KURUS will be showing on the 24th of February.

In fact, based on today's newspapers, KURUS will most probably air at NTV7 on the 17th of Feb, 10:45pm. Yes, that's TONIGHT!!!!!!

So please please PLEASE watch it!!!

Here are the trailers (again):






Tell your friends to watch it, and tell your friends to tell their friends to watch it, and then tell your friend's friends to tell THEIR friends to watch it etc etc.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Two (VERY AWESOME) KURUS Trailers

I've announced yesterday that the telemovie will be airing at NTV7 on the 24th of February, 2008.

So check out the trailers now.


KURUS trailer 1


KURUS trailer 2


Once again, KURUS (English title: Days of the Turquoise Sky) is from Greenlight Pictures, the folks who brought you the hit telemovie CINTA TIGA SEGI and the award-winning THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA (coming to cinemas soon). KURUS is a coming-of-age film that stars newcomer Arshad Zamir, Mislina Mustapha, Nam Ron and Carmen Soo. It is written and directed by Woo Ming Jin. It is produced by Edmund Yeo, Woo Ming Jin, Tomoko Ueda and Aron Koh.


Friday, February 15, 2008

KURUS will be airing at NTV7 on the 24th of Feb, 10:45pm

Well, folks, I've gotten the confirmed the airing date for KURUS, and it's on the 24th of February, 10:45pm. NTV7.

Yes, that's the telemovie I last produced and couldn't stop talking about in the past few weeks.

Here are links to its press coverage:


And some miscellaneous links to production stills and others:



Obviously, I'm going to do another marathon posting of the film until it airs.

The following are some random photos of KURUS. Refresh the page to view different photos.

KURUS (English title: Days of the Turquoise Sky) is from Greenlight Pictures, the folks who brought you the hit telemovie Cinta Tiga Segi. KURUS is a coming-of-age film that stars newcomer Arshad Zamir, Mislina Mustapha, Nam Ron and Carmen Soo. It is written and directed by my mentor, the award-winning Woo Ming Jin.


Swifty Reviews 'CJ7 長江七號'



By far the most anticipated Chinese film of the year, Stephen Chow's CJ7 had to deal with sky-high expectations since it happened to be his first film since 2004's KUNG FU HUSTLE.

Due to the fact that he often keeps a low profile, Stephen Chow had never really appeared in tabloid as much as your usual teenybopper Taiwanese idol does, so it's unsurprising that people tend to take him for granted, overlooking the fact that two of the all-time top-grossing domestic films in Hong Kong were his films. KUNG FU HUSTLE and SHAOLIN SOCCER. (more than 5 of the 10 all-time top-grossing films in Hong Kong were Stephen Chow films) Or that he is already a cultural icon in Mainland China, so huge that he had a shelf dedicated just for books about him in bookshops. (Imagine walking past shelves that mark themselves: 'Fiction' 'Non-Fiction' 'Bestsellers' 'Film', 'Music' and then suddenly one that says 'Stephen Chow')

It was with 2001's Shaolin Soccer that Stephen Chow began making 'bigger' films, huge special effects extravaganza that often combine his humour (which were much subtler than his early 90s 'mo lei tau' fares) with martial arts (his major passion). And one would start noticing that as he began placing more attention in directing, he started appearing less onscreen, even though he remained the star, both Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle were really ensemble films. It's really a source of complaint for many who were expecting to see Stephen Chow in every single frame of a film. Nonetheless, his move managed to help him discover many new stars, or revive many acting careers.

However, as much as I liked the two aforementioned films, I tend to think that his best directing fare was the dramedy 'King Of Comedy', which had zero special effects, but lots of character-driven moments and memorable lines. And that's the magic of Stephen Chow films, which often have a rather affecting core, they feel-good without feeling too manufactured nor contrived, and let's face it, Stephen Chow's really quite a sentimental sap. And those are what separate his films (aside from his inimitable humour) from the pretenders and imitators.

CJ7 is a film that is likely to infuriate many due to the fact that it's not your normal Stephen Chow film. And that's the most-repeated line from people I've asked about the film prior to seeing it myself.

"It's really different from your previous Stephen Chow films."

