Saturday, October 22, 2016

75 Days: Life, Liberty and Happiness is disturbingly overly dramatic in its portrayal of the Umbrella Movement (film review)

The peaceful norm in "Occupied" sections of Hong Kong 
during the Umbrella Movement

75 Days: Life, Liberty and Happiness (Extended Edition) (Hong Kong, 2016)
- Film 75, directors, cinematographers and editors

It's taken a while but a spate of documentaries on the Umbrella Movement which took place in the fall of 2014 here in Hong Kong have finally started to see the light of day.  Following such as the appearance of Umbrella Movement/Revolution music videos on Youtube and Umbrella Movement short films (a selection of which were screened at the Hong Kong Independent Film Festival last year) have been the likes of Evans Chan's thoughtful Raise the Umbrellas (which screened in "work of progress" form at the Asia Society last December along with his insightful 1992 political drama, To Liv(e)), and a number of entries in this year's recently concluded Chinese Documentary Festival.   
Faced with a wealth of choices, I opted to check out a 130 minute documentary that I was hoping would have the broadest view of things on account of it having been made by a group of filmmakers rather than have just one or two directors as well as possess a less specialist focus -- unlike, say, Tim Cheung King Si's More than Conquerors, which looked at a group of Christians who took part in the Umbrella Movement, or Kanas Liu's 2 Van Drivers, about van drivers who volunteered to distribute and transport donated supplies during the Umbrella Movement, and even acted as first-aiders and drove the injured to hospitals when needed.

Especially in view of another film screened at the festival -- Chan Tze Koon's Yellowing -- having earned a Golden Horse nomination for best documentary and favorable reviews from the likes of David Bordwell, I think I made the wrong choice in going for 75 Days: Life, Liberty and Happiness (Extended Edition).  And in retrospect, I should have considered the possibility of the film containing, if not misrepresentations exactly, then a portrayal that doesn't jibe with many others' perspectives of the events that have radically changed Hong Kong's political landscape since, unlike the normative view of the 2014 Hong Kong protests having lasted 79 days, the documentary's makers appear to consider that it lasted just 75 days. 

On a positive note: I like that 75 Days includes film footage shot during the night as well as day at Occupy Mongkok and Occupy Causeway Bay along with Occupy Admiralty. I also very much appreciate that members of Film 75 were on the ground and recording what was happening pretty much right from the start, and captured such as the protests that took place back on September 28th, 2014 and the disproportionately violent police response to them that culminated in an unprecedented 87 cannisters of tear gas having been fired into the crowd.

All in all, the strong impression I had is that members of Film 75 collectively spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours at the Occupy sites and have a wealth of film footage of what took place, particularly over in Mongkok and Admiralty.  It's just such a pity that, when choosing what to include in 75 Days, they ended up disproportionately featuring dramatic, confrontational moments during the Umbrella Movement; and, in so doing, ended up giving an overly aggressive view of what actually were generally extremely peaceful, non-violent -- and polite and civilized even! -- protests.

During the post-screening discussion of the film, a member of the audience shared his dismay at precisely this and said that he wouldn't want 75 Days to be seen by his friends who hadn't been at the Occupy sites themselves because they may get the wrong idea of the Umbrella Movement upon doing so.  I totally agree with him about this; which is particularly sad in view of my (still) getting the sense that members of Film 75 actually are Umbrella Movement supporters themselves or, at the very least, actually wanted to present a balanced view of what the protests.

Here's the thing: I think the members of Film 75's wish to ensure that their work was interesting and dramatic inadvertently resulted in their favoring those moments they captured when people behaved violently and in other stupid ways that sometimes disturb and other times actually (just) amuse.  And even while a large proportion of the bad behavior shown was committed by individuals against the Umbrella Movement, I actually came away from viewing 75 Days with the fear that this film could easily be made use of by the Umbrella Movement's opponents and detractors.

My rating for this film: 5.5

Friday, October 21, 2016

Typhoon Haima came close enough to Hong Kong to shut down the city for the greater part of today!

