Friday, September 30, 2005

Last One for the Night

I'm leaving for the airport just as soon as I finish this post.

I'm going to Shanghai for 6 days, and I've heard that China blocks blogs (or at least blogger). Hence my frantic blogging this evening, finishing up all the half-posts that I've had saved away in drafts.

I don't know if I'll have regular internet access, so we'll see how often this blog gets updated there.

But hey, I'll be back soon enough.

And next Friday, please come to support us if you can. We made it through to the semi-finals, and have been told audience voting counts for 30% of the score.

JL sing

Date: Friday, 7 Oct
Time: 7.00pm to 11.00pm
Venue: Party World KTV, Shenton Way

MX sing

Thanks, and I'll see you soon enough.

Blogging with Quills

I saw Quills, a production by Luna-Id Theatre, a couple of weeks ago.

Great performances all-around, a beautiful set, and sharp, witty writing all made it a great experience. Of course, the very decent prices helped too.

But what strikes me about the play is that while the events might have taken place centuries ago, the issues are still incredibly relevant today.

All too often, the leaders of our societies are all too willing to make decisions for us based on their own flawed moral codes. And sadly, all too often, we are willing to let them make these decisions for us.

Have we lost the ability to think for ourselves? To judge what is right or wrong for us by our own standards? I'm not saying there's a universal right or wrong; I don't believe in something as naive as that. I'm just saying that everyone should be allowed to form their own moral code and make their own decisions as to what is right or wrong.

Is it wrong to write intense erotica and sado-masochistic prose? Why should it be? Because it corrupts the young? If they were that easily corrupted, they'd be rotten in no time, with or without these texts.

In the same vein, and in light of recent events, is it wrong to post racist comments or blog with a racist slant? Of course these views and opinions are offensive to most people, but even bigots deserve the freedom of speech. I say, damn it all and let them speak, because there can only be two possible outcomes.

First, there will be the inevitable backlash. Members of the online community are fast to respond and condemn such remarks. Webmasters will ban the respective members, their blogs will be flooded with hate-comments, and so on. They will get the message that what they're doing is wrong in the eyes of many.

And second (and what I think is most important, and what everyone is missing here), ranting and raving does not make other people respect your views. They only make you look like an absolute fucking idiot. Which is what these people are, anyway.

Compare stupid racist rants with Hitler's theories on racial superiority and the Final Answer. If someone was able to write a convincing thesis on why one race is better than another, then that would be a far more dangerous man, in my opinion. Why? Because there is the possibility of a large group of people actually believing his arguments. On the other hand, no one is going to believe silly racists who rave on and on without coherence nor intelligence.

So yeah, my two cents on the issue is that the Singapore government completely over-reacted, just like it does on everything that doesn't really matter. Charging bloggers in court is akin to shooting a cat because it scratched you. It doesn't really do anything besides show how silly you are to have taken it so seriously.

Of course, I hardly need to mention what this does for any notions about the existence of free speech in this country.

Fuck it. Let the fools blather on. It's all just noise anyway.

Be with Me in Perth

Please pardon the lateness of this post. I just never got around to writing it.

Harry Lee wants to go migrate to Perth. It's utopia to him, in comparison to his shitty life here, where he's overlooked by everyone. It's his only dream.

But he will never get there. It's a dream, and that's all it is.

People of his social strata aren't allowed to have their dreams come true, you know. It would go against the very grain of society. No, they have to toil their lives away in small, inconsequential jobs. And then they get to die. They can dream all they want, but they'll never get there.

Neither will Angry Boy Lee. He just gets to vent his frustrations more than other people do. If he doesn't like you, he'll simply smash your face in, quick and easy. But at least he doesn't stab you in the back.

The government says they try their best to help the less privileged. Do they really try to reach out to these people? Perhaps it's easier to simply pretend they don't exist.

But the people who made Perth see them. And what's more, they've dug in deep and exposed the very souls of these folks. It's raw, it's intense, and it's really fucking good. Lim Kay Tong is brilliant as Harry, showing sides of himself I doubt many have seen before. And Sunny Pang as Angry Boy turns in a wonderful performance as well.

And what about that other Singapore movie that's been hogging most of the limelight recently? Eric Khoo's Cannes Directors' Fortnight opener that garnered a standing ovation, Be With Me?

The Old Storekeeper is deeply troubled by the loss of his wife. The Fat Security Guard pines after a beautiful woman. The Pretty Lesbian Teenager can't get over her lover moving on. And weaving in and out through it all, is the true story of deaf and blind Theresa Chan.

Much ado has been made about how moving and inspiring Theresa's story is. Me, I can't manage to feel that much about it. Sure, it's told simply and told well, no doubt. I guess I'm just a bastard after all. But the story that really did get me was the Old Storekeeper's. It's heartbreaking in its simplicity, that's for sure.

The Lesbian Teenager's story was well (and very aptly) expressed in the use of SMSes and internet messaging. However, you never felt that there was anything more to it than pure puppy love. The Fat Security Guard's story ends on a nice ironic and bittersweet note, but it doesn't pack as much emotional truth as the Old Storekeeper's story, and hence was kinda ho-hum. Great editing between the segments though.

Basically, we need love, we yearn for it, and we can't deal with its loss. That's basically the point. I like that. Simple, nice and effective.

While Be With Me is a good movie, I didn't feel it was great. It was mannered and classy, whereas Perth stripped away all facades and lay bare the raw, trembling souls of its characters.

