Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Terrorizers (Yang, 1986): Mini-Film Review

Edward Yang's 楊德昌 masterpiece The Terrorizers (1986) 恐怖分子 is one of the few films that I find impossible to praise too highly. I recently re-watched it for the umpteenth time and remain astounded by its opening act which, as a definitive postmodern work, anticipates the multimedia, multi-soundscape, multi-layered editing techniques often attributed to more well-known world cinema films of the 1990s and early 2000s, such as the intro. to Stone's 1991 film JFK--although Yang's technique is methodical and less dramatized, it is more than equal in terms of technique and affect.

Moreover, Yang's narrative style, which interconnects the lives of multiple urban residents of mid-1980s Taipei, perfects this narrative form well before films such as Amores Perros (Iñárritu, 2000), 21 Grams (Iñárritu, 2003), Crash (Haggis, 2004), and Babel (Iñárritu, 2006).

In addition to it's landmark qualities within film history in general, it is equally significant as an unparalleled snapshot of Taiwan in the mid-1980s as the nation transitioned into a new era in terms of its postcolonial condition. I elaborate further on this film, its critical reception, and its representation of this important juncture in Taiwan history in the conclusion of my book on Taiwan film, Transnational Representations (HKUP, 2014).

#stilllife shots: various long takes

Long takes in film, in which the camera does not move, are my favorite. I think of them as moving still life images--it's as if a painting started to move. Some of my favorite directors of the long take include Ozu, HHH, and Fassbinder.

Here are a few very brief videos I shot on my S7 for no other reason than the spirit of the still life and the pleasure of the image.

Water wheel, National Folk Museum of Korea, Seoul 2017

Cheonggyecheon Stream, Seoul 2017

Starfish at low tide, Bandon OR, 2017

Low tide, Bandon OR, 2017

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Italian for Beginners (Scherfig, 2000): Mini-Film Review

Italian for Beginners (2000), directed by Lone Scherfig, is a Dogme 95 film produced in Denmark. Viewers unfamiliar with the stripped down aesthetic inherent to the movement, which lasted from 1995 to 2005 (notable Dogme 95 films are listed here), will be surprised by, among other possibilities, how stark the film appears in contrast to Hollywood production values, how ubiquitous this aesthetic approach has become in the mainstream since Dogme 95 (considering shows like The Office), and, regarding the narrative itself, how surprisingly easy it is to find oneself absorbed in the lives of multiple Danish characters from various backgrounds who are united by attending a beginners Italian course in this brief (90 minute) film.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Baby Driver is Guardians of the Galaxy

Really enjoyed Baby Driver (Wright, 2017). It begins with a car chase that puts the opening car chase in Drive (Refn, 2011) to shame, then puts Drive in its entirety in the rear view mirror after that.

But I keep coming back to the connections between Baby Driver and Guardians of the Galaxy though (both vols, Gunn, 2014 & 2017). Ok, they're not exactly the same, but:


A young protagonist who lost his mother at a young age...
absorbs himself in music (fortunately we can hear what's playing through those earphones)...
works on the wrong side of the law...
but has a noble heart and purpose...
as he pursues the love of this life.

Not complaining, just saying!

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Beguiled (Coppola, 2017): Mini-Film Review

The film that captures the ethos of the United States right now more than any film in 2017 is, to me, The Beguiled. Sophia Coppola's film presents an injured AWOL Union soldier during the Civil War who finds himself in an all-women's seminary in the south. When grateful, he is full of praise towards the women and girls there; when distressed, he is as ugly as he was magnanimous.

Sophia Coppola is a master of making movies that have absolutely nothing at their core, which makes them nearly impossible to duplicate or replicate. Although Lost in Translation is an exception, because a certain atmosphere imbues the entire film, I love Coppola's movies for this reason. The Beguiled begins in this "nothing at the center" fashion, then stuff goes awry in a though-provoking way--at first, it reminded me of The Hateful Eight but that comparison doesn't really work. Here, violence is always lurking in the background.

YouTube Lecture: CSUSB Modern China Lecture Series

My lecture by invitation, “Sympathetic Views of Japan in Café Lumière & Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles,” is below. It was delivered on April 20th, 2017 at California State University, San Bernardino.

You can access the conclusion of the paper first by clicking the link here.

