Finished the book, which has given me mixed feelings.
First, I miss Rome. Just like Da Vinci Code made me miss Paris (I read the book shortly after a trip there). Reading about the famous sights – St Peter’s Basilica, Piazza Barberini, Piazza Navona, Castel Sant’Angelo – made me very nostalgic. I adore the city, so enriched in history and heritage: wish I could be there now.
Second, the twist in the end was ludicrous (the Pope was killed by his own son born of IVF!) – as melodramatic as Korean soap operas. When I read this part on the MTR, I couldn’t help but say aloud, “Come on!" It was utterly unnecessary and ridiculous.
Third, Dan Brown could weave a complex plot, but his writing could be so damn patronising. At times he seemed worried that his readership might have learning difficulties.
Fourth, the plot was vaguely believable and even riveting in the middle part, but with the red herrings such unlikely villains, the mastermind behind the plot was pretty obvious rather early on. An insider with access to the Pope – it was kind of a no-brainer (perhaps my suspicion of all overtly religious people also helped). Maybe the author intended to boost his readers’ ego by making this detective game rather easy.
Fifth, I was rather disturbed by the whole idea of fabricating an apparent “act of God" in order to restore hope and faith. The author almost went as far as to condone it: the hero intentionally kept mum about the truth, that it was all a lie, that several people were murdered and science villainised for the sake of reaffirming the Christian faith. It was disgusting.
And finally, the borderline pornographic denouement was a rubbish way to wrap the novel. Granted, the book was more entertaining than The Da Vinci Code (even though it predates the latter)…
This time I’m going to eschew the usual review format, because this documentary made me close to emotional, and I wouldn’t want the rigidity of a proper review to stop my flow of thoughts. I’m not going to discuss the merits of the film – except that it is well-made and very personal – but rather want to disclose what it made me think and feel.
I rarely talk about anything personal on this blog, but this film has put me in the mood for some soul-baring.
First of all, the film struck a chord with me because I went to the same school as KJ – DBS.
DBS has a strange environment that I have only observed in a few other schools: it nurtures excessive ego and an intense desire to win competitions. School pride – or “school spirit", a word I dreaded back then – was, and still is, a big thing. The jingoistic chants still make me cringe: apparently the students chant 音樂王國 (Kingdom of Music) now after winning Music Festival competitions: at least I don’t recall making that ridiculous claim. As described accurately by KJ, the focus is often placed on winning awards, and music is often sacrificed as a result. To see him, at such a young age, pursue music for its own sake with such fervour, was inspiring. This kid is so damn precocious: he was asking questions about existence, origin and purpose of life, and death – more articulately than the average HK university student, I dare say – at the age of 11. And at 17, his goal in life is “to be a human being" – and I felt such a resonance with him. To find the humanity in oneself, that is a real goal. Not the pursuit of transient material wealth, or some lofty political ambition. What I regret to say is that I am still far from achieving that goal.
Watching KJ grow from a young boy going on a concert tour in Europe, to a young man leading a school orchestra, I reflected upon my own childhood. Whilst I do feel a tinge of envy for his talent, I do wonder if there are blessings in being mediocre after all. Being the centre of attention at such a young age might not have been the best thing to happen to a child. The documentary went so far as to imply that the Pandora’s box – of KJ’s personality problems, tantrums, etc. – was opened when he started playing the piano. I do not remember myself as a particularly precocious child: my childhood was relatively innocent, spent in my own imaginary world of friends, teachers and students (I wasn’t deluded though: I was fully aware that they were figments of my imagination). I had no obvious talent other than my memory: I was no sportsman, played the piano passably and only because I was told, and couldn’t really sing before my voice broke. I did well in class but was no genius, and most of the time I was a conformer. I spent most of my time reading or watching TV, not unlike a lot of kids my age. Would I trade this kind of nice but boring childhood for that of KJ? I don’t think I would.
