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My Short Films

Friday, May 30, 2008

THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA Showing at Cathay Cineleisure on 21/8/2008!



Heya all, after winning a couple of cool awards at important film festivals last year, THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA, directed by Woo Ming Jin, will be screening EXCLUSIVELY at CATHAY CINELEISURE MALL on the 21st of August, 2008 (You can read about Ming Jin the Mentor's blog post about his adventures at the 25th Torino Film Festival where the film became the first Malaysia film in history to win itself a Special Jury Award at the festival! Or you can read about what I did at the Elephant and the Sea screening at the Santiago Film Festival in Chile last August)

I hopped aboard as the co-producer of the film after joining GREENLIGHT PICTURES last year, and was involved mainly in the postproduction of the project, and securing its Malaysian theatrical release (countless visits at the Censorship Board in Putrajaya)

For the Malaysian version of the THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA, audiences will get to hear some new music pieces composed by me that weren't in the previous film festival version to accompany Ronnie Khoo's guitar track. Yes, I'm not kidding about the last part. It was the first time I've ever had a hand in composing for a film soundtrack. (So don't expect me to pull off a Dario Marianelli or John Williams!)

I also sang the all-new Enya-like ending theme song for the film called ELEPHANTS SINKING IN THE SEA. (kidding)

Anyway, the official blog of THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA is up, so please go there and read about our awesome experience in making the film, the troubles we had with the the two steamy sex scenes that needed to be removed for the Malaysian release, interviews with cast and crew, videos etc.

(BTW: Many thanks to GUO SHAO HUA of The Storyboard for plugging the film)


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Faithful Dog Hachiko does exist!

This post will reflect my sheer ignorance.

I've heard of Hachiko ever since I was a child. I'm sure many have as well, the tale of a faithful dog who always waited for his master at the train station, and remained devoted even after his master's death. Returning to the station everyday just to wait for him.

Of course, I didn't really discount the authenticity of the tale then, just that it didn't seem much of a big deal to me. All my life, I have been afraid of dogs haven't been the biggest fan of dogs. So as years went by, the tale of the faithful dog

A few weeks ago, I was at Shibuya for a wondrous 'shabu shabu' meal with my friends, Ai and Iyo. Our meeting place then was, in Ai's words "the dog statue outside the Hachiko exit of Shibuya station". It was hard to miss the bronze statue since many people were gathered there, and taking photos with it. I snapped some pics as well even though I didn't know its significance then:

Hachiko Bronze Statue 2

Hachiko Bronze Statue 1


A week later, through a stroke of sheer coincidence, we were given a piece of paper to read during Japanese language class. And it's actually Hachiko's (1923-1935) story!

My immediate reaction was: "Ooooooh! So Hachiko is THAT faithful dog I've heard about ever since I was a child!"

Quite a revelatory moment, seriously.

Unsurprisingly, Hollywood is doing a film about this called HACHIKO: A DOG'S STORY. It's directed by Lasse Hallstrom and stars Richard Gere (who is also the producer). Film's supposed to be about Hachiko's relationship with his master. Settings of the story is changed to US (of course), but I still don't think Richard Gere's character is going to survive in the film. (... duh)

(UPDATED: The film came out in 2009, you can watch the entire film on Youtube)

Here's a short scene from an old Japanese film about Hachiko. Looks like a downer.

And here's a rare last photo of Hachiko after he died.
last photo of Hachiko

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Video Coverage of BMW SHORTIES 2008's Gala Premiere

Lesly and Kimmy at the BMW Shorties 2008 Gala Premiere
Kimmy with her Best Acting award, and Lesly the Cinematographer with Chicken Rice Mystery's Honourable Mention award


GUA.COM.MY had just put up their video coverage of BMW SHORTIES 2008's Gala Premiere.

For more photos of the event, you can also check out Cinema Online's BMW Shorties Announces BMW SHORTIES 2008 Winners written by Inayah.

(Meanwhile, Utusuan Malaysia remains adamant that it was I, and not Lesly, who went there. Thanks a lot for the love, guys)


Utusan Malaysia really wanted me to be there


RELATED POSTS:
CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY Receives Two Awards at BMW SHORTIES!

I was on Utusan Malaysia!! But...

I was on New Straits Times! And...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Quick thoughts on the Spring 2008 Japanese doramas I'm watching now

LAST FRIENDS poster


Since scoring myself a free television last month, I've been watching the Japanese doramas every night even though there aren't subtitles and I struggle at most times to understand the language. But hey, thanks to the fact that the performances in most doramas are really... 'expressive', I can just read their faces and body language and deduce what's going on.

So, here are some brief thoughts on the doramas that have been airing the past few weeks. (I'll borrow the synopses from Tokyograph's Spring J-dorama preview)

CHANGE


Fuji TV's Monday night drama will star the ever-popular Takuya Kimura. He plays an elementary school teacher with no interest in politics whatsoever who, due to some circumstances, gets becomes the Prime Minister of Japan. Eri Fukatsu co-stars as Kimura's secretary, an ambitious woman aiming to reform the country. The script is being handled by Yasushi Fukuda, who has written for popular dramas such as "HERO" and "Galileo." Kensaku Sawada ("Saiyuki," "Hero Special") is directing. The show also features a theme song by pop star Madonna.

Catching a Kimura Takuya dorama is a yearly affair, so I, along with my few Chinese classmates, had immediately turn on to that series when it premiered two weeks ago (in fact, in Japanese oral class, two of the girls from China made references to watching the dorama when asked by the teacher to create a sentence)

My first thought was that this dorama lacked the mindblowing production values and cinematic quality of Karei-naru Ichizoku (check out my review of Karei-naru Ichizoku). Then I realized I had trouble understanding it because it's so dialogue-heavy. One thing though, Abe Hiroshi's pretty badass here and I think he might have stolen the show from Kimutaku (based on the first two episodes I watched, I missed one last night) But that's only because he brings in his usual TRICK/ DRAGON ZAKURA-style charismatic overacting schtick into the series, as opposed to everyone else who were more subdued.

I'll continue watching this just to see what is it like to have Kimura Takuya become the prime minister of Japan.


Madonna's Miles Away during the end credits of CHANGE


ZETTAI KARESHI (絶対彼氏)


This drama is based on Yuu Watase's shojo manga "Zettai Kareshi" (also known as "Absolute Boyfriend"), starring Mocomichi Hayami and Saki Aibu. In this version, Aibu plays a temp OL in search of a boyfriend, and she ends up in possession of a "robot" (Hayami) who is programmed to be the perfect boyfriend. However, this creates a love triangle with a distinguished young man at Aibu's company (Hiro Mizushima) who has feelings for her.

I've been enjoying this more and more, Hayami as the "robot" boyfriend is amusing. Seeing him constantly getting his owner into one funny situation after another, it's a little like Chobits with a gender twist. The love triangle is engaging stuff, but I definitely can't see the appeal of the Hiro Mizushima's 'other guy' character, except for the fact that he's, ah, human.