Via the YouTube channel: CSUSB Modern China Lecture Series

A couple stills from the lecture:



A Brighter Summer Day (Yang, 1991): Mini-Film Review


Edward Yang's epic work A Brighter Summer Day records more insightfully than any film in its class, a singular moment in Taiwan in the early 1960s. The nearly four hour film, which took three years to make, based on a script with more than 100 characters who deliver their own distinct lines of dialogue, documents a teenage boy's psychological descent in an era of transition generationally, politically, and culturally.

It is without a doubt a masterwork. So when I find myself hesitating to recommend the movie to those who are not familiar with the turmoil in Taiwan during the time period depicted, or reluctant to recommend A Brighter Summer Day because it is primarily dialogue driven, I return to Abbas Kiarostami (1940–2016), who describes how films like this are made--namely, perfectly. (See Kiarostami clip, below).

#skatethru: Skateboarding Through Various Spots, Pt. 1

In some ways, I need both surfing/skateboarding and the academic life to keep me sane and balanced.

Here's a series of leisurely videos of riding through a handful of spots: Beijing, Seoul, places in California. Nothing fancy, just riding around. Thanks for viewing!

Qianmen Street, Beijing (2017)

SIAS Zhengzhou, China (2017)

Seocho neighborhood, Seoul (2017)

Hangang-daero Road, Seoul (2017)

San Clemente State Beach Campground, CA (2017)

Ocean Beach, CA (2016)

Monday, April 17, 2017

Café Lumière: Presentation at Cal. State University, San Bernardino

(update: 7/20/2017: the lecture can be viewed via YouTube at this here.)

I am looking forward to presenting the following paper by invitation at California State University, San Bernardino on Thursday, April 20 2017 at 2pm:

"Sympathetic Views of Japan in Hou Hsiao-hsien's Café Lumière and Zhang Yimou's Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles"

In this presentation I intend to show how a close comparison of Café Lumière (Kafei shiguang, 2003) with Zhang Yimou’s Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (Qian li zou dan qi, 2005) helps uncover “the ambivalent nature of Taiwanese postcoloniality” as Liao Ping-Hui has written, and additionally, how this “ambivalent nature” may shed light on current cross-strait relations.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

SCMS Conference Notes, Friday March 24th, 2017

On Friday the innovative and lively "Transforming Citizens from the Margins to the Digital Mainstream" panel described new media representations of Asian American identity, interestingly noting the ways current YouTubers use, but do not necessarily directly cite, the visual narratives their work builds on (Dr. Lori Lopez & Dr. Peter Feng).


The third presentation in the panel by Dr. Brian Hu, “Asian American Film Festivals, Post-raciality, and the Narrative Feature” worked in synchronicity with Dr. Po-Chen Tsai's presentation yesterday, “A Cinema of Hopelessness: Rethinking Queerness and Globalization through Three Recent Taiwan Films.” In the former, Brian Hu discussed recent Asian American films that do not address issues of race, while Po-Chen Tsai's work described three recent films with queer characters that do not necessarily advocate for gay identity.

This reminds me of another connection among the panels this year; namely, the way intersections of ideas (cultural, representational, political) are presented without resorting to considering them exclusively within a binary relationship of power/marginalization--the best presentations seem to do so while also avoiding the general abstraction of the term "intersectionality."

I also attended the "Femininity, Disability, and Trauma" panel which covered responses to representations of violence against women on the silver screen in Israel (Dr. Raz Yosef), definitions of trauma and it's cinematic iterations (Dr. Karin Badt), the authenticity of filmic characters across the autism spectrum, and the engagement that occurs between witness/investigator and event in terms of the gaze and the stare (Dr. Kathleen McHugh).

Friday, March 24, 2017

SCMS Conference 2017, Thursday March 23rd

Reflections on three panels from Thursday, March 23: the "Race/Ethnicity/Species: Chinese Cinema’s Others" panel included perspectives on the politics of fifteen CCP ethnographic minority (CCP term) documentaries produced for internal government exhibition between 1957 and 1965 (Dr. Ying Qian), recent ecocinema and Chinese co-productions, namely Wolf Totem and Born in China (Dr. Yiman Wang), and mediations between the lived experiences of majority/visible and minority/invisible status in recent Chinese documentaries (Dr. Jenny Chio).

