Monday, January 30, 2023

Chinese New Year flower and critter spotting on my second Chinese New Year hike of 2023 (Photo-essay)

On my hike last week, I had hoped to see Chinese New Year flowers -- seeing as it was Chinese New Year already and all -- but I came up blank on that score and wondered if Chinese New Year had come too early this year for the flowers to bloom.  A few days ago though, a friend posted her photos of these seasonal flora that I look forward to seeing each year on Facebook.  So I decided to hike this afternoon in sections of Tai Tam Country Park where I had come across clumps of Chinese New Year flowers in previous years.

I'm happy to report that I was successful in making some Chinese New Year flowers on my hike.  But, actually, there were fewer of them in bloom than when I hiked in the area on the 15th day of Chinese New Year last year.  On the other hand, I made quite a few critter spottings: specifically, of birds and boars.  And got in a generally nice hike on a beautiful blue sky, crisp air day.  So, all in all, it was a very pleasant afternoon out in the Hong Kong outdoors once more! :)
 
Proof that it really was a bright blue sky day! :)
 
When visibility is high, Tai Mo Shan can seem not so 
far away even when one's on Hong Kong Island!
 
Me and my (long) shadow out hiking in Hong Kong :)
 
If you can see beyond Kowloon Peak to a number of
other New Territories mountain ranges and mountains,
you know that the air is clear and visibility high that day! :)
 
Enough scenic views!  Now for some bird pics, including
of this fat orange breasted critter (who I'd appreciate
someone IDing for me!)
 
Another avian beauty that I'd appreciate getting an ID for!
 
Okay, at least I can ID these flowers with absolute certainty:
and yes, these are the famous Chinese New Year flowers! :)
 
And this, dear readers, is one of 10 wild boar
that I caught sight of on the hike today :)

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Say I Do To Me is not the kind of work one expects from the director of Revolution of Our Times! (Film review)

  
Probably not the kind of film you'd expect to see
directed by Kiwi Chow (and co-produced 
by Chapman To) -- but it is so!
 
Say I Do To Me (Hong Kong, 2023)
- Kiwi Chow, director and co-scriptwriter (along with Frankie Chung and Isis To)
- Starring: Sabrina Ng Ping, Kelvin Chan Kin-long, Jacky Tong, Candy Lo, Mixson Wong
 
There are no two ways about it: this is a film I wish that I liked more than I do.  With Kiwi Chow at its helm, Chapman To among its producers and Gregory Wong in its cast, Say I Do To Me can't help but be considered super yellow (i.e., pro-democracy) based on its pedigree, and thus would be a movie that those who support the Yellow Economic Circle would feel they should go and watch.  And there's the added impetus that comes from wanting to view a Kiwi Chow film playing in Hong Kong cinemas because the feeling is that this is a rare treat; this not least since the chances of Revolution of Our Times, his protest documentary, ever being allowed to be screened in Hong Kong currently is very slim and ditto for Ten Years (the dystopian anthology which he directed a segment of) getting theatrical screenings again.
 
For those wondering how Say I Do To Me managed to be allowed to be screened in Hong Kong: suffice to say that this Chinese New Year offering is a very different beast from Chow's political works -- and I challenge you to find any overtly, or even covert, political content or messages in this fanciful film!  And while this movie focuses on romantic relationships like his Beyond the Dream (which was made in betweeen Ten Years and Revolution of Our Times), it's generally far lighter in mood than that 2019 romantic drama about the forbidden love between a man being treated for Psychosis and his psychological counselor.

Say I Do To Me's protagonist is a spirited young female Youtuber who declares to her audience that "I want to marry myself!".  Ping (who's played by real-life Youtuber, Sabrina Ng Ping) is the daughter of a woman (essayed by Isabel Chan) who's been married six times and likes to pretend that they are sisters rather than mother and daughter.  Declaring that "Marriage is a sham!", Ping decides to use that particular institution to get her channel 1 million subscribers by effectively turning it on its head -- and even making a mockery of it.  

In the process, Ping also involves herself in a big lie -- because, as is revealed early on in the movie, she's actually in a relationship with Dickson (portrayed by actor-filmmaker Kelvin Chan King-long), her professional partner as well as live-in lover!  Prior to Ping's "sologamy" declaration, the couple -- whose over-the-top cutesy ways some might find endearing, and others grating -- were co-stars on another Youtube channel.  But their clown-themed enterprise never attracted many fans; though it did gain Ping an ardent one in the super Christian Daniel (played by Jacky Tong), whose adoration of her rivals his devotion to Jesus Christ.
 