Some said it matter-of-factly, some said it as if it were a condemnation or an accusation.

Of course, CJ7 could be an underwhelming experience for anyone expecting it to be as outrageous as Shaolin Soccer or Kung Fu Hustle, because this time, he didn't really try to up the ante he had set previously. This is NOT an intergalactic epic comedy with Stephen Chow battling aliens with martial arts to save the world. The film is really a quiet father-son dramedy that happened to have a cute little alien in it, so no, it's not entirely an ET remake as some claimed.

I'm throwing word 'dramedy' again because it's really not funny enough to be a laugh-out-loud comedy, but more a drama with many moments of wry humour.

Stephen Chow plays a poor labourer named Ti. But the actual protagonist of the film is really Ti's son Dicky, played by the actress Xu Jiao (yes, a little girl was casted to play a boy). The film really revolves around Dicky's relationship with his father, and his school life, and how his life changes when he meets the CJ7, this little (computer-rendered) alien, which, Lovehkfilm.com said it best, is 'part dog, part Flubber'.

There's really not much I can say about this film, yes, it's rather funny, and some side characters are memorable (the judo fat boy, the huge girl, the nose-picking disciplinarian, the loud-mouthed by soft-hearted boss etc.) And already, people are quoting lines from the film. For me, it's just a fluffy and heartwarming family movie that children will love, and tears-inducing for adults (I heard LOTS of sniffling when I was seeing it in the cinema, and I have to admit that I was pretty moved too, as predictable everything was)

So no, this film does not live up to the sky high expectations people had for it, but that's mostly because the film isn't what everyone was expecting. However, despite lukewarm reviews from critics... the film is still making a killing in the box-office.

Actually, this Chinese New Year is really considered by the media a showdown between Stephen Chow's CJ7 and Jay Chou's Kung Fu Dunk. But ultimately, it's barely a competition.

CJ7 made US$5 million in Hong Kong so far, while Kung Fu Dunk made US$0.6 million.

CJ7 made US$1.9 million in Malaysia so far, while Kung Fu Dunk made US$0.6 million.

CJ7 made US$2.2 million in Taiwan so far, while Kung Fu Dunk made US$0.5 million.

The only place where both films are remotely near is Singapore, where CJ7 made US$1.4 million and Kung Fu Dunk made US$0.9 million.

(Check the international box-office here if you're curious)

I'll review Kung Fu Dunk later.


CJ7 trailer


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Valentine's Day Melancholy

A MSN conversation between Sebastian and I that occurred in the morning:

"It's over. OVER! Waaaaaaah! And this is of my own doing!"

"I wouldn't lose sleep over it."

"I screwed up!!! :("

"You, Edmund, need to get a girlfriend with subdued features, plain looking. Do you know why?"

"Whhhhhy?"

"Coz then you know why she loves you. She loves you coz ... of your passion for something ; she loves you coz ... you're a sweetheart. Point is, you can trust her and she can trust you. "

"Damn man, that's deep."

"Hey, I haven't been doling out advice to this one girl constantly in the past few months without any talent."

"I guess the most heartbreaking one was this Singaporean girl I loved in Perth. It was never for her looks. *Sigh*"

"Could you articulate why?"



Just a feeling.

I liked the mystery of her silence

The allure of her occasional smile

The introspection on her face when she broods

and the lilting whisper when she speaks.




"Now that sounded like you made it all up."

"Nope, she's a really quiet girl."

"I don't think i've ever loved a girl that long! Or rather, i don't think i've ever loved a girl that much!"

Until I met her.


I strived to be a better man, a brilliant artist, endless poems, endless novels and screenplays, even until Girl Disconnected, so many works of mine in those two years were inspired by her.

Because I was constantly intoxicated by the joy of seeing her smile

and then feeling all torn up at the sight of a disapproving frown.

Ultimately, the sadness and grief she inflicted upon me then were so painful that my eyes were too dry to weep



"Hmm, i dont think i've ever felt like that. To be inspired by someone to write... To be inspired to want to become a better self, yes."

it just meant that i was so creative then because of the turbulence of emotions
that words just poured forth

"Wah."

Unbridled.

