Monthly Archives: December 2011

Movie Review: 龍門飛甲 (The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate)

The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate

Director: Tsui Hark
Cast: Jet Li, Zhou Xun, Chen Kun, Kwai Lun – mei and Li Yu – chun
Overall: 7.5/10
Spoiler Warning: Minimal.

Continuing his theme in Detective Dee and the Mystery of Phantom Flame last year,  Tsui Hark in The Flying Swords of Dragon Gate tells us one simple truth: power corrupts and perishes while trust and love, the Wuxia values, last.

In contrast to the all too realistic fighting in Ip Man, you’ll see swords, flying daggers, chains and sharp silk lines whirling in the air. As Wuxia master, Chow Wai – on (Jet Li) elegantly fights with sword, while the devious Eunuch Yu Hua – tian (Chen Kun) hides his sword under his flipping robe.

Still the beautiful Tartars Princess (Kwai Lun-mei) close – fights with a style akin to the Mongolian wrestling and also fights with a crescent that again tries to engage enemies as closely possible. Further, Gu Shaotang (Li Yu – chun) threw daggers that fly in a predictably unpredictable course.

All these are done under the 3D effect which is not great, but acceptable. The 3D is still crude and undeveloped and it can hardly accomodate all the spinning and swirling of weapons and people. Nevertheless it does give some eye – opening surprises, particularly when Chow broke through the flag to kill  the Eunuch at the opening.

Despite the martial art and the 3D effect, the plot is so weak that it renders all the characters as two – dimensional flat sheets. We never really know what has happened in the love story between Chow and Ling Yan – qiu (Zhou Xun), nor do we know how others have come together for the treasure hunt.

Fortunately this did not stop Chen Kun playing the scheming Eunuch on one hand, and the blissful Wind Blade, on the other. The parts where Chen imitated the Eunuch to fool other people has added much lively element in the middle of the movie. Kwai has also unusually plays well the passion of the Tartars people.

Tsui interestingly put the very traditional Wuxia music, Dagger Society Prelude (小刀會序曲), at the opening and closing scenes, perhaps at a tribute to old Wuxia movies.

The movie ends with the Eunuch, symbolizing lust for power and wealth, buried deep in the sand, while Chow has taken his turn to find his love, Ling, till the end of the world. In the world of Wuxia, love is perennial.

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The Story of Nutcracker

My collection of nutcrackers
During Christmas, Santas Claus, Christmas trees, bells and the three wise men begin to appear on the streets and we all know where they originate from. How about nutcrackers? Where do they come from? That’s the question.
The historical origin of nutcracker is quite murky. Before the present – day soldiers and kings,  nutcrackers has existed in many forms and many have indeed been beautifully crafted into wooden sculpture. It is said that one times in a German village, a group of soliders have done grave injustice but unable to do anything more, the villagers crafted soldiers as nutcrackers to ridicule them.In another source, the Dictionary of Brother Grim (authors of Grim Fairy Tales), described nutcrackers as ‘a misshaped little man whose opened mouth, or lever, broke open the nut’. It is without question, however that William Fuchtner was the first to commercialise the nutcrackers production.

The Nutcracker from Hong Kong Ballet

It has eventually found its way in The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by the greatest German fantasia writer, E.T.A Hoffmann. The story begins with Marie receiving a nutcracker from her grandfather, Drosselmeier. At night, she hears noise and is surprised to find her dolls fighting against the mice, with the nutcracker as the commander. She later learnt that the nutcracker was, in fact, the man who has sacrificed to save her life.

Though the story itself is rather plain, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the great Russian composer who has also written scores for The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, adopted the story into a two – act ballet. I have watched the one produced by Hong Kong Ballet with Liu Yu – yao playing Sugar Plum Fairy and Huang Zhen as Nutcracker Prince.

Though never an artist nor a musician, I still find every act in ballet dance always full of grace. In one move, Liu spins spectacularly with only her toes on the ground. The movie Black Swan made me to pay even more respect for all the hard work that ballet dancers have put into the performance.

The music, though composed at the end of 19th century, is never out of date. I especially like Dance Of The Reed Pipes where the lively tone is accompanied by elegant dance of a group of delicate ballet dancers.

Nutcrackers remain to be our favorite decoration in Christmas. It is also my favorite collection of figures and the above picture has shown part of my collection. What it symbolizes, however, is not only the rich European culture but also the fun and joy that Christmas brings to everyone.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Postscript

As a little digression, Hoffmann has written better story in The Sander which is adopted as Coppélia ballet by Arthur Saint-Léon and Léo Delibes. The father of the little Nathanael told him that children who don’t sleep at night will receive a visit by the legendary Sandman who steal their eyes to feed his own sons.  Nathanael came to associate his father’s nightly visitor, Coppelius, as the Sandman. In one night, his  father died because of an explosion in an alchemist experiment with Coppelius, who then vanished without a trace.

