Red Cliff II (2009)

Red Cliff was released as one (not very admired) edited movie, but it was also released in two glorious full-length parts. I wrote about the first part already; this is my post about the second part.

Considering the two movies as parts of a whole, it’s not surprising that the first one is more playful and triumphant and the second one is bloodier and more sombre. The theme of the first movie is that David Can Beat Goliath; the theme of the second movie is that War Is Bad. I think the two parts work well together, and I liked both movies.

Keep reading for a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Red Cliff II (2009)

The Complete Plain Words (2nd edition) by Ernest Gowers

Reading this British book published in 1978 (a revised version of the 1948 original) was like going on an archaeological expedition in a foreign country. The English recommended by the author differs from my own for reasons of both time and place.

In some passages, the author of The Complete Plain Words speaks of the changes in the language that will inevitably take place in the decades to come; it’s almost as if he’s conversing directly with me, forty years in his future, at the same time that he’s conversing with his predecessor, thirty years in his past.

Our national vocabulary is a democratic institution, and what is generally accepted will ultimately be correct. I have no doubt that if anyone should read this book in fifty years’ time he would find current objections to the use of certain words in certain senses as curious as we now find Swift’s denunciation of ‘mob’. (53–54)

See below for what I learned, what stood out, and what I heartily agree with, as well as when and why I read the book.

Continue reading The Complete Plain Words (2nd edition) by Ernest Gowers

Red Cliff (2008)

Shortly after we moved to Singapore in 2008, my husband and I bought a big flat-screen television. The movie Red Cliff II was being used to demo the screens in all the shops we visited, so we named our television “Cliff”.

Until now, though, neither of us ever watched either of the two movies. I decided it was time to check them off the list of DVDs we own of movies we’ve never seen.

There’s a version that combines the two movies into one; that’s not what we’ve got. We’ve got the two-part version of Red Cliff that was released in Singapore. The audio is in Mandarin and English subtitles are available.

Honestly, though, half of the movie doesn’t even have subtitles because nobody’s talking, thus there’s nothing to translate.

I am starting to think that maybe a lot of Chinese movies have a common plot structure that requires a long buildup in which we go around meeting all the characters and forming some kind of alliance, so that later each of them can do whatever he’s known for doing as part of the group effort to overcome the enemy. I called this “collect the whole set” in Kung Fu Yoga, which I recently watched, but Shaolin Soccer also took what I thought was an unusually long time to get going. Maybe it’s not unusual after all.

I could try to make some kind of point about individualistic vs. collective social philosophy (or about martial-arts mashup movie titles), but I think it would be misplaced. Chinese movies with a group of protagonists still have a central hero, and Hollywood movies sometimes have a group or coalition of protagonists. The difference I’m noticing is a superficial one of how long it takes to meet all the characters: a quarter of the movie, or half of it. In either case, the midway point marks a significant upping of the stakes.

Keep reading for a plot summary with SPOILERS as well as a list of the main characters and a surprising observation about one of them.

Continue reading Red Cliff (2008)

A la carte buffet

If you thought “a la carte” was the opposite of “buffet”, think again!

I think the idea is that you pay a fixed price (in this case $25), and then you get to request as many things as you want from the buffet menu to be brought to your table.

I heartily recommend Jang Won Korean Restaurant. I’ve never ordered the a la carte buffet, though; I always get the dol sot bi bim bab (hot stone bowl fried rice).

What about that adverb phrase?

All Day Available

should say

Available All Day

because this is short for “Our a la carte buffet is available all day”.

The adverb phrase “all day” modifies the whole statement, so it would have to go at the very beginning or the very end, and it’s better to put it at the end because “all day” is what we want to emphasize most, and whatever is at the end of the sentence is what gets the most attention.

See also Baekseju.

Wait, hang on, this “no smoking” sign is at Jang Won too.

Lehigh mug is lihai.

The Mandarin expression 厉害 (lìhài) means ‘awesome’ or ‘powerful’, among other things.

I heard the expression several times while watching Kung Fu Yoga, so when I next looked at this mug, I saw it in a whole new light, even though I’ve had it for years.

I toured the New Jersey plant belonging to Lehigh Press (a Von Hoffmann company) at some point when I was working in the production department of Princeton University Press (2005–2008).

The place was full of huge, expensive German printing machines and stacks and stacks of different kinds of paper.

The company printed the book cover (but I think not the pages) for some of our titles. They also printed Harry Potter book covers!

Before we left, they gave us some company-brand swag stuff like this mug, plus samples of things they’d printed with fancy techniques.

Lehigh Press closed down in 2008.

It was home to the country’s largest vacuum collator, an assembly-line machine that uses suction force to stack sheets of printed paper or plastic film in order.

That was awesome.

Kung Fu Yoga (2017)

In Kung Fu Yoga, the greatest treasure isn’t gold and jewels. It’s seeing Jackie Chan, playing an archaeologist named—uh—Jackie Chan, do a Bollywood dance number in a movie that pays homage to Indiana Jones. If seeing this legendary 62-year-old Hong Kong action star dancing around in Indian clothes with a big goofy grin on his face doesn’t make you smile, you and I are made of different stuff.

That being said, you have to sit through over an hour and a half of astonishingly wooden acting on the part of Jackie’s co-stars, plus far too many scenes with awkward CGI animals, to earn that final dance scene.

Released during the Chinese New Year period, the movie more than earned back its budget despite poor reviews. Ticket sales were weak in India, but strong, or strong enough, in China. Jackie Chan traveled to Singapore to promote the movie, and it did well here compared to others.