In this episode that I'm watching (while typing this), the robot boyfriend often walks around half-naked and flex his muscles in front of his owner for the sake of her attention. He often fails though. I pity the robot, and despises the ungrateful bitch of an owner.


Music video of OKAERI by Ayaka, theme song of Zettai Kareshi, good song


OSEN (おせん)



This is an adaptation of Shota Kikuchi's "Osen" manga series. Yu Aoi plays Sen Handa, the young "okami" (proprietress) of a long-standing restaurant in one of the lower parts of Tokyo. Though she is normally airheaded and loves to drink, she has an impressive mastery of a wide range of skills, from cooking to ceramics to calligraphy. While the drama follows various events surrounding the restaurant, one of the series' highlights is its illustration of Japanese food and culture.

I watch this after Zettai Kareshi. Good production values, I think it's shot in HD. This is pure eye candy, Yu Aoi is insanely cute as her quirky character. And she reinforces my opinion that she's one of the finest young actresses of Japan. It's also dialogue and character-heavy, so I often have problems trying to understand what's going on.


Osen's opening credits sequence


HOKABEN (ホカベン)



"Hokaben" is based on a manga series originally written by novelist/lawyer Hiroyuki Nakajima. Aya Ueto stars as Akari Domoto, an idealistic lawyer who joins a large law office, but ends up in a lowly department headed by Kazuki Kitamura. NEWS' Shigeaki Kato co-stars as an elite attorney who becomes her love interest.


I watch this just like why I watch OSEN. Aya Ueto's ridiculously and inhumanly cute. I didn't notice that in Azumi, but started swooning when I watched a bit of INSTALL, the film adaptation of Wataya Risa's novel. She was filming something near my dormitory few weeks ago but I was in class and missed the chance to see her. Sigh.

Kazuki Kitamura is really awesome in a normal role (I last saw him as the crazy cosplaying baddie in AKIHABARA@DEEP).


Aya Ueto and Kazuki Kitamura in a variety show


LAST FRIENDS (ラスト・フレンズ)


Today’s generation of young people are faced with a variety of social issues. In this drama full of today’s popular young actors and actresses, the characters will confront these issues head on. The drama stars Masami Nagasawa as Michiru, a beauty parlor assistant who suffers from domestic violence at the hands of her boyfriend (Ryo Nishikido). Juri Ueno plays Nagasawa's classmate Ruka, a successful motocross racer who carries an unmentionable burden in her heart. Attracted to her is Takeru (Eita), a hair and make-up artist who has a fear of sex due to a past trauma. The lives of the three characters become intertwined when they begin living together in a share house.


This is a compelling watch, arguably the most compelling among all those that I've been watching. It's frustrating at first to watch Masami Nagasawa's Michiru constantly forgiving and returning to her abusive boyfriend (Ryo Nishikido, whom I last saw as the love interest in 1 LITER OF TEARS), it's 'awwww'-inducing to see Takeru being attracted to the cute Ruka (Ueno Juri, also an awesome actress), who is a tomboy and also a lesbian (she has a thing for Michiru, I think). Utada Hikaru's PRISONER OF LOVE is its theme song. Characters are multilayered, like the aforementioned abusive boyfriend, who is so much of an asshole, yet so heroic and protective when he was hanging out with a child.

The next day after I watch this, I would ask friends about some scenes that I didn't understand.


LAST FRIENDS' opening sequence. Very intense.


GOKUSEN 3 (ごくせん)


Yukie Nakama is back as Kumiko Yamaguchi in this third series based on Kozueko Morimoto's comical "Gokusen" manga. Affectionately known as "Yankumi," Yamaguchi is an idealistic teacher who also happens to be the next-in-line as the head of a yakuza family. This time, the main group of male students is played by Yuya Takaki (Hey! Say! JUMP!), Haruma Miura, Hideo Ishiguro, Shohei Miura, and Junta Nakama and Akito Kiriyama (both from B.A.D.).


I love Nakama Yukie since I watched the first TRICK (that would also be the beginning of my mancrush for Abe Hiroshi). This highly-rated dorama was interesting at first (I only watched bits and pieces of the first two GOKUSENs) but I started realizing that each episode is more or less the same.

We see another one of Kumiko's students getting into trouble with gangsters, then we see him (and friends) being beaten up badly in an empty warehouse, or factory. After everyone's nearly dead, Kumiko rushes in to save the day. It's a dramatic entrance where she starts removing her nerdy glasses, lets her hair down to become the beautiful Nakama Yukie and starts beating people up. Since then, I only bother watching the last ten minutes of each episode, beginning from the 'dramatic entrance' part.


Gokusen's ending sequence


So, anyone else following any of the above dorama series? Obviously you don't have to be in Japan to watch them anyway, these days.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Swifty Reviews 'Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon 三國之見龍卸甲"



I remember THREE KINGDOMS: RESURRECTION OF THE DRAGON solely for one reason. It was the one film that was going to screen in Malaysia on the week I left for Japan. Thanks to my departure, I was deprived from my much-wanted Maggie Q dose. I also remember watching the trailer just before the laughably bad (but still laughable) AN EMPRESS AND THE WARRIORS, and realized later that the trailer itself was better than AN EMPRESS AND THE WARRIORS.

But then, overall, this film is definitely better than AN EMPRESS AND THE WARRIORS, though it's much more of a downer, and has none of the unintentional hilarity you see in the other film. And I personal think that this is also a better film than 2006's A BATTLE OF WITS (another Andy Lau-starring period war film) which I couldn't even finish watching.

THREE KINGDOMS: RESURRECTION OF THE DRAGON is directed by Daniel Lee Yan-Kong, and is the first of the two Three Kingdoms-related film coming out this year. The other one is John Woo's much-anticipated, star-studded RED CLIFF. To me, this is a smaller-budget film with a much more modest ambition, instead of aiming to be a extravagant grand-scale epic of sheer emotional depth and complexity, it aims more to be a MTV-style war film.

Narratively, it's a little weak. You don't get to know the characters too well because of the voiceover narration (of Sammo Hung's character) and its use of montage to push the plot forward. It's like, you just jump to a few decades later before you've even familiarize yourself with anyone. But visually, this film is beautiful to look at. It's sheer MTV coolness, it has lots of manly men accepting their fate bravely and smiling poignantly at each other before rushing to their doom, so I do think it's pretty entertaining, despite the weakness in narration and pacing.

I try to wonder whether having Andy Lau as an old guy had worked with this film. Sure, this IS Andy Lau, and he sure brings in his normal Andy Lau charisma into the film (I was shocked with the first scene where his character seemed to have a different voice actor to give him a more youthful voice, but I was sure he became all Andy Lau as Zhou Yu AKA Zhao Zilong became older). But would having an actual old actor play the elderly Zhao Yun bring more poignancy to the character as compared to seeing Andy Lau in make-up? (It's not bad make-up, mind you, but it's still Andy Lau). But then, to suggest having another person play this role in those important scenes would be blasphemy considering that this IS an Andy Lau vehicle.

Then there's Maggie Q, she didn't really appear until the last 30 minutes of the film. There are some who felt that she's out of place in a Chinese period flick, due to her Eurasian looks, and the use of a Mandarin voice actress. But I'm fine with her, heck, I would love to see more of her.

