Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Directed by Alice Wu
Joan Chen, Michelle Krusiec and (the lovely, lovely!) Lynn Chen
"Saving Face" is a simple fare done very well. It is a rare bilingual movie where almost all the Chinese actors speak fluent Mandarian Chinese – and is better for it all. It smoothes over the awkward Mandarin of the two lead actresses Michelle Krusiec and Lynn Chen. In fact, it works to position them outside their Chinese-American community linguistically (and by implication, sexually). The mother-daughter relationship between Ma and Wil works with Ma speaking only Chinese while Wil responds mainly in English. The dynamics of the relationship is so effectively communicated by language.
The story goes like this: Wilhelmina Pang (Michelle Krusiec) is a capable Chinese-American surgical resident living in Flushing, New York. (Her boss predicts she will make Chief of Staff by the time she’s 40.) Her work keeps her busy, so her widow Ma (Joan Chen) keeps trying to fix her up with eligible young Chinese men every week at the Chinese social dances. Wil goes along with it, albeit with great reluctance. Not just because of the lameness of your mother trying to fix you up, but also because Wil is a closeted lesbian. (At least closeted from her Chinese community. Everyone else seems to know) Wil’s the kind that wears men’s shirts with sensible shoes, which Ma disapproves. But Grandma is cool here, as Grandma remarks, "Just like the pair I wore during the Cultural Revolution." "Very practical and durable," she adds. Anyone who ever had your mother complaining about your dress sense will warm to Grandma immediately. (Although on a later thought: how flattering is it to have fashion sense that dates back to the Cultural Revolution?)
As Wil braces herself for another torturous night at the social dance, she meets Vivian (Lynn Chen), a dancer with the New York City Ballet. It was mutual attraction for both. They meet again later at the hospital where Wil works. It turns out that Vivian is the daughter of Wil’s boss. Ah. Coincidence.
The romance between the two young women is handled with a lightness that renders their attraction believable. Michelle Krusiec shuffles around with a shy self-consciousness that’s oddly endearing. Her eyes are often hapless at the unfolding of the drama around her, like some helpless hamster. You are drawn to Wil’s gentle vunerability just as Vivian was. And Lynn Chen is the stronger of the pair, with her pretty babydoll features, and the unmistakeable mischief just gleaming out of the corners of her eyes and fluttering around her playful smiles. She’s the kind of girl that catches your eyes in a crowded room. (Okay, she’s the kind of girl that catches my eyes in a crowded room.) Lynn Chen plays Vivian with a self-assured charm, first smiling sweetly across the dance hall at the pretty little surgeon with the ponytail, later making a pass at Wil at the candy machine. She totally disorientates the young doctor.
As the young lovers slowly sidestep their way towards one another, a tango plays on the soundtrack and Wil returns home one night to find Ma at the steps outside her apartment. Turns out Ma is pregnant, and refuses to name the father. Grandpa found out about Ma’s condition from one of his old student. Now everyone knows.
"One billion Chinese. Two degrees of separation," Wil mutters as she’s packing Ma’s stuff.
So Grandpa threw Ma out – unless she gets married (apparently it doesn’t have to be the baby’s father) or "proves immaculate conception."
The chaos of juggling your pregnant mother and a new lesbian romance just gets too much, and Wil resorted to trying to find Ma a husband. In the midst of trying to get Ma ready for her first date, there was a touching moment when Wil observed her mother up close. She stares, as though seeing Ma for the first time. Ma, a bundle of insecurities, asks if there was anything wrong with her face.
"You’re beautiful," she tells Ma. And yes, Joan Chen is beautiful in this movie.
All her other films have never prepared me for this comedic side of her. Joan Chen’s Gao Hwei-Lan is funny because she is entirely believable as the character she plays. You laugh because it’s so touchingly familiar. Even as she’s s/mothering Wil, she’s also a sheltered child experiencing freedom for the first time in 48 years. In one scene she wanders into a video store asking for Chinese videos. As she scans the shelves, we glimpse the titles "The Last Emperor" and "Joy Luck Club." It’s the kind of in-joke that brings a smile to your face. Later, she meandered onto the shelves for porn videos – and we see only her eyes from above the video rack. The eyes spoke eloquently of the innocence of this grown woman who’s fascinated by the forbidden.