If you ask me which I prefer, I'd have to pick Perth, if only for the kick in the balls it gives you.

And call me a masochist, but when I'm at the movies, I like being kicked in the balls.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Finally... Pictures from Rawa

Title says it all, really. For a written description, go here.

These first two were taken at a stop along the way.

Journey 1

I can't imagine why they'd think putting huge coconuts on top of the restrooms was a good idea. Or even one that made sense.

Journey 2

Journey 3

This flag was flying on the boat that brought us to Rawa. It's the Malaysian flag, since we were in Malaysia (duh).

On to Rawa! As you can see, it was just fucking gorgeous.

Scenery 1

Scenery 3

Scenery 4

Besides the pretty scenery, there were also (some) things to do, like volleyball...

Rawa Things 1

and a water slide.

Rawa Things 2

Or if you really ran out of options, you could just look up into the sky.

Sky 2

Sky 1

If you can't see the stars above, get a better monitor. Strangely enough, when I looked at the picture on my camera, the stars were all different colors. But here, they're how we saw them, all white specks. Bizarre.

I suppose you could also enjoy the sunsets, which were fucking gorgeous as well.

Sunset 1

Sunset 2

Sunset 3

Sunset 4

Sunset 5

Sunset 6

Being surrounded by all these pretty things, my narcissistic side began to rear its ugly head.

Pose 1

Pose 2

Pose 3

Pose 4

Pose 5

Pose 6

That was me trying to look all intense. More laughable than anything.

Pose 7

Pose 8

Of course it wasn't all me. We did take some pictures together, you know. All group-like and shit.

Group 1

Group 2

Group 5

This one below is a group picture. All of us are in it. You just have to look really hard.

Group 6

Group 3

And this one has a nice ghostly effect to it:

Group 7

Group 4

With friendly bartender and all-round great guy Salam.

And now for a Photo Special: The Many Faces of Meihui!



MH 5


MH 3


MH 1


MH 2

And even more unglam.

MH 4

Funny, I could've sworn I had one of her rolling on the ground. Ah, well...

Finally, we bid adieu to that lovely island in the sun...


P.S. To Angeline: Not that I intentionally didn't want a "Special" of you, just that you didn't have too many hilarious unglam photos I could use... So it wouldn't be as fun.

P.P.S. People, go to her site anyway. There are other pictures there.

Monday, September 26, 2005

I Hate Pearls

The Chinatown area in Singapore has a few really old-school shopping centres, mostly built in the 1970s to 1980s. They mainly hold travel agencies, money changers, massage parlors, sleazy cinemas and stores full of random shitty crap no one except old women would buy.

They also have really similar names, which can lead to much confusion for the unwary - like me.

I was to go to 珍珠大廈 to pick up my plane ticket to Shanghai today. This was translated by my friend as Pearl's Centre. Which wasn't a bad translation. It was just wrong.

Let's look at these names and see how confusing the literal translations can be:

珍珠大廈: literally - Pearl Building; real name - People's Park Centre
珍珠坊: literally - Pearl Square; real name - People's Park Complex
珠光大廈: literally - Pearl's Light (or Glow, or Shine) Building; real name - Pearl's Centre

So I parked at Pearl's Centre, thinking I'd be in and out in 15 minutes.

I ended up walking down the street, looking in building after building. Of course, it had to be in the building furthest from where I was.

But what I really want to know is, what the fuck is the big deal about fuckin' pearls? Why does every fucking building in that area have to be named after pearls? Why not have one be pearl, another diamond, and the third ruby or some other gemstone? Why fucking pearls?

This is yet another example of how unimaginative and derivative Singaporeans are. Always jumping on the latest business fad, cashing in on the most popular thing, only to end of broke after a couple of months because the pie just wasn't big enough. Anyone remember bubble tea?

I'll be happy to not see a pearl again for as long as I live. Fuck pearls. They're for grannies anyway.

I Dream of Jacky

I rarely remember my dreams, probably because you only tend to remember them if you wake up in the middle of them.

But this one I did. Bizarre, bizarre dream.

Was in an airport waiting hall. Of all people, Jacky Cheung (張學友) was seated some seats away. Got all fanboy-like and went to fawn over him. Pulled out loads of newspaper cuttings, programs from Snow Wolf Lake, etc. from my bag (don't ask me why I was carrying them; it's a dream, remember?) for him to sign. He was nice and friendly and obliging. Dug in my bag for something else, couldn't find it and got more anxious.

His wife came along and said his daughter had hurt herself. I offered to help because I am, after all, medic-trained (this fact is real). The little girl had a cut on her elbow. For some reason my first-aid consisted of dunking her in a kitchen sink full of water, with the faucet still running. Kind of like a baptism, but in a kitchen sink. In fact, the sink looked very familiar and rather like my own. But it couldn't be, because it was at the airport, right? (No point thinking too much about it; if you try to figure out dream geography you'll only go insane)

So yeah, the little girl turned out all right, and Jacky was very grateful. I dug out more shit for him to autograph, he happily did so. We talked; what about I have no clue.

It was a good dream.

Then my phone started blaring the theme song of 2046 (yes, that's my ringtone), and I woke up muttering, "Fuck, fuck, fuck."

It was some tele-marketing fucker talking about vacation clubs.

Double fuck.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

A Sleepless Post

It was about 1.30 a.m. I was about to fall asleep when a friend called me.

"I'm soooo trashed!" she slurred.

"Do you know it's fucking late?"