"For me, when i'm suffering from turbulence of emotions, I'm so incapacitated I can't write."

"Hmm. The last time i saw her, Which I assume would be the last time i saw her in my life, was the premiere of Girl Disconnected in uni."

she with her new boyfriend

watching the year-end productions of film students in uni

and there it was, my short film, Girl Disconnected

And that was it. Everything I felt for her. Crystallized in the form of the short film.

After the screening, I bumped into them, and asked what they thought of the film.

Her boyfriend said it was good,

she

never

replied.

The last scene of the short film, when he holds his long fingers up to make a square, like a film director framing a shot,

framing

a shot of her

A moment frozen forever in time

looking at the sea.





I had done the same.

Outside her flat, when I said my farewell the night before I returned to Malaysia.

So overwhelmed with joy

believing

the blinding light of hope

that illuminated everything.

November. 2004.


"Wait, what the hell was that, your diary?"

"Nope."

"Then?"

"I need to launch into an angstful monologue. Just to indulge in the pain that i thought i've buried."

"You still feel the pain? Man, i've completely let go of my past loves."

"Not pain, just melancholy."

... I mean, i've let her go.


But in the weirdest way possible


i was at Bodh Gaya during my India trip last January



The place where Buddha attained Enlightenment

(you know, that big tree he meditated under)

I
dreamt
of
us,
saying
goodbye
to
each
other

We were both smiling.

"That IS weird. I'd never fantasize like that ... i don't think."

"No, i really DREAMT of her that night."

And then I woke up.

"That's too romantic to dream. I mean, dreams are usually random. Very illogical."

"I know!"

"Yours ties everything up so nicely for you."

"It was one of those last clear dreams i had. I never knew where she went since then."

"That's more romantic. Not knowing where she is now. This is like that montage in Titanic where old Rose explains what happened to everyone - that feeling right there."

"Hm?"

"That's what what you've been talking about feels like. The part where she says Cal Hockley blew his brains out during depression. Point is it feels almost third person like, narrating what happens to ppl after the fact ... and there's something inherently nostalgic about listening to that. coz you feel like you know these people, and then you hear these things happening to them but you don't see it (you get second hand accounts instead)."

"So that's what it sounded like when I was talking about 'her', huh? Dude, this conversation is so fucking beautiful that I'm saving it!"

"... oh damn."

Swifty Reviews 'Sweeney Todd' With Lune

Sweeney Todd poster


I saw Sweeney Todd two weeks ago, since I generally like most musicals, I rather enjoyed the film, though to me, it's a 'good but not great' film. Nonetheless, I have been looping the soundtrack on my computer a lot these days.

The following review is done with my friend, Lune (back in 2005, she and I collaborated in the Blogathon, in which we alternated between her drawing pictures, and me writing a novella based on her drawings, our collaboration was awesome, considering that we conjured all those up in 24 hours), who having seen the musical, ain't that impressed with the film adaptation.

