Sunday, March 25, 2012


 Yesterday I watched Jacki Chan's latest film, 1911: Revolution. It was a pretty interesting retelling of the events surrounding the 1911 revolution in China in which the Chinese nationalist/republican forces, overthrew the Qing dynasty in a series of bloody battles. The film was directed by Jackie Chan and places him in the main supporting role as the militant right hand man for Dr. Sun-Yat-Sen, who some have credited as being the "father of modern China" played by Winston Chao. Chao looks so much like Sun-Yat-San in that film!

Winston Chao (Left) and the real Sun-Yat-Sen (Right)

 Well I've been studying a lot about this guy and the revolution in my class and I found the film to be pretty accurate, I mean why not right? As a film I thought it worked pretty well although it is quite short for a historical film and because of that, character development suffers somewhat. It certainly seems that this film was made for Chinese audiences who would have at least some per-existing knowledge of the characters. That being said, the action is pretty slick, but don't expect any traditional Jackie Chan antics, this is not an action/kung fu movie (although there is one scene that tips its hat to Jackie's previous work). All in all I found it pretty enjoyable, the battle scenes were pretty well directed, the characters were interesting, the casting was solid, but I definitely think a longer run time would have helped this film as it only clocks in at 1:40. Oh, and its Chan's 100th film! Go Chan!
  
PS: The Hunger Games is pretty damn good movie.      

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I think I'm just not gonna title these anymore, unless I'm writing an article or presenting something or some special announcement. I've been looking at a lot of other people's blogs and they just post stuff randomly. Live and learn!

 Yesterday I worked at the polls for elections Canada, from 7:30am to 10:00pm. For anyone who lives in Toronto, remember Jack Layton? Sure ya do! Very unfortunately, last summer he passed away, leaving our riding unrepresented, so we needed to vote in a new representative. Hence the by-election that I was working for. Well it was pretty hard work but the pay wasn't bad and it was only one day, so that's cool. I went home and crashed right after, and that's why I woke up so early today. But what does this have to do with East Asia? Well... nothing actually, but this is my only blog after all.

And now for something to do with East Asia...
 

 I got my interview for going abroad to Yonsei University coming up this Thursday! Exciting! If you don't already know, I had been previously thinking about applying for an exchange year in South Korea. As I am an East Asian Studies specialist, who is very interested in Korea and who needs to learn Korean in order to graduate, I thought it best to go abroad to South Korea to do some dedicated learning. At first it was a bit difficult to figure out which University I wanted to go to but finally I chose Yonsei, as it has the most courses pertaining to my major. Yonsei University also happens to be South Korea's oldest university which is pretty nifty!

Yonsei University, Seoul campus in a autumn. Pretty no?
 
So I got my application in and I've been on edge for the last few weeks, waiting for my interview to be scheduled, and now, finally I got my date! Gotta say though, I'm a bit nervous. I don't really know what sort of questions they'll ask me... Oh well, I suppose honesty is the best policy. Anyway I'm fairly confident, and I REALLY want this! I'll let you know how it goes!    

 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Don't have a title for this one... How did I miss this?! Two days ago I just heard of the Indonesian film Merantau released in 2009 and got to watching it. The verdict? Well... remember when you first saw Tony Jaa (Panom Yeerum) on screen for the first time, in Ong Bak? Remember how you lost your shit when you realized that Jackie Chan now had a viable young successor? Well yes, it was kind of like that. Merantau is a high-octane martial arts film in which a young man from the Indonesian countryside heads to Jakarta (capital city of Indonesia) to go on some sort of life-experience pilgrimage or something like that. Not really sure why he has to do this, but apparently its a tradition in his village, or something like that. The young man is a high-level practitioner of the Indonesian martial art Pencak Silat.


 So naturally on his trip to the big city, he gets wrapped up in all sorts of troublesome situations which revolve around a young go-go dancer, her kid brother, and a bunch of evil gangsters headed by two evil FRENCH MEN!!! (At least, I think their french - a reference to Indonesia's colonial past perhaps?) These situations put the hero, Yuda, played by Iko Uwais, Indonesia's new man of action, in all sorts of danger in which he must use his silat skills to dispatch any number of bad guys. So yes, pretty similar to Ong Bak, only without the Buddha head and in Indonesia instead of Thailand. Rural guy goes to the big city to fight gangsters with crazy martial skill (Trailer below).