"Sorry... You were sleeping? I just wanted to... keep myself awake until I got home... In a cab now... Never mind... Bye..."

I don't blame her. I've been known to do a bit of drunk dialing myself.

But now I'm wide awake. So I shall amuse myself by posting silly pictures.

Empty Shoes

Police are seeking the owner of these shoes, spotted near Sim Lim Square. He is suspected to have been abducted by an alien mothership in broad daylight. No evidence of other alien-related phenomena such as crop circles and cattle mutilation was discovered, but police are not surprised. "We think the lack of other phenomena is due to the fact that there are, in fact, no corn fields and cattle ranches in Singapore," a spokesman said.

Energeney Kit

I don't even know what an "energeney" is, but then again, I'm not really a car person. I'm sure glad they have a kit for it though. And it's imported. Ooh.

Tart of the Day
Apt description, no? Although it'd be better if the subject was British. Couldn't think of any British skanks on the spur of the moment though. Hee hee.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Love Is Eternal

雪狼湖 Snow · Wolf · Lake


My first visit was when the Cantonese production was touring Singapore.

I busted my pocket, and bought a ticket. I believe it cost S$140. It was the best I could afford. I ended up somewhere in a terrace seat; definitely not the finest in the house.

It was my first time watching Jacky Cheung (張學友) live. I was a terribly excited fanboy. I listened to the soundtrack over and over before going, and knew most of the songs.

Sure, I didn't understand most of the Cantonese dialogue, but it didn't matter. To me they were just short breaks between songs. I didn't care about the plot either (which I could only somewhat follow, since I didn't know the language), I just wanted the music. And boy, did I get the music.

I expected Jacky to be excellent, and he was. But someone else completely blew me away, and ended up stealing his thunder for that night - at least in my eyes.

That someone else was Kit Chan (陳潔儀), Singapore born and bred singer and artiste extraordinaire. She had the audience eating out of her hand. Every line, every note was so perfectly pitched and exuded just the right amount of vulnerability and tenderness. When she laughed, you shed tears of joy. When she cried, you were devastated. Even her soundtrack recording wasn't as moving. With each line she tugged at my heart, and I loved her for it.

At curtain call, she appeared. The entire Indoor Stadium leapt to their feet in a standing ovation. We were overwhelmed with nationalistic pride (dammit, I know, I'm supposed to be cynical) - here was someone who had made it, who had done us proud, and we loved her. Of course, this is not to put down Dick Lee. After all, he did write about half the music. But here was someone we could see with our own eyes.

The cheers were louder for Jacky, obviously, but that was to be expected. He was the star, after all.

I went home with music in my heart. I listened to the soundtrack over and over again. Through the next eight years, I revisited it countless times.


My next visit was last Saturday.


The production had been translated into Mandarin. Jacky still played the lead. But this time, eVonne Hsu (許慧欣) had taken over the role played by Nnadia Chan (陳松伶) previously, and Nnadia herself was taking over Kit's role.

I had doubts about eVonne. Someone who spelt her name that way didn't deserve to be taken seriously. And I was bummed Kit wasn't going to do it anymore. But I was so eager to see Jacky perform again, I bought tickets the day they opened for pre-sale, without even knowing the full cast. Who cares, right? As long as Jacky's still there.

On a side note, I missed the last two times he performed in Singapore. In 1999, I'd bought a ticket to his concert (used a whole month's recruit pay from NS too), but fell terribly sick and slept right through the concert's duration. Then when he came in 2002, I was in Chicago. Third time lucky, I suppose. Back to the topic.

This time there was no feverish excitement. This time was more along the lines of "I hope it's as good as the last time". But guess what? I found more to pick on. I'll get this over quickly, because I don't like putting down things I fundamentally like.

I understood the dialogue this time since it was in Mandarin, but therein lay a problem: I also realized how shitty the dialogue was, and how ludicrous certain aspects of the script was. The translation into Mandarin, while commendable, still somehow fell short of the "feeling" the original gave. I know, it's really nitpicky, and I can't even put it in words; it just didn't feel right.

Nnadia tried her best, and I heard she was nursing a foot injury, so I can't fault her too much. Granted, her singing was good, and I did feel for her character, but somehow she just couldn't plumb the depths of emotion in her voice as well as Kit can. It's not that Nnadia is bad, it's just that Kit is so unbelievably fucking good. Whenever I heard Nnadia sing, in my mind it was Kit, and she was doing it better. Unfortunately this wasn't very fair to Nnadia at all...

Some of the ensemble were just plain annoying. Why is it when Chinese people act they have to put on these ridiculous high-pitched voices? The actress playing the Mother did, and so did the Wolf. I hate that. But their singing was fine.

eVonne though, I was surprised by. I hadn't even heard of her before this, but I thought she really handled herself like a pro, and delivered a good performance.

But you know what, these are just details. We all knew what we were really there for.

The crowd sat in anticipation. The curtain rose. Jacky opened his mouth, and everyone sat rapt with attention. We hung onto his every line, his every note, his every breath. When he was onstage all eyes were on him. He was God. He had deigned to appear in front of us mere mortals and bless us with his presence and his Voice, and we trembled before him.

(I can't even imagine how he's ever going to find a replacement for his role. No one, but no one, will be able to step confidently into those shoes)


The curtain call: The cast appeared, resplendent in their costumes, basking in the applause. The leads came out, one by one. A few people gave them standing ovations. A few, but not that many.

Then he stepped forth.