It's weird that this film seems to happen in a blur, yet in the end, it feels as if nothing much had happened at all. Watch it or not, this film won't make any difference in your life. I was just yearning for some Chinese films. Of course, this film's biggest contribution in the end is to make me go check out the ROMANCE OF THE THREE KINGDOMS characters on Wikipedia.

I think Maggie Q's character Cao Ying, who is supposed to be the granddaughter of Cao Cao is fictional.

Director Daniel Lee Yan-Kong's last film was the forgettable DRAGON SQUAD, which was exec-produced by Steven Seagal, and even had Michael Biehn in it. I remember the film for its long and drawn-out Michael Bay-style shootout (which was impressive in a technical level, but empty in an emotional level) and also being the last film I ever saw that has Eva Huang ShengYi (the mute girl in Kungfu Hustle) in it. I tried retracing the director's filmography (I was curious with his very competent technical skills that seems like a rarity among most Hong Kong action directors these days) and realized that he had done better films earlier in his career, most notably BLACK MASK starring Jet Li, and A FIGHTER'S BLUES, a boxing weepie starring Andy Lau and Tokiwa Takako (a film I remember most for predicting correctly the fate of Andy Lau's character by counting the 'signs' prior to the climatic boxing match, e.g. "aha, Andy Lau said 'I love you forever' to his daughter, you know this ain't gonna be good")

But I remember him most for his debut feature, WHAT PRICE SURVIVAL? (was also known as ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN 1994) A very artfully done 'reimagining' of a wuxia film that's seemingly set in the early 20th century, but with people battling each other with swords instead of guns. I remember it for its blurry swordsfighting scene (that was innovated in ASHES OF TIME, but I haven't seen it then, so this was new for me), the beautiful cinematography and haunting score (I can't remember the score now, but it was pretty damned haunting, I remember). My dad loved the film then and had constantly rewatched it, to the point were even I myself could remember some lines. It starred Wu Hsing-guo, David Chiang, Jack Kao, Damian Lau, Norman Tsui, Charlie Yeung etc. You can check out the review of this film in Wuxiasociety.org and KFCC

Check out this one scene from WHAT PRICE SURVIVAL? It's intense.



I still think this is Daniel Lee's best film.

Oh, right, I forgot this is a review of THREE KINGDOMS: RESURRECTION OF THE DRAGON. so here's a trailer of that film.



Mmmm... Maggie Q.
(I still think she has better roles in Hollywood films)

Preparing for New Japanese-language Production.

I mentioned last Sunday that reading through Kawabata Yasunari's Palm of the Hand Stories had given me inspiration for a new short film, and I was going to meet up with fellow film student Maiko to brainstorm some ideas.

Everything went on smoothly then and I managed to write the first draft of the script. It's shorter than anything else I've written, but only because of its lack of dialogue. The film's most likely going to be around ten minutes long. And it still doesn't have a title.

I've just returned from another production meeting with Maiko, earlier in the afternoon and things are starting to fall into place. The film can be done with the financial backing and assistance of the university, but Maiko has to submit the proposal and script (translated into Japanese) by end of the month.

After that, according to Maiko, on the 9th of June, we'll have a presentation, or a pitching session, with my professor and two other bigwigs. It's getting pretty exciting.

Oh, and this is my main actress, Miss Kazue Fukiishi.

Kazue Fukiishi

Kazue Fukiishi





... in my fantasy, that is.

I see who I'll end up getting during the casting.

Of course, I'm not going to say much about my film. (And no, I'm not doing a Japanese remake of CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY)

I'll leave a hint: Go check out DAILY FILM DOSE's THE LONG TAKE post.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Swifty Reviews 'Love In The Time Of Cholera'



I actually watched this nearly a month ago (during the same span of days when I watched Strawberry Shortcakes and Funuke, Show Some Love Your Losers!) I was so appalled by the film then that I decided I really have nothing to say about it.

Just another failed novel adaptation that should never have been made, that was it.

But since my upcoming production will be an adaptation of sorts, I intend to reevaluate what are the best ways to do a film adaptation of a novel, and what I should try to avoid.

Most of the time when I was watching a movie, I try to ignore its source material and enjoy the movie for what it is. Film and literature are different mediums, so it's a little pointless to whine about how the film doesn't follow the book closely enough. It's just that if I have read the source material myself, I can at least make some brief mental comparisons and see what were the creative liberties taken by the filmmakers to 'improve' upon the film. T

ake the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy for example (two posts in a row that mention LoTR! How geeky!) I think they are marvelous films, and I seriously cannot imagine how they could be better if Peter Jackson decides to stay faithful to it word-by-word. The characters will be less fleshed out, it'll be really slow-paced, the battle scenes will only be mere montage and not amazing setpieces, with Tolkien's attention paid more upon Middle-Earth, we'll probably see more lingering shots of trees, stones and grasses. Like a Terrence Malick film, maybe, or a pretentious amateur student film. As films they worked because Peter Jackson managed to bring in a high level of filmmaking into them, unforgettable scenes, shots and acting, the creation of atmosphere and mood, the control of pace.

I normally appreciate creative liberties taken by filmmakers when adapting from novels. Like Wong Kar Wai's ASHES OF TIME, is almost like a deconstruction of Louis Cha (Jing Yong) novels instead of an adaptation (but then, it really wasn't an adaptation but just WKW making a film using the backstories of four characters from THE LEGEND OF CONDOR HEROES). Or how Ang Lee normally chooses to adapt from short stories (BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN and LUST, CAUTION) just so he can expand from them, creating a larger scope that were suggested in the novels. I didn't read the original novels, but I know Stanley Kubrick wasn't entirely faithful to the 2001: SPACE ODYSSEY and THE SHINING novels (the latter was famously dissed by its original author, Stephen King) And it's almost universally agreed that the GODFATHER films are actually better than the novels by Mario Puzo.

And I'm always partial to the modernization of Shakespeare's plays like ROMEO + JULIET, or even 10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU. Even Mark Tan did a modern (and Malaysianized) retelling of Othello with his Jarum Halus early this year, and I had less problems with what he did than how he did it. For me, the HOW is just as important as the WHAT, if not more. That's why I'm so disdainful towards a number of fantasy films that came out in the past year or so.

To me, the likes of STARDUST, ERAGON and GOLDEN COMPASS weren't mediocre for taking artistic licenses, but for the grievous mistakes made by the filmmakers. It's the actual filmmaking that irked me, their blatant attempts to dumb things down to appeal to a bigger crowd, their underestimation (or miscalculation) of audiences' intelligence. And in the case of STARDUST, my personal solution for its problems was that maybe the filmmaker should've been a bit more faithful to the book (it's a cop-out to make it some generic fantasy-adventure and sacrifice the love story that's really the core of the story) just so the film would've worked better.

Love in the Time of CholeraTo me, LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA was a massive failure because it fails to draw any emotion from me. There were numerous artistic and narrative choices that director Mike Newell made that left me a little befuddled. Why can't I feel Florentino Ariza's five decade-long love for Fermina Daza more? Because the director chose to use such unsubtle methods to convey his pain?