The "Trans-locality, Temporality, and Queer Asian Cinema in the Age of Globalization" panel featured an outstanding line-up of presentations, but what comes to mind in retrospect are the reflections filmmaker and scholar Po-Chen Tsai offered in relation to what it means to be queer in this time and space in Taiwan in terms of nationalism, downward mobility, and current political and economic conditions. One of her case study films is the dark, complex Thanatos, Drunk (Chang, 2015).

Weijia Du's work included this slide regarding
dubbing foreign films into Chinese on the Mainland during the Cold War

This year at SCMS there were fewer Cold War panels than in years past, but the lack of quantity was made up by the superb quality of "Cinema of Displacement: Negotiating Politics, Gender, Identity, and Family in Chinese-language Cinema" which covered Cold War films from China (Weijia Du, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Hong Kong (I In Chiang, Rhodes College), and Taiwan (Mei-Hsuan Chiang, Taipei National University of the Arts) in a captivating convergence of perspectives.

The Bean, Chicago

Thursday, March 23, 2017

SCMS Conference 2017, Wednesday March 22nd

On Wednesday morning I left rainy (warm) San Diego for sunny (cold) Chicago for the Society for Cinema and Media Studies 2017 conference.


A major takeaway from the "Civics Lesson: Screen Media’s Potential for Empathy, Engagement, and Humanitarianism" presentations is the idea that fan reception is not inherently progressive (leading towards engagement with the Other, inclusive practices, and political transformation). I've thought of this idea in relation to films I've studied from the 1920s and 1930s, so it was fascinating to consider this idea in relation to fan studies today in online and other communities.

Ling Yang's Presentation at SCMS, 2017

The "Chinese Queer Fan Cultures in the Twenty-first Century: Queering Heterosexuality, Geopolitics, and Transcultural Imaginations" panel, with respondent Lori Hitchcock Morimoto, featured work by Ling Yang from Xiamen University from whom I learned about queer fan communities responses to, and re-imaginations of, mainstream works such as the Hetalia manga series. I left before the panel's final presentation in order to attend Brian Bernards' excellent lecture on “Cinematic Soft Power: Memorializing Taiwan’s Colonial History in Umin Boya’s KANO.”

As a visitor here, I can't help but be impressed by this incredible city.

Chicago, 2017

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Essay Abstract: Love in the Time of Industrialization

Love in the Time of Industrialization:
Representations of Nature in Li Hanxiang’s The Winter (1969)

My essay “Love in the Time of Industrialization: Representations of Nature in Li Hanxiang’s The Winter (1969)” uses the lens of ecocinema (生態論述) in order to examine Li Hanxiang’s (李翰祥) artistic film The Winter 《冬暖》. Li’s engagement with the non-human environment is exceedingly complex and nuanced, revealing a holistic ecological consciousness in his depiction of urban life on the fringes of Taipei’s urban sprawl. The aesthetic moves that Li uses both reveals his experience as a painter and imbues the film with a Buddhist ethos that offers an appealing symbiosis between human interactions and the non-human world--and cinema’s relationship with the world--in late 1960s Taiwan. Indeed, representations of nature provide a seemingly unquestionable source of stability to the film. By situating the film within its historical context, this article demonstrates how broad scale industrial changes in Taiwan would affect the way people interacted with the rapidly changing natural environment and with one another.

〈愛在工業發展的年代:李翰祥的《冬暖》 (1969) 及其自然環境的再現〉運用生態論述的分析技巧探討李翰祥藝術性極高的《冬暖》一片。李翰祥在此片中對於與人類密切相關的生態環境的描寫有著超乎尋常的複雜度與細膩,以一個高度關懷的生態整全觀看待正快速城市化的台北市區外圍的生活。這樣的美學觀其來有自,李翰祥曾經是一個畫家,他的經驗為這部片引入一股特殊的氛圍,直指佛教思想的影響。在六零年代晚期,這部片能着眼於今日眾所關懷的人與自然界互相依存的關係——但也意味着指涉這部片與閲聽者的世界間的關係——實屬不凡。果不其然,李片所述的“自然”無可懷疑地是整部片的敘事安定感的泉源。這篇文章考量歷史的語境,論及台灣因工業化所產生的社會變遷如何廣泛地影響到人與正在轉變中的自然界的關係,以及人與人之間的關係。

Available in: “Love in the Time of Industrialization: Representations of Nature in Li Hanxiang’s The Winter (1969).” Journal of Taiwan Literary Studies 17 (2013): 81-102.

