Thursday, July 05, 2012

Cubism, Surrealism and Pop Art in Pablo Picasso

'Art should comfort the disturbed and disturbed the comfortable.' This is certainly true in appreciating the baffling paintings and sculptures by Pablo Picasso - the most original and ingenious artist in the 20th Century

In Visite à Picasso, a short 20 minutes black and white Belgian documentary, Picasso drew on large glass plates in front of the camera - like a live show of a great artist in visually presenting his flow imagination, with a few rough brushes or sometimes just one continual brush that outlines a dove, bull, flowers, man and woman, and whatnot.

With these simple lines and almost child-like arts that look more similar as caveman painting than any great historical or mythological scenes from the Renaissance or Baroque arts, Picasso sought to deconstruct the reality with geometrical shapes and to reunite them into multi - perspectives - the birth of cubism.
Portrait d' homme (Portrait of a man) 

Homme à la moustache
(Man with a moustache) 
It is hard to imagine that the same artist has painted the Portrait d’homme and Homme à la moustache, both showing a man with moustache but with vastly different style. While Picasso stuck to the conventional art technique in Portrait d'homme, with heavy emphasis on blue colour - expressing his deep depression at the time due to the suicide of his friend - he changed to Cubist style in drawing the same man by deconstructing him into geometrical shapes, along with  pieces of papers, cardboard, wallpaper and wooden frame that 'synthesize' or overlap with each  other to add rich texture and a tangible touch to the object of the painting. 

Le sculpteur (The Sculptor)
Refusing to confine in one style, Picasso proceeded to base on his Cubist training to experiment with surrealism - an art movement that explores the subconsciousness of human mind. In Le sculpteur, Picasso described a Roman myth about a sculptor, Pygmalion, falling in love with a statue he carved and loving it so much that he made a wish to Venus to transform it into a real woman. Yet as blood and flesh, she will eventually age and wrinkle, Venus warned. Pygmalion wavered. 

On one hand, the dreamlike scene created by bright colours and curved figures is a distinctive surrealist feature. On the other hand, the anxious Pygmalion and his mirrored visage, showing the Hamlet indecisiveness, strongly reminds of the presentation of simultaneous perspective in Cubism. 

Figure et profil (Figure and Profile)
Another interesting surrealist painting is Figure et profil that left a hint of autobiographical note. How many faces can you see? I see three: one on the left hand side, beside the window; another is the geometrical white figure itself; and the last is the alien - looking black outline - respectively representing Picasso's progression from classical drawing in early years, then Cubism, and Surrealism later. 

Picasso broke conventions with Cubism and Surrealism and it is no surprise for him to reinterpret masterpieces as a form of pop art during his late years. The rough brushes and unscrupulous splash of colours in Le déjeuner sur l'herbe destroyed  the natural grandeur and a harmonious balance painstakingly constructed by Édouard Manet in his original Le déjeuner sur l'herbe but interestingly instead of pure destruction, Picasso's reinterpretation suggests more of mischievous naughtiness to see the world as a child does. 

Le déjeuner sur l'herbe
 (Luncheon on the grass) 
Already a distinguished painter in the early years (he can't scribble like a child since he was ten, he said), he spent his life to unlearn the academic and classical drawing skills and to rediscover the world with imagination and childhood's curiosity. As Laozhi admired the innocent unconsciousness of children, Picasso reinterpreted the world with childhood originality. 

A cynical person might see his shifting style of art as a very good marketing attempt to boost up his reputation. What I see, however, is a man who tried to break free from the all too realistic world with his free flowing imagination in Cubism, Surrealism and Pop Art.

Below is a clip in Visite à Picasso. The full documentary is available here

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Police Officer's Force is Illegal, Unnecessary and Disproportionate

The Police Officer who forcibly removed and detained the Reporter

The news reported*:

Increasing intervention from Central Chinese Government and heavy - handedness of the police against peaceful protesters - evidenced by more frequent and intense use of pepper spray and assignment of restricted areas for media - only serve to show the 'mainlandisation' (i.e. a complete disregard of human rights) of the Hong Kong police. 

The above news report is one of the other many examples showing police force against dissidents and protesters are dubiously illegal, unnecessary and disproportionate. 

Admittedly, freedom of speech and freedom of movement (as stipulated in Article 27 and 31 of Basic Law respectively) are not absolute rights but restrictions are only justified provided they pass the legality, necessity and proportionality test. 

From the facts in the news, the police officer did not even bother to give reply to a question from one journalist on what guidelines he relied on that delegated him the power to forcibly remove and detain the reporter. 

Neither it seems necessary in a democratic interest in the interests of national security or public safety and public order for him to not only remove but to detain him for another 15 minutes. Surely asking a question, though a political sensitive one, to President Hu Jintao will not disrupt the public safety or order, on the face of a large amorphous army of black - suited guards, along with numerous police officers and other unknown covert policemen, and let alone damaging any national security. 

The force is only proportionate when it rationally connects with a legitimate purpose and is no more than necessary for accomplishing it. Granted, protecting President Hu is a legitimate purpose  but it is his personal safety that matters, not his face. The purpose of the police officer is to save President Hu from a politically sensitive question, at the great expense of infringing human rights. 

The means employed are neither rational nor no more than necessary. From the TV news, President Hu has already gone after he heard the Reporter's question. In other words, the police officer's removal and subsequent detainment were wholly irrational and unnecessary, as further questions from the Reporter would have gone unheard or unheeded when President Hu was already out of sight. 

