Monthly Archives: July 2012

Painted Skin: The Resurrection (2012)

Zhou Xun in Painted Skin: Resurrection

Faust, a scholar, sold his soul to Satan, in return for supernatural power – a German myth celebratedly written in Goethe’s play. Painted Skin: The Resurrection retold this story in the form of a traditional Chinese ghost story, with flowery kimono, aesthetic scenery and most importantly in an intense romantic story.

Eight years ago during a hunting, a black bear tore half of the beautiful Princess Jing’s face, later wearing a golden mask to hide the disfigured face. Her lover, Huo Xin, failing to protect the Princess, was exiled to protect the borders. Eight years after, Princess Jing went to find Huo Xin but met the Fox Xiao Wei who wants someone to voluntarily offer a heart to become a human. Using a spell, the Fox clouded Huo Xin’s eyes to love her self – painted face and to make him distancing from Princess Jing. The Fox began to persuade her to exchange her heart in return for a spotless face that could attract back the beloved Huo Xin.

It seems an open secret that men love the beauty of women, sometimes not only at his own costs but at the costs of million lives; Paris’ attraction for Helen (triggering the Trojan war) and King Zhou (紂王) ‘s indulgence for Daji (妲己) (leading to the downfall of the Shang dynasty) very well demonstrated this.

The popular interpretation for Huo Xin’s love for the Fox and Princess Jing’s spotless face is how the skin (皮相) often overshadowed the essence of beauty that lies in the heart(心相). This reminds me of the words spoken by the Little Prince: Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux. (Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye).

Visual beauty presents illusion like moon in water – transient, intangible and unreal. Yet few realizes this but keeps sinking into the quagmire.Consequently, as the Little Prince has remarked, Huo Xin  sees not the essentials, i.e. Princess Jing’s love, but wrongly concentrates on the trivialities.

Interestingly, the deal between Princess Jing and the Fox struck a chord with the Faustian myth. The psychological struggle within Princess Jing and the wider conflicts among her, Huo Xin and the Fox have furnished the traditional short story recorded in the Strange Tales of Liaozhai (聊齋誌異) and also deepened the psychological activities in the characters that are often completely absent in traditional Chinese literature.

At the final scene, Huo Xin no longer needs to see the Princess. He ‘hears’ her. That’s more than enough.

Painted Skin: The Resurrection is directed by Wuershan , starring Kun Chen, Wei Zhao, and Xun Zhou

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Sex and Family in Elles (2011)

Anne (Juliette Binoche) in Elles

A pseudo scientific report in the early 20th century pointed out prostitutes generally have lower – sized brains. Nonsense. In Elles, the women engaged in prostitution or more appropriately ‘compensated dating‘ study in university at Paris, with one focusing on Greg Mankiw, a New Keynesian macroeconomist. Anne, an investigative journalist from the celebrated French magazine Elle, headed to interview two of these university student prostitutes; from an aloft and ostensibly disinterested attitude to surprise and eventually sympathy and even a hint of jealousy as she was struggling in her family consisting of a demanding husband, marijuana – addicted Florent and young detached Stephane.

They are ‘bored husbands’ and completely ‘normal’, said Alicja, a Polish exchange student and one of the two interviewees, in describing her clientele.  In one scene, her client taught her how to roast a chicken with Riesling. They had dinner, then sex, and sung a love song in the morning on the sofa, with the man playing the guitar.

It almost seems the women have complete control over the arrangement but really? In another scene, Lola, another interviewee with an alias reminiscent of Lolita – an object of desire in Nabokov’s novel, performed ecstatic kissing on the mirror, at the delight of the man who would otherwise threaten to insert objects into her anus.

Yet, Anne looked at these with curiosity, shock and finally a strange sense of envy. Meeting magazine deadline, trying to make a dinner for her husband ‘s boss (at his request) and to  handle her two sons (one deranged and one very young), the seeming freedom and the pleasure that Alicja and Lola derived from their works  are doubly appealing.

As the film shifts betweeen Anne’s family life and the works of  Alicja and Lola, we are presented with a discomforting parallel between marriage and compensated dating. On one hand, wives like Anne  – intelligent, hardworking, and no – nonsense style – slowly wither and can infuse no more vigour into the marriage. On the other hand, husbands  tried to fill this gap not by talking with the wives but to fall onto the soft bosom of the young university students

Situating in this tension, Anne can hold no more but to  find comfort in the most primitive pleasure – sexual arousal. In a little room, she masturbated in quietude, so her two sons won’t hear any noise.

Elles presents troubling thoughts on sex and marriage, touching issues on feminism, prostitution and family. Equal rights and independent women are the achievement of modern society but it comes with sacrifices and prices, not necessarily at the expense of men, but of women, as Anne, Alicja and Lola showed.

Elles is directed Malgorzata Szumowska, starring Juliette Binoche, Joanna Kulig and Anaïs Demoustie

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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


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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…’

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