And as one, the entire congregation rose to their feet, screaming, clapping, cheering like madmen. For we were a congregation, here to worship at his altar. Whatever he said, we lapped up, and cheered all the louder. For tonight, we had all been touched by his glory.

Tonight, we had shared an evening with Jacky Cheung.

The curtain fell.

We dispersed into the night, but in our hearts, the refrain still sang.

愛是永恆 當所愛是你
Love is eternal, when that love is you.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Analyze This

Because I am busy, and too lazy to write a whole new entry, here's something to keep you busy.

If it can be said that "you are what you read", then what do these books, all of which I read recently, say about me?

Brian Aldiss - Supertoys Last All Summer Long
Glen Duncan - I, Lucifer
Haruki Murakami - Norwegian Wood
Haruki Murakami - South of the Border, West of the Sun
Tony Parsons - Man and Boy
David Sedaris - Me Talk Pretty One Day
Oscar Wilde - The Picture of Dorian Gray

I'm somewhat proud there's no Harry Potter in that list.

Note that these are not my favorite books; they're just books I read in the last month or two.

And to top it off, what I'm currently reading:

Terry Pratchett - Monstrous Regiment

Chew on that for awhile.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Looking Back at Screen Singapore

Back in August, there was a retrospect showcasing Singapore-produced films from the latest hits all the way back to the 1950's. I wasn't extremely motivated about it initially, thinking that probably no one would want to go with me (like I said, I don't like watching movies alone now). But surprise, surprise (well, not that huge a surprise, really), someone was, and that was all the motivation it took for me to go a little overboard and hit eight screenings in a little over a week.

I could've hit even more, if not for the fact that some screenings were completely sold out by the time I got off my lazy ass and actually bought tickets. Which kinda pisses me off, since I'd missed some of these in theatres because of I was away, and would really like a chance to see them now, even if they were (supposedly) rather bad. I fully expect the same thing to happen with the Asian Film Symposium, now ongoing at the Substation. Festival schedules are such a bitch to read, I really need a long time to get over the inertia.

Here's some quick comments on what I saw, in the order that I saw them in.

獅子城 (Lion City)
This was probably the first local Chinese movie to be made. I wanted to see it mainly for historical reasons, so I went in with no expectations. I sure as hell wasn't expecting such a good time. You know those movies that are so damn bad they're great? This was one of them. It started off with establishing shots of Singapore during the 1960's, which was interesting since I kinda missed that period of existence. And then very quickly slid down the slippery slope of bad romance.

Everything that could be wrong was wrong: Shoddy sets, bad acting, miscasting (that's a romantic lead?), stilted dialogue, ham-fisted plotting (including plot holes so large you could fit Sentosa through them), unmotivated camera moves, nonsensical edits, entire sequences of exposition, characters who came on and delivered their exposition and left, over-enthusiastic moralizing, ridiculously long establishing scenes... the list goes on. So it's a terrible romantic drama. But it definitely makes for great comedy. We couldn't stop laughing, it was a riot from start to finish.

A guy and a girl are walking in a coconut plantation in Malaysia. Apparently they've been strolling for at least three to four hours, since in the previous scene it was broad daylight and now it's deepest night.

Girl: (while awkwardly leaning back against Guy on the trunk of a coconut tree) I'd forgotten we were walking in a plantation.
Guy: That's because you're in my arms.
Girl: (runs over to a bridge over a little stream) Look at the moon! It's reflecting in the water.
Guy: Just like the love for you in my heart.
Girl: Quick, let's scoop it up!

I swear, at this point, tears were running down my face from laughing so hard. I don't even laugh this hard at comedies! All in all, money most definitely well-spent.

Labu dan Labi (Labu and Labi)
I wanted to try something by P. Ramlee, who's somewhat of a legend these here parts, but unfortunately this didn't turn out to be a good representative of his work. Somehow with comedy, the harder you seem like you're trying, the more tedious and less funny it seems, and everyone tries very hard here. But there's no getting around the children's cartoon-like scripting and the non-existent plot, which features two slapstick servants diving with abandon into their daydreams at any given excuse. After a few scenarios like a Tarzan scene, a Western scene, and for no reason at all, a fashion show right smack in the middle of the movie, I was ready to swear off old local comedies forever.

Zombie Dogs (a.k.a. Eat, Shit, Fuck and Die)
The less said about this self-indulgent, masturbatory flick the better. With a runtime of 61 minutes, my question is: Why couldn't it have been shorter? You know, something like 30 seconds? It's a case of having one tiny little point in your argument, and beating it over your target audience's head for over an hour, and pissing them off terribly in the process, until their response is just simply, "Fuck off".

Sumpah Pontianak (Curse of the Vampire)
The evil pontianak (female vampire) becomes a hero in this one! It nicely establishes that we are to sympathize with her right at very beginning when she has a tearful soliloquy at her dead father's grave, and then as it goes on we realize it's something of a Frankenstein story. The poor misunderstood vampire! All she's trying to do is live a normal life and get a job (yes, a job, I kid you not - this cracked me up to no end). But the bad monsters won't leave the villages alone, and she gets the blame. Boo hoo. And when these bad monsters have a tendency to abduct your nubile daughter, you'd bare your fangs too. At least they have the decency to wait until the mimes have finished performing onstage and the audience is clapping before they strike. How considerate.

Cheesy effects aside (I still haven't gotten over the spectacularly awful flying scenes), it's actually a pretty fun ride, if you can fall asleep during the boring bits. Unfortunately, given the uneven pacing, they make up quite a bit of the movie. And for no reason at all, someone sings a song about satay not once, but twice.