Shots of him vomiting, crying and staring sadly at Fermina Daza felt more like something from some made-for-tv melodrama, why not internalize it and make his pain more subtle? Why not make his yearning more poetic? How did Fermina Daza's husband, Juvenal Urbino, end up being so one-dimensional? It is as if the filmmaker is trying hard to make him less complex and likable so that audiences can root for Ariza and Daza to be together again. Is it because Mike Newell and I have such different sensibilities that our interpretations of the source material are so different? Hmmm.

I liked Mike Newell's work in HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE, and while my memories of 4 WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL is rather vague, I remember enjoying that as well. And there were some decent moments in MONA LISA SMILE (mostly from Maggie Gyllenhaal), so in my opinion, it's undeniable that Mike Newell tends to draws out some good performances from his actors. LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA is no exception.

I cannot say that Javier Bardem was bad here...

Just horribly miscast. (so was Benjamin Bratt, to a lesser extent)

Fernanda Montenegro, great in CENTRAL STATION, is also really good in the numerous scenes she was in as Florentino's mom, yet somehow, the cynical side of me felt that the expanded role of her character screamed Oscar bait.

Giovanna Mezzogiorni is decent as Fermina Daza, John Leguizamo's pretty over-the-top as Fermina's dad, but I liked his performance.

Yet this film is messy and seemingly directionless. The basic premise is there, a man in love with a woman for more than half a century and had (naively and single-mindedly) waited for her all these while that she was blissfully married to another. More than just a tale of enduring love, Florentino Ariza and Juvenal Urbino are supposed to be representations of conflicting idealogies. The former a poet who love the arts and literature and has a airy-fairy worldview, the latter is a man of science who is more grounded and realistic, they revolve around Fermina Daza.

To me, these are what made Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel so good: Ariza's noble and tragicomical wait for Fermina, the moral ambiguity of his love affairs, the complications of Juvenal and Fermina's married life that looked perfect to everyone outside the household, but also suffers internally, though the main obstacles had more to do with the boredom of predictability and repetition. Then there are the implications of love, some beautiful, some harmful. It's really more than just a love story.

I felt that the film made a costly mistake by undercutting the poignancy of the entire situation by hamming up Florentino Ariza's love affairs, which weren't really described in the novel with graphic detail. Each of them are like (very) short stories packed in one chapter that heightens the reading enjoyment, but in the film, without context, Ariza's 'comedic' sexual conquests seem to take the spotlight just as much as his supposed yearning for Daza. Why? I wonder. More sex and nudity would translate more to the box-office? (ended up not doing that well though) Or is it really more of an artistic license the filmmaker has to take because it plays to his strengths?

No matter what, despite the beauty of some shots, the nice art direction, there's still no technique, and I still feel that there is something appallingly superficial about the visual interpretation of the novel. (although, to be fair, it's really not the most filmable of novels) And frankly, as much as I want to separate the film from its source material, it was mostly the latter that made me sit through the entire film.

Marvel at the beauty of the novel (SKIP IT IF YOU DON'T WANT ME TO RUIN THE ENDING FOR YOU!!):


The Captain looked at Fermina Daza and saw on her eyelashes the first glimmer of wintry frost. Then he looked at Florentino Ariza, his invincible power, his intrepid love, and he was overwhelmed by the belated suspicion that it is life, more than death, that has no limits.

"And how long do you think we can keep up this goddamn coming and going?" he asked.

Florentino Ariza had kept his answer ready for fifty-three years, seven months, and eleven days and night.

"Forever," he said.


Anyway, go read this wonderful article at PopMatters now. BEYOND LOVE: THE WISDOM OF LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA


Shakira's Hay Amores from LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA


Swifty Reviews 'The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian'

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian


Finally went to Shibuya to see THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN. It's the second film I went to the cinema for in Japan, and the first Hollywood film I saw here.

Summer had started for nearly a month in Hollywood and everyone around the world has managed to watch the high-profile summer films like IRON MAN and SPEED RACER (right, so it flopped, but I'm still curious though), while in Japan, aside from lots of local films, I get stuff like 10,000 B.C., or JOHN RAMBO and all kinds of other stuff I've seen in Malaysia many months ago.

It was hard to find anyone who could watch Prince Caspian with me. Hollywood films are beneath most people I've met here, and to think that I'm always the one tagged with the 'artsy fartsy' label. Hell, my desperation to watch NARNIA made me feel like some Brett Ratner-worshipping fratboy.

So in the end, just like I've done all these while, i went to the cinema in Shibuya myself. Quietly fearful that the film would be dubbed in Japanese (some Shiinjuku theaters are showing it in Japanese dub), and almost breathe a huge sigh of relief upon hearing the English dialogue during the first scene.

In my review of the first Narnia film, The Witch, The Lion and the Wardrobe, I said it was a pretty good film, but slightly underwhelmed by the bland middle sections. Since then, I've been treated to one bad fantasy film after another. For each consistently decent Harry Potter film, I get stinkers like ERAGON (read my Eragon review), STARDUST (read my Stardust review) and THE GOLDEN COMPASS (read my Golden Compass review). (I think Pan's Labyrinth is more magical realism that fantasy)

Those CG-heavy, but emotionally and intellectually empty films have tried hard to cash in on the monumental LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, but seldom have they succeeded. They are shallow and artificial films that were more like products of a factory than a meticulous work of passion, they are films that make hating Hollywood so justifiably 'cool' and 'hip'. No matter how impressive the special effects are, I live in an era where all these are already taken for granted, and I seek more in a fantasy film.

Returning to Narnia in PRINCE CASPIAN is almost a relief because the film, like its predecessor, while flawed, is much better than the appalling fantasy films I mentioned above. At least some solid filmmaking is involved, thanks to Andrew Adamson.

The sense of wonder the four Pevensie children felt for Narnia, along with the sorrow and guilt felt for indirectly allowing its destruction can be felt by audiences as well because instead of speeding through to one setpiece after another, and filling up the non-fighting parts with boring expository speeches, the filmmaker actually pauses and allows some moments to linger, thus heightening the emotion and atmosphere that are supposed to help with the storytelling.

And these moments are what separate this film from the lousy puke-inducing fantasy flops mentioned above. The transportation to Narnia from a train station, while it lacks the intimacy and mystery of using the wardrobe like the previous film, is still pretty visually appealing. Gusts of flower petals dancing in the air around Lucy, a midnight siege upon a castle, the costly defeat and sacrifices of comrades left behind in battle, an entertaining one-on-one swordsfight that reminds me of a boxing match, the summoning of a river god, the appearance of an old enemy and how she was vanquished, many of these were great moments and added immensely to the storytelling.