Ironically, even as Ping carries out this big charade, she inspires people (like the flawed but likeable characters essayed by Candy Lo and Mixson Wong) to be true to themselves.  And to love themselves too.  Which all sounds really positive and good -- except that, well, these folks' idol had effectively fooled them in her quest for clicks, subscribers and cash, and didn't actually practice what she so successfully preached!  
 
Something else that is troubling in the grand scheme of things: three of Ping's fans fall badly in love with her.  Throw in the fact that Dickson, who has taken up the role of "demon" to Ping's "angel" to rack up some drama, ends up losing control of his followers, and I think you can see how Say I Do To Me sets itself up to be an overly-complicated affair and, as it turns out, a messy plus farcical one too!

There are some filmmakers who do very well producing lighter fare who don't do so well when making serious works.  (I think of Steven Spielberg, whose openly commercial offerings tend to be more interesting than his "high brow" efforts.)  Kiwi Chow appears to be the opposite.  Which is sad because, among other things, the ability to make one's audience laugh a lot is something that should be prized.  For another, producing light entertainment would be the politically safer thing for him to do in current circumstances; this particularly since, unlike Chapman To (and a few -- the majority even -- of his Ten Years co-directors), he appears intent on remaining in Hong Kong for some time to come.  

My rating for this film: 6.0

Thursday, January 26, 2023

A Guilty Conscience is a far more serious film than one expects a Chinese New Year movie to be! (Film review)

  
Hong Kong poster for the first Hong Kong movie
I've viewed in the new year of the rabbit :) 
 
A Guilty Conscience (Hong Kong, 2023)
- Jack Ng, director and co-scriptwriter (along with Terry Lam and Jay Cheung)
- Starring: Dayo Wong, Renci Yeung, Ho Ka-wai, Louise Wong, Tse Kwan-ho, Michael Wong, Fish Liew, etc.
 
After emerging as Hong Kong's Chinese New Year box office king in 2018 (with Agent Mr Chan), everything that one time "box office poison" Dayo Wong touches has appeared to turn to gold.  And even though cinema closures resulting from Hong Kong's fifth Covid wave turned 2022's Table for Six from a Chinese New Year movie to a Mid-Autumn Festival offering, it didn't hurt the film's box office performance.  In fact, it is now Hong Kong's highest grossing comedy ever -- and, amazingly, is still playing in at least one cinema more than four months after being its theatrical release.
 
This has resulted in a situation in which two films starring Dayo Wong are currently in Hong Kong cinemas.  But rather than compete with one another, Table for Six actually helped provide publicity for A Guilty Conscience -- in that at the end of the 2022 movie, vieweres were treated to a clip of Dayo Wong as the character he portrays in the 2023 film: which is one of Hong Kong's three Chinese New Year offerings this year but differs quite a bit from tradition in that it's far more of a serious legal drama than a family-oriented comedy a la the All's Well, Ends Well or I Love Hong Kong festive movies.
 
In the early stages of A Guilty Conscience, lawyer-turned-magistrate-turned-lawyer-once more Adrian Lam (Dayo Wong's character) comes across as a laughably feckless individual.  But after an act of irresponsible negligence on his part causes his client to be sentenced to 17 years imprisonment, he resolves to turn over a new leaf and fight to clear the name of Jolene Tsang (portrayed by Louise Wong), the mother wrongly accused of being responsible for the death of her beloved daughter.
 
After reassembling the young legal team -- consisting of the idealistic Evelyn Fong (essayed by Renci Yeung) and resourceful "Prince" (played by Ho Kai-wa) -- that he realised he had badly let down along with their client, Adrian goes to court and finds himself up against a formidable opponent in the ultra-professional prosecutor, Mr. Kam (Tse Kwan-ho).  Adding to the enormity of his task is the fact that Jolene turned out to be the mistress of Dr Desmond Chung (played by Adam Pak), whose entitled wife, Victoria (portrayed by Fish Liew) is a member of one of Hong Kong's richest and most influential families, and thus someone used to getting her way with pretty much anything.
 
Although Jolene's innocence is established very early on, the viewer need not worry about there being insufficient surprises, twists and turns in this actually pretty involving tale.  Also, while it's true enough that some of the proceedings -- and Adrian's court antics -- can seem overly and improbably dramatic, I think that those viewing A Guilty Conscience won't mind this too much as they help to make the movie interesting and thoroughly entertaining, and hammer home certain heartfelt plus hard hitting points about Hong Kong society and its justice system.  (A case in point: that moment when Adrian shouts out "Everything is wrong!" in court is one that I wager will resonate with many of the movie's local viewers.)  
 