Forever Fever
What great fun! I totally regret not seeing this when it came out in theatres. Adrian Pang is charismatic and loads of fun, and Pam Oei as his sister is drop-dead hilarious. Great dance sequences, an entertaining underdog tale, and loads of local celeb cameos. What more can you ask for?

I was disappointed they projected it fullscreen. Then later it got very distracting when the boom kept creeping into shots. In one of the wide shots the entire boom pole was visible! Then later I realized that the idiots were simply projecting it at the wrong size! If it'd been blown up big enough, the aspect ratio would've been normal widescreen, and the top and bottom would've been cut off, hiding the boom.

So please, a little more thought when projecting your films would be much appreciated.

Cleopatra Wong
I thought this would be a fun, campy ride. I mean, she's like a female James Bond, for crying out loud. But unfortunately while the fun elements were there, the slack pacing and overlong, unexciting action setpieces killed everything. There's really not much to be written about this. But any movie that has evil nuns who counterfeit Asian currencies can't be all bad. We all know the evils that Catholic nuns have brought into the world - overhigh birth rates, widespread unneeded guilt, not to mention convent schools - so this really isn't that far of a stretch at all. And there's something to be said about gunning down huge numbers of crooks who're dressed as nuns in a place of worship and spilling copious amounts of blood in the process.

橋的兩岸 (The Two Sides of the Bridge)
What a terrible way to end the series. A preachy, moralistic drama that draws the distinction between black and white in broad, childish strokes - drinking, smoking, gambling, wanting to make money: BAD; working in factory and being content: GOOD. One of those movies where I was sorely tempted to walk out (which is pretty rare), and only because I was so completely offended by the characters on their moral high-horses (which has happened pretty much never). I hated all of them. And of course, when you're busy moralizing, a coherent script isn't your highest priority. But it was fun seeing some familiar supporting faces back when they were young and their faces unlined.

However, I also realized a scary thing. Everything the leading lady said, all her oh-so-proper ways, her "work hard, not smart" mindset - all of it sounded terribly familiar. And then it hit me: These were my parents onscreen. Their generation, brainwashed into becoming the mindless, propaganda-following drones they were. No wonder they are that way, if even the popular entertainment of their time was so preachy.

So overall, the festival was so-so. A couple of hits, a couple of dismal failures, a couple of middling ones. Not unlike any other typical festival. Now I just need someone to give me a shove out of my couch to check out the Asian Film Symposium...

Memories and Fears

Life is scary. Somehow or other, the sum of our memories and experiences have come to shape the person we are today. Like it or not, everything goes in. The good times spent with friends and family. The embarrassments and awkwardness of adolescence. The loss of people you loved and people you knew. And for some of us, the traumas of the past, the ghosts of the dead.

I've had some fucked-up shit happen to me before, and I guess trauma might be more common than we think (and please, don't try to guess at my past, even if you were part of it. There are parts of me you don't know, and will probably never know. But isn't the same with everyone?). But what's different is how these experience shape our lives and guide it down its eventual path. I can't honestly say with certainty that the path I'm following is the best one, and who knows what will happen in the future? But I know I'm gonna try my hardest to be the kind of person I want to be, and not something predetermined by fate or experience. Except sometimes they might turn out to be more difficult to run away from than anyone thought.

Take the protagonists in Mysterious Skin, for example.

Neil and Brian have something in common - one day in the summer of their eight year-old lives that they were sexually abused as a pair by their baseball coach. Neil was the boy-slut who half-seduces the man, Brian the innocent who was induced into their sex games by sheer bad luck (or fate, if you want). Jump forward ten years: Neil is now a teenage prostitute, turning tricks for both kicks and money, and Brian a too-serious student convinced he was abducted by aliens during the time of the incident.

The film takes these painfully flawed, hideously scarred individuals and examines them with a tenderness often bereft from other similarly-themed films. We're not looking at freaks here. We're looking at two basically decent people trying to come to terms with their lives. There's an emptiness in Neil, a black hole that sucks affection and feeling from the people that care for him. But he can never give anything back. The cockiness and recklessness is the facade he hides behind, even though he's completely certain that it's who he really is. He doesn't realize it, but he is incapable of sympathizing with, much less loving, anyone else. Then there's Brian. Sweet, gentle, earnest Brian, whose battered psyche has created an alternate reality to protect himself from what he cannot hope to understand, a boy-man who is basically living a lie. But the funny thing about lies is that we always try to get to the bottom of them, even if we are the unconscious perpetrators of these very lies.

Both their pain is expressed physically. Neil in fucking and being fucked by strangers, and Brian in the seizures he still experiences when he tries to remember what happened. But through the physical, they will eventually confront the emotional. Neil needs a brutal rape to make him run home, and Brian, through specific physical triggers, pieces together his path to Neil step by step. Finally, as they come full circle in the coach's old house, Neil holds Brian and comforts him, really connecting with another person for what is probably the first time in his life. Physicality and the emotion finally come together for the both of them - Neil finds the beginning of his path towards some semblance of humanity, and Brian confronts the demons he hid away within himself.

But it's not only the boys that are looking for redemption and humanity. Even one of Neil's johns, an old man coming on to him one night, is as well. As he takes off his shirt in his clinical-looking bedroom, his torso displays all the signs of Kaposi's sarcoma. And all he wants is to be touched. Not sex. Just the touch of a fellow human being. Shunned by all of society, he just wants to be treated like anyone else. A simple back rub is all it takes to bring him to sobbing ecstacy. How unbearably sad that scene was.