Less vehicular traffic than usual in Causeway Bay 
earlier this this evening

Noticeably less foot traffic too at the usually super busy
Over the course of just a few days, Hong Kong has seen warning signals raised for not one but two typhoons passing nearby.  Earlier this week, Typhoon Sarika caused typhoon signal number 3 to be raised -- and also brought about Black Rainstorm-class torrential downpours that caused several sections of the city to dramatically flood.  Still, it didn't cause the Big Lychee to shut down the way that Typhoon Haima did earlier today after it came close enough to Hong Kong to prompt typhoon signal number 8 to be issued at around 6.10am and stay in effect for close to 12 hours.
More than 740 flights scheduled to depart from or arrive at Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok airport were cancelled and 156 trees were felled by the third typhoon to come near Hong Kong this month.  For my part, I got an inkling that Typhoon Haima was a more serious storm than Typhoon Sarika last night when I felt significantly stronger winds than usual blowing and the barometric pressure changed so dramatically that my back started aching and I actually came down with a migraine attack so bad that not only was my head thudding but the very act of sipping water -- to help me swallow some ibuprofen -- caused me to feel nauseous! 
Although I woke up later than usual this morning, the sky was so dark that it looked like I had woken hours earlier than was actually the case.  Even before getting confirmation when I checked the Hong Kong Observatory website, I knew that the Typhoon Signal Number 8 had already been raised due to it being way quieter than usual outside as a result of such as the buses not running and the majority of stores on the road where I live not having opened for the day.
Although it didn't actually rain as hard for much of today as it had done on Wednesday afternoon, I opted against venturing out from my home until Typhoon Signal Number 8 had been downgraded into Typhoon Signal Number 3 and things felt like they had settled down somewhat.  Deciding to reward myself with a sushi dinner in Causeway Bay, I headed over there on a tram which had resumed service -- and found that normally super busy part of Hong Kong to be way less crowded (and consequently more peaceful) than usual.  
While strolling about the area, I discovered that such as the Causeway Bay branches of the Apple Store and Sogo Department Store were closed despite Typhoon Signal Number 8 no longer being in effect.  On the other hand, many restaurants, bars, pharmacies and such had opened for business.  Indeed, I found out just this evening from a restaurant manager that branches of Senryo actually stay open during Typhoon Signal Number 8; what with the management perhaps anticipating that some lovers of sushi really won't let major typhoons get in the way of their craving for this popular Japanese food which definitely has many fans here in Hong Kong! ;b

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Meeting with Bodhisattva doesn't get the spirit soaring (film review)

A Bodhisattva on Ngong Ping

Meeting with Bodhisattva (Taiwan, 2016)
- Kuo Shiao Yun, director and co-editor
Ever since I was a child, I've been fascinated by drums and drummers.  And while early on in my life, I only knew of Western drummers like Ringo Starr and Karen Carpenter, the drummers whose music has really made my heart pound with excitement in recent times have been East Asian percussion ensembles such as Japan's Kodo group of taiko drummers and Taiwan's dramatic U-Theatre.  
In addition to having been privileged to witness live performances by these drum troupes here in Hong Kong, I've also seen U-Theatre prominently feature in a 2007 drama directed by Hong Kong filmmaker Kenneth Bi's The Drummer.  Playing a fictional troupe which nonetheless are closely modelled on their real selves, its members awed me with their zen style of drumming but also the spartan lifestyles and disciplined routines adhered to at their Taiwan mountain base.  
If truth be told, I'd have been satisfied if Kuo Shiao Yun's documentary about this artistic troupe -- which screened at this year's Chinese Documentary Festival -- had pretty much just concentrated on bringing U-Theatre's musical performances to the silver screen.  But Meeting with Bodhisattva -- which takes its title from the troupe's work "inspired by humanistic and Buddhist wisdom on the aspiration of strength and bravery in life" -- actually spends more time on the social work enacted by, and spiritual dimensions of, U-Theatre than the troupe's music-making efforts per se.
In particular, the film looks at U-Theatre's interaction with recently released inmates at Taiwan's Changhua Prison who had participated in its dharma drum training and subsequently were invited to embark on a close to 400 kilometer walk from the southern city of Pingtung to the Taiwanese capital of Taipei along with U-Theatre troupe members and a group of young students from the countryside who also had trained with U-Theatre.  
Early on in Meeting with Bodhisattva, one is given the sense that U-Theatre's founder and artistic director, Liu Ruo Yu, had this idea that walking can get one in a meditative state of mind and help people to focus on following the path towards righteousness.  As we proceed further along into the film, however, not only does this particular viewpoint end up being challenged by such as the errant behaviour of some of the walk participants but the documentary itself seems to lose its way.
By film's end, it feels like the idealists of U-Theatre have been brought down to earth.  And although I don't think this is what the people behind this documentary actually had sought to do, it felt like they effectively revealed the subjects of their film to be less, well, magical and extraordinary than they previously had seemed.  
On one level, there's nothing wrong with that.  But I can't help that Meeting with Bodhisattva consequently ended up disappointing its core audience: those of us who have been thrilled in the past by the music of U-Theatre but also been impressed by -- even if not totally subscribing to -- their philosophical ideals and spiritual beliefs.
My rating for the film: 6.5