I said:
Tell me then. To you, what are the pros and cons of the Sweeney Todd film?
She said:
to point out the cons is easy i guess.
She said:
it's just very Burton
She said:
everyone is typecast in the roles that they would normally play, so there really wasn't any element of surprise there
She said:
and let's just say that Sweeney Todd is like a nasty Edward Scissorhands with razors
I said:
Uh huh
She said:
Pros - more people get to know about sweeney todd and also sondheim's genius.
I said:
Yeah, and people like me will start checking out the original stage musical the film was adapted from. In fact, I've been looping the soundtrack on my computer quite a lot lately.
She said:
though i guess that bit is pretty much overshadowed by Burton again. not that Burton's vision of the musical isn't great. I do think Burton has synthesized alot of the elements that he used in his past films and thus has perfected a certain skill and penchant for the dark and gothic
She said:
Sondheim was also responsible for west side story
I said:
Yeah. I like Burton and I guess he's great at what he usually does. His signature style is very distinctive
I said:
But I agree that his style tends to overshadow his works
I said:
It's what I thought of his last work, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
She said:
But yeah, that was exactly what i was dreading when I went to see sweeney todd.
She said:
I've seen it on the stage and i've heard the original cast on the cd, so my views have some biasness to it.
She said:
I see it as a character piece very rare in musicals
I said:
So it's impossible for you to judge it for what it is? Pretend that the stage musical had never existed?
She said:
it's enjoyable but lack surprise element.
I said:
Uh huh. Even though I knew nothing about the musical, I could guess all the twists in the film
I said:
... like the identity of the beggar woman when she first appeared
I said:
(keep this spoiler-free!)
She said:
But when you think about it from a musical theatre perspective
She said:
It's groundbreaking. it's a total broadway gem. it borders between musical and opera. it's dark and horrific instead of the usual jolly fare
She said:
hence often regarded as one of sondheim's best
I said:
Hmm. Better than West Side Story huh?
She said:
i don't know if you can compare both because west side story is so much more romantic. and there's often much emphasis on the song and dance, rather than the plot
I said:
Yeah
I said:
All right, what do you think about the acting in the film?
I said:
No surprises?
She said:
yup no surprises....bonham carter is perhaps the worst of them lot
She said:
i don't like helena bonham carter's mrs lovett
She said:
and they chopped off the lovely lovely duet of anthony n johanna
I said:
WHAT?
I said:
i LOVE mrs lovett!
She said:
surely surely the greatness of sondheim is not yet forgotten?
I said:
oh damn
I said:
well, they had to cram 3 hours worth of shit into 2 hours
I said:
so they sacrificed anthony and johanna
She said:
that was a bloody beautiful duet you know
She said:
mrs lovett is not brash enough
She said:
the characters are traditionally very working class.
She said:
n depp sounds like david bowie.
She said:
david bowie comment was from my bf
She said:
i wouldn't say it's a brilliant film. it's predictably burton, depp and bonham carter
I said:
yeah, it ain't
She said:
it's well made but not great. everyone's typecasted
I said:
My little sister's crazy over Alan Rickman's singing voice ("So sexy!" she gushed)
She said:
lol. alan rickman. he should not sing
She said:
pretty women's quite a tough score to sing though
She said:
It's a delicate balance of being manly yet gentle
I said:
Heh, I love that song!
She said:
I guess it's unsurprising that you like Pretty Women, it's the song that everyone remembered sweeney todd for.
She said:
the classic tune
I said:
I like By The Sea too
She said:
i'm still bummed out that they chopped the anthony n johanna duet off. not even west side story was as romantic as that
I said:
Why is Bonham Carter weak again?
She said:
she's just her kooky usual
I said:
Hm. Yeah, a slightly saner version of her Bellatrix character in Harry Potter
I said:
I don't know, I once mentioned (to Su Ann) that Tim Burton is a little... 'one note' as a director. He's great at what he does, like Tarantino, but occasionally, his style overwhelms his works. However, there isn't a Burton film I hate, except for the Planet of the Apes remake.
I said:
So he brought his nice gothic style to Sweeney Todd, and I personally thought his style worked better for a tale like this... compared to Charlie and The Chocolate Factory.
I said:
I liked Helena Bonham Carter's Mrs Lovett, but maybe because I've already been too used to her kookiness, so having a larger-than-usual dose of it felt like a blessing to me.
I said:
I actually thought her performance was one of the best in the film.
I said:
As for Depp, well, I'm impressed that he, er, attempted to sing.
I said:
But I'm not blown away enough by his performance to immediately think "YES! OSCAR NOMINATION!" (which he had received for the film)
She said:
yeah i don't think he deserves a nomination
I said:
Which is surprising, since I thought he deserved his previous nominations with Pirates of the Caribbean 1 and Finding Neverland
She said:
his performance wasn't exactly breathtaking
I said:
Yeah, just angsty in a humourous way.
I said:
I thought the kid who played Toby was good though.
She said:
yeah me too
She said:
and don't get me started on sacha baron cohen
I said:
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
She said:
i liked him better when he isn't feigning his borat/ ali g -esque italian accent
I said:
Not much to add on this review, myself. My take is, it's a nice film, quite enjoyable despite being rather predictable, but the songs, and the musical sequences, are really good. It's probably one of Burton's better films since MARS ATTACKS!
I said:
But strangely, I think I might like ACROSS THE UNIVERSE more (though the film belongs more to the 'love it or hate it' category)
I said:
because of its audacity.
I said:
Sweeney Todd just felt very... 'safe'.
She said:
todd is a box office pleaser no doubt about it
I said:
Although with around 50-60 million for its domestic box-office, it's hardly a massive blockbuster hit, hm. Probably got a bad rep because the marketing campaign concealed the fact that it’s a musical.