Hence the police officer's force toward the Reporter is illegal, unnecessary and disproportionate. It is not a scarecrow or a fallacious slippery slope logic to argue one compromise following another for the Hong Kong police will eventually mean a complete 'mainlandisation' of the whole police force. Accumulated reports and this incident are only too obvious to show this sad and unfortunate trend.

The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported, below is an excerpt:

'Police forcibly removed a journalist from a press area after he shouted a question about the June 4 Tiananmen Square crackdown to President Hu Jintao while the president was visitng the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal on Saturday.

As Hu walked by the press area accompanied by government officials, the Apply Daily reporter shouted “President Hu, the people of Hong Kong want the truth behind June 4 to be revealed, do you know this?”     

Hu heard the question and turned to the journalist before continuing on his way without responding.  The reporter was immediately taken by a policeman to a stairwell where he was questioned for 15 minutes and eventually reprimanded

He told me that my yelling was breaking the rules,” said the reporter...'

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Createe and Creator in Prometheus (2012)

David - A Createe of Humans
"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created him; male and female" (Genesis 1:27). Not so, according to Prometheus directed by Ridley Scott. In the beginning, a humanoid - one of our alien ancestors - drank a unknown substance, disintegrated, poured to the great fall and flowed to the ocean - the origin of life.

The secondary question under this origin of life is, no doubt, the human nature to rebel; or, to put it more precisely, the defiance tendency in a createe against a creator. Why did David put the organic substance in the drinks to poison Holloway? Surely, it can't be a little mischief arising from an error in the circuits of android? The motive, we can only guess, from his remarks that children can only kill parents to gain freedom. 

As an android, a createe from human hands, he already acquired the desire for freedom - something that can't be granted by parental obedience but must be fought by defiance and rebellion. We, the creator of android but a createe of unknown God, strive for the same freedom. Adam's eating of the forbidden fruit behind God's back is petty in comparison with Ahab's unholy war against the invincible Moby Dick - a symbolic representation of a fallible human against the infallible Fate or God. Alternatively this defiance is best captured by Nietzsche 's remark: 'God is dead'. 

Less dramatically - yet more enigmatically -  David's act of poisoning seems trivial and unexplained but is it not a simple act, though mischievous in nature, of rebellion against a creator, i.e. us? 

Nevertheless, David, though inherited the defiance from human, will never understand why humans or specifically Elizabeth Shaw want desperately to know the origin of life. With the cross on her neck, she believed life has a divine origin. It is a faith - an irrational belief in impossible thing - that the rational android can not get. Are the white humanoid the creators? How did they create humans? Why did they want to destroy us? 

These questions are meant to be asked, but hopefully to be answered by a sequel. The odyssey continues.

Prometheus is directed by Ridley Scott, written by Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof, starring Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green and Michael Fassbender.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Bounty (懸紅) (2012)

Fiona Sit (right) and Chapman To (left) in The Bounty

Bounty hunter, wanted criminal, a small wooden inn in an isolated place and gangsters in a small community are reminiscent  of the lawless Texas in the good  and old American western cowboy movies in the late  1950s, prominently represented by Shane (1953). Yet that's the setting of The Bounty (懸紅) directed by 馮志強, starring Chapman To (杜汶澤) , Fiona Sit (薛凱琪 ) and Alex Man (萬梓良). 

In The Bounty, the ex - police Cho (Chapman To), relying on bounty for living, searched for a wanted criminal that last appeared in a small inn (Lazy Inn) , situated in an isolated island. He found the bizarre innkeeper (Alex Man) and her eccentric daughter (Fiona Sit) during his investigation that sparked off a chain of events, proving to be a challenge for Cho.

The overall red - bricks wall, wooden floor and furnitures, and even the old-fashioned trunk are quite refreshing and complimentary with the brown and tarnished cowboy shirts and jackets of Chapman To; the jockey - styled outfit from Fiona Sit. 

The Bounty is clearly intended with black humour that unfortunately just doesn't work and is bored at times. Fiona Sit's pretty dolly face can't help Chapman To much to start off his usual dark jokes. Alex Man, a very experienced actor indeed, balanced well between humour as the strange innkeeper and the weak fallible father as times required. 

Nevertheless a surprising lot of casts, each playing a small cameo scene, did throw some eye - opening entertainment that added much liveliness to the movie. 

On the bottom line, The Bounty is a refreshing comedy in summer and shows promises for 馮志強 to break from being a mere screenplay writer to a comedy director. 

The trailer: 

Rating: 2.5/5
The Bounty directed by 馮志強, starring Chapman To (杜汶澤) , Fiona Sit (薛凱琪 ) and Alex Man (萬梓良). 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Psychology in Master of Play (心戰)

Master of Play 

In Master of Play, Ivan, in a rage, killed Eric, Michelle, Martin and Edwin in the Jekyll Bar; they died in flesh and blood but incorporates into the dark side of his psychological mind - representing his evil, lust, violence and pride, respectively. As he sank into decadence, broke away with his fiancé, slapped his sister and eventually killed Jerry, he struggled continually with them.

This bears semblance to the 6 realms (六道) in Buddhism where people in the earthly world will fall into one of the realms:  god, human, jealous god, animal, hungry ghost and hell (or 天道、人間道、修羅道、畜生道、餓鬼道、地獄道 respectively). The popular belief is about afterlife but a Buddhist friend of mine told me each realm rather represents a psychological stage of human mind. The deed committed at one psychological realm produces the 'seed' or the consequence. 