 The action scenes are top notch, featuring all manner of stunts and creative choreography with enough jolts per second to make you say things like "holy shit!" or "did that just happen?!" ...yeah, it's good stuff. Iko's latest movie is coming out this month, called "Serbuan Maut" or if you prefer the English name "The Raid: Redemption". It's about a swat team that raids an apartment building which is a crime lord's base of operations. It looks INSANE, must watch!


And in other news, I recently watched Wang Xiaoshi's 2001 film, Beijing Bicycle. Its the story of a young man from China's countryside, who get's a job in Beijing as a bicycle courier. Eventually his bike gets stolen and sold to a poor and frustrated high school student who's trying to fit in with his friends, all of whom have bikes. Eventually the courier finds the bike and there is this whole dilemma of who the bike actually belongs to. Its a well directed, well acted film, featuring some interesting commentary about the differences between China's poor rural communities vs. its rich urban cities. I found the film to be very affecting as you find yourself both sympathizing and empathizing with both characters. Check it out if you can!


 and finally, having no money suuuuuuuuuucks. This weekend, in Toronto is the annual conference for the Association for Asian Studies. The conference has several panels featuring big names in East Asian scholarship. Only problem, its like 50 bucks to get in for students (Damn son!) and I just don't have money right now (ㅜ_ㅜ - Korean sad face). If you have money and want to check it out go to:

http://www.asian-studies.org/Conference/index.htm

Oh yes... and Hanbando just KEEPS GETTING BETTER!               
   
           

This just keeps getting better...

So if you've been reading this blog you might remember me mentioning this video game that's in development called "Sleeping Dogs", which is essentially GTA Hong Kong. Fricki'n cool right?! So the developers just released a new video in which they talk about some of the research that went into the setting of the game (being Hong Kong). Seems like they're really going the extra mile on this one. I SERIOUSLY hope this game ends up living up to its potential.

Check out the video below!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Drama Fever

I've been pretty damned busy for  the last week or so with midterms and stuff and didn't have the energy to blog, but now I'm done all that stuff and here I am!

So, I got hooked on this website that's been around for a while called Drama Fever. It's a website that has tonnes of East Asian media, especially Korean and Chinese dramas subtitled in English, and best of all it's FREE! (with the cost of the internet, har har!) Ah puts a smile on your face, don't it?


Currently I'm enthralled in "Hanbando" or "Peninsula" as the official English name seems to be. It's this slick Korean television drama, set in the near future where North and South Korea seem to be on the cusp of reuniting after finding a new alternate power source called "methane hydrate". After a coup in North Korea the reunification plans seem to be scraped. The main characters, a South Korean scientist and a North Korean scientist, who were working on a "unified science team" comprised of North and South Korean staff find themselves running off together (cause there in love!) with all manner of North and South Korean government cronies in hot pursuit. On top of that there are all these really interesting side stories featuring South Korean congressmen, North Korean party members, and all kinds of intrigue. (Trailer below, click if interested... not subtitled though.)



The show is apparently the highest budget Korean drama to date, and it really shows. It's a slick production with some great action, awesome and realistic characters (as far as Kdrama goes ㅋㅋㅋ - sorry couldn't resist) and really interesting political intrigue! It has a bit of the melodramatics that any East Asian drama fan will be used to, but its been toned town considerably, and it is a Korean drama after all I mean, so yeah... But anyway, I was pretty pumped for this show when I first heard of the plot, but now I just finished watching episode 8 and I can't stop! Addictive... that's a good word for it. Seriously if this sounds like your cup of tea, head over to dramafever.com and watch it! (look for it under the name "Peninsula") and remember, its free! And subtitled!!!!     

 PS: I don't work for dramafever.com... and daylight savings time suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks. *thud* zZzZz

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Orientalist vs.Scholar of East Asia (or "Confessions of a Former Japanophile")

I've been reviewing a lot of movies and media lately so I figured its time for something a bit different. Here's something that has been on my mind lately...