Image from a film review of Li Hanxiang’s The Winter soon after its release in the late 1960s.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

X-Men: Apocalypse (Singer, 2016): Mini-Film Review

In the spring and summer of 2016, Marvel released two tent-pole films: Captain America: Civil War (Russo brothers, 2016) and X-Men: Apocalypse. Why was Civil War released first? It makes sense for a couple reasons: first, the theme of civilian casualties in Civil War goes over better when considered in light of the previous Avengers film, Age of Ultron. Tony and Steve have to deal with the repercussions of the battle at Sokovia, rather than the near-destruction of the entire planet in Apocalypse (I understand why we'll "never see the X-Men and the Avengers sharing a screen" but releasing Apocalypse before Civil War could still inflect audience response).

Second, X-Men Apocalypse is the better movie of the two--it would have upstaged Captain America. From the heroism of Mystique, the anguish of Magneto, the spirituality of Nightcrawler, to the point of view of Charles Xavier: "A gift can also be a curse...give them powers beyond imagination, and they may think they're meant to rule the world." And of course, multiple campy sequences, ridiculous and entertaining.

X-Men Apocalypse

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Book Chapter/Essay Abstract: Gender Negotiation in Song Cunshou's Story of Mother

Gender Negotiation in Song Cunshou's Story of Mother
and Taiwan Cinema of the Early 1970s


This essay analyzes the representation of gender identity and negotiation in Song Cunshou’s Story of Mother (1972) in order to make two primary observations. First, this early 1970s wenyi, or “literary art,” film released with state approval in Taiwan represents passive males who attempt to earn their right to be worthy patriarchs; women are portrayed as active participants whose actions are acceptable so long as they follow the rule of their fathers. Second, I propose that this model of representing gender changes very little through the middle of the decade, despite numerous social transformations on Taiwan’s political stage. Taken as a whole, the work of an important and engaging director, Song Cunshou, emerges as a primary reference point for a study of cinema in a complex, intriguing, transitional period in Taiwan’s history of the silver screen.

這篇論文以女權主義的角度與分析技巧,探討有關我對宋存壽電影《母親三十歲》(1972)的兩個重要觀察:第一, 在電影內部敘事方面,這一部台灣七零年代早期、政府認可的文藝片,一方面是關於一個缺乏主張的男性角色如何被動地轉變成為父權體制認可的大人,而另一方面則反差地置入一個相對活躍主動的女性角色,她則必需仰賴父權制的同意,以展現她個人。第二, 外部的,就電影歷史語境上來看,儘管七零年代的生活與政治環境,以當時代台灣的政治社會發展而言,已經有很大的變遷, 但性别意識,就台灣電影銀幕上所呈現的,其相對的變化卻很小。綜而言之,宋存壽在此片所顯現對於當時代社會發展的特有觀點,可作為臺灣在一個複雜不平靜的過渡期,其電影發展研究的重要參考點。

Available in: Transnational Representations: The State of Taiwan Film in the 1960s and 1970s (HKUP, 2014).


Also available in: “Gender Negotiation in Song Cunshou’s Story of Mother and Taiwan Cinema of the Early 1970s.” In A Companion to Chinese Cinema, ed. Yingjin Zhang (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 118-132.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Avengers Ultron Revolution Civil War: A Muslim Registry Allegory?

Reminiscent of the Marvel's New Avengers Civil War comic book series, in which President George W. Bush's statement in November 2001 that "You are either with us or against us" in terms of the global war on terror was allegorically played out by fictional characters within the Marvel Universe...

...tonight (January 28, 2017), the Marvel Avengers: Ultron Revolution cartoon series concluded with a 4-part special entitled "Civil War" which arguably portrays the dangers surrounding President Trump's plans for a Muslim Registry.

In the cartoon event, a "race of altered human beings" called the Inhumans are legally forced to sign an Inhuman Registration Act which compromises their rights. Marvel's superheroes initially are torn into opposing factions as they determine whether or not to follow the demands of Truman Marsh, at key moments an apparent stand-in for Trump, who represents the state.


