Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. - Eleanor Roosevelt

Monday, April 21, 2008

'Beautiful Boxer' is absolutely beautiful!

You know those movies you come across and keep passing over, because they just don't sound like your cup of tea? I don't know how many times I passed on Beautiful Boxer before I finally said, "What the heck?" and brought it home. And now that I've watched it: Wow.

What a movie... and based on a true story, too!

My foreign movie trip through Asia continues.

Hailing from Thailand, Beautiful Boxer is based on the true story of Parinaya Charoemphol, a woman who used to be a man; more importantly, an internationally known kickboxer.

Engrossing, funny and touching, this movie recounts the life of Parinaya as Nong Toom, an effeminate young man with a dream. Though the original goal of Parinaya's involvement in Thai kickboxing is to provide financially for his parents and siblings, he soon embarks on an emotional (as well as physical) journey to become himself-- a woman. He begins to fight with make-up on, and with this trademark becomes famous, raising eyebrows and cheers.

The real Parinaya Charoemphol with the actor who played her, Asanee Suwan.

This movie is quite simply put, beautiful. It is acceptance of those different from us, and it's about the strength and resiliency of the human spirit. I know that's a cliche way of describing such a story, as every other life story is about the strength and resiliency of the human spirit, but this truly is a movie that has all the components necessary to make an excellent piece of work with such a common theme.

Though it covers transvestitism and a sex change, it is quite tame, and surprisingly innocent. I'd go so far as to say that this is even a family movie with a bit of controlled violence... it's about kickboxing after all. Another positive is that though it is a foreign film from Thailand, the universality of the issue and its comedy is not lost in translation-- maybe we don't get the comedy literally, or the importance of some cultural aspects, but there is little if any lost in translation.

My opinion of this movie is not the only thing that ought to draw you to it. For instance, the actor who played Nong Toom is a Thai professional boxer in real-life (Asanee Suwan), who'd never acted before. Based on his performance, which was superb by all standards, he received the equivalent of an Oscar for Best Actor in Thailand. The movie received several other awards internationally, including Best Film.

If you see only one foreign film, make it Beautiful Boxer.. it is a movie not to be missed.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Some days are better than others.

Some days writing comes naturally. On days like those, topic(s) are clear, and words flow together and out of me.

Other days writing is like pulling teeth. I have no desire to write, nor the ability. Those are easy to deal with because they're easy to ignore. I can just go on with my day(s) and life doing something else without a problem, because I know that the next phase will be a release from an intense writer's block. It's after such dry spells when I experience the floodgates of writing and end up producing good stuff I'm proud of, and sometimes get great feedback from readers that encourages me to write more and more.

It's the days where I want to write but can't that are hard to get through. It's the worst kind of writer's block to not have a topic and/or ability to write, but have that longing inside you to write. It's like going through withdrawal. All you wanna do is write and see yourself accomplishing something, but you can't.

I'm trying to figure out ways to combat such severe writer's block lately. What better way than to use my best and first form of release, i.e., writing, to help combat writer's block?

So, here I am writing about my writer's block and it's helping not only satiate my longing for writing (if only for a little while), but it also helps me create material that could be useful to a reader suffering from the same problem, or could be of use to me later.

In the meantime, this little blog post has helped me, and oiled the old writing engine enough to move forward, and hopefully write something of more substance very soon.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Eras, plastic surgery and cool sculptures.

And my foreign movie, er, Asian movie streak continues. With a pair of very interesting movies hailing from Taiwan and Korea, love is given a whole new treatment.

From Taiwan, I watched Three Times, a movie with three stories; the title refers to three different eras, hence, three "times". The eras are as far back in time as 1911, as retro as 1966, and as modern as 2005, when the movie was made. In each era, we are told a different story with the same actors playing different characters in each time.

We begin in 1966, a time for love. Then we go on to 1911, a time for freedom. And finally, we are in 2005, a time for youth.

Each era introduces a love story with a theme corresponding with the time.

The time for love is the innocent beginnings of a love between a young couple.

The time for freedom is perhaps the most interesting time of all, as it is filmed with music over muted dialogue which we read. The theme of freedom is in correspondence with the story of a teahouse girl seeking her freedom through her love story with a regular visitor.