While the Pevensie children have some arcs of their own, their dynamics and interaction are lessen since there is also the title character sharing the spotlight. The actors playing the Pevensie children have aged well and grown more photogenic, but they are painted in broad strokes, like Prince Caspian, so even if I care enough for them in the film, they just don't feel vivid enough for me. Prince Caspian is meant to be some sort of a poignant and tragic character, but somehow, he feels a little bland. Definitely a far cry from what promotional campaigns and cool posters of him would want you to believe him as (although, I have to say that the little romantic subplot between him and Susan, which I don't remember reading in the book, does work at times, but lessening the impact of his character) It's not that I'm trying to compare the Narnia protagonists with the iconic characters of LORD OF THE RINGS. It's just that I actually find even the characters in the Harry Potter movies to stand out more. But then, this Narnia film does not have the luxury of stockpiling every single award-winning and highly-regarded actors like the Harry Potter film does. And it also has to do with the source material by C.S. Lewis.

That's why Peter Dinklage's performance as the grumpy Trumpkin stands out. His relationship with Lucy is one of those little things I gradually started remembering from the book as I was watching the film in the cinema, and it was really good. But it also has to do with Georgie Henley's performance, which I think is still the best among the four. (she's aided by how her character is written too) And I feel that Sergio Castellitto does bring a little complexity to his antagonistic King Miraz role, but his character suffers from being in the shadow of the White Witch. Tilda Swinton's performance in the previous film was memorable enough that seeking her appear again in this film almost made me feel excited.

I won't complain much about the rest of the film. I enjoyed it enough to find the ending affecting, and as I walked out of the cinema, I noticed that many Japanese women were wiping tears and all. For me, it's nice to revisit these stories that I read during my childhood (I think I was 12 when I went through all seven books), and also to see how the filmmakers try to emulate the joy and wonder I had when reading them then. I walked in with an open mind, like I usually do (you'll seldom hear me dissing a film that I haven't seen before, and then going to see it, and find all kinds of fault with it so that I can say that I DID hate the film just to prove my point) I guess perhaps if the LoTR films have never existed, and if I had never read so many fantasy books in my childhood and teenage years, seeing all these wonderful sight onscreen would've been a much bigger impact for me.

Nonetheless, I'm still looking forward to the next Narnia film. I think it's highly unlikely that Disney will adapt all seven Narnia books, especially THE MAGICIAN'S NEPHEW (which deals with the creation of Narnia) and THE BOY AND HIS HORSE (initially, I got PRINCE CASPIAN and THE BOY AND HIS HORSE all mixed up because I read the book in 'chronological order' and not 'publication order' where THE BOY AND HIS HORSE comes after THE WITCH, THE LION AND THE WARDROBE instead of PRINCE CASPIAN (read about the reading order of the Narnia books) So I think there will be at most three more Narnia films (the next one by Michael Apted, THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER is already in development and will have Caspian, Edmund, Lucy and the sword-wielding mouse again) before it all ends. More Ben Barnes for the girls, yay. As for me, I think I might miss Anna Popplewell's pouty lips.


William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes and Georgie Henley, the four Pevensie children, talk about the film

Friday, May 23, 2008

I dreamt that Manchester United lost and thought it was real.

I follow football news casually (the NBA is still my thing), so yesterday morning, I woke up to check the livescore of the European Cup finals. Game had reached overtime, but still a draw between Man U and Chelsea. As I stared at the live updates, I somehow fell asleep again without noticing and saw vividly that the score had become 2-1 after Michael Ballack scored one more and was named as Man of the Match (huh?).



Feeling a slight twinge of disappointment as I woke up, I went to uni for my Japanese class, and told a Chinese classmate that Man U had lost the match. She wasn't too happy either.

Then I went home, signed on to MSN, saw numerous people having 'MAN U!!!!!' and 'MAN U!!! EUROPEAN CHAMPS!!!' and 'MAN U FOREVER!!!!' etc. on their display messages, for a few seconds I wondered whether grief had driven them to denial. Then I went to Yahoo Sports, and realized that I've dreamt of Man U losing.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I was on The New Straits Times! And...

The New Straits Times had an article about the BMW Shorties yesterday (21st of May). They credited Lesly (and my absence) correctly.

Chicken Rice Mystery, Lesly and Kimmy on New Straits Times


Great article. Check it out here.

Some really good quotes too.

“Short films are like poetry; beautiful and short. There were entries that tried to cram in as much information as possible within a short time. Directors need to give space to the audience to think,” he (Raymond Red) said.


I totally agree with this. Cramming too much info in a short film is still a mistake I commit often.

And this.
Meanwhile, theatre regular Kimmy Kiew's Chicken Rice Mystery bagged the Best Actor Award.

"I am shocked. Honestly, there was no expectation to win anything tonight," said the Flower in the Pocket actress regarding her role as a desperate wife trying to please her husband.

"I felt for her character. She deceived her family for the sake of pleasing them. Most women are able to relate to such situation. She did it beautifully," said award winning-actress Ida Nerina, who was one of the judges.

Chicken Rice Mystery by Edmund Yeo and Sing in the Rain by Mahaletchumi Tavamany were selected for the Honourable Mention Award.

Both recipients will be heading off to the Rome International Film Festival in October as their reward.


Ah. Rome.


RELATED POSTS:
CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY Receives Two Awards at BMW SHORTIES!

I was on Utusuan Malaysia!! But...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

[VIDEO] All-you-can-eat 'shabu-shabu' with Ai and Iyo at Shibuya


All-you-can-eat 'shabu-shabu' with Ai and Iyo at Shibuya


This video was shot on the 8th of May, during the last day of Golden Week. I was at Shibuya to have an awesome all-you-can-eat 'shabu-shabu' with two old friends of mine, Ai and Iyo (whom I knew back from my Murdoch days in Perth). I've met Ai the week I came to Tokyo, but I haven't seen Iyo for more than two years, so seeing her again was a joy.

Unlike most of my previous videos, this one isn't tampered with much, no hardcore editing, nor background music. Just diegetic sound, gives you guys a better 'you are there' feeling of Shibuya.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I'm on Utusan Malaysia!! But...

Yes! Utusan Malaysia has an article about last Thursday's BMW Shorties.

But, they thought Lesly The Cinematographer was me after he went to the gala premiere to collect the award on my behalf!!!!

Chicken Rice Mystery mentioned in Utusan Malaysia article, but guy in photo was Lesly, not me!


Nope, I definitely did NOT fly back from Tokyo last Thursday to attend the gala premiere or underwent plastic surgery in Japan.

RELATED POST:
CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY Receives Two Awards at BMW SHORTIES!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Addicted to UN HOMME ET UNE FEMME Theme Music



I've heard this music a couple of times, I've even had A MAN AND A WOMAN in one of my Lisa Ono French CDs, but I found myself in the past few days getting rather addicted to the really well-known theme music from Claude Lelouche's UN HOMME ET UNE FEMME (A MAN AND A WOMAN, it won the Grand Prix at 1966's Cannes Film Fest and Oscar for Best Foreign Film, you can read about it in this entry at the 100 Films blog), composed by Francis Lai.

Especially after watching this beautifully shot scene.



I felt a strange tingle, and started finding other variations of it.

(UPDATED 11/21/2012): A brilliant one from Joe Hisaishi and the New Japan Philharmonic World Dream Orchestra


101 Strings Orchestra's


Claude Cari's.