When Ma finally reveals the father of her baby, it wasn’t really much of a surprise. Wil asks her, "Why did you put us through all these?" Ma replies that she has never dated in her life, and she just wanted to feel how it’s like to get out. And most importantly, she needed the father (of her unborn baby) to declare his feelings for her in front of everyone. She needed him to be sure of his feelings for her. While there’s something of a petulant child in this, what she yearns for is so achingly human. She wants her love to be stronger than fear. Straight, gay, old and young, we want our love to declare itself in front of the world.
Wil couldn’t learn this from Ma soon enough, because Vivian, tired of waiting for Wil all the time, signs up for a 4 years stint with the Paris Opera Ballet. At the airport, Wil pleads with her girlfriend to stay. And Vivian asks this of her: "Kiss me in front of everyone here." Wil couldn’t. And she loses the girl she loves.
The movie poster has Joan Chen and Michelle Krusiec seated a little apart from the other. I found the image odd at first. I wondered why Lynn Chen was not included in the poster. After the movie I realised I was misled by my expectation of what "Saving Face" was about. It wasn’t a just a lesbian romantic comedy as I had presumed. I fell in love with "Saving Face" because the heart of the story is Ma and Wil – it is definitely a love story – between a mother and a daughter.
After the movie I visited the website for "Saving Face" and came across Alice Wu’s "Director’s Notes":
"I wrote SAVING FACE as a love-letter to my mother. The character of Ma begins the movie as a woman with all major decisions in life seemingly made; at 48, she has lived a proper life and is now essentially just living to die. That she ultimately breaks with tradition and lives on her own terms is a triumph I wanted my mother – and the world – to see. I suppose if there is one thing I am trying to say with the film, it is that no matter who you are – Asian or black, gay or straight, young or old – that everyone basically wants to love – and that love can start at any point in your life that you want it to. I made SAVING FACE because I wanted my mother to know that it was never too late to fall in love for the first time. And that it is not by doing things right, but by sometimes getting them wrong, that we launch the journey that allows us to come into our own."
It's the kind of thing that makes you smile when you read it. "Saving Face" is Alice Wu's first film. It isn't a great arthouse movie, but it's a lovely, personal film. Chekhov identified compassion as one of the six characteristic vital to good writing. I think Alice Wu got it pat down.
Some background on director Alice Wu: She graduated from Stanford University with Bachelor and Masters degrees in Computer Science. She was a software designer with Microsoft until the day her script for "Saving Face" won an award.
In the film, Vivian is a talented ballet dancer. But despite the disapproval from her father, she has been venturing into modern dance , simply because, "it is more ... expressive."
Friday, October 21, 2005
"Why do it?" you may ask.
Because it's fun.
A brief anecdote:
I dislike popcorns in general. I find that they have the texture of styrofoam when you bite into them, and the salted ones are usually too salty, and the sweet ones are usually sticky and cloyingly sweet. And the butter - if the popcorn's not fresh, the butter usually have that rancid smell that clings to your clothes and hair.
Don't like popcorn.
Once, out with Ms F for a movie, I mentioned the "popcorn has the texture of styrofoam" observation. Ms F piped: "Yeah, like you've tasted styrofoam." Or something along that sentiment.
Actually I have. When I was a wee thing, I had some styrofoam around the house to play with. It was nice. Lots of things you can do to styrofoam. Then one day I wondered how it will taste. So I bit into it to check out the texture. What can I say? It crunch like popcorn without the butter, salt and caramel syrup.
No, I do not swallow.
"Why do it?" you may ask.
Because it's fun to find out things like these.
Anyway, recently I'm taken with this writer, Mary Roach. She strikes me as someone with the curiosity in the unusual things in life. Her previous book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers made it to the bestsellers. I've perused it briefly, and she's an illuminating sprite amongst the chaos of dull books out there.
The book apparently first began with the Salon.com article she wrote on how much a human stomach could hold before it burst. It was a Thanksgiving thing and with all the feasting I guess the question just popped into her head.