Spoiler Alert: in the end, Ultron, the villain ultimately responsible for the strategy, is sent to another dimension in order to stop the ploy. It's a fantasy which seems to be on the minds of many people these days.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Joshua Tree vs. Achtung Baby

Arguably the two best albums by U2 are The Joshua Tree (1987) and Achtung Baby (1992). Not only do these albums top lists by fans who love the band, but both top multiple lists as two of the best albums of all time. And of course there's a U2 Joshua Tree tour right around the corner, so these albums remain in the public eye. So...

which album is better?


This definitive, head to head, song by song comparison will put the debate to rest.

To make this entirely objective assessment, I base my conclusion on the following credentials and anecdotes:

  • My Ph.D. is in Chinese Film Studies which makes me an ideal candidate for this arduous task.
  • I thought of this while enjoying a paid beverage on an airplane flight, which subsequently put me into a deep sleep in which I saw a vision of The Edge who told me that my conclusion is truthful. The smile that contorted my face soon after was misunderstood by flight attendants who wanted me to stay seated during the descent into Los Angeles.
  • While listening to each album 1 zillion times I have on occasion interrupted my closest friends and family members--while they try to tell me important bits of wisdom, such as why I shouldn't do a Ph.D. in Chinese Film Studies--to be real quiet during the howl in "With or Without You" or the guitar solo in "Even Better Than The Real Thing." Then I look at them as if to say: "did you feel that?" "Yes," they nod. (At least that is what I imagine they do, because my eyes are usually blurred with tears like Rey's).

Like all forms of assessment these days, I use a rubric. The difference between my rubric and the rubrics typically forced upon educators by for-profit companies is that I designed my rubric without a profit motive. Taking money out of the equation allows me to retain my personal subjectivity and intellectual objectivity. However, feel free to click on any of the adds on this page--earnings on this blog over the last year have only totaled $2.81.

Here it is. Each song is awarded points from 1-20 in 5 categories so that, in total, each song is worth 100 points. 100s aren't passed out like candy. In fact, I only rate 2 songs out of U2's entire catalog as 100s.

20 points     Lyrics (substance, quality)
20 points     Bono/ Vocals (delivery, sound, passion)
20 points     Edge/ Guitar (complexity, tone, expression)
20 points     Adam & Larry/ Bass + Drums (energy, foundation)
20 points     Intangibles (essence or Tao--that which can't be named)


"Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me"
The Beginning: Tracks 1-4
Where The Streets Have No Name Zoo Station
20 Lyrics
20 Bono/ Vocals
20 Edge/ Guitar
20 Bass + Drums
19 Intangibles
99
18 Lyrics
18 Bono/ Vocals
18 Edge/ Guitar
17 Bass + Drums
10 Intangibles
81
OK, we're dealing with one of the best songs by U2, one of the best concert openers of all time: "Streets." And we're comparing that with a song that efficiently initiates an important change in direction in U2's career and sound. But like "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," "Zoo Station" does its job, but it's no "A Day in the Life."
Winner: The Joshua Tree

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For Even Better Than The Real Thing
19 Lyrics
20 Bono/ Vocals
20 Edge/ Guitar
20 Bass + Drums
19 Intangibles
98
20 Lyrics
20 Bono/ Vocals
20 Edge/ Guitar
20 Bass + Drums
20 Intangibles
100
This will probably be the most controversial decision in this entire comparison, but it's alright, it's alright, it's alright--"EBTTRT" moves in mysterious ways. One song is about something that has not yet been found (let's call it a "1" in an infinite series of combinations of "1's"), while the other song is about something even better than the best thing that can be found (let's call it the "Real," "0", the ex nihilo "out of nothing" from which creation emerges within Catholic theology). If you're upset by this rationale, just "give me one more chance and you'll be satisfied."
Winner: Achtung Baby


With Or Without You One
20 Lyrics
20 Bono/ Vocals
20 Edge/ Guitar
20 Bass + Drums
20 Intangibles
100
20 Lyrics
20 Bono/ Vocals
20 Edge/ Guitar
20 Bass + Drums
19 Intangibles
99
It is fascinating to listen to U2 shows soon after both "With or Without You" was released in 1987, and "One" in 1992. In both cases, these songs were featured before the encore (in the first leg of the Joshua Tree tour), and "One" was early as song six on the Zoo TV: Live from Sydney DVD. Yet over time, these transcendent songs became encores, where they belong. I'd say there is only the slimmest of margins that separate the two--according to this "objective" model, and the criteria listed above, "With or Without You" is a perfect song. It can't be ruined by over-playing it. "One" is nearly a perfect song. We're talking a one point difference.
Winner: The Joshua Tree