Sweeney Todd trailer


Angela Lansbury's version of Mrs Lovett singing BY THE SEA


Patti Lupone sings BY THE SEA


George Hearn's voice is better than Johnny Depp, heh


(not sure which Johanna/Anthony song Lune was referring to that was omitted from the film, it could be 'KISS ME')



KISS ME




Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Carmen Soo and KURUS Featured on New Straits Times (11 Feb 2008)

Carmen Soo's experiences during the KURUS shoot is revealed in Sharifah Arfah's interview with her on New Straits Times.

(click pic below and go to 'ALL SIZES' to view larger version)

Carmen Soo and KURUS featured in New Straits Times


Or read the interview here.

KURUS, a film which marks my very first producer credit, will be showing on NTV7 soon. It is also making its festival premiere at the Hong Kong International Film Festival next month.

I'll be posting up the trailers one of these days.

KURUS Featured on THE SUN (11 Feb 2008)

The Sun's Pauline Wong did a feature on KURUS, this telemovie I produced and couldn't stop talking about in the past few weeks.

This one is interesting because you get to read about our teenage cast's points of view.

KURUS featured in THE SUN


(click pic above and go to 'ALL SIZES' to view larger version)

I need to rectify a tiny little mistake I spotted in the article though.

It was mentioned that Ming Jin the mentor was approached by both Aron Koh of Limkokwing Film Institute and Greenlight Pictures to make the film, which is slightly inaccurate because Ming Jin (and I) ARE Greenlight Pictures, the film was originally developed as a Greenlight Pictures production, a follow-up to our previous maiden telemovie project CINTA TIGA SEGI (which was aired on TV a few weeks ago), before we (Greenlight Pictures) were approached by Aron, where he proposed that we join forces with Limkokwing University to make the film.

And I have to say, the collaboration is definitely a fruitful one.

KURUS (English title: DAYS OF THE TURQUOISE SKY) is coming out on NTV7 soon and stars Mislina Mustapha, Nam Ron, Carmen Soo, and newcomers Arshad Zamir, Anis Nadia Jilid, Ahmad Muzaffar Mustapha (no relation to Mislina), Muhammad Fadhirul Anuar and Nursyafiqa Izzaty.

It will also have its festival premiere at the Hong Kong International Film Festival next month.

Read the film's previous write-ups on last week's New Sunday Times and Metro Harian.

Related entries
KURUS trailer 1
KURUS trailer 2
Photos from the KURUS press conference on the 28th of Jan.
KURUS Production Diary - 'Carmen Soo Day 1'
KURUS Production Diary - 'Carmen Soo Day 2'
KURUS Production Diary - More production photos

Monday, February 11, 2008

A Bittersweet Return to Ipoh for Chinese New Year 2008

I'm back from Ipoh, mom's hometown.

Some of you may know that last Dec, my Alzheimer Disease-ridden grandmother was hospitalized after being attacked by two snatch thieves just outside her house.

These are two photos of her in the hospital early January.


Grandma in Hospital
Grandma with 1st Auntie and Mom

Grandma in Hospital 2


She was discharged from the hospital days later.

Fastforward to nearly a month later, and things were definitely looking much happier. Perhaps it has to do with the festive mood, or the fact that it's a big family reunion.

Here's a quick overview of my mom's side of the family. My grandma actually has 8 children (4 sons and 4 daughters, my mom's No. 5), and 7 of them went back to Ipoh to celebrate Chinese New Year (1, my uncle, is in Singapore)

To the non-Chinese-speaking readers: There are different variations for the words 'Uncle' and 'Auntie' in Mandarin and other Chinese dialects that separate the paternal side from the maternal side, so even though the words I call my mom's brother and my dad's brother are still translated as 'Uncle', they are different words in Chinese.