She is fun person. ;)
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Tuesday October 18, 2005
From The Guardian
Ba Jin, the Chinese anarchist intellectual who became one of the 20th century's great authors, died yesterday in Shanghai, aged 100.
From the 1931 publication of his most celebrated work, Family, the story of a disintegrating feudal household, Ba Jin rose to prominence as a critic of the injustice of the pre-revolutionary era. Although associated most with the turbulent period of 1930 to 1950, he remained a leading force.
He had Parkinson's disease and cancer.
You know? I thought he was dead a long time ago. How many people out there are still alive?
Monday, October 17, 2005
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Xena, the possible 10th planet in our solar system, has its own moon, a dim little satellite called Gabrielle, its discoverers reported.
Astronomers who reported Xena's discovery in July said they detected Xena's sidekick on September 10 using the Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Their findings will be submitted to the Astrophysical Journal Letters on Monday.
"Since the day we discovered Xena, the big question has been whether or not it has a moon," Michael Brown, of the California Institute of Technology, said in a statement. "Having a moon is just inherently cool -- and it is something that most self-respecting planets have, so it is good to see that this one does too."
Xena, known formally as 2003 UB313 but nicknamed for the warrior princess of television fame, and Gabrielle orbit the sun out beyond Pluto in a band known as the Kuiper Belt, a swath that is home to comets, asteroids and other space rocks.
The possible 10th planet moves in a highly eccentric orbit, tilted some 45 degrees above the orbital plane of the other planets. Its orbit is also elliptical, zooming in as close as 3.5 billion miles (5.6 billion km) from the sun and moving out to as far as 9 billion miles (14.5 billion km) away.
Earth orbits rather consistently at 93 million miles (150 million km) from the sun.
It takes Xena 560 Earth years to complete one trip around the Sun, compared to Pluto's 250 years.
Xena is one of three big planet-like bodies recently found in this region. The others have equally playful nicknames: Santa and Easterbunny.
A PLANET - OR NOT?
Size is important when it comes to making the grade as a planet. Astronomers know that Xena is bigger than Pluto but since they don't know what it is made of, they can't be sure that it is more massive. The discovery of the moon Gabrielle means Xena has at least enough mass to keep a satellite.
Gabrielle is estimated to orbit close to Xena, making a circuit perhaps every 14 days. Named for the TV princess's travelling companion, Gabrielle is about 60 times fainter than Xena.
The International Astronomical Union, which makes the decision on what is a planet, considers Xena a trans-Neptunian object, meaning its orbit crosses that of Neptune, just as Pluto's does. Many astronomers, including Brown, question Pluto's planetary status, too.
But Xena's discovery, and its size, have prompted the union to rethink the definition of planet.
On the union's Web site, it said: "The very rapid pace of discovery of bodies within the solar system over the last decade, and so our understanding of the Trans-Neptunian Region is therefore still evolving very rapidly. This is in serious contrast to the situation when Pluto was discovered."
A working group of the union is considering a new definition. Until the group finishes its work, the Web site statement said, all objects discovered at a distance of 40 times Earth's distance from the sun, "will continue to be regarded as part of the Trans-Neptunian population."
More information and images are available at http://www.gps.caltech.edu/(tilde)mbrown/planetlila/moon/index.html.
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
A follow-up on my entry on the copy protection on KT Tunstall's CD.
This issue of Rolling Stones reports fans of Dave Matthews Band, Foo Fighters and Switchfoot are mighty pissed by similar Copy Protection software rigged into their CDs.
Currently, it's mainly labels like Sony BMG and EMI that's adding the copy protection software into their CDs. It's not yet know how this affects CDs sales, from pissed off fans - like myself who are refusing to pick up a copy protection CD in protest. Apparently freewares are offered online to decode the copy protection. And Sony BMG will actually email detailed instructions on how to use the decoding software if you ask.
Still - why make fans of the musicians go through these extra hoops? Why punish the fans?
Labels will work to keep their profits, naturally. But this measure really only serve to alienate the very people who bothers to buy an original CD - because someone used to downloading the mp3 files illegally isn't going to be really affected by the copy protection CDs. Simply because he or she isn't going to buy one.