A commentator of the following video remarked that the music sounds better with the accordion. Hmmm. It does sound more soaring and 'French'.



A nice piano version. I want to get the music sheet for this so I can play it myself.


I told my dad of my recent addiction and he was nonchalant, saying that he had also played the theme music during his band days.

As for me, somehow the theme music just got better because I saw the scene above. Gonna get my hands on the movie soon.

Ironically, I stumbled upon the UN HOMME ET UNE FEMME scene while trying to find clips of Claude Lelouch's other film, TOUTE UNE VIE (AND NOW MY LOVE), a film I've been pretty intrigued with.

(On the other hand, I'm currently trying to write my upcoming short. The meeting with Maiko yesterday was pretty encouraging, but more on that later.)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Kawabata Gave New Ideas For Next Short Film Project



2 hours from now, I'll be heading off to a brainstorming session with a fellow film student, Maiko. I seek Maiko's help because she has really refined tastes in film and literature and had also done Japanese literature for her degree.

Listening to Ming Jin The Mentor's advice of keeping up with my current momentum and strike the iron of creativity while it's still hot, I decide to throw myself into my next project as soon as possible. While I did call Maiko yesterday afternoon saying that we should brainstorm for ideas today while I was on my way to Shinjuku, I was mildly surprised that I managed to get my idea fairly quickly. Spent a few hours at Kinokuniya in Shinjuku, browsing over some books by Kobo Abe, and then short stories by Akutagawa and Kawabata (actually it was Kawabata's Palm Of The Hand stories, which Justin wrote a book review for a while back)

And voila, new idea for a 10-minute short film with a theme of 'LIFE'. For now, I believe I'll be doing a loose adaptation of a 2-page short story from Kawabata. Not going to reveal which one yet, but gonna discuss with Maiko later.

Thanks, Kawabata-san. (the first Japanese author to ever win the Nobel Prize for Literature!)



Thursday, May 15, 2008

CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY Receives Two Awards at BMW SHORTIES!

Just got the news from my dad after he came back from the BMW Shorties Gala Premiere. CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY had received two awards! A Best Acting award for Kimmy as The Mom Who Sucks At Cooking, and an Honourable Mention from the jury as well!

Happy for you, Kimmy!

Mom (Kimmy) is angstyMom (Kimmy) readying dinner
Mom (Kimmy) goes through another kitchen disasterMemories of the Legendary Chicken Rice
Kimmy Kiew as the cooking-challenged Mom

15th of May, 2008. I received my very first award as a filmmaker. I won't forget this.

I'm dedicating this to the cast and crew, to my family and friends, everyone who made this happen. You know who you are. I was blessed to be part of this production.

Of course, this is also for the audiences. Thank you for your loving support in the past month. Those who watched it. Those wrote about it. You have my gratitude.

Updated with photos taken by Han (18th of May, 2008)


Kimmy and Lesly The Cinematographer (who represented me on that night)


Kimmy, Lesly and Han


Updated (20th of May, 2008)

Just to clarify some things:

Being in Tokyo to do my Masters, I did NOT attend the BMW SHORTIES GALA PREMIERE last Thursday. The person who received the award on my behalf was Lesly The Cinematographer. So, you might see him being mistakenly listed as me, in some articles.

So no, I didn't undergo any plastic surgery that day. And no, the one who made CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY wasn't another guy named Edmund Yeo.

Yup, that's all.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ted Mahsun Writes About CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY

Shooting at a coffeeshop


Noted book reviewer and Swiftybuddy Ted Mahsun had posted about CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY.

Combining elements of noir and several bits of comedy, which to me is very reminiscent of Chow Sing Chi's work in the Nineties, Chicken Rice Mystery is about a boy whose mother used to make really good chicken rice, a dish that everyone in the family remembers with great fondness.


I think he's the first person to note the Stephen Chow Sing Chi influences. That was exactly what I was aiming for when writing the script. The occasional 'mo lei tao' humour, the tranny appearance, the ridiculous plot, the even more ridiculous resolution etc. I was definitely thinking of GOD OF COOKERY and KING OF COMEDY (I think I actually like these two films more than his later special effects-heavy blockbusters like SHAOLIN SOCCER and KUNG FU HUSTLE) when preparing the film.

Once again, CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY can be viewed at the BMW Shorties website. Click the VOTE NOW button, search for the last thumbnail.

The BMW Shorties results will be announced tomorrow, but like I said, this won't be the last you'll hear of the film.

Swifty Reviews 'Strawberry Shortcakes ストロベリーショートケイクス'

Strawberry Shortcakes ストロベリーショートケイクス


Watching Strawberry Shortcakes two weeks ago, I was reminded of some independent films from the current Malaysian New Wave, albeit not shot on MiniDV, has (slightly) higher production values, and with actual sex scenes. The visited themes (loneliness, emotional paralysis, ennui etc), the stylistic choices (sparingly-used music, use of meticulously-composed wide shots, languid pacing, multiple plots and central characters), the gritty realism and atmosphere.

Tokyo was portrayed in a manner I've seldom seen in J-doramas and studio films, still beautiful, but lonelier and harsher. After going through a series of Japanese films where its characters are portrayed in a much more exaggerated manner, behaving like live-action version of anime characters (I watched this right after I finished last year's megahit HERO, starring Takuya Kimura), Strawberry Shortcakes felt like a breath of a fresh air.

Admittedly, I was initially not paying too much attention on the film since it was hours past midnight, thinking that I would go to bed if it couldn't hold my attention enough. I ended up watching the whole film.

Strawberry Shortcakes is a chick flick, but not chick flick as in romantic comedies like its whimsical film title would've tricked you into believing, but a chick flick as in a serious drama that centers on four women. But TOKYO FRIENDS this ain't.

By now, I could only stare in disbelief at my last sentence, wondering why the hell am I comparing Strawberry Shortcakes with forgettable Otsuka Ai star vehicle I reviewed last year. The former's a product of serious and accomplished filmmaking, the latter a star vehicle aimed at built-in pop audiences. It's not fair, but looking at what I wrote about Tokyo Friends, which I thought was many things that could go wrong with an ensemble piece, I realize that Strawberry Shortcakes is really an example of what's right.

This is what I wrote about Tokyo Friends last year:

I can't like the film. The humour felt forced. The melodrama too choke-inducing. The characters too soulless. It's like hanging out with a bunch of people, and these people know one another well, constantly making in-jokes, laughing about previous events, exchanging heart-to-heart talks, and then seemingly excluding your from their conversations. Gatherings like that sucked, and I felt like strangling those selfish bastards who DARED made me feel so utterly alienated. (Obviously recounting real-life experiences) The film gave me a similar experience.


On the other hand, Strawberry Shortcakes was like hanging out with a bunch of people you don't know at first and had reservations about. Then you sat together with them, and while they were't really opening themselves to you, you feel that they were so genuine and that it's becoming so increasingly fascinating to know about them that towards the end, unknowingly, unexpectedly, you have became enthralled. And you start to empathize their pain, the things they complain about.