A Thangka (唐卡) on the 6 realms 
As Ivan got enraged by Jerry's remark, he fell to 'jealous god' realm (修羅道) and killed him. His lust or rather the 'animal' and 'hungry ghost' realms (畜生道 and 餓鬼道) caused him not only to seduce his own assistant but to engage in one - night stands. Finally his schemes of murders and cover - ups are unmistakably 'hell' (地獄道). Each psychological mind produces the corresponding deeds and the final 'seeds'. 

Or insanity and the corollary hallucination have totally engulfed his mind to produce the four personae who vanish as soon as he regain his consciousness. Voices within his head, coupled with strong imagination for visual images (as a professional magician), plus emotional stress (breakup with his fiancé), have unlocked his floodgate and flows a distinct set of psychological logics from the 4 strange people. 

His seeming sanity in the everyday life, however, betrayed he is simply insane. Although an insane person can indeed act sanely - like the man in Poe's Tell - Tale Heart (a story about a man keep emphasizing his sanity while narrating his murder of an old man for nothing more than his intense irritation against his blue eyes) - he shows the intelligence of a psychopath. 

Psychopathy, strictly speaking, is not mental disorders as it's not included in the DSM IV - a manual of disorders - but the top characteristics for identifying psychopath from the Bob Hare Checklist includes superficial charm, pathological lying, lack of remorse or guilt, impulsivity and juvenile delinquency. 

As a professional magician, Ivan never failed to win charm and more importantly the profession itself is pathological lying. As a child, he already participated kidnapping and has done patricide, fulfilling more than enough the juvenile delinquency. Nevertheless, he did feel remorse and guilt for having kidnapped a girl or really? Is it simply a lie he tried to convince himself? (Read how Toto Constant, who mass - murdered pro - democracy activists, gang - raped women and mutilated dead bodies in Haiti, feigned remorse and emotion in his interview with Jon Ronson in The Psychopath Test)

All in all, are we going anywhere? Is he undergoing a psychological struggle or sinking into the quagmire of insanity or being just a downright psychopath? These questions rise from the fact that  the line between sanity and insanity; reality and imagination often blurs. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Talk on The Saint and The Lottery

Afternoon coffee with 50 Great Short Stories - a recommended anthology of short stories for leisure reading or daily dose of creativity 
Short story is like a shot of vodka red bull that injects a short - lived yet intense dose of idea into the brain. Works like Dream of Red Chamber (紅樓夢) or War and Peace give such a panoramic picture of life that span a thousand or so pages. Short story as it is nicely put 'is uniquely capable of conveying, for in its very shortness lies its greatest strength'*. 

The Saint by V. S. Pritchett and The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, each with its different style and highly condensed plot, throw light on an aspect of religion. 

The Saint tells of a story that religion is either reserved for the ignoramuses or a manipulative tool for the hypocrite; in fact they sometime go hand in hand. The unnamed narrator's family has converted to the Church of the Last Purification that taught a rather tautological doctrine: any bad thing can not exist in reality, since God could not have made them to harm his creatures. 

The narrator naturally followed his family to believe in it (the evils of family influence) until the coming of the Mr. Timberlake - a figure of almost sainthood in the church for reportedly performing miracles, including raising the dead - came to his home and upon the request of narrator's uncle had a chat with him in a boating. 

During the boating, Mr. Timberlake got caught by the tree branch, because of his foolish refusal to avoid it  (believing God would not have put the tree to harm him) and fell down from the water. Yet he remained in such calmness that he must have regarded any harm as merely illusory and erroneous, since God would not have made anything to harm his creatures. 

Sixteen years later the narrator discovered Mr. Timberlake has died out of a heart attack. The doctor found it a miracle he has lived so long as the slightest shock would have caused him death. 

His religious belief was, after all, a mere baby's security blanket where he can desperately hold on to  avoid any shock. Any shock is unreal and non - existent; God would not have created any of it. 

This is scary. Supposedly he is a miracle performer, leader of the church and a saint to the believers but even him has a hidden agenda of his own. It seems a cliché to quote religion as 'opium of the people' and yet that's what this story has shown. 

Another short story, The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, stung me with shock at the ending. The story opens with a seeming cheerful rural community in a distant part of America organising a lottery - a tradition for a good harvest ("Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon" as the old proverb said) . Children gathered stones, while Mr. Summers, the volunteer, carried the black box that was locked up the previous night to ensure no one has touched it. 

After waiting everyone to arrive, Mr. Summers announced the rules: He'll read the names; each family head draws a paper and keeps it folded until everyone has had a turn. It proceeded smoothly and Bill Hutchinson 'got it'. Tessie, his wife, shouted 'It wasn't fair.' 

In due course, another round started with only the Hutchinsons: Bill, Tessie, three children (Bill Jr, Nancy and Dave). 'I tell you it wasn't fair', Tessie insisted. To no avail, each picked a paper and kept it folded until everyone has had turn. 

The papers of Bill, Bill Jr, Nancy and Dave were blank. Tessie got the one with a black spot on it. In a business - like manner, Mr. Summer said 'All right, folks. Let's finish quickly'

Adults and children alike, including Bill and the three children, began to pick stones and threw at Tessie Hutchinson. 'It isn't fair, it isn't right', she screamed. 