Something I have always had to deal with in regards to my insatiable interest in East Asian culture is trying my utmost to avoid the label of orientalist. It's interesting for me to note that I wasn't even aware of this term until last semester when I took a very interesting course called "approaches to East Asia" which I have mentioned in a previous post. In one of the tutorials for this course we, the students (many of which were EAS majors), were forced to ask ourselves if we were, in fact, orientalists.

Edward Said's famous book exploring the problematic nature of orientalism and related topics.
  So what is an orientalist you ask? Well according to my understanding of my professor's words, an orientalist is someone who is interested in Asia, (or "the orient" a term that is nearly obsolete, and for good reason) insofar as it is different from their own culture. An orientalist is like an "Asia aficionado", a collector of things "strange" and "unique" from far-off lands, someone who obsesses over the "foreignness" of Asia and views it as something exotic and culturally impenetrable. The best everyday example I can think of that I've experienced are "Japanophiles", people who seem to obsess over all things Japanese whether it's food, media, fashion or what have you. Simply put Japanophiles love Japan for its "Japaneseness" and tend to view their often rose-coloured perception of Japanese culture as being desirable and at odds with "western culture" which they may view as boring and/or undesirable. How do I know so much about Japanophiles? Because I used to be one.

Here's a sweater you can order online, the characters or Kanji more-or-less translate to "Japanophile". So yeah it's actually a thing, and, it would appear, celebrated by some.
 As a Japanophile I would go out of my way to collect all things Japanese that were readily available to me, instant noodles, anime, manga, Japanese snack products, Japanese films, books about Japan and martial arts to name only a few. I once remember paying 10 dollars for an issue of "Shonen Jump", a weekly manga magazine, that was entirely in Japanese. Did I care that I couldn't read it? no! It was in Japanese, and everything Japanese was awesome and therefore just having a book in Japanese that I could show off to my friends was money well spent. If the subject of Japan came up in conversation, I would quickly rush in to take part and defend against any criticism that might soil Japan's reputation of being a neon paradise. It was an obsession, and obsessions are never healthy. My Japanophilia continued through my first two years of high-school nearly uninterrupted until, that is, when I ACTUALLY started learning about Japan and realized just how little I actually knew about the "country of my dreams".

This is apparently an actual magazine, the currency is in Yen which means it's likely Japanese. Yikes.
 This important reality that I learned can be summed up as such: "Japan is a country in the world, and like other countries has its own set of cultural, social, economic, and political attributes that, when viewed from certain angles, reveal numerous pros and cons." In other words, "Japan, like the rest of the world, is not perfect" (duh, right?). After making this realization I was finally able to study Japan from a much more objective standpoint and thus became aware of the historical and contemporary reality of the country. For me, this realization marked a transition I had made from being a "Japanophile" to a "scholar of Japan". Was the transition undesirable? Did I suffer? Not in the least. In fact, as a scholar I feel much closer to the country and culture then I ever did during my years as a young Japanophile. It also led to my interest beyond Japan and into the rest of Asia and beyond. The point I am trying to make is, that my "Japanophilia" was a kind of "orientalism" which actually inhibited my understanding of Japanese culture and thus kept me separated from it.  Funny that...

A famous illustration of Marco Polo dressed as a Tartar, perhaps the picture itself is an earlier example of Orientalism.
 It is really orientalism and similar schools of thought that create cultural barriers. This idea that Asia (and I mean ALL of Asia, not just the Eastern part) is somehow profoundly different from North America or Europe is harmful and simply untrue. One could easily draw similarities between the recent North American recession and the recession that has been plaguing Japan since the late 90's for example. Thinking of Asian culture as being exotic and impenetrable (i.e. impossible to understand if you haven't grown up in it) is ignorant and apathetic. It's an excuse to play dumb, to avoid intellectual challenge and it stifles understanding and true cultural learning. Though orientalism may seem at first like an appreciation of the "Eastern" continent, it is actually a means of keeping it far away and unreachable. Though it is likely that many people who study East Asia as scholars, may have at one point been orientalists, the true difference is that orientalists merely skim the surface, valuing Asia for its "unusual" and "quaint" qualities. In other words, they simply admire the box without browsing its contents. Scholars of Asia, on the other hand, acknowledge the box but then pry it open in order to better understand its contents. For this reason I consider myself lucky to finally be able to call myself, a scholar of East Asia.      