Bullet The Blue Sky Until The End Of The World
20 Lyrics
20 Bono/ Vocals
20 Edge/ Guitar
20 Bass + Drums
18 Intangibles
98
20 Lyrics
20 Bono/ Vocals
19 Edge/ Guitar
20 Bass + Drums
18 Intangibles
97
It would seem like these scores are low, but think about the songs they follow. After the unparalleled third tracks on both albums, these songs are clearly a dip in quality. Which is crazy: Bono's rant in "Bullet" and his characterization of himself as Judas in "UTEOTW," like Rembrant's self-portraits depicting himself nailing Christ to the cross, would seem seem like 100s on other albums, both by U2 and other artists. But these songs stand alongside perfection which reveals their shortcomings.
Winner: The Joshua Tree

At this stage, here's how the albums stack up:
The Joshua Tree (3-1)
Achtung Baby (1-3)

Like the beginning of films with great opening acts--for example, the first 15 minutes of Wong Karwai's In the Mood for Love (2000)--we know we're in the presence of greatness, but there's still a long ways to go.

One of the most beautiful films of all time: In the Mood for Love

"Silver and Gold"
The Middle: Tracks 5-8
Running To Stand Still Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses
19 Lyrics
18 Bono/ Vocals
17 Edge/ Guitar
18 Bass + Drums
18 Intangibles
90
17 Lyrics
16 Bono/ Vocals
15 Edge/ Guitar
15 Bass + Drums
15 Intangibles
78
We've arrived at the lowest point total for both albums; namely, the 78 earned by "WGRYWH," a song that is ultimately redeemed by an awesome bridge, but not enough to make it into "superior score" territory. Meanwhile, "Running"'s 90 initiates a free fall on The Joshua Tree that requires exactly what was expected of Jek Porkins in Episode IV.
Winner: The Joshua Tree


Red Hill Mining Town So Cruel
17 Lyrics
18 Bono/ Vocals
16 Edge/ Guitar
16 Bass + Drums
18 Intangibles
85
18 Lyrics
19 Bono/ Vocals
16 Edge/ Guitar
17 Bass + Drums
18 Intangibles
88
The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby are remarkably similar in structure and presentation. This seems more evident today than when Achtung was released and seemed so different. Both begin with classic album openers, move to their most memorable tracks by track three, sustain the energy from the opening tracks through track four, then come down on track five. Here again we find another similarity at track six: narratives, about labor and love respectively. The way the chorus punctuates the poetry of love lost in "So Cruel" pushes it into the lead.
Winner: Achtung Baby


In God's Country The Fly
18 Lyrics
17 Bono/ Vocals
18 Edge/ Guitar
17 Bass + Drums
19 Intangibles
89
18 Lyrics
18 Bono/ Vocals
20 Edge/ Guitar
18 Bass + Drums
18 Intangibles
92
Comparing the rifts of each songs is not always a sure-fire way to assess song quality, but in this case it's quite effective. The guitar strumming at the beginning of "In God's Country" matches U2's "Pride" so it retains a niche in the U2 pantheon, but "The Fly" bites as if from a different galaxy. Radical variations of "The Fly" like the one on the "Veritigo" tour ensure its timeless status. As far as this comparison goes, it's the first score on either album to achieve a 90+ since "Running" on The Joshua Tree.
Winner: Achtung Baby


"The Fly" circa 2005, posted on YouTube
Trip Through Your Wires Mysterious Ways
15 Lyrics
18 Bono/ Vocals
18 Edge/ Guitar
19 Bass + Drums
15 Intangibles
85
18 Lyrics
18 Bono/ Vocals
18 Edge/ Guitar
18 Bass + Drums
17 Intangibles
89
In a way, both albums come unhinged on track 8. Bono starts playing a harmonica in "TTYW" and sounds the way he looks in the video for "Mysterious." Coming unhinged isn't a criticism. Some of my favorite songs like Radiohead's "The National Anthem" are (insert synonym for "unhinged" here: demented, unglued). It's just what happens on these albums.
Winner: Achtung Baby

Pretty mysterious, right?