The suspense holds to the last. The unthankful 'prize' of the lottery is to get stoned to death. This all starts from a tradition with a vague promise for good harvest and one that few remembered its origin. While some traditions are relatively harmless and even entertaining (like the Cargo cult or the treat or trick in Halloween), others can be deadly. It get worse when some overzealous believers blindly follow it, just like the community in The Lottery

The stoning carries such a clear religious overtone that it seems religious tradition, in particular, has its part of destruction. From the Crusades in the Middle Ages to the present fundamentalists' opposition against gay marriage, blindly following a doctrine or tradition, devoid of the changing circumstance, can be deadly. 

The Saint and The Lottery with two highly condensed plots show two elements of religion. One one hand, it often falls into the hands of hypocritical people as a tool to manipulate the ignorant people and on the other, it has the power to push people into the dead corner. Either way, be an atheist. 

* From Milton Crane in the foreword for 50 Great Short Stories 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Saint

The Saint

"The success of our prayers had a simple foundation. We regarded it as 'Error' - our name for Evil - to believe the evidence of our senses and if we had influenza or consumption, or had lost our money or were unemployed, we denied the reality of these things, saying that since God could not have made them, they therefore did not exist. "

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Men in Black III

Young K, J and Old K

It comes as a surprise to see Men in Black III 10 years after the bad sequel in the Men in Black II for the truly original one in 1997. Still more surprising (for any sequel), it comes out as good as, if not better, than the first Men in Black - part of my childhood memory. 

The basic elements are there: a secretive agency dealing aliens, men wearing black suits and black ties, aliens disguising in human forms and firing space guns and erasing memory with the Neuralyzer. The interesting bit, though, is to know the Neuralyzer initially needs a portable charger - a feeling similar to looking back at the box - like computers back in 20 or 30 years ago. K (Tommy Lee Jones) still carries his no - nonsense businesslike style while J (Will Smith) slipps in with his hype and gags, only with better humour and added force this time. 

One natural extension to this hyper - technology in the film is time travel - an old theme but nonetheless one that always raise interesting questions. This time, J has to jump out from the 319 meter - high  Chrysler Building to travel back to 1969 for saving the young K from Boris the Animal, the nasty alien who escaped from the moon prison and threatened to destroy the Earth with his massive army but for an ArcNet shield K has succeeded to set up. 

Causal relationships always chime in whenever it involves the time travelling. 'What if' something happens, the future will probably change. A simple causal relation here is: if the young K dies, then no one sets up the ArcNet, then Boris will invade the Earth. But what if someone other than K can do the same job? What if Boris changes his mind and invades another planet? What if K did not set up the ArcNet but still survive? Well, who knows. 

A comic twist comes at the final scene when Griffin (who can predict the immediate future by looking at different possibilities resulting from various causes and events) said 'Uh, oh', what if K has forgotten to pay the tip when he left the restaurant? It might be something catastrophic. 

Finally, the movie added a touching dimension between J and K - shedding light why K recruited the young J in the first Men in Black

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Murders in the Rue Morgue

The Murders in the Rue Morgue

"They are puzzled, too, by the seeming impossibility of reconciling the voices heard in contention, with the facts that no one was discovered upstairs but the assassinated Mademoiselle L'Espanaye, and that there were no means of egress without the notice of the party ascending. The wild disorder of the room; the corpse thrust, with the head downward, up the chimney; the frightful mutilation of the body of the old lady; these considerations, with those just mentioned, and others which I need not mention, have sufficed to paralyze the powers, by putting completely at fault the boasted acumen, of the government agents. They have fallen into the gross but common error of confounding the unusual with the abstruse.

But it is by these deviations from the plane of the ordinary, that reason feels its way, if at all, in its search for the true. In investigations such as we are now pursuing, it should not be so much asked `what has occurred,' as `what has occurred that has never occurred before.' In fact, the facility with which I shall arrive, or have arrived, at the solution of this mystery, is in the direct ration of its apparent insolubility in the eyes of the police." I stared at the speaker in mute astonishment.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

七種武器之 拳頭

小馬道"但是痛苦也能使人保持清醒。 "


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Few Words on Titus Andronicus

'If one good deed in all my life I did, I do repent it from my very soul' said Aaron the Moor

Rape, murder, human sacrifice and cannibalism are the last things you'll associate with William Shakespeare, and yet, that's what Titus Andronicus is about. 

In essence, the plot is the revenge of Titus Andronicus, the glorious Roman general who lost 22 sons to conquer the Goths, against the villainous Aaron, sadistic Chiron and Demetrius and the scheming Tamora (Queen of the Roman Emperor). 

The violence starts when Titus insisted on taking Alarbus as sacrifice for his 22 lost sons in the war, despite a strong pitiful plead from the mother - Tamora. Aaron, out of pure vice, plotted with Chiron and Demetrius - Tamora's remaining sons, to put Titus' two sons to deaths and to get Lavina raped and have her tongue and hands cut off - as an attempt to prevent her uttering the rapists' names. 

Titus eventually found Chiron and Demetrius as the wrongdoers. He killed them, ground their bones, mixed their blood and meat into paste, and served it to their mother at banquet. Aaron was later buried and starved to death. 

The distinction between the civilised Roman and barbarous Goth blurred. Titus' killing Alarbus as sacrifice, then serving the sons' cooked flesh to mother is no less horrible than Demetrius and Chiron raping and then mutilating a girl they supposedly love.