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Mr. Mao's Amazing Movie

From this blog it may seem that all I do is play games, watch movies and read books, but actually there's a bunch of stuff I do in between all that, like school, and work and other stuff. The reason I post so many reviews of things is because I have watched or read a lot of stuff and haven't had the chance to blog about them yet, so I have this whole back-log of things I've seen or read that I really wanna blog about but just haven't gotten around to yet. Why am I telling you this? I don't know actually, but I feel its important that people know I actually have a life hehe. Anyway, recently I've been learning a lot about modern China in my class and I had a mid-term exam that came up a week or two ago so to help study I watched the Chinese film "The Founding of a Republic".


Before you say anything, yes it's a movie about Chairman Mao, the founder of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and yes, it could easily be viewed as propaganda. However, there are quite a few reasons to watch this film, especially if you're in to East Asian history and film. The interesting thing about this movie is that, although it is essentially propaganda it takes a seemingly objective approach to the portrayal of a number of the characters, especially Cheng Kai-Shek, the leader of the Kuo Min Tang (KMT - the guys who were opposed to Mao's communist party). Sure Mao is portrayed as a kind and charismatic leader who is a friend to all the children and the everyman but I half expected them to portray Cheng as an evil capitalist, wringing his hands and cackling while coming up with more insidious plots to exploit workers. Surprisingly they portrayed him as a guy with good intentions that just couldn't "get it together" which in a way is what actually happened in history (the KMT, after being in power for a time, lost to the communists and took refuge in Taiwan, which has a lot to do with why Taiwan is always trying to claim independence - I'll talk about this in a later post methinks). What I'm saying is that for a propaganda film, its actually quite factual and by watching it you can actually learn a thing or two about how PRC came to be.

The alternate poster showing all the famous actors the make appearances in the film.
The other cool thing about this film is that it has cameos from nearly EVERY big name in Chinese and Hong Kong film. If you watch this film and are familiar with at least some Chinese actors you'll easily be able to recognize such people as Andy Lau, Leon Lai, Zhang Zi Yi, Zhao Wei, Donnie Yen, Jet Li and even Jackie Chan! It's just a lot of fun to see them all in the same movie! The film itself is essentially a collection of scenes and that depict events that were integral to the founding of the PRC and is not really a fluid narrative. It's sort off like watching a news real. Honestly though, as far as propaganda films go, The Founding of a Republic neglects to take the possibly vomit inducing "Mao is a friend to all the animals" approach and chooses to tell a much more factual account of the events surrounding the founding of the PRC. You could do much worse, trust me. Not a bad bit of film-making and definitely worth a look if your at all interested in modern China and its history. Suffice it to say, it actually did help me on the exam!      

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Gambler's Delight

Have you ever seen a movie that you can't really say is good or bad but must be characterized in other terms, such as crazy, sporadic, hyper-active etc.? Well I literally just finished watching the Shaw Brothers film "Gambler's Delight" and I just don't really know what to make of it.


It seems as though, whoever made this film decided to squeeze in 3 hours worth of narrative into 1 hour and 27 minutes of film. The film is paced like a hyperactive kid watching Saturday morning cartoons! Nearly every scene lasts no more than a minute and a half and the stuff that happens is so crazy that I have to write a comprehensive list of events in sequence just to convey how crazy this movie is.

1. main character introduction - the dragon - a badass dude who polices a casino
2. dragon notices woman winning too much  
3. finds out she's cheating
4. challenges her to black jack
5. challenges her to a game of cheating
6. dragon loses both
7. dragon gets whipped (literally)
8. dragon is on a boat and hatches a revenge plan
9. dragon goes to Hong Kong, meets friends and makes a plan
10. dragon and friends set up a porn theater  for money
11. porn theater gets busted by cops
12. dragon and friends are arrested
13. dragon and friends escape from jail 
14. dragon and friends con a police Sargent in order to make enough money to set up acrobatics show
15. dragon and friends put on a show with nudity and magic and gun tricks
16. gangsters come and make trouble
17. gangsters get shown up
18. gangsters get mad and attempt to rape one of dragon's female friends
19. dragon and friends cut off one of the gangster's dick and cook it and feed it to other gangsters (good god!)
20. dragon and friends hatch new plan to con money out of woman from first act