Sale of CDs really goes to the profit margins of record companies, not the artistes. Yes, I know that - but really, do I care if the singer/musician I like can't afford an expensive Ferrari?
What matters to me is that record companies are only willing to sign musicians who can sell CDs for them. A talented musician who can't sell his/her first CD will probably not have a second one. Now, that matters to me.
My favourite example here is Joss Whedon's Serenity. The TV series died a premature and unnecessary death because the TV network didn't know what to do with it. But it was the overwhelming DVD sales that finally pushed convinced the powers that be a Serenity movie was worth the investment.
I don't care if Joss Whedon don't get rich from the Serenity franchise. Good for him if he is. But I am looking forward to the movie.
And yes, I am one of the many who bought the original DVD boxset for Serenity.
Monday, October 10, 2005
by Carol Ann Duffy
I like pouring your tea, lifting
the heavy pot, and tipping it up,
so the fragrant liquid streams in your china cup.
Or when you’re away, or at work,
I like to think of your cupped hands as you sip,
as you sip, of the faint half-smile of your lips.
I like the questions – sugar? – milk? –
and the answers I don’t know by heart, yet,
for I see your soul in your eyes, and I forget.
Jasmine, Gunpowder, Assam, Earl Grey, Ceylon,
I love tea’s names. Which tea would you like? I say
but it’s any tea for you, please, any time of day,
as the women harvest the slopes
for the sweetest leaves, on Mount Wu-Yi,
and I am your lover, smitten, straining your tea.
[Carol Ann Duffy is one of my favourite poet. I discovered her one day while flipping through Gary Geddes' anthology of 20th Century poems. The miracle of finding gems in your textbook!
I fell in love with the simplicity and the clarity of her words. Imagine my surprise when I found out Jeanette Winterson is also one of her admirers.
All paths lead to the centre.
Right now I'm craving for a cuppa hot English tea]
~ Virginia Woolf
Met up with some old university mates last Saturday. We were never close. Acquaintance really, but occasionally it's nice to meet up, find out how everyone's doing.
The humdrums of social life, I suppose. But all friendship first starts with a "hi." In some way it may have been my fault that we never kept in touch before. I've never been overtly social. (Oddly, for all of Brat's claims to Un-Social Butterflyhood, she managed to keep in touch with old acquaintance better than myself. Maybe her Blur-F**K face is deceptively endearing. )
Anyway, back to my uni-classmates: These are people who do not know about this blog. And I would prefer to keep it this way. There's a lot I do not wish to share with them. And I'm suspicious of the "friendliness" of one or two of these ladies.
But there was a brief moment when Ms F spoke too fast and mentioned the existence of this blog. *Sigh*
But thank goodness - they are not interested enough in me to find out the address of this blog. Or rather I brushed it off later when the subject returned.
I did not speak much among them, people whom I'm not too familiar with. As usual. They all seem to have progressed in their lives. Got married, getting married, advanced in careers etc. When the question came round to yours truly, I merely replied:
"Life has been peaceful and quiet for me."
That, is as much as I will volunteer about my life since graduation. Yes, it has been peaceful for quite some time. I get the occasional conflict at work: office politics, disagreement with bosses - but these are part of life. And I deal with them as they come.
(As much as Ms F like to disagree about the state of my life - things HAVE been peaceful for a very long time. I think it's about time Ms F stop reminding me of the drama of the past and actually acknowledge that my current lifestyle is nice and quiet. And it's staying this way for a while longer.)
Maybe my ex-classmates will take me to be a boring person. But boring is under-rated, in my opinion.
Friday, October 07, 2005
"And Keener is a grounding presence in the movie, playing a woman who offered deep friendship to Capote but who was also appalled and dismayed at his callousness. At one point Capote reads her, over the phone, a painfully sincere entry from Smith's diary, playing it for laughs. Lee cuts him short, letting him know that he's crossed a line, a moment that Keener plays with stringent urgency: She can't bear her friend's lack of compassion, and she calls him on it. Keener even looks slightly different in this role: With her bobbed hair and scrubbed-fresh skin, she resembles a young Patricia Neal."
Odd, but across the various reviews I've read about the upcoming movie, Capote, it is this particular piece, and this particular paragraph that made me want to watch the movie.
