Always 2011

In a loveless world that spins around KPIs and errands, watching a romantic film can help rekindle that dimming hope that your lover is somewhere out there. If only our love stories could be so intricately scripted with a shower of gold dust from heaven.

When I was younger, I had dreams of marrying this wonderful specimen of a prince. I would spend pockets of time looking at my future wedding gown on pinterest, mostly off-shoulder ones with an A line train, duchess satin, with a veil and a tiara. Yep.

So year after year passed; no one seemed to have appeared.

So, I started using a dating app, in hope that one day, something magical would come out of it.

Honestly, it has been a lonely, cold journey of finding love.

I never knew that true love can be so elusive, rare, and precious.

In this season of a love drought, I chanced upon this Korean film, Always.

An intricately-spun love story between an ex-boxer and a blind telemarketer, couldn’t be further from a fairytale. Two poor folk, with issues threatening to tear them apart, eventually find a way back into love. Despite the complicated web of circumstances and fate.

So Ji Sub. Han Hyo Joo.

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I guess when you’re in love with someone who picks you, that’s the most beautiful kind of love in the world.

There was this scene when Hyo Joo, an ex-sculpture student, attempts to ‘see’ Ji Sub, by trailing her fingers across his gorgeous face, and absorbing the image in her head. That moved me to tears. Had not cried so hard at a film scene in a really long time.  And when you fall hard in love, words take their place and fade into the backdrop. You love him by opening your legs and letting him come in hard and strong, exposing all vulnerability because that’s the only choice your heart can make.

Watch this if you’re bored of high school idol romance dramas, or you need to hope again, that true love, albeit imperfect, exists.

And also, if you’re looking for love,use a dating app, cos real life ain’ a script out of a Korean Drama.

You are your own scriptwriter.

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Beauty and the beast

A fairy tale romance never goes out of fashion.

To be swept off your feet by an unexpected prince and live on romance forever. 

Tale as old as time
True as it can be
Barely even friends
Then somebody bends
Unexpectedly

Just a little change
Small, to say the least
Both a little scared
Neither one prepared
Beauty and the beast

Ever just the same
Ever a surprise
Ever as before
Ever just as sure
As the sun will rise

Tale as old as time
Tune as old as song
Bittersweet and strange
Finding you can change
Learning you were wrong

Certain as the sun
Certain as the sun
Rising in the east
Tale as old as time
Song as old as rhyme
Beauty and the beast.

Tale as old as time
Song as old as rhyme
Beauty and the beast.

Beauty and the beast.

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How would you feel if you saw someone walking in the dream you had for yourself, holding the hand of the girl you had always dreamed to spend the rest of your life with, and he walks away with her into the future? And the last memory of her would be that longing back glance and wistful smile before she made her way? I guess life could have a funny way of spurning your story in ways you would not have imagined, leading you to marry the man who’s there at the right time when things are supposed to happen (provided he’s decently attractive), than the man whom you loved with all your heart at the wrong time.

I started listening to the film’s soundtrack on Spotify before watching it (City of Stars is playing in my head as I write this), and jazz never fails to move me with its poignancy and richness; its classic date night music that has the power to transport you away from the oxymoron of mundaneness and mayhem of modern life, giving you a touch of 1960s America, when people had the time to date properly, when a guy would bring you out for dinner and watch big band jazz. Ryan Gosling is ever so dapper in his Canadian slur and sleepy smile, and Emma Stone with her bug-eyed gaze has an interesting seductive charm I can’t really put my finger to. They make an amazing partnership onscreen. Personally, I love theatre. I can imagine the pain involved in the dream of making to Hollywood. It’s akin to some arrival into the promised land of milk and honey, where the line between success and failure is that thin, between living from paycheque to the next, wondering when would your next break would be. Or walking down glitter-studded red carpets and having cameras flashing in your face every so often, that you’re looking for a way to beat them like a fugitive.

I am aware that film plots are fictional and scriptwriters have a wonderful knack for giving life to stories, but I cannot help but pine for that kind of organic, unmechanical kind of romance that unfolds. No, not the Korean drama kind that involves some rich spoilt brat and a silly blur girl with the whole world at their disposal, but the kind of love that is open to whatever that comes, and lets go when it’s time to. It’s so beautiful to knowing that something could happen out of nothing because it was given the free space to bloom; nothing forced or overtly planned. Maybe it’s just a figment of my imagination, that’s why I like this film so much; there’s a punny play on the title as well. Perhaps how it all happened, or could have happened if things worked out, are in the realm of la la land.