and ALL THAT HAPPENS IN THE FIRST 20 MINUTES OF THE FILM!!! That's not even a full list of the events either! I mentioned the film was 1 hr. and 20 mins. right? RIGHT?! Yeah well suffice it to say, ALOT of stuff happens in the movie. If you look away for a second you'll miss like 4 scenes! It's really crazy. I've always said that HK films were pretty fast paced but this takes the cake. Honestly though, by the end I was pretty entertained. I mean its a pretty messed up film both technically and story-wise but you just can't look away! After you finish watching it you might just say to yourself "what did I just watch? ...I dunno but it might have been awesome!" Check it out if you want a lesson in insanely sporadic film making.   

In love and bondage...

Not too long ago I finished reading a collection of short stories by the contemporary cult Chinese writer, Wang Xiaobo. The collection is called "Wang in Love and Bondage" (yes, I realize the name is too suggestive not to snicker when hearing it) and features three of Wang's best works (I think) "2015", "The Golden Age" and "East Palace, West Palace". Each work examines a facet of Chinese life and parodies it in an absurd fashion (at least that's what I got out of it). The first story follows the life of an artist in a dystopian future (presumably in the year 2015) as told by his nephew, who is apparently one of the author's alter egos named Wang Er (many of the narrators of his stories apparently share this name and are meant to be alter egos of himself.) The artist is constantly arrested for painting and selling art without a permit and is eventually sent to an artist's prison for "re-education". There he "falls in love" with the guard who is charged with watching him, who happens to be (based on the Wang's description) incredibly attractive. They proceed to have a bizarre relationship in which they constantly switch between being a couple and being a prisoner and guard and also have sex, often and practically anywhere that has a decent surface. It's pretty wild.


The second story is the story of a man (and the story's narrator) also named Wang Er and a woman, Chen Qingyang, working at a labor camp during the cultural revolution. The woman's problem is that her husband is in prison and everyone thinks that she is "damaged goods" meaning that she cheated on her husband with another man because she is apparently too attractive to have been faithful. Of course she has never cheated, but after befriending Wang, and seeking his council about what to do, he simply says the she should just actually become damaged goods and than no one will need to talk about it anymore. So after becoming "good friends" Wang and Chen go at it, having sex constantly and just about everywhere (can you see a theme here?).

The late Mr. Wang himself, sadly he died of a heart-attack in 2006.
The final story, is the shortest and is about a gay relationship between a policeman and writer (at least I think that's what he does, the story doesn't really go into detail about his daily life too much). The policeman's job is to patrol during the night shift, a park which happens to be a popular meeting place for gay men. Every night he arrests one of the men in the park so he has someone to talk to. Eventually he ends up arresting a particularly interesting guy whom he eventually falls in love with and realizes that he too is gay. This story is particularly interesting because, even though Wang Xiaobo was straight (I'm pretty sure) the way he writes the characters seems really realistic and genuine and tackles a lot of the trials and tribulations that apparently a lot of gay people go through, according to a number of gay men I've talked to over the years. Pretty deep stuff.

A poster for the film adaptation of the story with the same name.
Wang Xiaobo's writing style is what really got me when I read these stories. I was reading an English translation mind you, but I'd assume the translators stayed true to his tone and stylistic choices. His style can be described as, "absurdly blunt" especially in the first two stories. He has this way of explaining the most bizarre and/or erotic scenes and situations in the most non-nonchalant ways, which in turn somehow make them seem even more absurd and/or even more erotic, its really quite affecting. In the last story he takes a bit less of an absurdest tone but it is still quite straight forward, and he certainly pulls no punches when it comes to describing the acts of sex, straight or otherwise. Not that its vulgar or even pornographic, but somehow this way of giving the reader all the details so unabashedly really works well and makes the stories seem more fantastic though realistic (if those words can even be used together in that way). Its hard to explain, but its good stuff. Although Wang was largely considered a "cult-writer" for a long time, his stories have hit the mainstream and he is currently considered to be one of China's iconic contemporary writers.Check him out if you want to read some fiction that'll stick in your mind.