Then in 2005 we are introduced to the time for youth, in which a young woman is lost in her youth. She doesn't know what she wants or whom she wants.

It's a very interesting, slow moving film with very little dialogue. Come to think of it there's very little actual action even, but that is really the point of the movie, I think. Each story is nothing more than an introduction to love between two people, rather than an actual story with beginning, middle and end. Also, one can't ignore the different kinds of love being presented with such beauty and creativity. It's very different from anything else I've ever seen, though I can see someone finding it boring. This movie isn't for everyone.

And from Korea, I watched Time. This is like a regular movie, with one story that moves with a very interesting plot that keeps you hooked until the very end.

Its director is Kim Ki-Duk, apparently a very prominent Korean director who also did The Bow, a movie I saw not too long ago and wrote about in a previous blog post.

Time, much like The Bow is a movie filled with beauty, as this director has a way with the camera that makes one feel like they're breathing fresh air-- I simply have no other way to explain the beauty.

The movie deals with plastic surgery and its effects in a very interesting way and asks the question, "Is love only skin deep?" while adding time as a factor that might affect love. These questions linger as we are introduced to a young woman so worried that her photographer boyfriend of the last two years is tired of her looks, that she one day decides to leave him without a trace. She then gets plastic surgery, and after six months of recovery, begins to re-enter her ex-boyfriend's life without him knowing her real identity.

Much happens that makes this movie entertaining as well as provocative, and at times even creepy. I get the feeling that this director loves endings that wow, rather than just offer a plain end and/or closure. This director is truly an artist who adds sophistication to what could be just plain trashy, creepy, or disturbing.

I highly recommend this film. If for nothing else, than for the cool sculptures that are featured throughout the movie, like this one...

Unlike Kim Ki-Duk, I don't have an ending to this post that wows, so that's all for now.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Thoughts on a Chinese Cult Classic

I have finally watched the much revered work of Wong Kar-Wai; Chungking Express. My reaction is a little scattered... much like the movie itself is, but I don't feel I can truly rate this film subjectively. So, before I begin to present my thoughts and feelings about this movie, I feel it's important to point out that there was a factor that lead me to become irrational in my rating of it, and also liked it less than I perhaps might have if that piece was presented differently.

It has happened to me several times, where I'll watch a movie, and find one character so obnoxious and downright unlikable, that it affects my opinion of the movie as a whole. It's a bad thing, I know, as an an all around bad movie one unlikable character does not make. And I'm not saying that the movie is all around bad...

Nonetheless, I'm very sensitive to such things. If I can't like a prominent character in any story I'm presented with, what else will hold my attention and sentiments for the work? After all, characters are what make or break a story on paper or on the screen. It is the writer's job to make his/her audience strategically route for or against a character... it's important to make the audience like your protagonists at least. You don't want someone to route for the monster to get one of your protagonists just because your protagonist is irritating.

In Chungking Express, I found one protagonist to be so obnoxious, I feel I missed half the true feeling that ought to be associated with this Chinese cult classic. I admit that my annoyance by this character is a bit odd, and perhaps even irrational, but it was my reaction-- that's the viewer's job; to react to the characters and story presented.

The character that annoyed me was Faye, a young woman with short pixiesh hair, a childlike innocence and one song she kept playing incessantly. The song is California Dreaming by The Mamas and the Papas, and I must say that I can no longer listen to that song without developing a nervous twitch, while seeing Faye bobbing her head and twirling around like a Woodstock hippie as she is preparing people's food at the lunch counter where she works. Aside from the song playing over and over again, she insists on playing it so loud that people must shout to speak to her over the counter, and despite the fact that she strains to hear them, she doesn't think to turn down the volume until the person speaking to her asks her to do so. This kind of behavior irritates me; this obliviousness to logic and courtesy. It irritates me no matter where I see it, and I definitely saw it in Chungking Express.

Luckily, Faye only irritated me for half the movie; the second half.

The first half of the film begins in typical Wong Kar-Wai fashion... with breathtaking cinematography, amazing colors and textures, and a compelling story that has nothing to do with Faye. In fact, the first half of Chungking Express is excellent.