But to avoid confusion, I'll only reserve the words 'Uncle' and 'Auntie' for my mother's siblings in this blog entry. Their spouses will only be referred to as 'Uncle's Wife', 'Aunt's Husband' etc.

Anyway, after arriving at Ipoh on the 8th of February, we went out for dinner at this Chinese restaurant near grandmother's house.

Now, here are the photos, as you can see, my Grandma's looking much better:


CNY Dinner in Ipoh 2008
Grandma (with 3rd Uncle's wife beside her)

CNY Dinner in Ipoh 2008 (2)
We young 'uns are seated at this table

CNY Dinner in Ipoh 2008 (3)
Grandma is happy!

3rd Uncle's Wife, cousins Foo Keong and Pui Kuan and Grandma
Grandma with 3rd Uncle's Wife, behind them are her children, Cousin Foo Keong and Cousin Pui Kuan

Cousin Fung Ming and me
Me and Cousin Fung Ming (poor Cousin Fung Ming was in my Mother's Day Celebration 2007 video)

Me, Cousin Fung Ming and Cousin Mun Kin and his girlfriend
(From right to left: Cousin Fung Ming, me, Cousin Mun Kin and his girlfriend) I thought Cousin Fung Ming was giving the camera the finger until I looked at the photo properly


Anyway, all these photos of the dinner were taken with my mother's iPhone.

Just a quick explanation on how I address my Uncles and Aunts and also the 'numbers'. I have 4 Uncles and 3 Aunts, so from eldest to youngest, the Uncles are called '1st Uncle, 2nd Uncle, 3rd Uncle and 4th Uncle'. Meanwhile, for my aunts, I call them '1st Auntie, 3rd Auntie and 4th Auntie', because my mom is the 2nd eldest among my Grandma's daughters, so to the rest of my cousins, my mom is '2nd Auntie to them'.

Now, here we go:


Mom, 3rd Auntie and Grandma
My mom, 3rd Auntie and Grandma

4 Beauties = Mom, 1st Auntie, 3rd Auntie and 4th Auntie
Mom and her 3 sisters (From left to right: 3rd Auntie, Mom, 1st Auntie and 4th Auntie)

1st Uncle and Family
1st Uncle and Family

3rd Auntie and family
3rd Auntie and Family

4th Uncle and Family
4th Uncle and Family

4th Auntie and her two kids
4th Auntie and her two sons, whose nicknames are 'Golden Pineapple' (the elder one) and 'Silver Pineapple'. Simon AKA Golden Pineapple is also referred to as EDMUND 2 due to his uncanny resemblance to me.

My family
And finally, Mom, Dad, Little Sis and I


I'll be honest. The visit to Ipoh, and my meeting with Grandma again, was a bittersweet one.

Grandma had suffered from Alzheimer's for quite a while (I noted the symptoms as early as 1999, but she was only diagnosed with it few years ago), but only the earlier stages, so she was usually forgetful, and tend not to remember things that occurred in the same morning, or the night before.

She used to forget minor little things, like the fact that three years earlier, my parents had brought her to Perth to visit me when I was still studying there. Though when asked whether she had ever been to Australia before, she would say yes (but not mention anything about the visit). She could remember some of my friends rather miraculously though. There was also a time when she mistook 'Golden Pineapple' for me. It was quite a bummer (for him).

However, the accident with the snatch thieves had in fact worsened her condition. (she fell facefirst onto the floor) At times, she couldn't recognize her own house anymore, and names have already escaped her. So when talking to her, she would talk about things that happened long ago, or get the people mixed up.

Somehow, she became like a kid, who needed comforting and constant cheering up from her children and grandchildren. Yet perpetually confused with her own situation, she would go through mood swings.

In the past two days, there were some moments when I sat with mom and my uncles and aunts while they were speaking to Grandma at home, unlike before, her speech had gotten a little slurred, but nonetheless, hearing things from, and about her children and grandchildren could still make her face light up. Just like a child.

The thing about Alzheimer patients is that, they tend to fade away slowly from you. That was how I've already felt since I suspected about her condition. It becomes weird because the person sitting before you is someone you know all your life, yet you are resigned to the fact that she has already forgotten, or will someday forget about you.