I'm going to be honest and admit that I had my doubts that Dayo Wong could pull off a performance that was largely dramatic rather than comic (though, Dayo Wong being Dayo Wong, he still does get in, and ellicit, some laughs along the way) -- but he really did so.  Truly, A Guilty Conscience benefits from his star turn -- though credit is also due to the other members of the movie's strong as well as large ensemble cast (who include entertainment veterans Vincent Kok and Bowie Lam).  Even Michael Wong (who plays the Chung family's legal advisor, James Tung, in his imitable bilingual way) acquits himself rather well in this film whose first-time helmer, Jack Ng, looks to have done a bravura job as a director and scriptwriter (the latter along with debutant scriptwriters Terry Lam and Jay Cheung).    
 
More than incidentally, I find it of note that, like with last year's The Sparring Partner, this legal drama actually highlights the important role that the jury has to play in legal proceedings.  At a time when so many important cases in national security law-era Hong Kong have been ordered to be jury-less trials, this element can make a movie like A Guilty Conscience represent wishful thinking or plain fantasy on the part of its makers.  Or, alternatively, a reminder of how justice should be served and that might is not always right, with the underdog able to have its day some day(s).
 
My rating for this film: 8.5  

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

A Chinese New Year hike with various interesting sightings

A greeting that's still valid as today's just the 3rd day
 
Something many (all?) of us would like to have this year!
 
I went out hiking yesterday, the second day of Chinese New Year.  For a change, I decided to go on on that would take place partly after dark. (I don't usually do this but I know that the Victoria Peak Circuit is lighted -- and, in fact, have been on it in the dark twice before.)  And while my plan to catch the sunset from the Peak wasn't entirely successful (due to conditions being hazier than I would have liked), I did get the views of the city lights that I had hoped -- and more because, as it turned out, I also was treated to the sight of various new year messages put up on the sides of Hong Kong's tallest building, the International Commerce Centre (ICC) over in West Kowloon. 

Along with "Happy New Year"(note: no "Chinese" or "lunar" specified; there's no need since we are in Hong Kong and everyone knows which new year people are currently celebrating!), there were wishes put up for "Good health" along with such as "Good luck", "Happiness" and "Prosperity".  Speaking of good health: Three years ago yesterday was when the Mainland Chinese city of Wuhan went into lock down for the first time as a result of what was then referred to as the Wuhan coronavirus (but now is more frequently referred to as Covid).  
 
And three years ago today was a strange Chinese New Year Eve: one which saw Hong Kong still in turmoil (a reminder: the anti-extradition bill/pro-democracy street protests continued past 2019 and through to July 1st, 2020, the first full day of Hong Kong's national security law era); and also feeling like we were in the calm before the storm phase of a new pandemic.  And so it proved, with things changing really quickly and dramatically on the health front.
 
A measure of how quickly things changed back in January 2020: On the first day of Chinese New Year, 2020, I went out hiking (with a friend) and didn't see anyone wearing a mask out on the trails.  The next day, I went out hiking again -- and on the second day of Chinese New Year, 2020, I saw a number of hikers wearing surgical masks, including up on Mount Butler; a 436-meter-high hill on Hong Kong Island that I have to admit to panting quite a bit whenever I hike up it!    
 
Fast forward to Chinese New Year 2023 and masking is still required in Hong Kong for the most part -- but not in country parks and/or when exercising.  Even so, I saw quite a number of masked folks on the Peak Circuit yesterday.  Something quite different from my recent excursions in the area: the presence of tourists; including those speaking Mandarin but also such as Korean and Western languages other than English.
 
I know that the tourist influx to Hong Kong is by no means at the level that it was prior to 2020 but I must say it was a shock to see so many people at the Peak yesterday.  And while the bus I took up to Victoria Gap yesterday was not full, the queues for transportation going down were far longer than I would have liked -- and yes, part of me regrets having gone up to the Peak yesterday (and, also, not hiking down from it like is actually what I do -- be it down to Kennedy Town, Pok Fu Lam, Aberdeen, etc.)!     