After years, he found another man called Coppola and recalled his childhood fear of the Sandman when this Coppola offers to sell  ‘pretty eyes! pretty eyes!’ which turns out to be telescope. Nathanael bought one to look at a young woman Olimpia opposite his house who was beautiful but rather emotionless and mechanical.

The mysterious beauty in Olimpia’s eyes made Nathanael so totally obsessed that he eventually proposed to her. To his shock, he sees Coppola fighting with Spalanzani, the guardian of Olimpia. Coppola fled, carrying Olimpia under his arms. Spalanzani revealed to Nathanael that Olimpia was, in fact, a machine created by Spalanzani to fool other people with his impressive creation. Nathanael collapsed.

It was revealed Coppola was Coppelius. In his madness, Nathanael saw Coppelius on the street, shouted ‘pretty eyes! pretty eyes!’ and jumped down.

The summary here is grossly simplified and I strongly recommend everyone (especially lovers of Edgar Allan Poe) to read Hoffmann’s words. This story show his ability to explore human psychology so ingeniously that Freud  has devoted a whole essay, The Uncanny, to analyze the theme of ‘eye’ as man’s fear of castration.

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"Life will go on as it has always gone on – that is, badly." – Animal Farm

Animal Farm

In Animal Farm, Benjamin, the donkey,  said enigmatically ‘Life will go on as it has always gone on – that is, badly.’ At the end, the animals overthrew Mr. Jones; pigs rule; Napoleon became the supreme leader; then things went on as usual as before the overthrow of Mr. Jones – that is badly and yet along with another equally enigmatic principle: ‘All animals are equal, but some are more equal than the others.’

This principle applies with the same force, unfortunately, to Hong Kong. We are promised with universal suffrage in the Basic Law. We are promised that ‘river water won’t mix well with well water’. We are promised with One Country Two Systems. We hold great hope for our future.Now Beijing delayed universal suffrage till 2017. The media exposed two ‘independent’ district councillors to have belonged to the Communist nomenclature. Votes come from a flat of 13 voters with 7 surnames. Most of us are equal; some are more equal when they can vote for the next CE in the 1200 members Election Committee.

The article Two Systems Becoming One: The 2047 Timetable by Suzanne Pepper ominously predicts that the development is still at an early stage. Eventually the Hong Kong district councillors system will nicely fit into the People’s Congress System that also has grassroots foundations.

As I said previously, the Communist Chinese genes have their way to filter through. They then begin to reproduce in mass number, until every sperm and egg become red.

Last Thursday, Professor Choy has written an insightful article saying when this city dies, a diagnosis will find silence and indifference as the causes. He cited a quote from Dante; ‘The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in times of great moral crises maintain their neutrality’. In short, we are all accomplices. (article here)Hong Kong is not Banana Republic, springing from nowhere. It is an international city with rule of law that we all cherish. If we all stay silent as Professor Choy said, this city is not dying. It is dead.

After all, Benjamin is only half – right. Life will not go on as it has always gone – that is badly. Life will only go on worse but for our neutrality.

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Movie Review: The Adventures of Tin Tin: Secret of the Unicorn

Tin Tin and Snowy

Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Jamie Bell (as Tin Tin), Daniel Craig (as Red Rackham), Andy Serkis (as Captain Haddock)
Overall: 7/10
Spoiler Warning: Minimal

Born in Brussels, Tin Tin is a young intelligent journalist who undauntedly goes up to space and down to the ocean for the quest of truth. Unlike the flying batman, swinging spiderman or the ultra muscular superman, Tin Tin possesses no special talent but his insatiable curiosity and enormous courage to find the truth. This pretty much represents the down to earth Greco-European culture, in stark contrast with the vulgar American culture

It is then ironical for Spielberg, the all famous American director, to breath new life into Tin Tin from Hergé’s renowned two dimensional ligne claire into three dimensional quasi – animation.Spielberg and Peter Jackson produce an animation so realistic that it can’t really be called an animation. The use of performance/motion capture technique (or mocap) literally captures the live movement of Jamie Bell (as Tin Tin) and Daniel Craig (as Red Rackham) that melts effortlessly into the animated background. It is  also a delight to see how the computer – generated water react realistically with the computer – generated cloth in the movie.

The Star Wars saga music composer John Williams (another American) has also appropriately departed from his grandiose style in Star Wars and Harry Potter and has instead incorporated many lively elements. The musical theme accompanying the appearance of Thomson and Thompson is particularly relieving and can be a perfect piece of atmospheric music in a lazy afternoon.The only drawback, as a lover of Tin Tin since as a child in Montreal, is that everything is real, all too real. The realness achieved by mocap is itself the greatest defect that renders one of Tin Tin’s most famous characteristics; namely the two dimensional ligne claire void.

After all, it’s not so ironical for an American to make an essentially European cultural icon into movie; the Europeans create the culture, only left to the Americans to destroy and (hopefully) remake.

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