I've seen Alzheimer's Disease being portrayed in numerous films like the 1995 award-winning Hong Kong film, SUMMER SNOW, or the crazy Korean weepie A MOMENT TO REMEMBER, or the recent Oscar-nominated AWAY FROM HER. There's also the slightly overrated THE NOTEBOOK. (I also recommend the vastly underrated 1999 Hong Kong film, METADE FUMACA, starring Eric Tsang and Nicholas Tse, though it's really a movie about a person seeking lost memories and trying to cling to it) So I was kinda prepared to face the inevitable, although, at the age of 76 this year, I still think it was unfortunate that my Grandma was suffering from this.

But facts are facts, it's unlikely that my Grandma will ever revert back to what she was like prior to the attack from the snatch thieves. Even so, as long as she's happy and healthy for now, there's really not much to complain about.

I realized that my Grandma couldn't really recognize me anymore.

Or maybe it's difficult for her now to associate names with faces. Maybe, sometimes, she could still recognize me. Her expression was a joyful one when I (or my mom) said my name again, and she could still call my name in both Cantonese and Mandarin. Her reactions with me would alternate between 'Hi there, who are you?' to 'Ahhhh! You're here! That's great!', and occasionally mistaking me for another cousin (guess Golden Pineapple isn't alone anymore). Like the protagonist in Kazuo Ishiguro's WHEN WE WERE ORPHANS, perhaps I'll take comfort at the fact that even if she couldn't recognize me (most of the time), her love for her grandchildren, like most of her life, had remained despite her condition, like an instinctual feeling, brought forth even with a mere mention of their names. And in return, all her grandchildren, 21 of them, have always loved her just as much.

One night after the dinner, Cousin Lip Pin came all the way back from UK for Chinese New Year. And I'm giving a quick shoutout to him since he's a regular reader of this blog (heya Cuz!)

Cousin Lip Pin and Grandma
Cousin Lip Pin and Grandma

When she was about to return to her bedroom, and my family and I were preparing to leave Ipoh the following morning, I took a photo with Grandma:

Grandma and me


She liked the photo a lot.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

What I Miss About Chinese New Year Eve







Photos by Hugo*

During my childhood, Chinese New Year Eve had always been one of my favourite days of the year.

Because it was so magical.

I could stay up late at night, and watch endless Hong Kong films (mostly those comedies starring Sam and Michael Hui) showing on TV then, I could see my neighbours burning incense and other stuff outside their houses, and most of all, once the clock struck twelve, there would be the deafening sound of fire crackers to signal the beginning of Chinese New Year.

Yet over the years, Chinese New Year Eve had lost its magic to me.

Since I stay up late almost every night... Chinese New Year Eve felt just like any other day.

Since there are less Hong Kong films these days, and most probably I've been watching more films now, most HK films aired on TV are stuff that I've already seen before.

I was going to lament about how firecrackers have been outlawed in the country... but since I was interrupted by the faint sounds of fire crackers while typing this, I guess there's really nothing to lament about.

This year's the Year of the Rat, just like the year I was born. I've already reached the second cycle of the Chinese Zodiac. 12 years ago today, I was in the last year of my primary school.

Has it lost its magic? Or maybe it's just because I'm not a child anymore.

Nonetheless, I'm still looking forward to the angpows.

Happy Chinese New Year and Gong Hei Fatt Choy, everyone.

Dusting off my Nanowrimo 2005 novel...

Back in Nov 2005, I took part in the National Novel Writing Month 2005 and attempted to write 50 000 words in a month. I succeeded in hitting the word count, but the novel remained unfinished, so somehow, it felt like a hollow victory.

Since then, I never touched nor read the novel again. Finishing my degree at the end of 2005, I went to study filmmaking in 2006, and with that, I shifted all my attention in filmmaking. Some had asked whether I wanted to publish the novel then, and I was unsure. Publishing a novel had never been that high up in my list of priorities. Except the time in high school, when, for a few years, I felt that filmmaking was an unattainable dream, so that was the period when I played with an idea of publishing a fantasy/scifi (I'm putting both together not because I can't differentiate them, but because what I wrote had elements of fantasy and scifi) novel, because, well, I was a fantasy/scifi novel geek like many other nerdy teenagers.