Ah well, at least I did get in some cool sights yesterday evening -- which, by the way, included my first wild boar spotting of 2023!  (For the record: it was a young boar; and I sincerely hope that it will be okay -- rather than hunted down by the authorities.)  On the other hand, I've yet to come across any Chinese New Year flowers this year.  Maybe (hopefully) I'll be able to remedy this situation on my next hike! :) 

Sunday, January 22, 2023

A new rabbit year has come around -- and attendant Miffy madness in at least one part of Hong Kong! :D (Photo-essay)

Sun nin fai lok!  That's the Cantonese phrase for "Happy new year!"  I can hear you ask: What about Kong hei fatt choi?  Well, would you believe it if I told you that it actually means "Wishing you wealth and prosperity" -- with no actual reference to a new year celebration?!   (And the same goes, by the way, to Gong xi fa cai -- which is the equivalent Mandarin phrase -- or, say, Keong hee huat chai -- which is the equivalent Hokkien phrase!   

Speaking of new years: I grew up wishing people "Happy Chinese new year" in English but in recent years, there's been a movement -- especially, it seems, among North Americans of Chinese descent and/or with other Asian ancestry -- to get people to wish others a "Happy lunar new year" instead.  I know the reasoning behind it but I must admit to thinking it's flawed; this, since, among other things, "the Chinese Agricultural Calendar is indeed a “Lunisolar calendar” (陰陽合曆), not a sheer "Lunar calendar" (陰曆)".  (For more, read this great Twitter thread on the matter by Chau Wun-liong.)
 
In an attempt to try to bypass this controversy, some other folks (here in Hong Kong and in various other parts of the world which is celebrating Chinese New Year) have taken to wishing people "Happy new year of the rabbit"!  Which is fine; except that it's worth noting that, for the Vietnamese, it's the new year of the cat!  In any case, it can feel like it's the (new) year of Miffy in Hong Kong; especially if one is in Cityplaza -- a shopping mall which has opted to showcase the white cat from the Netherlands this festive season!  

Photographic evidence that Cityplaza really has 
gone big on Miffy this festive season!
 
Happy new year of the rabbit, 2023!
 
An introduction to Miffy, for those unfamiliar 
with the white rabbit with the X for a mouth
 
Just one of the large Miffy statues about the place
 
A man posing for a photo with another large Miffy figurine
(And yes, it's mainly adults that I saw posing for pics with Miffy!)
 
Miffy-themed
lai see hanging from a tree
 
More Miffy images at the ice skating rink in the mall

And the Miffy mania extended to the mall elevators too! :D

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Leaving Hong Kong -- even for just a vacation, rather than permanently -- is not something to be taken lightly these days!

A plane in the Hong Kong sky is a far rarer sight
than used to be the case pre-pandemic... :S
 
I learnt late last night that one more friend has left Hong Kong.  He was one of the original of the handful friends I had when I moved here in May 2007 -- and the last time I saw him was at another friend's farewell dinner a couple of months back.  It's a good thing I've made other friends in Hong Kong over the years, huh?!
 
Speaking of which: I had dinner earlier this week with two friends and their friends (who may in time become my friends too -- one way I've made new friends in recent years!). A t one point, conversation turned to travelling for fun -- something which used to be the norm for all of us but which hasn't been for me during the pandemic years.  And, in fact, I've not been out of Hong Kong since October 2019 (on a Japan trip that I've yet to finish chronicling!)!
 
I think being out of practice in terms of booking flights and such is one reason why I've not done yet to do so now that Hong Kong's finally dropped much of its travel/pandemic regulations. And then there's the sticker shock that I felt a need to brace myself for.  At the very least, I knew that it would not be a good thing (for my wallet, among other things) to travel over the lunar new year period. I've been hearing/reading tales like the following (in this Hong Kong Economic Journal piece for some time now:
Travellers who want to go outside Hong Kong during the upcoming Lunar Chinese New Year would find themselves paying much more than it was before China started allowing its citizens to travel after nearly three years of travel restrictions.
Friends leaving for Japan, the always No.1 destination for locals because of its proximity, nice surroundings and above all, food, said they are paying double, if not triple, room rates than last year"!
And even after I decided to bite the bullet and book flights for after Chinese New Year, the sticker shock really was quite the shock. As in the price I got for the flights was at least twice as much as used to be the case for the route pre-pandemic! 