Like the love of Romeo and Juliet and indecisiveness of Hamlet, Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus presents yet another universal life theme: the endless cycle of revenges. When Titus started the human sacrifice,  the whirlpool of revenges begins to draw everyone in

This whirlpool of revenges, along with the blurred line between civilisation and barbarism, bear such striking relevance to today context that once again proves the timelessness of Shakespeare. American involvement in the Middle East, notably the support for the repressive Bahrain, and the subsequent pursue of the al Qaeda only serve to remind me of Titus and the Goths.

'Justice has been done' said Barack Obama to the killing of Osama Bin Laden. I doubt that.

Indeed, the point here is not justice as such but the endless rounds of revenges that trap people into a quagmire.

Forgive and forget is easier said than done. But that's what Titus Andronicus warned us to do. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Watching Putin's Kiss, Thinking Hong Kong

Roughly means: Those who beat Oleg Kashin must be brought to justice.
Marsha withdrew from NASHI after Oleg, her friend, has been beaten by two unknown attackers. 
This documentary is about the rise, the struggle, the fall, and eventually the reawakening of Marsha Drokova - an intelligent and enthusiastic, yet young and naive, lady.

What Winston Churchill said in 1939 still prophetically holds true: Russia is a 'riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma'. Now Pedersen, the Denmark director, offers Marsha to slightly unwrap that riddle and to help us understand the difference in Russia, if any, after the demise of the noble experiment by Gorbachev. 

Like Hitler Youth in Hitler Germany, Komsomol (Communist Union of Youth) in USSR and 共青團 (Communist Youth League) in China, Putin's Russia institutes NASHI,  a youth movement that seeks to absorb the youth enthusiasm and unleash it to fill up the civil society.

It keeps pondering in my mind of the terrifying consequence after the state has gained power to use the media as the state apparatus. The spontaneous harassments from youths (ranging from excreting on the opposition leader's car in public to flying dildos in meeting during an activist's talk), large buses travelling youths from subburg to Moscow for a mass denunciation of enemies and finally the near fatal attack of Oleg Kashin, a critical journalist against Putin, only serve to show a simple logic: 'You are either with Putin or the enemy.'

Notwithstanding using his name as the title, Putin rarely appeared on screen, saved for a few seconds here or there. Yet, his absence only amplifies his presence throughout the whole film,  more like the Big Brother is watching you. 

I can't help but to relate back to Hong Kong. The police's frequent use of pepper spray, setting up barricades against a dozen kids and recently laying a discriminatory media zone at the Central Liaison Office seems to me resonating the use of state power against different yet legitimate voices.

Fortunately the media in Hong Kong is still free but similar signs show up. As one opposition leader has put it in the film, 'you are not treated as opposition, but rather as an enemy'. 文匯報 (Wen Wei Pao), with article like this, is denouncing the opposition from barristers in the Civic Party almost as 反中亂港 ('anti - China, meddling HK'), instead of seeing them as contributing a different opinion to social problems.

The film closes with a casual chat between Marsha who has already withdrawn from NASHI and Oleg who has managed to survive the fatal attack.  Still an ardent believer in Putin, Marsha described him as a saviour 'sent to Russia by God', in which Oleg wryly said only as 'an angel of the Apocalypse.'

This is the only moment where different opinions are voiced out in such casual chat and with such mutual respect. 

Friday, April 06, 2012

House of Tolerance (L'Apollonide: Souvenirs de la maison close)

waiting for their clients at night. 

This is a very very sad story or stories of women

The glory of la belle Époque in the 1900 - the age of photograph, automobile and aeroplane - shines so bright that cast a long shadow over a forgotten group of people - the prostitutes. 

The lush setting - soft sofa, richly woven carpet, exotic oriental painting - and subtle yellow light that lowly illuminates the classic Roman architecture were unfortunately tainted with the smell of champagne and perhaps unavoidably sperm. 

The director's documentary attention to details renders Memoir of Geisha like a pulp fiction while the lavish setting adds a richly texture element that Whispers And Moans (性工作者十日談) does not have.

That is the House of Tolerance, the place where the high - ends prostitutes 'do business', live and get abused. 'Can I tie you up?' asked a rich client. 'Yes, you may', Madeleine or the 'Jewess' answered. Time passed and a cry was heard. Madeleine was found on the bed with her cheek sliced open from the lips. Now she became known as la femme qui rit or the woman who laughs. 

Hiding her disfigured face behind a veil, she became a popular 'amusement' for social gathering - someone to be looked with surprise, curiosity and laugh. 

Men find (or they thought they do) pleasure and sex in this House of Tolerance. More often, they fill up their empty spirits with bizarre pleasure. In one scene, one asks the woman to pretend a Geisha which is still within normal confinement. 

In another scene, the man wants the woman to act like automation - a poupée. He wants her to move in a mechanic way and eventually has intercourse with this poupée, silently and dispassionately. 

The film closed with the opening of the Metro and the Day of Bastille - the French national day - while a party was gathering at the House of Tolerance. The flip side of civilisation is the decadence that often rests on the shoulders of prostitutes - victims of abuse, entrapment and helplessness. 

The irony bites when at the final scene, the hookers were shown on the street of modern Paris. Perhaps we need prostitutes or sexual workers, to be respectful, for civilisation to continue shining. Or to use the words of the women in the film, they were 'burnt' to let the men glow. 