I think I kind of lost my train of thought somewhere in the middle of writing about the movie. Oh well.

The best movies make us look within ourselves and re-examine who we are fundamentally. This Crash does, at least for me.

The racist white cop with an ailing father, who bullies yet displays great humanity within the same day.
His upright young partner who slips into the most primal of fears in crisis.
The old Arab shopkeeper, despised by many and driven to irrational, horrifying revenge.
The politician who plays race cards for his own benefit.
His minority-hating wife who finds kindness where she least expects it.
The black detective who can't decide where his allegiance lies.
The black youths who ironically perpetuate the exact stereotypes they're fighting against.
The Asians who complain about being treated like shit, yet possess such cruelty towards their own kind.
And more.

Yes, it is really convenient, how most of the characters have life-changing epiphanies and role reversals. But at the heart of it all is this: Race matters. Like it or not, it matters. But what can we do to make it better for everyone?

It makes you take a good hard look at yourself. How often have you perpetuated stereotypes? How would you behave in a situation like this? Can you honestly say that you will be colorblind in a crisis? Can you force yourself not to react the way you've been taught since childhood?

It's true that children are born colorblind. They learn racism from those around them. And it's much harder to unlearn that once they realize they were wrong. You may claim to be the most unbiased person in the world. But when it's the dead of night and someone from an "unfriendly" race is walking behind you, don't you quicken your step? What if he approaches you? Will you immediately react with hostility?

I asked myself if I would react the same way if I was in the young cop's situation. And my honest answer is: I don't know.

I don't know if my rationality will win over my primal fears - irrational fears which were taught me at a young, impressionable age. But I certainly hope I'll be able to do the right thing.

And as the freak snow falls over the nighttime Los Angeles landscape over the end credits, you get the feeling that somehow, there might just be that tiny glimmer of hope. If we all try hard enough.

End Note:
For those of you who don't like essays, here's a more conventional review.

Mysterious Skin is a stunning heartbreaker that never lapses into bad melodrama. Fine, fine performances, especially from Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Crash, even though things might be a little too nicely wrapped-up, is extremely tightly-written. It's also got fine, fine performances, and more than a few heartbreaking moments.

I love them both. Now leave me alone.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Hobbit King

Once upon a time, in a little kingdom, there lived a Hobbit King. He was short, and kinda ugly, and old and wrinkly, with snow-white hair. He'd only become King in his old age, and even that role was a relatively newly-created one.

See, even though there was a King in the country, he served a purely ceremonial purpose. Everyone knew that the real power lay in the hands of the Grand Vizier and his White Knights of the Lightning Bolt. However, to appease the people, and to fool outsiders, the role of a King was created some years back.

The (puppet) King had "served" the kingdom for a while, and it was time to find his successor. He had no heirs, so the Vizier and his Knights began looking for one among the population. Theoretically, everyone could be nominated, but to ensure that they remained in power and got a "ruler" who wouldn't challenge them, the Vizier and his Knights built in a clause - well, actually, tons of clauses - that would allow them to filter out unwanted candidates.

Thus, one had to meet a whole list of ridiculous criteria before one could even be nominated. These included being in charge of a division of the White Knights for a certain number of years, being one of the prominent merchants of the kingdom, and so on so forth. Being pretty much in control of who does what in the kingdom meant that the Vizier and his Knights were basically restricting the selection pool to a group of their associates and ex-compatriots.

One little trader, however, found the guts to put in an application. The White Knights laughed. Who was this little man? A nobody. He had a snowball's chance in hell. If this was a fable, you'd eventually find out that this little trader somehow managed to overcome all his obstacles to become King. However, this is not a fable. He was basically laughed out of the picture.

There was a big merchant who felt that he too, could be King. He seemed to meet all the stringent criteria, and thought he was on pretty good terms with the Grand Vizier and his White Knights. But one of the clauses they had built into the selection process was that the nominees had to pass through a group of Elders - supposed wise men of the land who would, in effect, decide for the entire Kingdom whether these people were fit to run for King. Of course, the Elders were comprised of flunkies of the Vizier and his Knights, and as such, there was complete control over the process. Of course there was a show of democracy, but that was all there was to it, a show.

The Vizier and his Knights decided that they wanted someone they could control, someone who wouldn't talk back, someone who didn't have a mind of his own. In short, someone exactly like the old Hobbit who was currently King. Then someone had a brilliant idea: Why not make him King again? That would save trouble and hassle, and minimize risk. After all, he had one leg in the grave already; he wasn't going to upset the status quo.

But here they found they had some public relations problems. People didn't really like the old coot very much. He was kinda stand-offish and didn't get out much. Plus he really wasn't very attractive-looking at all. He also had a reputation back in the day for being a real bastard. So really, the people of the kingdom couldn't care less if he took a nosedive off the citadel. And they were half-expecting him to, because he really was quite old and decrepit.

So the Grand Vizier and his White Knights embarked on a campaign to show people what a great ruler he was, and how fit he was for his post. First they made a huge show of announcing his intention to be King again. The minstrels had a field day singing it everywhere. Then they got all the best doctors in the land to see him, and pronounce him in the pink of health (after letting them have a go at the Palace Treasury, of course). Now this was a stretch, given that he looked rather like a corpse, but the minstrels spun that story as much as they could, and people seemed to believe it.