24th Israeli Film Festival – Firebirds

It makes me happy for some odd reason, to be in the company of the sons and daughters of Jacob, at the Israeli Film Festival held at the Projector. Lots of warm banter, wine, thick Israeli accents, and the unison of chortles when when an inside joke unfolds in the film.

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Firebirds

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This film derives its title from the second most commonly done tattoo in the world, after the most common one: notoriously ubiquitous number code inked on condemned Jews destined for the gas chambers. Bearers of that cursed mark recollect their miracle of survival with regular gatherings to celebrate their escape. Surprisingly, this club of survivors forged together by the common horror of the Holocaust, has outsiders seeking membership. A broke old bloke who messed up his life with creditors seeks to discard his old identity, taking on a bogus identity of a Jewish refugee. His elaborate plan of surviving his remaining days include scanning through obituaries of Holocaust survivors, and crashing their funeral services to offer support to their grieving widows, claiming that he had known the deceased back in the concentration camps. What he looks for: lonely hearts and a fat bank account.  Ugly and pathetic as this bogus Romek Stein is, he manages to upkeep his facade as a Holocaust survivor, making his sneaky way into the hearts of two old ladies (also Holocaust survivors), and eventually their pockets. He even got himself a fake Auschwitz number code tattoo to back up his tapestry of lies. Ironically, the tattoo artist is pro-Nazi, and accepts odd requests like Auschwitz code tattoos for a hefty price. Anyway, what an accomplishment for a broke pointless man to snag flings with a Vocalist and an ex-surgeon.

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Romek trying his seduction tatics on the surgeon

During a face off with his two lovers, he tries to take his own life by plunging a blade into his chest twice. The third lady who plays the Vocalist’s assistant, clearly disgusted by the old man’s flirtatious and conning antics, finishes the job by cutting into his aorta and the leading man from whole drama, for the time being.

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Face off

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Amnon with his ex wife

Detective Amnon, who was charged to solve the case against his wishes, added the cool-guy factor with his dry humor,  attitude, and his fuzziness displayed to his little girl. His laid back attitude toward life and his dogged insistence to solve the case draws attention to the effect of the Holocaust in a Jew’s life. For instance, tapping into his estranged wife’s contacts to search for legit Holocaust survivors, clocking late nights scouring through Holocaust survivors linked to the case. On his laidback side, he helps his daughter tape a video account of his mother’s Holocaust experience, to which he rolls his eyes at his mother’s tongue-in-cheek fictional version, with unicorns and rainbows in the story. I could almost feel him scoffing at the murder victim for devising such despicable means, capitalizing on macabre events of the Holocaust, to get money. In addition, that reluctance to accompany his mum on boring theatre shows, late payments for child support to his ex wife, and that standoffish attitude to his demanding boss, lends an edge to his character. He has an interesting wit to join the dots and connect seemingly disparate points into a complete puzzle, sadly only lacking the evidence to prosecute 3 shrewd old women who cleaned up their tracks so artfully, without a sliver of a trace left. What could have resulted in a turnaround in Amnon’s lackluster career was wasted, and the animosity still lingers when he crosses path with the old surgeon lady, months later, at a Holocaust reunion night he attends with his mum. The thorns in their eyes, with the feisty waltz music in the background, strikes an amusing discordance.

It’s also interesting to note that the human desire for attention and flirting does not decrease with age. Some of the more intimate scenes did leave me cringing. It has nothing to do with being ageist, but rather, the disgust at Romek’s rottenness and scheming. The sagging skin and and loose chunks of flesh clinging onto bones only amplifies that grossness.

In the mood for love

Cheongsams. Handbags. Ties. Wonton noodles. A Martial Arts Script. These are some of the articles Wong Kar Wai uses to paint a tale of infidelity. Two next-door neighbours find themselves entrenched in the loneliness an absent partner, and frequently crossing paths on their wonton noodle takeaway routines and solo trips to the cinema. So began their clandestine dates until the other neighbors sniffed something fishy (this is conservative HK in the 1960s). In another plot mirror/parallel, they find out both their absent partners had been cheating with each other, while talking about handbags and ties, uncovering more than what meets the eye as coincidence. I particularly like the camera panning in that scene. The zoomed-in frame swoops back and forth to capture sombre expressions, as the revelation of an affair unfolds.

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Cheating and swopping partners are old plot lines. But the cinematography here is stunning. What the director focuses on is reveals cleverness in storytelling. For instance, we hear the voices and feel the impact of the cheating spouses, but have not seen their faces in frame.