So in truth, my high school years were really defined by the time when I was attempting to write a sprawling epic. I didn't write that alone though, I was collaborating with a friend. And for years, we tried to do work on that book. Having vastly different styles of writing, and creative mentalities, we both took different approaches in the thing:

He preferred the 'world-building' process, constructing a secondary fictional world with its own culture and history, I preferred writing swiftly before the flames of my creativity had died out, I preferred writing something based on how I felt during that very moment. I would rather be prolific and churn out works in a consistent basis and learn from my errors, instead of spending years to craft that one perfect masterpiece, and being tormented in the end that the one masterpiece wasn't that perfect anyway, or worse, it wasn't really a masterpiece but just a work of sheer self-indulgence enjoyed only by myself.

Maybe it's because I felt that a work isn't necessarily better just because you spend lots of hard work and time into it, that sometimes, creativity finds me when I least expect it. My belief was reinforced by the fact that my comedic short, FROM BHOL LE WITH LOVE, which I wrote and filmed in mere hours, was much better and effective than KL RHYTHM, a screenplay I spent months struggling with last year before I ultimately gave up (because, despite the fact that I spent months and hard work into it, I knew the script sucked).

Anyway, my friend and I never completed the novel. High school ended, and we started college. Due to our differing philosophies, we couldn't agree on how the novel would look like (slowly and slowly, I realized it was becoming something too different from what I've originally envisioned). So I gave up on the novel, which, very unfortunately, was a little something I placed quite a lot of dreams and hopes into.

After going to Perth, I picked up English Literature for my minor in university, and was fortunate to expose myself to more works of literature that I never bothered to check out during my teenage years.

Starting this blog, doing literature, writing became easier for me thanks to constant practice. So in 2005, I decided to take part in the Nanowrimo, I thought I was at the peak of my creative writing skills then, and 50 000 words wouldn't be that hard for me. Things that happened to me in real life (the bittersweet taste of unrequited first love, the rage against the Establishment, the development of personal philosophies, observations of societies), people I met then in Perth, all those were great sources of inspiration for what I wrote then. In fact, I was actually doing a 'reimagining' of the fantasy novel I was writing in high school.

So it remained a fantasy/sci-fi novel, but with my personal whimsical style, a hybrid of romance and slapstic comedies, where people acted in a modern, 'hip' manner despite their fantasy/sci-fi surroundings (maybe i'll just say that it's a postmodernistic work!). The story was left hanging, and I didn't have the motivation to complete it.

More than two years went by, and I barely gave the story a thought. I knew Nanowrimo would most probably be a once-in-a-lifetime deal, I guess I may have outgrown the story or something. The novel I wrote in Nanowrimo 2005 was a product of that very moment of my life, and since there were some major changes that occurred to me and my life since then, it became rather hard to continue.

That's what I thought anyway. Yet for some weird reason, certain incidents in the past few days have prompted me to reread and reevaluate what I've written then. My year-long 'creative drought' that lasted throughout most of 2007 had finally ended. I was hanging out at the Kinokuniya in KLCC yesterday, then picked up Cormac McCarthy's NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN for a read (I just saw the film). Felt a little inspired, decided that I should, I don't know, see what I can do with my own unfinished little novel.

I hate loose ends, I always want closure for everything I do.

Reading what I've written again last night, after two years of not seeing it, it felt very weird. There just seem to be this distance between the work and myself that made me feel as if the novel was written by someone else even though the prose, the plot, the narrative style, were all unmistakably mine. At times it worked, at times, its cringe-inducing.

I'm not sure whether I really want to complete the damned thing, or rather, whether I COULD finish it. Nonetheless, I'm dusting off the Word file, looking through everything again, and maybe, I'll try to bring closure to the novel. Although, the me of now am too different from the me of then, so what I write now will be rather incongruous compared to what I have now. But hey, maybe only the me of now can complete this novel.

Sorry about this long rambling, if you really bothered to read through the whole thing, you might just be as mad as I am.

On the other hand, Gong Hei Fatt Choy, you all.
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