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

From Siu Sai Wan to Big Wave Bay via Leaping Dragon Walk and associated paths (Photo-essay)

"Here be dragons" is the phrase famously associated with unmapped areas of the world in days of yore, and which does appear in Latin on a 16th century copper globe.  Increasingly though, I think that Hong Kong is the place where dragons are to be found -- or, at least, dragon-themed place names such as Kowloon (taken from the Cantonese kau loong, meaning "nine dragons), the Lung Yeuk Tau ("Mountain of the Leaping Dragon") Heritage Trail, and the Leaping Dragon Walk which I went on one sunny and super high visibility afternoon (very unlike today's, with its torrential "black rain" and all!) not so long ago. 

Leading from Siu Sai Wan up to the northern end of the Pottinger Peak Country Trail, one can cobble together a nice hiking route that covers the entirety of the paved path, part of that country trail and an unnamed trail that leads down to Hong Kong Island's Big Wave Bay.  While in the area, one might be tempted to detour along the approximately half kilometer long Cape Collinson Path to check out the lighthouse over at Cape Collinson.  If you do so though, go more for the sea views and critter spottings (including camera-shy squirrels!) than for the lighthouse itself -- which, disappointingly, one can't get all that close to courtesy of locked gates! ;S

One can easily get tempted to tarry a while at 
Siu Sai Wan's scenic waterfront promenade
 The closest I got to the Cape Collinson lighthouse :(

Maybe I'd have better luck if I went along this roped path
but I wasn't feeling daring enough to do so! ;S

Back on the Leaping Dragon Walk, one eventually gets
sufficient elevation to get impressive views like this :)
Just past the "Do Not Feed Wild Animals" banner is
a shrine where humans can get some tea to drink ;b
But it's the unnamed section of trail leading down to Big Wave Bay 
that offered up the hike's most spectacular views to my mind!
On a high visibility day, one can see Joss House Bay's Tai Miu 
from this eastern Hong Kong Island hiking trail! 
Looking southwards, and much closer to get to,
was Big Wave Bay, where I concluded the hike :)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Funassyi infiltrated my dreams, and the Ponyos have multiplied in my reality! ;b

Sleeping Bag Funassyi with three beloved Ponyos 
and one beloved "flying" Hello Kitty

An expanded -- since September 24th -- plushie Ponyo family!

While hiking along the Lo Fu Tau Country Trail a couple of weekends ago, the friend I was with asked me if I had any recurring dreams; whereupon I shared with him my having dreams in which I return to a house I used to live in in Philadelphia -- only in the dream, it's almost always falling apart! -- and also of my returning to the campus of my alma mater in Beloit, Wisconsin, only this time in happier conditions.  Another dream I regularly have -- which I didn't mention over the course of that conversation -- is more surreal and fantastical; seeing that it involves Earth, in particular the part of the world in which I'm residing (in the dream), being subject to an alien invasion! 

As it so happens, I had that dream again last night.  This time though, there was a new twist which involved my being close to home and thus able to feel like I had a bit of time to pack my valuables into my backpack before making my way out of the city -- often, in the dream, by way of walking on the side of some train tracks.  And as unbelievable as it sounds, I actually considered packing two beloved plushies that I own in real life into that backpack -- and, in the end, left my "flying" Hello Kitty plushie on the bed in favor of leaving with Sleeping Bag Funassyi!

In all honesty: I'm not sure how to interpret much of the dream/nightmare.  But what I feel I do know is that there exists in it pretty concrete proof that Funassyi has come to have a deeply embedded place in my heart -- and it's true enough that I really do adore the Pear Fairy from Funabashi that I first became enamored with roughly one year ago this month!