Another transformation during the course of the documentary was that of the relationship between KJ and his father. KJ’s dad seemed loving and caring, and obviously doted on him when he was 11. He followed KJ everywhere when he was on tour, attending to his needs and chatting with him, and it was clear that KJ was very close to his Dad. Some would call him the perfect father. However, in six years’ time, they almost never spoke to each other. KJ resented his father for being competitive and forcing him to compete in piano competitions, and for his extramarital affair which eventually led to divorce with KJ’s mother. I’ve always known that parenting is a daunting task: it is an art that needs to be tailored for any particular child. Even if you think that you’ve done all you can for your children, it doesn’t mean that you’ve done the right thing for them, and they might end up hating you. Again, I reflected on how my parents raised me and how that might have affected me as a person. My parents, especially my mother, were strict disciplinarians: I never dared misbehave for fear of serious retribution. I wasn’t really allowed toys growing up – or was I not interested in them? I don’t know. I was expected to do well in school: praise was hard to come by, and I remember having to hide my sub-standard results (<90%). For all I know, this might have helped in ensuring that I did well throughout my academic career, but I don't think it's healthy. There are many things I should thank them for though: for example, they never told me that I should do anything for money, for which I'm most grateful.
What inspired me most was KJ's love of music: his desire to have music as his life. While I don't feel such an avidity to music, I too want to find something that I want to dedicate all my life and soul to. Regrettably, science is not it. I don't feel it in my blood, in my bones. I would never want to be defined by science. It is an interest, and I do like logical thinking, but practising science in a laboratory is not my strength nor my passion.
But I think I know what my equivalent to KJ's music is: words. Literature. Languages. Things I prefer a lot more in comparison to working at the bench. And right here, right now, I vow to myself: I shall live a life of words, and through them, perhaps, I can one day be a human being.
FF: the often-used button on a VCR or DVD player remote control. “Fast forward". It describes perfectly the feeling of the past three months (during which I have not written anything here), even though it also felt like a lot has happened during these three months. A lot of that time was spent on preparing for my trip in June – I went to Morocco, organised a hen do, travelled around in Switzerland, stopped over in Cambridge, acted as a bridesmaid at the wedding of my dear, dear friend Y, and caught up with friends who have kindly decided not to disown me despite my inability to write or call or communicate by any means with them for a year. A very eventful trip, with many moments of joy, hilarity and surprise: so eventful that I felt like having another holiday afterwards to recover from the fatigue. That said, I will treasure the plenty of pleasant memories of this trip, and hope that I can do the same again next year…
Of course, FF also stands for Fantastic Four, of which I’ll talk more in a later post…
So let’s do some FF-ing over the pre-trip life I had, blogging Twitter-style:
- Loved “Departures" (おくりびと): the story, the music, the message.
- 余光中 gave an enlightening seminar at PolyU: glad I got tickets (one of the few perks of working at a university); he shared some sagely insight into the art of translation!
- 天下無双: a pleasing and rather touching dance/drama hybrid about friendship…loved it.
- 我們的華星時代: a wasteful squandering of the talents involved, with a script that had no idea where it was going. It was all rather promising before the plot crash-landed.
- at17 “Colours Live": moved by their passion for what they do, and the “positive energy" that radiates from their music. Sandy Lam was a great surprise guest!
- 丑年X樣: a brave play presented by 樹寧。現在式單位, featuring the really rather weird 劉以達. Some serious themes in there, if just a tad bizarre.
- Kay Tse’s “Yelling" concert: I fell in love with her voice…and Eason made the night complete.
- Arcadia: another gem by Stoppard, performed well if slightly amateurishly. The script is brilliant, though perhaps still a bit short of the genius that is Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.
- HK Art Fair: cool show, with some really big names…many intriguing pieces (more later)
- Mon Oncle: my first encounter with the cinematic work of Jacques Tati; playful and whimsical – will see more!