Strawberry Shortcakes ストロベリーショートケイクスSTRAWBERRY SHORTCAKES has four characters, each with their own arcs, all juggled masterfully, no one was getting the short end of the stick, all characters were fully fleshed out as the film went on. The four protagonists are separated into two pairs:

There's Satoko (Chizuru Ikewaki), a receptionist at a brothel, perpetually cheerful and searching for true love ever since a relationship ended badly during her teens (she was dumped by a much older rocker). She has to fend off her lecherous employer as well.

Akiyo (Yuko Nakamura) is a call girl at the brothel, glamorous-looking when she's doing her job, where she deals with disgusting clients that other women don't because she needs the extra money. She wants to buy herself an apartment at the fifth floor just so she can kill herself by jumping off from there. She also sleeps in a coffin. Very morbid and fascinated with death. However, she keeps her professional and private lives separate, changing into T-shirts, removing her make-up, and wearing her glasses as soon as she gets home, finding excuses to hangout with Kikuchi (Masanobu Ando, the psychotic baddie in Battle Royale), an old college pal she's secretly in love with.

Toko and Chihiro share an apartment. Toko is an artist married to work and never seems to leave her home studio. Her latest assignment is to draw God. She also has bulimia.

The happy-go-lucky Chihiro, on the other hand, is an office girl who only wants to be a perfect wife. During a discussion with Toko about God, she answers that her boyfriend is her god. Unfortunately, her co-worker boyfriend Nagai just isn't that into her.

Both pairs don't really meet until the closing moments of the film, but there are some subtle connecting devices. (It's kinda like, er, well, ELEPHANT AND THE SEA by Ming Jin. Ironically, both films were shown at Rotterdam Film Fest 2007) But like I said, I was fascinated because despite the multiple plots and characters, this film draws us close to the protagonists because of its 'fly on the wall' observational style. By not relying on the shallow machinations of generic studio films to manipulate emotions (like elevating the melodrama, or pumping in some swelling soundtrack), the quiet moments felt more haunting for me.

Chihiro is so loyal and loving to her boyfriend that it is almost heartbreaking to see how she's constantly getting her hopes dashed by him.

Toko's world seems to consist only her art, but it's not difficult to see that she is using it mostly as solace, perhaps to lessen her loneliness and to heal a broken heart. It's all hinted, no flashbacks, no cliched scene of her running into her ex-lover and his new squeeze that you often see. Then there is a scene of her, forcing herself to vomit into the toilet bowl, and as she speaks to herself briefly, we learn enough of her in one scene than we can ever learn about some main characters in an entire movie.

Akiyo's profession and the people she deals with are so sordid that one can feel her relief whenever she changes back to her normal unkempt look and hangs out with her college buddy. During the end of her first scene with him, as he walks off from her, she looks at him with so much yearning that one can understand the depth of her feelings without the need for an overwhelming soundtrack. Yuko Nakamura's acclaimed performance as Akiyo is obviously the standout to me too.

Then, back to Satoko, who, in some other film, would've been used as a vapid airheaded comic relief. But in Strawberry Shortcakes, her quirky character is always praying to a little stone by her bed that she believes is God (or part of a comet). And everything she wishes for, as kooky as they sound at first, becomes gradually clear that she is giving voice to what the other characters have wanted and needed as well.

Aside from the great performances and characterization, I found myself admiring the meticulously composed shots in the film, a little something I myself have always been particular with and strive to achieve in my own works. A night scene of Chihiro and Toko sitting at the rooftop, the night scenery of Tokyo sprawling before them. A long uninterrupted take where they remain speaking as a train passes by in the distance, it's beautiful, it's not something everyone would bother to do in their films.

So yeah, this is another Japanese film that left quite an impression to me.

Nowadays, I've been finding film reviews harder and harder to write because I can't seem to control their length. Once again, I can't believe I've churned out something this long. There are many other better written and much more articulate reviews of this film in other websites, and I don't think I'm saying anything that haven't been said before. I guess I'm just taking notes for myself.

BTW: Check out Jason Gray's blog, he did the English subtitles for Strawberry Shortcakes. (he works as a Japanese translator for Japanese films and film festivals, also writes for Screendaily and Japan Times) I occasionally visits his blog, though been doing it more often now that I'm in Tokyo as well.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

EVERYiBODi LAFU ROJAKS has a post on CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY (... and of course, Suanie's awards-worthy performance)

Memories of the Legendary Chicken Rice


The great Wingz at EVERYiBODi LAFU ROJAKS has posted a blog entry about CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY.

This is how Suan roll eyes .... see see? she got talent or what??!!! just this pose alone can win oscar ledi!!! if she roll eye lidat to me on the spot i can climax sial!


Well said, bro. I agree with everything. Er, almost everything except for the climax part. Go check out his entry now.

So, we're just two days away from BMW Shorties' results announcement. They will be having a gala premiere that I myself obviously cannot attend. But I'm most likely going to have Lesly the Cinematographer representing me on that night. I know Kimmy and Suanie are going too, which means that I have two cast members of the film there, and my parents too, if they can make it.

It had been amazing in the past month to learn that so many have enjoyed the film. Friends and relatives of mine. Friends and relatives of my cast and crew. Dear friends of the blogosphere, old primary and high school mates, people I know online, or even strangers. It's not as if I suddenly chose to 'sell out' and 'conform' to make something for mass consumption. I didn't dumb the script down, I didn't write or make a movie I myself was disgusted with. So the reactions I've gotten feel really remarkable for a guy who has gotten used to, in the past 2 years, to have people (mostly friends and relatives, believe) tell him that they don't 'get' or 'understand' his artsy fartsy films.

And even the Japanese liked it too!

It sound as if this is the end of a journey, but it really isn't. I have believed that the selection of Chicken Rice Mystery, a product of hard work from many people, is already a victory. The appreciation and support from its audiences an even greater one. So regardless of the BMW Shorties results, I don't believe that there's any losing for the film. What more do I have to ask for anyway?

After that, Chicken Rice Mystery will begin its trip to the foreign film festivals. Therefore, this is really just the beginning.


The 10 Finalists of BMW Shorties 2008



Sunday, May 11, 2008

[Open Thread] Great Films To Watch On Mother's Day?



Last year, I listed ten great films to watch on Mother's Day (... eight actually, two titles were meant as jokes)

This year, I'll need your suggestions on what are great films to watch on Mother's Day.

Please list whatever film titles you can think of.

Now, see lots of cute Japanese actresses wishing their moms Happy Mother's Day.



P.S. Happy Mother's Day, Mom.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Welcome Party For New Film Students

Two days ago (well, three, since it's already past midnight) I screened CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY to fellow film students of Waseda University. It was an all-day private screening for all film students doing their Masters to display their works.

Although it was the second film to be screened that day, I felt encouraged and flattered that it remained in people's minds until the night, when quite a few approached me to talk about it. (But then, being the only non-Japanese film in the line-up, it's impossible not to leave an impression, haha.) Many liked the Pasar Malam (night market) scenes, especially because of the vibrant colours (and I assume also because of its exoticism). And they also remarked on how different the Hainanese Chicken Rice is compared to their everyday Japanese chicken and rice dishes.