The movie actually tells parallel stories, one of which involves a mysterious woman in a blond wig, working a dangerous job as a drug smuggler, and a gorgeous young cop who falls in love with her, not knowing much about her other than being a lonely woman he met at his loneliest and most vulnerable moment. The lonely cop narrates throughout this first story. He has recently broken up with his girlfriend and taken a hobby of eating cans of pineapple with a specific expiration date. The story is cute and endearing in a Wong Kar-Wai sort of way. Then suddenly, we are introduced to Faye, whom the lonely cop brushes past, and we are transported to a new story. Another lonely and vulnerable policeman, who then picks up the narration, and his character along with Faye's unfold in a an interesting "how we met" sort of story.

The policeman's character is interesting, and I was intrigued by his calm demeanor. He's someone whose girlfriend has just left him unexpectedly, and he still expects her to come back. He is lonely and waiting, and Faye seems carefree. He is drawn to her. They strike a strange friendship and things go from there. The second storyline is good, but it failed to draw me in because of its inability to present me with a full set of characters I would route for... I was only routing for the policeman, but for what, I'm not entirely sure. I certainly didn't want him to be hanging out with obnoxious Faye.

Overall, this is a good movie, but there was an annoyance that tainted half of it for me... but Chungking Express is still definitely a movie worth seeing for its style and Wong Kar-Wai signature touches. Perhaps if I watch it again my irrational annoyance won't be so prominent, but as a first impression, I felt compelled to describe the very thing that made my first impression of this movie less than stellar, if only for just half of it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Musing Over a Literary Gem

I am a huge fan of Pearl S. Buck, the author of the literary classic, The Good Earth, and many other masterpieces of literature.

I began my journey in discovering the abilities of this amazing writer years ago, when I borrowed The Good Earth from a friend. The subject matter of the book wasn't too enticing to me at first, but once I started reading, I became engrossed in not only the story itself, but the introduction to Chinese history and culture I knew nothing about.

At the time, all I knew about China was what any ignorant simpleton would know about such a faraway and foreign place... that it is where almost everything consumers consume is made, and where billions of people live under strict population control laws that favor males.

It's safe to say that Buck's The Good Earth was what opened my eyes to not only China, but the entire Asian world that is influenced in one way or another by China's ancient culture and wisdom.

Though The Good Earth is a literary masterpiece that stands all on its own, it is in fact the first volume of a three-part saga. Buck wrote The Good Earth to introduce us to the Wang family and its farming beginnings, and final climb to land ownership through China's political and social changes.

Sons, the second volume of the trilogy, is equally as good, and in fact, is perhaps my favorite of the trilogy. It documents the lives of the second generation of the Wang family; the three sons of Wang Lung, The Good Earth's main character. One son is a lazy, indulgent and womanizing landlord, the other a stingey merchant with nothing but money on his mind, and the other is a soldier hungry for power and conquest. They all abandon their father's and grandfather's love of working the earth, i.e., farming to pursue their own interests.

And finally, A House Divided is the third volume. It reincarnates the love Wang Lung had for farming in one of his grandsons, who despite seeing the western world and being trained as a soldier, returns to till the earth the way his grandfather did.

The Good Earth Trilogy is a perfect example of the circle of life, not just of the individual's life, but of the way everything goes in a circle and ends where it started. Wang Lung struggled to ingrain his love of working the earth in his three sons, and died knowing his sons did not love the earth he worked so hard to obtain and use. What Wang Lung failed to realize, perhaps was that the son so seemingly unlike him, was the one most similar to him. Wang the Tiger, the youngest of Wang Lung's three sons, was a soldier who rebelled against his lord to become a big lord himself, and like his father wanted nothing more than to ingrain his ultimate love of power into his own son. But the son Wang the Tiger wanted to be a soldier, loved earth more than power.

The genius of The Good Earth Trilogy, is that each book is a masterpiece all on its own, yet it's all connected like a big circle that spans three generations. It's a love story unlike any other... a love story between a man (any man) and his livelihood. That is something that translates into any language and culture, east or west.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Can I have that in pink, please?

Someone once told me that pink was actually considered the color of masculinity. Since I'm nursing quite an obssession with this adorable color, I thought I'd look up this factoid lingering in my memory.