I hope Jackie Chan had fun making the movie (in spite of endangering himself during filming for the umpteenth time). I’m pretty sure he doesn’t need money, so he must be making movies because he wants to—or to promote his country’s political goals.

The fight scenes are okay, but the English/Mandarin script and the plot are disappointing. I can’t really recommend it. I can summarize it for you, though.

Keep reading for a catalog of all the unnecessary CGI animals as well as a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Kung Fu Yoga (2017)

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

I’d bet far more people have heard of this influential Chinese classic than have read it.

The military strategist to whom The Art of War is attributed is known in English as “Sun Tzu”, which I’m guessing most people pronounce like “sun zoo”, but which is actually supposed to be something more like “soon dzuh”. (The pinyin is Sun Zi, and the characters are 孙子.)

I’m a poor historian, so it’s hard for me to judge the impact of Sun Tzu’s text either on the battles of his own time or on those fought in the centuries since then. Its impact on the world of contemporary English-language publishing, however, is readily apparent thanks to the proliferation of books that bear titles such as The Art of War for ExecutivesThe Art of War for Small Business, and even The Art of War for Dating. Surely the work that inspired all these copycats is worth a look.

The edition I read is based on the 1910 translation by Lionel Giles, and contains his notes inserted directly in the text. The notes explain or expand on the advice in more detail or give examples from world history of the situations described, showing how the advice applies in specific instances.

Hannibal defeated the Romans because breakfast.

I found the translation suitably dignified but modern enough to sound sensible. The version I read (ISBN 9781444727364, 102 pages) was edited and has a foreword by James Clavell, author of Shogun and a series of other long, popular novels set in Asia.

Here are some links to free versions of The Art of War at gutenberg.org:

Click to read my post on The Art of War over at Asian Books Blog to find out what you need to know to decide whether you should bother, or how to talk about it even if you never do!

Meanwhile, China, realising that sometimes cultural products are famous for being famous, has attempted to capitalise on The Art of War by using its fame as a lure for tourists… and to buttress its image as a cooperative world power. It’s worth a try, I guess.

When and Why I Read The Art of War

Re-reading this classic for Asian Books Blog.

Genre: non-fiction (Chinese history, military strategy)
Date started / date finished:  03-Jul-17 to 14-Jul-17

The Bar Code Trilogy by Suzanne Weyn

There are some interesting dystopian sci-fi ideas in this trilogy. They sort of trail off into a kind of Childhood’s End–kind of human psychic evolution mysticism, though, which I think is a pity.

In the near future, albeit one that seems to lack smartphones, a giant corporation allied with government connections all over the world is starting to require adults to be tattooed with identifying bar codes that can be connected to bank accounts and medical records—for convenience, obviously. Nothing ominous about it! Right?

Except there is. The bar code seems to be the cause of personal disasters ranging from job loss and bankruptcy to madness and suicide.

The teen protagonist Kayla smells a rat. Can she withstand the pressure to conform and get the tattoo (which she needs if she wants to go to art school)? Will she go mad if she gets one? Do the resistance groups, whether violent or not, have any chance of success defending citizens’ right to choice? What is the corporation hiding? Why is the corporation looking for her specifically, and who’s that girl on TV who looks just like Kayla? How can anyone survive off the grid in a world where everyone is ID’d and tracked? What if experiments with human genes stand in the way of amazing natural evolutionary breakthroughs in human potential?

Read the series and find out.

It reminds me vaguely of the movie Gattaca, the television series Orphan Black, and the YA novel series Bzrk.

It’s frustrating that the third book and the first two are different sizes. I had no idea when I ordered the third book on Amazon that it wouldn’t be a match. I thought, Oh, my mistake, I ordered the wrong one. However, as far as I can tell, there is no edition of the book in the mass-market paperback size.

When and Why I Read The Bar Code Trilogy

Re-reading this trilogy now that I finally have the third book. Annoyingly, the third paperback is a different size.

Genre: fiction (young-adult sci-fi)
Date started / date finished:  08-Jul-17 to 11-Jul-17
Length: 719 pages
ISBN: 0439395623, 9780439803854, 9780545425308
Originally published in: 2004, 2006, 2012
Amazon link: The Bar Code Tattoo

Man of Steel (2013)

What with all the Michael Bay–style explosions and destruction, you might not have noticed that Man of Steel is a thorough dialectical exploration of the nature/nurture debate. It totally is, though.

I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t think I was going to like the movie at all because I didn’t remember hearing good things about it. It was fine, though, apart from being longer than I realized it was going to be, clocking in at almost 2.5 hours.

For what it was (a superhero origin story that could have been its own miniseries), it was really pretty good. It painted a clear and thematically strong picture of an admirable character and how he got to be who he is. In this rendition, Superman is not a lighthearted, perfect figurehead who proclaims belief in “truth, justice, and the American way”. He is a sensitive and largely anonymous but steadfast protector who stands for hope and choice. (I much prefer these kinds of themes to the ones associated with Spiderman, which tend be things like sacrifice and duty.)

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/man-of-steel-2013/id684580963

I generally liked the sharply contrasting sci-fi and Kansas sets, the cast, and the costumes, though I always imagine Lois as Teri Hatcher, and until now I’d never imagined Kal El’s suit as made of the same stuff as those grippy rubber things you use to open jars.

No thanks, I got this one, Kal.

If you have a long enough attention span for another 4000 words on this movie, keep reading for more on the nature/nurture theme and some other thoughts as well as a plot summary with SPOILERS in the form of a beat sheet in the style described in Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat.

Continue reading Man of Steel (2013)