(Below is the Right to Love by the Mighty Hannibal - an extremely sensational song that fits perfectly into the film) 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

325: 'Heil, mein Führer! Mr. Leung Chun - ying'

'Heil, mein Führer! Mr Leung Chun - ying' 

325.  The play has come to the final moment.  'Heil, mein Führer! Let's give a round of warm applause to our new CE, Mr. Leung Chun - ying' 

'There would be one day [when] Hong Kong would eventually need to dispatch the anti-riot police and utilise tear gas to handle protests' said CY - an accusation made by Henry Tang in his final rebound against his arch - rival. 

Can we trust Henry? My answer is Why not? He has come to his own political suicide anyway. There's no reason not to trust a dying person. 

This blatant tramping on freedom of speech by CY is not so surprising, after we have read Mdm. Ip's article, saying CY has always been a underground communist. 

Indeed PRC has long known how to play the filtration game. CY as underground communist can't be something too far - fetched to believe in when other scholars already explored how PRC set up parallel organisations to plant their own support ( in Associations in a Bind by Jonathan Unger and Anita Chan). 

Undoubtedly, PRC also masters the Shakespearian play within a play in writing the drama script for Hong Kong. Right of abode cases, Article 23, double - non issues and now CE election are all mini - plays within the grand play - the ultimate death of One Country Two Systems. 

Shortly gaining his chancellorship on January 30 1933, Hitler unleashed his Night of Long Knives - purging the internal dissidents and killing off other political opponents.

CY promised to pursue the matter about accusation made by Henry Tang further after the election is over. 

The only vain hope I am holding now is a deus ex machina - a totally unexpected event - that will produce enough blank votes  to make an abortive election. ABC. Anything But CY. 

This hope is, however, hopeless. The red curtain will be drawn, with blood seeping beneath it. HK is dead.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

1920s - Sophisticated Elegance

Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's
Casually holding her cigarette, Holly Golightly gazes at the camera with her careless confidence. Sophisticated, elegant are the words to describe her - the exact words 1920s falls into – sophisticated elegance. 

Carefully combed hair, perfectly fit tuxedo and casual decadent flappers are only ones of the many example of this sophisticated elegance. Glenn Miller's Jazz music, Scott Joplin's rag time (e.g. the all famous  Entertainer, originally composed as soundtrack for The Sting),  Peg Leg Bates' one legged tap dancing show all the excitement and hype of the Roaring Twenties.

All these aren't too far away from us when The Artist and Midnight in Paris - all set in the 1920s - found their way in nowadays cinema

The black and white silence in The Artist does not dampen any interests but only serve to remind us in this midst of vulgar CG effect or blind production of 3D movies what we want is only sincere originality - something that long ceases to exist since the 1920s.

In a slightly different context, Midnight in Paris recounted all the buzz and noise of the Americans on the French soil. Meeting writers as eminent as Hemingway and Fitzgerald in person in the movie is like taking a trip by time machine back to the 1920s

The dazzling bright light of this Roaring Twenties casts a long shadow of decadence which is all the more attractive. I can not but to lend Fitzgerald's words in The Great Gatsby to describe it:

"Every Friday five crates of oranges and lemons arrived from a fruiteer in New York -  Every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves. There was a machine in the kitchen which could extract the juice of two hundred oranges in half an hour if a little button was pressed two hundred times by a butler's thumb.

At least once a fortnight a corps of caters came down with several hundred feet of canvas and enough coloured lights to make a Christmas tree of Gatsby 's enormous garden. On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors - d'oeuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold. In the main hall a bar with a real brass rail was set up, and stocked with gins and liquors and with cordials so long forgotten that most of his female guests were too young to know one from another. 

By seven o'clock the orchestra has arrived, no thin five - piece affair, but a whole pitful of oboes and trombones and saxophones and viols and cornets and piccolos, and low and high drums. The last swimmers have come in from the breach now and are dressing upstairs; the cars from New York are parked five deep in the drive, and already the halls and salons and verandas are gaudy with primary colours, and hair bobbed in strange new ways, and shawls beyond the dreams of Castile. The bar is in full swing, and floating rounds of cocktails permeate the garden outside, until the air is alive with chatter and laughter, and casual innuendo and introduction forgotten on the sport, and enthusiastic meetings between women who never knew each other's names. "

The lavish waste, heavy percussion jazz and chaotic chats do not suggest any of the moral decay ( if there is such thing as morality) but only the beauty of decadence.

Reaching the peak, this Golden Age, like all other advanced civilisations, is destined to a downfall – opening the door for Wall Street Crash, the Great Depression, chaos, bloodshed and massacre from the Second World War. 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Rendezvous at 謝記魚蛋 and 美而廉

This is no industrialized production of the Tsui Wah  fish noodle (翠華) - where the food ingredients are made in bundles of plastic bags at a factory somewhere in the Mainland.

This is 山窿謝記魚蛋 (literally Tse Kei Fish Ball at Cave). Carefully selecting three kind of fishes, Mrs. Tse makes fish balls, fish slice and fish skin everyday which will all be sold out by midday.

The ones I like the most, and also the one I have to fight for before they are sold out again, are the fried fish balls and fried fish slice. The crispiness at the outermost layer just works hand in gloves with the fresh fish meat to produce the 'springy' texture within your mouth.

The good and old fashioned menue
Sadly, this place is going to close by the end of this March due to inflation, lack of fresh fish supply and lack of people with the same insistence to continue the business anymore.