- Le French May Festival 2009. 橫衝直撞偷錯情 (adaptation of French farce La Puce a l’oreille, by Georges Feydeau), performed by the HK Repertory Theatre, was performed with perfect comic timing: a real gem! Folk N Blues Moriarty: interesting if eccentric folk band – and it was good to see Chet back!
- Loved 小人國2 – the “C9″ zombies, Angelababy/朱靚芳, and Jai Ho: fantastic entertainment, and much superior to 港女發狂之港男發瘟…
- 情牽女人心演唱會: great songs, fantastic singers; brings back memories of school days…
- Was a bit indifferent about “Cats" the musical: definitely not in the same league as Les Mis or Phantom. Dancing cats are not cute, and a plot is sorely missing. Why was this the longest running show on Broadway?
- Japanese class is rather fun!
- Hated Donald Tsang not so much for his spinelessness, but for his arrogance: “I believe my views represent those of all HK citizens." Fool!
PHEW! That’s all of April and May (and early June) covered. More soon!
二十四城記 (24 City) was the closing film of the HKIFF 2009: half-documentary, half-drama, it tells the story of the demolition of an arms manufacturing factory block in Chengdu – the 420 – and the construction of real estate, the 24 City, in its place. Intercutting interviews of real life workers who spent the better half of their lives working and living on the 420 block, and dramatised interviews with workers played by actors (e.g. Joan Chen), the film brings out the social impact of the rise and fall of industrialisation in communist China. Young comrades travel long distances to work in the big cities, becoming separated from their families; some of them get married and raise their own families on the factory block: it becomes a surrogate home for them, to which they develop a sense of belonging. Real and fictionalised interviews of the generation born in the late ’70s and early ’80s portray them as emancipated, to some extent – they are no longer bound to a life of hunching over machines in grim factories, and can afford to live comfortably and (relatively) freely. A memorable interview was that of a young girl, rollerskating on what appeared to be the roof of a building, so free of worries: even though both her parents work inside the 420, she has never been there. The conclusion of the film is optimistic: the future is bright (or at least brighter) for the kids. The film was shot beautifully – even the manufacturing process and the demolition looked poetic – and the choice of music was pleasantly nostalgic, with ありがとうあなた (Arigatou Anata, or “Thank you“) by 山口百惠 (!), 外面的世界 (“The World Outside") by 齊秦, etc. The real interviews did jar with the dramatised ones though: however skilled the actors were, they could not manage to be as authentic as the bona fide workers (Joan Chen was a bit too glamorous to be convincing as a factory worker, for example). It was a tale worth telling (and hearing) though, a slightly poignant coda for this year’s HKIFF (not counting the Bergman and Antonioni retrospectives to follow!).
Easter weekend came and went: I had a lot of fun though, clam picking at Shui Hau Wan (水口灣) on Lantau Island on Good Friday, followed by a Hong Kong-style barbeque at Silvermine Bay the next day, and on Easter Monday I played scrabble with S, E and K at the latter’s shiny new flat (accompanied by Chet Baker music and some Grieg too). It was some weekend!
Clam picking was very rewarding – there were so many of them on the beach, and we got to eat them afterwards (a store in the nearby Shiu Hau village did the cooking for us). The trick is to scratch the wet sand lightly with a spade, and when it strikes something hard, to use one’s hand to feel around for the hard shell of the clams (hence the Cantonese expression 摸蜆, literally “feeling for clams"). The clams were generally less than 2 inches beneath the surface, so we moved around a lot on the beach to hunt for the shellfish; they ranged from about half an inch across to one that was 2-inch wide. I even managed to pull up a crab (beautifully camouflaged against the sandy beach)!
Barbeque was lovely in the gorgeous sunshine on the Silvermine Bay beach: one revelation was barbequed Gouda cheese, which was like a cheese panini minus the bread!
And here is our glorious Scrabble board, pictured against a vibrantly coloured carpet K bought back from Mexico – I love it! Too bad we didn’t get time to play Monopoly, as we needed to grab a quick bite before watching 24 City at the HKIFF (more later!).