After eight tracks, the albums are neck and neck:
The Joshua Tree (4-4)
Achtung Baby (4-4)

It's clear at this point that we're dealing with a mammoth set of narrative twist and turns, like Zhang Yimou's early films before he gave his heart to the CCP and directed the 2008 Olympics opening ceremony. His must-see 1994 film To Live remains a definitive account of inter-generational experience in 20th century China.

Zhang Yimou's use of sound in To Live is world class


"Is That All?"
The End: Tracks 9-12

OK, so there is a discrepancy here because The Joshua Tree has 11 tracks and Achtung Baby has 12. To manage this difference I've decided to place the last track of The Joshua Tree, "Mothers of the Disappeared" in a straight up head-to-head against the mean (average) score of Achtung's final two songs, "Acrobat" and "Love is Blindness." But first, track nine:
One Tree Hill Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the World 
19 Lyrics
19 Bono/ Vocals
18 Edge/ Guitar
17 Bass + Drums
19 Intangibles
92
17 Lyrics
19 Bono/ Vocals
17 Edge/ Guitar
17 Bass + Drums
18 Intangibles
88
The Joshua Tree returns to its winning ways, after three straight defeats to the mighty Achtung Baby, with the moving "One Tree Hill," a song written in memory of a friend. In contrast, the perfectly delivered monologue in "TTTYAATW" which on its own terms might fit into a "best of genre" category for its particular presentation style, just doesn't have enough weight to compete with "One Tree Hill" once both songs are placed in the same ring.
Winner: The Joshua Tree

Exit Ultraviolet (Light My Way)
18 Lyrics
18 Bono/ Vocals
19 Edge/ Guitar
19 Bass + Drums
19 Intangibles
93
19 Lyrics
19 Bono/ Vocals
19 Edge/ Guitar
19 Bass + Drums
18 Intangibles
94
Both albums ramp back into high gear as they race towards their respective grande finales. I've always wondered if "Exit' is the sound of a young writer attempting to sound mature beyond their years, which occurs when struggling writers try to achieve an aesthetic beyond their grasp, or if it is the sound of a writer fully in control of their element. In any case, it's the song I look forward to hearing the most in the upcoming The Joshua Tree tour 2017. But "Ultraviolet"'s combination of sound and lyrics ("there is a silence that comes to a house where no one can sleep") takes the cake. Look at what we have here: the albums are tied 5-5 heading into the final round.
Winner: Achtung Baby


A variation on a theme, "Ultraviolet" performed in 2010, posted on YouTube
Mothers of the Disappeared Acrobat + Love is Blindness
19 Lyrics
19 Bono/ Vocals
19 Edge/ Guitar
20 Bass + Drums
19 Intangibles
96
19 Lyrics                 19
19 Bono/ Vocals     20
19 Edge/ Guitar      20
19 Bass + Drums    19
19 Intangibles         19
95 + 97 / 2 = 96
"Mothers of the Disappeared" begins with an ethereal drum machine soundscape that takes one to the place where the song will live, and probably outlive, all of the other songs on both albums. Stunningly, the appeal for justice which stretches horizontally over a vast geographical space in "Mothers" is somehow matched by the pathos which descends deep into the bottomless internal, psychological space represented in "Acrobat" and "Love is Blindness." The call to action in "Mothers" achieves an intangible quality equaled by a description of shared individual experience at the conclusion of Achtung.
Winner: tie

In the final assessment, The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby tie in terms of a song by song comparison.

The Joshua Tree (5-5-1)
Achtung Baby (5-5-1)

However, The Joshua Tree wins in terms of total points.

The Joshua Tree: 1025 pts.
Achtung Baby: 1002 pts.

Although there is a series of songs in the middle of Achtung Baby which is stronger, ultimately "Zoo Station" and "WGRYWH" work against its overall score.

The albums are either similar or different in quality depending on the vantage point. Maybe the only way to assess an album as "better" than another is to choose one particular vantage point and then stick to it alone. Yet once multiple frames of reference are used, a clear-cut resolution is tough to come by.

It reminds me of one of the best films by Taiwan director Hou Hsiao-hsien, the 2003 work Three Times. It covers nearly 100 years of history in three separate vignettes performed by the same two actors. The world changes all around them while the perspective stays the same, leading to an endless series of interpretive possibilities.