Another truly representing Hong Kong food, 美而廉 (literally Good and Cheap) is sliding into sunset as well. In there, you see old folks running here and there, busy serving dishes, piling glass and heavy metal plate on top of their arms - an acrobatic feat akin to performances in La Cirque du Soleil. 

And here they are - delivering my mélange of sausage, grilled pork and  sirloins steak, along with a glass of lemon coke, on a hot cow - shaped metal plate. When the old folk pour the pepper sauce, the metal plate sizzles, with vapour and smoke rising up in the air.

The unpretentious melange

My mom said when she was at my age, 美而廉 was a fashionable place where young people went to have a steak after clubbing. Now the long queu of people at the front, most of them in 20s or early 30s, testifies after 20 or 30 years, this is still the fashionable place where people go to have a steak.

I look back. With briskness, the old folks move but with sadness, they’ll leave jobless, sooner or later. This place, like 山窿謝記魚蛋, is going to close soon - at late April. 

With the old culture fading, what will fill this up? With the industrialized mass production of fast food from Café de Coral (大家樂) or with the army of amorphous waiters at Tsui Wah? I know not.  

Friday, March 09, 2012

宇宙入門(A Brief History of Time)


時間簡史(A Brief History of Time - From the Big Bang to Black Holes)
簡史著書者何人?霍金(Stephen W. Hawking)也,其上智通天,沈鬱之思,自不待言,劍橋大學盧卡斯數學教授之名(Lucasian Chair of Mathematics)終不枉也。然此書非為深晦,以傲同儕,乃盡其淺白,以悅庶民。蓋宇宙演化,其良有以,百代賢達,莫不欲解。霍金曰,二千年之功,雖未之竟,亦不遠也,故欲撫今追昔,一曉大眾以天文格致之要義,使咸知大爆炸(Big Bang)夸克(quark)量子(quantum)黑洞(black hole)之為何物。

宇宙為何?羅素(Bertrand Russell)嘗授之。既畢,有老婦詰難曰:「汝言謬矣!世界實為一大平板,置於一大龜背上!」羅不以為謗訕,曰:「然則龜立足何地耶?」婦曰:「汝不知耶!龜立於龜,龜立於龜,龜龜相累,成一龜塔,世界在龜塔頂。」龜塔之說,固可笑也。然科學亦未必中。惟理以其可證偽為佳,以其基於任意元素(arbitrary elements)而能解現狀,測來者為上。龜塔未足解現狀,更弗能預知者,故非佳理也。平板之說,阿里士多德(Aristotle)早知其訛矣,一曰地影於月圓,而非橢圓,二曰極星在天,愈南而愈近地,三則眾所周知也,舟至遠方來,先見其桅,後現其身,舟向遠方去,先沒其身,後隱其桅。此地圓說之合乎現象,亦能預知舟向西行,終至原處。然阿君持地心說,日月星辰環之而周旋,直至哥伯尼(Copernicus)開普勒(Kepler)伽利略(Galileo)等方知日之為心,地之為其周旋矣。伽君又知物無輕重,墜地同速(acceleration),此為後羽錘實驗所證矣。基於伽君之見,牛頓(Newton)遂得其引力定律(law of universal gravitation),力所以變物速,非惟變動靜耳。牛君遂疑絕對位置(absolute position)之無有,卻未之敢破,為駭俗甚矣。至乎愛恩斯坦(Einstein),更破絕對時間(absolute time)之說,質能可換(見下圖),時空相關,此所謂「攣生子佯謬」(twin paradox)。愛君惡「不確定性原理」(uncertainty principle)及其所生之「量子力學」(quantum mechanics),堅持宇宙靜止,訂一「宇宙常數」(cosmological constant),成其敗筆。實則宇宙正增大也,由紅移(red shift)見得,大爆炸之說,亦由宇宙中殘存之微波輻射驗之。最可笑者,愛君所以得諾貝爾獎,為其有功於量子力學之發榮也哉!

至於全書所重,霍金所鑽研者,黑洞,時間箭頭(time arrow),時間旅行(time travel)等,玄之又玄,智力所限,未得其門。諸君自探尋之。
至於宗教,霍金亦言及。時間(time)有始乎?從何而始?有終乎?至何而終?時間之為時間,自大爆炸而始,大爆炸前無時間,此所謂時間之有限而無界(no boundary condition)。故霍金笑言,天主教之曰「上帝創生之時刻」,乃一無有之概念。惟科學終未斷言「上帝」之無有。愛恩斯坦曰:
God doesn’t play dice.
To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms – this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness.
結語曰:俾吾儕得一通理,而天下莫不知之,則哲學家科學家至凡人,盡可問宇宙及吾人之所以存,得之,則理智(ration)畢其全功,是知「上帝之精神」(God’s mind)也。


Sunday, March 04, 2012

Le Voyage dans la Lune

The restored version of the well - known moon with the spaceship on his eye
As the only celestial body shining as bright as the sun at night, moon has spurred imagination since the first human and many generations thereafter. The ancient Egyptians have even explained the moon wanes every night all because of a gamble. 

To win extra days, Thoth gambled with Khonsu, the moon, who lost so much light to Thoth, that Thoth used those light to gain 5 days and that, of course, explained why the moon wanes every night.

This fascination toward the moon had continued well beyond  the centuries and found its way to marry with poetic scientific spirit to produce Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon and  H.G Wells' The First Men in the Moon. 