Returning to quoting the Hong Kong Economic Journal piece whose headline queried "Is 2023 the year of expensive travel? (and whose short answer would appear to be an emphatic "Yes!"):
If travel cost is not an issue, flight capacity might be.
HK Express, the budget airline owned by Cathay Pacific, cancelled dozens more flights to Tokyo, Osaka and Okinawa in the first two weeks of February as Japan imposed limits on the number of flights each carrier can operate from Hong Kong to Japan.
For those planning to go this month, chances are their itinerary would be disrupted by Cathay’s union work-to-rule strike starting 19 January.
The union complained about manpower cut on flights, reduction in welfare and excessive workload. Flights between Hong Kong and Japan, for instance, had only four flight attendants, instead of the usual seven crew members to serve 288 passengers in the premium economy and economy class on each flight, the union reportedly claimed. 
Not ideal, to say the least!  Also, I've found out that no airline has returned to offering in-town check-in at Airport Express stations; something which was oh so convenient and great.  Also, that the Airport Express trains still don't operate on "regular" schedule (i.e., the schedule which it had prior to 2020).  
 
So much for Hong Kong being "back" as the Hong Kong government being bent on insisting, never mind being back to what passed off as "normal" in the Big Lychee pre-pandemic, never mind before all the pro-democracy protests in which millions of Hong Kongers took part, that the authorities consider to have been so disruptive and damaging to the city's reputation (more so, apparently, than even the draconian national security law that descended upon Hong Kong on June 30th, 2020)!

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Sedition law arrests on a day when Article 23 and the national security law also figure in the news

Clothes for sale at the Ladies Market in Mongkok, including
 
Before anything else: the Focus on the Frontline photography exhibition I blogged about having gone to see over the weekend has been extended to January 30th.  (It was originally scheduled to close yesterday -- January 16th.)   For those who want to go check it out: The Hong Kong Press Photographers Association's photos are on display at the Form Society which is open daily (except for Tuesdays) from 12noon to 7pm.  

After going to that exhibition in Sham Shui Po that afternoon, I went over to Mongkok to check out a Yellow Economic Circle pop up bazaar whose vendors were selling a range of items that included Taiwanese alcohol, handmade leather goods, handknit clothing, Minions merchandise, and snacks.  If truth be told, I thought the bazaar to be on the small and limited side, and ended up not buying anything at it.
 
On the way in, I spotted a police van parked nearby.  I chalked it down to the police doing that to intimidate "yellow" vendors and (potential) customers but didn't give it too much thought since, sadly, police vehicles as well as police officers have become a near ubiquitous presence on the streets of Hong Kong in recent years -- just one more thing that makes Hong Kong feel like a police state.       

As it turns out, this evening came news that the police have raided the bazaar and arrested six individuals and, according to reporter Rachel Cheung, "arrested six people on suspicion of “committing acts with seditious intent” for publishing a book that recorded the events that happened in Hong Kong from June 2019 to February 2020. They accused the book of promoting the city's independence".  Honestly, this comes across as one more Streisand effect action on the part of the Hong Kong authorities; this because when I was at the bazaar, the offending tome didn't attract much interest on the part of any of the shoppers present at all!
 
 
On the same day as Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee outlined his hopes and plans for the much reviled Article 23 of the Basic Law to be passed some time this year, or 2024 at the latest, the authorities served up reminders that they already have plenty of laws to suppress people with.  Specifically, in addition to the national security law that the Chinese government imposed on Hong Kong on June 30th, 2020, there's also the sedition law, described in a July 2022 Hong Kong Free Press explainer as  "one of Hong Kong’s legacies from the British colonial government, ...unused for over half a century until its revival in the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and unrest [and] increasingly used against purported security threats, although some critics see it as a deterrent to free speech and to legitimate criticism of the administration."
 
And speaking of the national security law: here's a periodic reminder that the trial involving the 47 pro-democracy politicians and activists arrested on February 28th, 2021, for allegedly breaking it has yet to begin.  Instead, we are still at the pre-trial review stage; with today seeing a shock development involving one of the 17 defendants who had indicated that they will plead not guilty deciding to plead guilty after all.
 
Why Mike Lam, best known as the co-owner (with his wife) of  Abouthai, a chain of grocery stores and supermarkets that specialises in selling Thai and "yellow" Hong Kong products, has decided to do so has not yet been revealed.  I must say though that I hope that the 16 defendants who continue to plead not guilty stay strong.  And for the record, they are: Cheung Tat-hung (AKA Tat Cheng), Clarisse Yeung, Michael Pang, Kalvin Ho, Lawrence Lau Wai-chung, Helena Wong, Sze Tak-loy, Gwyneth Ho, Raymond "Ray" Chan, Owen Chow, Lam Cheuk-ting, "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung, Ricky Or, Lee Yue-shun, Winnie Yu, and Gordon Ng; and yes, include a number of people I greatly respect.