The numerous cross-cutting scenes without chronological order or narrative makes you pay attention to draw your own conclusions based on subtle hints. He even revealed the name of the sequel, 2046, the number plate on door of Chow (Tony Leung’s) hotel room door. Music was also artfully employed. Mournful cello music and Nat King Cole’s jazz number, ‘Quizas,Quizas,Quizas’ (perhaps, perhaps,perhaps), amps up the glamour of strolling down the dingy back-alleys of 1960s HK (not forgetting the star power of the leading man and lady, decked out in Cheongsam and a dapper suit). The calculated expressions of emotion between Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung are rather ambiguous and restrained, making the act of cheating seem like a chore.

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I thought the dialogue between the couple in focus explored some interesting things about being bound to someone by way of a marriage (contract). To be single, you’re only responsible for your own happiness and success, but in a marriage, the other half’s success or lack of it has a bearing on your personal standing.

The film ends with Tony Leung whispering his repressed feelings of lost love into a stone hollow in the derelict wall in Angkor Wat. After doing so, he stuffs up the crevice with grass and runs away into the distance, burying those secrets forever. It’s a melodramatic and a somewhat amusing sight to see a grown man trusting that a hole in a wall would never betray his secrets.

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The Revenant

The 88th Academy Awards ceremony is in two weeks time, and The Revenant roars ahead of the pack with 12 Oscar nominations.

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Leonardo DiCaprio’s moment has finally come, after a slew of best actor nominations and close misses for the grand prize of Best Actor. His performance was nothing short of stunning, and I have since gained a new found respect for his finesse and dedication as a thespian. Braving the sub-zero temperatures while filming in the secluded woods of Calgary, eating raw bison liver (Still throbbing with a pulse when he sank his teeth into it) – not forgetting he is vegan, braving a grizzly bear attack (CGI but nonetheless convincing), getting buried alive and being swept along in the icy rapids, and forgoing trips to the barber for 18 months to attain that disheveled countenance.

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Glass (left) and Fitzgerald (right)

He plays Hugo Glass, a fur hunter on a mission to hunt for pelts together with his contemporaries under command of Captain Andrew Henry. Along the way, Glass encounters a grizzly bear attack and is badly mauled and nearly dies. His party discovers him and decides to carry him on a makeshift stretcher while they tend to his wounds. Along the way, Fitzgerald sees Glass as a burden to their already arduous journey through the bitter cold and suggests killing him. However the rest protest as Glass is key in helping them find their way back to Fort Kiowa as he knows the way. More drama ensues when Fitzgerald kills Hawk, the son of Glass, when the former attempted to finish Glass off. Glass witnesses his son’s murder helplessly, and eventually gets abandoned by all his party, leaving him, still badly injured and immobile, to fend for himself. His hovering-at-the-verge-of death trip back to Fort Kiowa is an amazing testimony to the strength and the survival instinct of the human spirit. The unsettled score of vengeance for the death of his son drives him through the toughest times of inhumane conditions, but he eventually concedes that ‘vengeance belongs to the Creator’.  When Glass had the opportunity to plunge the blade into Fitzgerald during an arm-to-arm combat, he relented and let Fitzgerald off to the Native Indians for them to slaughter.

Amazing cinematography – The Revenant has a nomination in this Oscar category as well. Shot wholly with natural lighting, the crew and cast had to brave the perishing cold in completely secluded locations in Canada at odd timings to catch the correct light. Snow frosted on pine trees, mountains, and the actors’ beards alike. Many of the shots/takes had beautiful compositions – every frame was a work of art.  Breathtaking winter scenery of the Canadian Rockies, with a lone tiny figure (Glass) trudging away, set against the backdrop of a vast blanket of snow illuminated in twilight, underscores the majesty of nature and the enormity of the impossibility to find his way back.

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Lone figure on a cold day

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Glass out on a hunt to capture Fitzgerald who escaped from the outpost

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Glass and his campfire

In particular, the depravity of human nature stood out in the plot, as depicted by the instinct to shed people who no longer served their purpose in the group (like how Fitzgerald wanted Glass dead as he was dragging the team down with his injuries). The clashes between the Native Americans and Glass’ camp at the first 10 minutes of the film reminded me of the wars and bloodshed that had speckled the history of civilization. While laws have been set in place for order, human-to-human clashes have evolved from physical means to sticky corporate jungle politics.

The Revenant instills steel into the human will to thrive, not just survive, in the fight of life. This ‘silver-spoon’ generation is relatively shielded from the storms their ancestors had endured, like abject famine and war. A film like this serves to put that message across. A life journey can be likened to maze, as along the way there would be battles to be fought and giants to be felled. The conscience is appeased when one can confidently say that he had fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith till the end. Just like how our dear Leo did – on- and off-screen. The epic portrayal of Glass’ story and the eventual Oscar victory (I hope my predictions are right).

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How can he not win after going through all this?