I often believe that filmmaking should transcend cultural barriers, that one should never stereotype films from a particular country. Chinese films aren't just about the martial arts epics. Japanese films aren't just about the horror films. Hollywood films aren't just about the big-budget soulless blockbusters. That's why I'm often against the idea of deliberately exoticizing your own culture just for the sake of encouraging these stereotypical views or conforming to what people like to see. It's a little insincere. And sometimes, I thought it's lazy filmmaking, it's like being pardoned for having sub-par technical or artistic values for the film 'merely because it's exotic'.

Different filmmakers should have different sensibilities based on their own cultural beliefs and upbringing, they technically should be able to make something culturally unique without trying too hard. It's the self-conscious need to flaunt one's culture and tradition that appalls me.

Nonetheless, having said that, I also disagree with the creative decision to distort reality so much for the sake of fitting genre requirements that the film ends up feeling like a pale imitation of other greater works from foreign countries. For example: When I see suit-wearing triad members prancing around in a (supposedly serious) local production, I tend to grimace because the portrayal of gangsters felt more like something referenced from a Tarantino film and (most likely) Hong Kong films. I just can't feel convinced at all.

I'm sure even Jack Neo had injected something 'Singaporean' into Fann Wong's character in AH LONG LIMITED instead of going for a shot-for-shot imitation of MY WIFE IS A GANGSTER. After all, why choose to be an inferior knock-off product anyway? Or, why compete against someone in doing what they're better at doing?

I was also curious to see what the Japanese film students in my uni are capable of doing. Their influences, their styles, the film vocabulary they use etc. So I remained in the auditorium from 11 in the morning to 7 at night (there's a lunch break and a few 10-minute breaks). I watced other works that ranged from 5 minutes to nearly an hour. Narrative shorts, non-narrative experimental stuff and a documentary. Some, unfortunately, had no English subtitles, and I found myself drifting in and out of sleep (my flu was also getting increasingly worse then) because they were dialogue-driven.

At an event like this, most were definitely determined to show their best stuff, and in terms of technical values, I have to say that everything I saw that day were at least above average. There's nothing that felt appallingly like a home video, nothing that made me go "Whaaaat? How can he be proud of this?"

It was an eclectic bunch. One put up three short trailers of a feature-length film made by a Spanish guy in Tokyo that she helped produced. Another did a making-of feature of a film that stars Eita. Then there's this directing duo who presented two of their works, which were both fantastical and effects-heavy, complete with snazzy animated interludes. I later heard that they work in an animation company, thus having the manpower to pull of what they did. There's also a half-hour fully animated short that looks just as good as any anime episode I've seen (on TV, not comparing this to the Ghibli stuff, obviously).

The last film shown was called Sketchbook. 53 minutes long. a tale of nostalgia and high school unrequited love. I spotted some heavy Shunji Iwai influences. Its director, Taka, gave out DVDs for free, and also surveys for us to fill (our thoughts on the storyline, themes etc) I asked him whether the film was autobiographical, he sheepishly said yes.

DVD cover of the short film, Sketchbook

The Sketchbook DVD sure looks good!


Anyway, I instantly made a decision that my thesis film here should have such cool DVD packaging as well.

After the screening ended, there was a welcome party where everyone could mingle and chat.

Welcome Party for New Film Students 1

Welcome Party for New Film Students 2


I was amazed by how quickly everyone cleaned things up after the party ended. In mere minutes, the long table was empty.

Welcome Party for New Film Students 3

Welcome Party for New Film Students 4


Nice events like this make me eager to keep my creative juices running again.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

China President Hu Jintao Visited My University. Big-Scale "Free Tibet!" Rally.

I was finding a place to have lunch in the afternoon when I saw that the main entrance of the university was packed with people with banners, and members of the media, and the police. Apparently, China's president, was coming over to Waseda University. I was mildly surprised because, while I heard of his arrival to Tokyo on TV last night and heard of his possible Waseda visit, I didn't know he was coming to Waseda today.

Students' protests during Hu Jintao's Waseda University visit.

Students' protests during Hu Jintao's Waseda University visit 2

Students' protests during Hu Jintao's Waseda University visit 3

Students' 'Free Tibet' protests during Hu Jintao's Waseda University visit 4.

Students' protests during Hu Jintao's Waseda University visit 4

Students' protests during Hu Jintao's Waseda University visit 5


Aside from the FREE TIBET signs, I also saw some 'NO PANDAS' and 'NO MORE POISON DUMPINGS' signs around. Couldn't snap any pictures of those though.

Hundreds of cops were already there to keep things in control, in fact, the amount of policemen may surpass the amount of protestors.

Now, an obligatory photo of myself to prove that, yes, I was there. (not to protest, just a random passerby who was just having lunch ten minutes before before being disrupted)

Me during Hu Jintao's Waseda University visit.


There were more and more people as time went on.

Students' protests during Hu Jintao's Waseda University visit 6

Students' protests during Hu Jintao's Waseda University visit 7


Then the cops, troops of them, started marching around, shepherding the people... in a rather polite way. All of them were shouting "move forward, onegai shimasu! (please)"

Police keeping things control during Hu Jintao's Waseda University visit

Police keeping things control during Hu Jintao's Waseda University visit 2

Police keeping things control during Hu Jintao's Waseda University visit 3

Police keeping things control during Hu Jintao's Waseda University visit 4


Of course, while this was going on, the white-haired man in the photo below bellowed in rage, his face turning bright red, his eyes seemingly bulging out.

"WHERE'S FREEDOM OF SPEECH IN THIS COUNTRY? THERE'S NO FREEDOM OF SPEECH IN JAPAN?" He screamed at a cop. Then he switched to shouting in Japanese.

Angry white man during Hu Jintao's Waseda University visit


"THIS is police brutality!" He said to me, pointing at the sea of police and protestors in front of him.

We all ended up standing pretty far away. In the sky, there were numerous helicopters circling around.

"THIS IS POLICE BRUTALITY!" Angry white man bellows.


"Yeah." I nodded.

"This is ridiculous! What country is this?" An Irish girl nearby said to me. "It makes me miss mine even more."

"Uh huh." I nodded.

She continued. "I was supposed to come here in two years, but now, I'm not so sure! I was cycling my way around this morning, and then some people were in my way, so I said 'sumimasen', and they replied 'SORRY'. It's all because I'm white and they assume that I can't speak Japanese!"

"Right." I nodded.

"This is really nothing. I've seen worse in my country." An Argentinean woman nearby said in wry bemusement.

Twenty minutes later, realizing that Hu Jintao wasn't arriving anytime soon, and that I've been sheperded to too far a place to get a good view of things, I started feeling bored and returned to my classes. Royksopp's ONLY THIS MOMENT music video this ain't.


Only This Moment


Updated (9th of May, 2008): Here are some videos (not uploaded by me):









Videos of the China President's speech in Waseda University:


Part 1


Part 2


Part 3


Part 4


Videos with Japanese translation: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5.


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