I found that pink is a very complicated color. Though it is considered the color of beauty, goodness and grace, it indeed was a color associated with masculinity. See, in 1920s western culture, you dressed a baby boy in pink and a girl in blue. This assignment of colors continued through to the 1940s, when it was switched. It's very interesting to read other facts about pink, so I recommend visiting the pink page on Wikipedia to learn more.

But in the meantime...

As Mr. Big once said to Carrie in an episode of Sex and the City, "My entire life is [pink]."

My cellphone is pink, so is the plastic case I put over it to protect it. I recently bought earrings that are pink. My blog is now pink. I have several pieces of clothing in pink.

It is perhaps my subconcious going back to my childhood, when I was a little princess with a pink obssession. Everything had to be pink, and the pinker, the better. Or perhaps I'm just loving the color because it's just a pleasing color to the eye, especially if it's of the paler variety.

Whatever the reason for this pink obssession, I can't help but continue to feed into it. This pretty color makes me happy. Sure, it's perhaps a false association, but the little princess still inside me still sees pink as incredibly feminine and delicate, and I must douse everything I see fit in pink, because it is my color of the moment.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Wong Kar-Wai is the coolest.

A few years ago, when I first turned my attention to Chinese movies, I came across a beautiful piece of work called In the Mood for Love. The director was noone I'd ever heard of, but after seeing that work of art, I was hooked on the career of a man named Wong Kar-Wai.

Of course, back then I didn't have Netflix, so coming by foreign films was sometimes a task, and knowing that the movie I had seen and fallen in love with had a prequel and a sequel, I was dying to have easy access to this phenomenal artist. Now that I have Netflix, I've been able to see Wong Kar-Wai's other movies, and have established him as one of my favorites, if not my favorite director.

Though he has a number of films I have yet to see, I will focus on Wong Kar-Wai's trilogy that oozes and sizzles with sensuality and beauty.

It's strange, really, because though the three movies I'm going to mention are part of a trilogy, they are so loosely tied together, it is sufficient to watch just one (though you'd be missing out), or watch them entirely out of order.

The first installment of the trilogy is Days of Being Wild. It is set in 1950s Hong Kong, where a womanizing young man is made aware that he is adopted, and that the woman who raised him has no intention of telling him who his real mother is. It's a simple story, and as I summarize it, I feel I could never do it any justice, but the real genius of Wong Kar-Wai isn't limited to the plot and story, but in the way he presents it all.

What really got me about this director is that he uses every tool possible to make his work appear more like an expressionist painting, rather than a movie. The entertainment factor is still there, but the cinematography, music, textures and colors are what make any of Wong Kar-Wai's movies stand out as high-class art.

In the Mood for Love is the second installment and is perhaps the most unique and beautiful of the three films in the trilogy. The character we are only shown in the last scene of the first film is suddenly the main character of the second one.

The story is of a married man and woman, who get acquainted and fall in love as they reveal that their spouses are cheating with the other's spouse. This film is unique in that it is extremely tame (there's not even a kiss in the film), yet it oozes with sensuality and desire. The film is presented much like an expressionist painting, with beautiful slow shots and gorgeous music to create the mood of love. In the Mood for Love is one of my favorite films of all time.

The third installment of this trilogy is 2046 (that is two-oh-four-six). We continue with the main character from installment number two, and this time, the story is very loose and scattered, but still good. 2046 is a room number and a year, where whoever goes there, doesn't come back. It is the story of a man searching for a past love, while filling his time with women.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this movie is the sexuality, which is not present in the other two installments. Also an interesting fact about 2046 is an interesting mix of languages and dialects. The cast is a mix of Japanese and Chinese actors. Some speaking Mandarin, some speaking Cantonese and some Japanese... not too strange right? Well, how about each of them speaking their own language with everyone? The Japanese is speaking with the Cantonese, and both understand each other... that's something I've never seen done before and find to be only one of the coolest features of the movie.

The bottom line is, Wong Kar-Wai is the coolest. Here is a video from YouTube that someone put together of In the Mood for Love with music from the film. I hope you enjoy the beauty of the images from this film as much as I do...