Hou Hsaio-hsien's Three Times

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Lost in Translation (Coppola, 2003): Mini-Film Review

Sofia Coppola's 2003 film Lost in Translation is a portrait of Tokyo from the perspective of two foreigners who are at once confused and self-aware. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) contemplates life as an adrift intellectual post-college graduation, while actor Bob Harris (Bill Murray) reflects on marriage, children, and celebrity life back home in L.A. Writer-director Coppola's depiction of these intersections is complemented by a soundtrack that moves between silence and captivating pop. The images present objects in a way that render them both mundane and intelligible, but the meaning of the images is always elusive--just like the film's most memorable lines of dialogue, we hear sounds but we don't know what exactly is being said.

Lost in Translation trailer, posted on YouTube

Book Chapter/Essay Abstract: Projecting a State that does not Exist

Projecting a State that does not Exist:
Bai Jingrui's Jia zai Taibei / Home Sweet Home

In this essay I argue that Bai Jingrui’s 1970 film Home Sweet Home’s central concern is the politics, both aesthetic and ideological, of depicting migration within a narrative film. More specifically, this film presents the official state position that the Chinese Nationalist Party held regarding students from Taiwan who studied abroad in the late 1960s and early 1970s, many of whom studied abroad and yet did not return. This claim is based on the film’s release by a state studio, CMPC, under state supervision and censorship, in order to further the state’s ideological project through visual media. A close reading of the film illuminate the ways that Bai Jingrui’s aesthetic choices work both in conjunction and disjunction with the intentions of the Taiwan government in 1970.

這篇文章談到白景瑞《家在臺北》(1970)中的特有電影美學與意識形態,以及其背後的政治性, 也就是當時的台灣政府怎麼藉由影視審查制度,將當時的敘事電影收編於其思想控管之下。這齣電影從當時代國民黨政府的立場論及六零年代晚期、七零年代早期關於留學生的一些問題:那時代從台灣到外國去讀書的留學生,大部分離開台灣以後就沒有回來。 這個六、七零年代的事實透過中央電影公司的再生產、運用進步的影像技術,意圖呈現一個屬於國民黨認可的意識形態。但仔細的電影閱讀顯現:白景瑞透過其高明的藝術操作,他的電影時而符合、時而竟能脫出台灣1970年代統治者之意識掌控。

Available in: Transnational Representations: The State of Taiwan Film in the 1960s and 1970s (HKUP, 2014).


Also available in: “Projecting a State That Does Not Exist: Bai Jingrui’s Jia zai Taibei/ Home Sweet Home” In Journal of Chinese Cinemas 4 (2010): 15-26.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Book Chapter/Essay Abstract: Two Stage Brothers

Two Stage Brothers: 
Tracing a Common Heritage in Early Films by Xie Jin and Li Xing 

This essay proposes that the most important link between Mainland Chinese director Xie Jin and Taiwan director Li Xing’s films during the Cold War was the influence of Shanghai’s film tradition of realist aesthetics in the 1930s and 1940s. This Shanghai tradition was the root of a common cinematic language that flourished on both sides of the Strait after 1949, even though there were unique parameters inherent to each film culture after the Communist victory in the civil war. This seemingly counterintuitive conclusion shows that conceptions of film as a universal language, or conversely as the expression of a specific national film tradition, do not entirely account for the similarities of these two Mandarin-language filmmakers.

這篇文章主要談到冷戰時期共產黨轄下的中國導演謝晉和避退台灣的國民黨統治下的導演李行,他們彼此之間所慣用的相似電影形式與同樣受到上海現實主義(1930s-1940s)之影響的相關性。我們可以看到,在1949以後的台灣和中國大陸,即使觀念思想上已經逐漸產生差別, 衍生不同的電影文化,上海現實主義仍然是一個共同的根本基礎, 具體賦予這兩位台灣和中國大陸的導演相似的電影語言。這樣的美學性質的探討顯示我們一向認為的電影語言具有世界普同的性質,或者電影語言必然是國家性的這樣的說法,不必然能夠全面說明這兩位中文電影導演相似的電影模式。

Available in: Transnational Representations: The State of Taiwan Film in the 1960s and 1970s (HKUP, 2014).


Also available in: “Two Stage Brothers: Tracing a Common Heritage in Early Films by Xie Jin and Li Xing.” In Modern Chinese Literature and Culture 21 (2009): 174-212.