George Méliès, the French illusionist and the greatest fantasy filmaker of all time,  in turn based on these two works to make  Le Voyage dans la Lune in 1902, the pioneer of modern fantasy film, and also the origin of the most memorable cinematic picture of the spaceship landing on the eye of the moon.

In Le Voyage dans la Lune, you not only see the moon with an bleeding eye but also scientists in astronomer robes, spaceship like bullet, umbrella turning into giant mushroom and Selenites (green moon men) vanishing into red gas.
Scientists in astronomer robes

This once black and white silent film is not black and white and silent anymore when Méliès's hand - painted footage was found and was painstakingly restored into full coloured version with new original scores from the French band, Air.

Air with its already distinctive electronic music in Moon Safari seems like a little ironical twist to complete the circle in composing music for Le Voyage dans la Lune. Indeed the band fully took advantages of the silence in the film and made the bombastic music for the 'trip' to and adventure in the moon (Sonic Armada) while dream - like music for the wonder of night and stars (Who am I now?).

Umbrella turns into mushroom 
Wonderful though the music is, it can never overshadow the innovative film techniques that Méliès dared to experiment during the fin de siècle.

The special effect for which the umbrella transforming into giant mushroom and Selenites turning into a puff of red gas is done by stop - camera technique (which is to film the object, turn the camera off, remove the object, and then turn the camera back on - the object will seem disappear for the viewer)

The landing of the spaceship is done by moving the moon closer to the static camera, so that this could achieve a long forward travelling effect. All these techniques were so innovative at the time that they were comparable to the 3D effect in the Avatar. 

The actual landing of the moon in 1969 (67 years after the film)  has done nothing to dampen imagination toward the moon (for example - Apollo 18 made in 2011, a movie about alien life on moon). The moon voyage goes on.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Lady

The Lady

Imagine this. 

One afternoon,  a group of badly wounded students flood in the hospital and spotting a student with a bleeding arm, you rush to give him emergency aid. A man in uniform grabs you from behind and tries to drag him out. 

'What? Don't you see he is bleeding?' 
'Let him go, or I will shoot you. Don't you see this red scarf? I have the right to shoot you!' 

And a gunshot was heard,  with your arm bleeding this time. 

This is what happened in the opening scene of The Lady where in Burma, soldier with red scarf can have the right to shoot anyone on the street. 

Witnessing this comes the moment for Aung San Suu Kyi (Michelle Yeoh) to decide in continuing her father's legacy to fight for democracy or to continue living as a peaceful, somewhat unenlightened, housewife life. 

Michelle Yeoh  in this movie has truly transformed herself from a more or less stereotypical Chinese kungfu star in Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon to the softly - spoken yet with intense inner strength 'Steel Orchid' - Aung San Suu Kyi.

Undaunted by soldiers' gun pointing, she passed through them without even lifting a look  - that shows not the slightest hint of arrogance but a simple civil disobedience that reminds me of Gandhi (whose biography was widely read in the movie by Suu Kyi  and other students). 

It was a pity for this great cast to have fallen into the hand of Luc Besson. Besson seems to be more apt to  direct film like the action - bursting Fifth Element but definitely not for this slow sentimental drama. 

The static house arrest and the dry bureaucratic exchange, along with the constant frustration of getting connected in either telephone line or radio, can hardly sustain the momentum of the movie, saved by occasional intensely sentimental exchanges between Suu Kyi and her husband, Michael. 

In any case, the causes, namely democracy and rule of law, that Aung San Suu Kyi fought for and has paid a dear price for doing so (years of solitude in house arrest and the pain of separation with Michael who can't even see her in his dying bed) are what you and me are enjoying now; that's we won't get punched or shot on the street by someone who wears red scarf. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Ides of March

The Ides of March
Two days ago, Henry Tang slacked off all the blame on the illegal basement to Mrs. Tang. "It's all my fault, not my husband" is what seems to be saying in Mrs.Tang's quiet weeping.

This total fisco just doubly proves how dirty the political world is, and that's what The Ides of March told us about. 

Stephen Meyers (Ryan Gosling) is the press secretary of Mike Morris (George Clooney), the governor of Pennsylvania and the Democrat presidential candidate. The story starts when Stephen, lacking political sensitivity, went out to meet the competitor's campaign manager. 

He belatedly told his boss, Paul Zara (Philip Seymour Hoffman) about the meeting but this honesty was not very much appreciated; Paul distrusted and fired him. That starts Stephen's revenge which eventually turned him into a soulless amoral person. 

This plot bespeaks a tragic moral fable. The most chilling scene is when Ida, the journalist who threatened Stephen to publish his meeting, came after Stephen has emerged unscratched by the scandal and asked him  'Hey, Steve. I'm still your friend, right?'

Without irony nor any emotion, he replied 'You are my best friend' - the ultimate descent to hypocrisy. 

George Clooney easily executed a relaxing judicious authority as what a governor should do. He listened to advices, asked the advisers and made his own mind. When asked about his view on capital punishment and what if the victim is his wife, he answered, without a moment of thinking, that he would kill the murderer.

Despite that, he is still against capital punishment, since 'The society must be better than the individual'. (Professor Choy has written a fantastic article on this here)

But this idealism is all too superficial when on the face of Stephen's threat, Morris simply gave up all his baselines. After all, a politician has no baseline in a political game, especially in an election running for the most powerful seat in the world.

In the political world, everything can be bought and sold for power; just like Henry Tang selling out his wife to continue running the CE election.