Most reviews agree that the somewhat bland film is held up by the keen performance of its cast, especially Philip Seymour Hoffman's charismatic portrayal of Capote's gradual spiritual rot.
And the most startling twist - Catherine Keener representing the voice of human conscience in the film.
Catherine Keener sticks in my mind as the callous Maxine in Being John Malkovich. While I enjoyed its humour and creativity, I did not warm to Being John Malkovich. The film essentially is about a group of self-absorbed, self-serving people with little self-awareness. It is a film of callousness, with little redeeming warmth. And Maxine stands as the winning symbol of its pulseless heart.
To Catherine Keener's credit, she played the cool, manipulative Maxine very well. Maxine is something out of the femme fatale tradition of pulp noir. The kind of woman who serves as a catalyst for the masochistic impulses in very weak men (and women in the Lotte/Cameron Diaz's case). You think your fall, your gradual self-destruction was all about her, all for her. But really, it's all you. She merely provided you an excuse to debase yourself.
So I'll looking forward to Catherine Keener as Harper Lee. The Harper Lee who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, a little tome that still resonants as one of the emotional powerhouse of American literature today. I still love that book, for its honest and generous portrait of human decency and vunerability.
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
KT Tunstall's Eye to the Telescope
One particular tune "Suddenly I See" is apparently KT Tunstall writing about Patti Smith.
Now, my current peeve is this - I've always made it a point of buying the CDs I want. Music CDs are still reasonably priced, and I do believe the sales goes into supporting the artists, allowing them to continue working. This is especially true for new artists.
This current KT Tunstall CD however is produced in the EU, and is copy-controlled. What this jack-assed shit means is this - I can't download the music into my mpeg player even though I made it a point to buy the original. Now, if I've actually gone and bought a pirated copy, I probably will have no problem downloading the songs on my mpeg player.
Fucked by my own sense of fair play.
Monday, October 03, 2005
Everything, encapsulated by that poignant last line. Not a punch to the heart. But it lingers, like the tactile memory of a kiss.]
She had a famously unhappy childhood. Now she has a new family. Jeanette Winterson on the unadulterated delight of being a godmother
Saturday September 24, 2005
From The Guardian
Open the pages of a Charles Dickens novel, and you will find that the real families are the pretend ones; Pip, and Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations. Lizzie, and Jenny Wren in Our Mutual Friend. Esther, Richard and Ada, in Bleak House. Little Dorrit and Maggy.It's a good game to play on an afternoon walk with the kids - especially if the kids are not yours. Blood ties, as Dickens knew from bitter personal experience, are often fraught with animosity and conflict. It's a pity that Margaret Thatcher never read any Dickens; if she had, surely she would never have championed Clause 28, with its wicked mocking of what she liked to call "pretended family life".
For me, pretend families have always been the real ones. As an adopted child myself, with parents who didn't love me, but loved the fantasy of a "proper" family, I have a keen nose for fake feeling. Duty and sentimentality can dress up as love, but they can't throw a child off the scent for long. Love smells different, that's all.
So I have trusted in love where I have found it, and not worried about the shape or the source. My friends are my family - by that I mean the place I can go when everything else is gone. Resource, delight, and yes, obligation, is there, which has a different texture to duty. All three are present in my relations with my two godchildren, Eleanor and Cara Shearer.
The kids are the daughters of my oldest friend, the TV producer, Vicky Licorish. When we arrived at Oxford University in 1979, our tutor turned to us and said, "You are the black experiment, and you are the working-class experiment." So we were bound to be friends.
When Vicky fell pregnant in 1996, she was determined to have a home birth, even though she was staying in a pal's attic. She and her husband were doing up a house from derelict, and the baby arrived before the roof. It had been agreed that I would be the second birthing partner, along with her husband.
When the call came I spun into a funk; washed the car (twice), wondered what to wear to attend a home birth, changed (four times), and set off all in white to get stuck behind skip lorries and milk floats and caravans and all the comedy traffic of the M25.
Hours later, against endless phone calls from a desperate husband, I flagged down a police car and told the officer I had to attend a home birth. He must have thought I was the doctor, because he turned on his blue light, and flashed me through the back streets of Richmond, till we slewed to a halt below the attic, and I rushed upstairs.