Next, they had to show that people actually did like the old bugger. They forced him to make a public appearance in the East Gardens and arranged for silly people who were desperate attention-seekers to show up and shout out their love for him. As the minstrels were forcing this story down the public's collective throat, they were also delivering, at the same time, a song smearing the competition (i.e., the merchant. No one really gave any thought to the trader at all). This was a basic setup for what was to follow, which was...

The Announcement of the Candidates for King. The Elders "deliberated" over the three choices. Little trader, big merchant, and present Hobbit King. The big merchant was denounced in public for alleged "crimes" and such, and deemed unworthy. The little trader was just dismissed because he was not worth the time. And finally, they announced that since everyone else was unqualified, the Hobbit King was the only one approved.

The selection of the new King was thus made via elimination and walkover. They swore the old coot in again, and everyone in power was happy. The status quo had been maintained. There would be no change. At least, not for a while. Medical science being what it was, they could probably still keep the old bat going for a while...

The End.

Note: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to persons and situations living or dead is purely coincidental and unintentional.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The 30th Anniversary Dinner

Thanks to everyone for your suggestions. In the end we settled on a nice little Spanish place called Via Mar, at the Esplanade. My mom was feeling adventurous, and to be perfectly frank, we didn't know a good Chinese restaurant (Sorry Angeline, she feels Crystal Jade is overpriced, and thinks Spring Court is only so-so).

So Spanish it was. And it gave me the chance to indulge in a guilty pleasure - crispy pork knuckle. This time around, they didn't seem to have the full-sized one on the menu anymore, and when it arrived, it was a tad dry. They did have superb garlic bread though. You can never get decent garlic bread anymore (and don't even talk to me about the wretched excuse for it that fast food places have).

Annv 1

It was nice. Everyone was civil, which is just about the best that I can hope for. I think the jug of sangria was a good call, it does have a mellowing effect (the only drawback being having to wave the fruitflies away). Even the drive up was uneventful, probably because my dad was asleep the whole way.

Annv 2

I will say this though: Nothing kills the mood quite as fast as overhearing a man yelling at someone else in the kitchen. Sigh.

Annv 3

This last one kinda feels like it's from the perspective of a little kid, doesn't it?

I'm refraining from mentioning my brother, who didn't turn up because of some law activity thingy. My only words to him were: Nothing in school is compulsory. 'Nuff said.

So yeah, 30 years. There ya go.

A Bombshell

My parents dropped a bombshell on me about an hour ago.

It appears that today is their 30th wedding anniversary.

Not that I'm an unfilial son (well, I guess I am, in some ways), but they've never - ever - celebrated it before, at least not while I was around and conscious of the fact. I'm not surprised. If my dad was to be measured on the romance-o-meter, he'd probably rate slightly above a piece of chalk. Even then it'd be a close fight.

However, for reasons unknown to me, they are deciding to celebrate it this year by going out to dinner. Yes, it's still kinda pathetic. Other people go for an around-the-world cruise; my parents will bicker on the way to the restaurant, during the meal, and back.

They told me not to buy any presents. This is somewhat of a relief, for two reasons. First, I have no idea what are appropriate anniversary presents. Second, everything I've given my dad - attache bags, wallets, coats, etc. - has been used maybe five times each and then kept away somewhere to be forgotten about. My mom claims he can't bear to use them, but it pisses me off. What's the point of keeping something useful until it's decomposed and broken into little bits?

Here's a funny fact about their wedding day. My dad's parents had picked an auspicious date in the lunar calendar for the wedding of their firstborn son. It was the 6th day of the 8th lunar month, supposedly a very lucky day for weddings. However, when my mom gave out her invitations to her colleagues, they were horrified.

September 13th, 1975 fell on a Friday.

They held their wedding on Friday the 13th, 30 years ago.

I guess the good luck and bad luck pretty much cancelled each other out. As far as I can tell, it's been pretty blah. Or maybe that's just my perception of things.

Anyway, now I have a problem. I've been asked to pick the restaurant. Which begets the question: Where does one go for a 30th wedding anniversary dinner?

How the fuck should I know? I'm still miles away from having my first anniversary!

I discussed it with my brother just a couple of minutes ago, and he came up with some very unhelpful suggestions.

wzy: Maybe somewhere like Crystal Jade?
wmx: No, too common.
wzy: They like the food at Ajisen.
wmx: Ajisen? Don't be ridiculous. It's just a stupid fast food noodle place.
wzy: Maybe the dim sum buffet at the World Trade Centre?
wmx: Hello? A buffet? That's just wrong. Buffets are a no-no for dates, much less anniversaries.

And so it went. I still have no ideas. Any (useful) suggestions will be helpful.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Small Disappointments

Some of you might be disappointed to learn that no, I don't have dengue fever. I'm sorry I let you down and took away that little bit of excitement from your lives. I'm sure it would've been a touching story to follow, full of the ups and downs of human drama. But alas, it is not to be. I'm feeling much better now, and in fact just finished cutting down a script today.

Cutting down a script has to be one of the most painful things a writer has to do. Sure, I know I wrote it with tons of fat. Those were easy to slice off. But sometimes you're forced to cut out stuff you really liked. I had a couple of scenes that I loved, and now they're pretty much all gone. Too risque, they said. Pah. Let me tell you, cutting out sutff you love is like forcing to choose which of your kids to sacrifice to God. The ol' guy was pretty fond of doing that in the Old Testament, or so I hear. Now that's the kind of God I like; someone with a sick sense of humor.