At the same time though, I think I should point out that loving Funassyi doesn't mean that my love for Hello Kitty, Ponyo, etc. has gone away, been destroyed, etc.  In addition, even while it's true enough that my focus in recent months has been on accumulating Funassyi items, the number of Hello Kitty, Ponyo, etc. items that I own have not decreased in number.  Indeed, in the case of the Ponyos, their number has increased: this on account of a friend presenting me with two (more) Ponyo plushies on the eve of my latest birthday -- which turned out to be yet another fun as well as special occasion at Sake Bar Ginn... ;b

Monday, October 17, 2016

Elevated walking city!

 Just a small part of the longest outdoor 

 Just a small segment of the extensive footbridge system
that, on rainy days, one happily realizes has a covered top!

A visitor from the USA and I were talking recently about the 10,000 steps a day that health experts have recommended that we take.  Whereas he reckoned that mark is really difficult to attain when adhering to his regular routine back in America (which includes lots of time spent commuting in a car as well as at a desk at work), he figured that it'd be relatively easy for him to reach in Hong Kong, where he noticed that lots of people can be found walking about pretty much wherever he goes in the city.

No doubt about it: this is very much a walking city.  And even while I didn't have a car when I lived in the US as well as am car-less here in Hong Kong, I can state with certainty that I move around on foot a lot more here in the Big Lychee than I ever did in America.  

This isn't on account of one not using much public transportation; indeed, I also use a lot more -- and more kinds of -- public transportation here in Hong Kong than I did when I lived in the big Eastern seaboard city of Philadelphia (and, for that matter, the small Midwestern town of Beloit).  Rather, I'm just out and about here for more hours of the day -- and, especially, night; due in no small part to pretty much all of urban Hong Kong feeling eminently safe to be in after dark, never mind in bright daylight.

Still, this is not to say that I always enjoy walking in Hong Kong.  Specifically, I dislike walking in streets that are so over-crowded that I feel I lack the space to move about at my preferred pace and with my preferred stride -- though I have to say that I feel this a lot less now that the (Mainland Chinese) visitor numbers to Hong Kong are noticeably below their pre-Umbrella Movement peak.  

A friend who also generally likes to get by on foot's pet peeve is how it can seem like the foot traffic in Hong Kong often gets shunted over-ground as well as underground.  While I share her dislike of what are called subways in British English and underpasses in American English, I have to say that I don't tend to mind footbridges and other elevated walkways; this not least because I still can see interesting sights from them (unlike in the underground passages) -- and also because I like how they provide overhead cover from the not insignificant amount of rain that Hong Kong gets throughout much of the year!

Indeed, I'd go as far as to say that I'm a fan of the elevated walkways that allow me to walk from Admiralty through Central to Sheung Wan or up to the Mid-Levels without my feet touching the ground for all but just a few meters around the vicinity of the Court of Final Appeal Building and Statue Square.  In particular, I really appreciate the air-conditioned comfort of the sections that connect various commercial buildings in Central that are owned by Hong Kong Land during Hong Kong's many hot and humid months; this even though this particular route means my passing by some high-end designer clothing and accessory stores that I'd normally try to give a wide berth... ;b    

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Full moon over Hong Kong

Full moon over Tai Hang last month
Full moon over Hong Kong tonight :)
As I was making my way home after spending a few enjoyable hours watching the Tai Hang fire dragon in action one month ago to the day, I came across several people standing about and training their cameras up at the sky.  Automatically, I looked up to see what had caught their attention -- and saw the sight of a beautiful full moon in the night sky; one which I, too, sought to capture images of with my camera -- only to feel unable to do that stunning sight sufficient justice.
Still, when I came across a group of people trying to take photos of the full moon over Wan Chai earlier tonight, I couldn't help but feel inclined to follow suit and try my luck again.  While the results still aren't as satisfying as when I managed to snap a photo of the moon in which its craters can be seen on its face a few years back, I'm happy enough this time around.  
At the very least, after all, I now have images to go with my memories of lovely clear skies on two full moon nights in a row here in Hong Kong; a state of affairs which absolutely cannot be taken for granted, especially in view of typhoons being prone to lurk about in the area in September and October, even if they aren't peak typhoon season months.  (And in fact, yet another typhoon warning is in effect as I write this blog post, and the Hong Kong Observatory currently is tracking two typhoons -- Sarika and Haima -- as this point in time!)