As I came through the door, I saw my poor friend on all fours with two midwives and an oxygen cylinder. At that second, her waters burst and Eleanor flew out. "I reckon she was waiting for you," said the midwife.
I reckon she was. From that moment on, we were close in a way that I have found unexpected and marvellous. When she was a baby I used to take her tractor-mowing, steering with one arm and holding her with the other. She always fell fast asleep. When it was time to empty the grass box, I used to lie her down in the trailer-load of clippings. All her romper suits turned green.
She has always loved language - and words are a place we share. As an infant, the easiest way to stop her bawling was to ignore her completely, sit down, and start telling a story. Soon her desire to hear what happened next overcame her misery or fury, and she would creep up next to me, utterly silenced by the doings of some genie or sprite.
When I took her on holiday to Capri, a tempest blew all our clothes off the washing line and into a neighbour's garden. Out of that event I made up the story of The King of Capri about a selfish king who finds that all his possessions are blown across the bay to Naples, and into the backyard of the poor washerwoman, Mrs Jewel. Jane Rae did the illustrations, and Bloomsbury published it. Some godmothers knit, others tell stories. I just have to do what I can.
I do not regret having no children of my own. I have made other choices - towards my work, and a particular way of life that suits me, but I would regret not having Eleanor, and now Cara in my world.
Sharing kids is such a good idea - it smashes the smugness of the nuclear family, it spreads responsibility, and it allows children and adults alike, a chance to form relationships of choice. I think it is good for Eleanor and Cara to see how I live, and it is good for me to have to do things differently to accommodate them. They know I am gay, just like one of their uncles, and they know that men can live with men, or women with women, just as freely as their mother and father live together.
That said, although I am their legal guardian, we were advised to use a solicitor and witnesses to draw up this simple and obvious solution to any catastrophe, in case another member of the family challenged it. Gay and kids is still not the preferred option in trendy, cool, modern Britain.
The kids love me partly because they think I am bonkers. When they come and stay, we take the roof off the Porsche, strap them in the bucket seats in the back, and Belle, their 10st Newfoundland sits in the front. Then we whiz around the Cotswolds singing hymns and playing word games: "Could anything be madder than a cat on a ladder?" "Yes, a rhino pushing a Flymo ..." and so on.
Cara, who is six, loves gardening, and this year, she grew her own sunflowers from start to finish, and had her own salad bed. My girlfriend showed her how to make jam from windfall apples, including melting wax candles to seal the top.
Parents don't always have time for all this, and the extended, pretended family is a real way of giving mum and dad and the kids some breathing space and some imaginative space.
"Don't tell mum and dad, but ..." is a favourite line, here at Liberty Hall, and if they aren't saying it - I am.
Part of my commitment to Eleanor is to pay her school fees, halving the burden for her parents. It is money well spent, and I have watched her flourish, first at St Paul's Cathedral school, and now at City of London School for Girls. Both the kids love lessons, and I have never heard either of them moan about being bored. They learned early to enjoy the natural world of rivers and trees, and to join that world to the landscape in their heads. Nothing is more precious than childhood if you can teach them how to make it last forever. By that I don't mean failing to grow up, I mean retaining the curiosity and simple pleasure in everything, that is the gift of childhood, and the hallmark of a happy adult.
It should be so simple. It is so hard.
This year, on holiday all together in France, with long days of fruit-picking and cycle rides, and frog-hunting, and me finding the World's Biggest Toad, and delighting the kids by doing the ironing outdoors, (all you need is a long extension, and it is much more fun), and playing makeshift badminton, or Madminton, as it became known, and Cara tumbling out of bed with her curly hair all on end, to be told by Eleanor, "You look just like Samuel Pepys," which strangely, she did, and then Eleanor taking my hand one night and saying: "I can't imagine you ever old."
I told her that when she is my age now, I will be 84. "You'll have to look after me then," I say. She nodded. "I'll only look after you if you are still mad."
And somewhere, further down the time-road, we are still hand in hand, because I was there the moment she was born, and she will be there when I die.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005