OK, I guess it didn't feel that bad. Maybe I'm just getting tired and want to move on as quickly as possible. In fact, I was almost clinical about it. Much like many of the old fogeys when they sacrificed their children.

Speaking of bloodshed, I was rather disappointed at the outcome of the whole Orchard Road affair. I was really hoping against hope that Singapore would finally have a serial killer. Our only previous one was somewhat disappointing, having only two victims. And let's face it, Singapore is depressing enough to produce a decent serial killer, it's just that we lack the imagination (or so the Reluctant Scientist claims).

Think about it, body parts found near Orchard MRT? That's right out of a movie! The only thing missing was a huge message written in blood, taunting the police. And just imagine the widespread panic over news of a serial killer! Women would walk the streets in fear, grasping their little Swiss army knives for protection. Then a man's body would be found, and even men would tremble in the still of the night. People would call their friends to make sure they got home safely every time, parents would wait up for their kids all night. And the ensuing manhunt, the frequent announcements reassuring the public, the drama!

But no, we lack the imagination. It's sad, but true. Just look at how people have been disposing of bodies. Cardboard box in the river. Hello? Cardboard disintegrates in water, stupid. Bags which can be traced back to you - just plain careless. Packed into another cardboard box (what is it with local killers and cardboard boxes?) and dumped in the woods - better, but still, why cardboard? And wouldn't it be better to bury it?

Of course, rich white women in Hong Kong don't do much better. What makes you think rolling your dead husband in a carpet and dumping him in a storage locker (which the both of you rented, by the way) would remove any suspicion from you, you silly cow?

Methinks these people need to watch more CSI. Perhaps then they'll stop making these stupid, stupid mistakes. Or maybe they should start by reading this (which I hadn't read till after I wrote the first draft of this post). Bear in mind, though, that I feel it'll only work if you're not connected to the victim in any way. So yeah, pretty much the safest kind of killer to be is a serial killer or a professional assassin.

And I was just thinking of writing a serial killer movie set in Singapore too. What a letdown the whole maid angle was. Ah well, we all have to learn to live with the small disappointments in life. It's part of growing up, I suppose.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Up Early and Bored

Sometimes when you Google yourself, you may not like what you find. Case in point: this. Yes, apparently I have AIDS now. Fuckers. All the more reason to hate Channel 8 shows.

And I meant to put this up sooner, but I somehow always forgot. I was flipping through the papers some time back when a headline caught my eye. Turns out there's a radical Islamic movement in the Philippines called the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which has the rather unfortunate initials MILF. And so, "MILF" was in the headlines, which amused me to no end.

I mean, how sad is that? How can they possibly hope to be taken seriously at all? Isn't it kinda hard to be terrorists when everyone's laughing at your organization's name?

If you don't release the political prisoners we will blow up the capital!
From: MILF

Sniggers all round. Heh heh.

And while we're on the subject of dirty jokes, here's the newest version of The Aristocrats, courtesy of a link from Tim. Be sure to read the background information on the joke first; you'll need to know that in order to better appreciate this version.


I Hate Being Sick (Again)

The phrase "you win some, you lose some" never seems more appropriate than now.

Despite a bad song choice, I managed to squeeze through the auditions for a singing competition yesterday.

Judge: There are no levels to your song. It's very one-note, you never bring us high enough.
Me: (thinking I'm a goner for sure) Yes, I know. Unfortunately, that part comes a little later.
Judge: But we'll still let you pass.
Me: Gee, thanks!

However, cosmic karma chose to cripple me with illness right after. At first I thought perhaps it was gastritis again, since I'd skipped lunch, but eating dinner didn't seem to help. While I was waiting with my comrade-in-arms for his turn, I got progressively sicker and sicker. My head was heavy, and I ached all over. Somehow I managed to stumble home, whereupon I collapsed into bed and slept the painful sleep of the damned.

And then of course I woke up an hour ago and couldn't get back to sleep. We bloggers are a sad lot. We can't sleep, we end up blogging, sharing our misery with the faceless masses.

Actually now there's nothing I'd like better than to find a nice cool corner, lie down and communicate with the world via whining. Why do men turn into such babies when they fall sick? I have no idea, but damn, I'd like to do that.

Of course, me being the eternal pessimist, I started to wonder if it could, in fact, be dengue fever. After all, the incubation period's supposed to be within 14 days, and I was definitely a snack for those fucking mosquitoes when I went on a location recce at the end of August. No, scratch that (pardon the pun), more like a buffet as opposed to a snack.

Believe it or not, I used to want to get dengue fever 'cos it'd mean like a month off work. But that was back when I was still going into the office and hating it. And now... it'd be just my luck too, since things are finally going (relatively) the way I'd like them to. Writing from home, getting past the auditions... Hey, he's having the time of his life! Let's throw some dengue fever his way!

If I believed in God I'd be waving my fist at him in one of those useless gestures of impotent rage. Damn you...

Nah, I don't think it's dengue. But it could be. I'll keep you guys updated.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

It's Done

I started off at 6pm yesterday with 2 pages written.

It took an all-nighter, 12 whole hours, but I finally have the first draft of my second sitcom script done. Yes, it's overlong (again) - 40 pages - but at least it's done.

And I only took one smoke and supper break (only for an hour) during the whole thing. Well, that and dinner too.

Now I'm exhausted and I'm going to bed.

I'm so proud of myself, I could cry.