Monthly Archives: April 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.

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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.

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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)

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