Friday, January 18, 2019

Time again for piggy-themed Chinese New Year decorations -- in Hong Kong, at least!

Piggy-themed Chinese New Year decorations 
can already be found all over Hong Kong!
 Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie -- the latter with 
a pig in hand -- on Causeway Bay's Fashion Walk :D
A Massachusetts-based friend posted a photo on Facebook a week ago that featured a Christmas tree that was still standing after all 12 days of Christmas had long passed.  Meanwhile in Hong Kong, Christmas decorations already started making way for Chinese New Year ones as far back as a fortnight ago.  

Maybe it's because I lived in Malaysia's one ethnic Chinese majority state when I was a child -- or maybe it was due to that now past time having been a more liberal one -- but I remember having seen quite a few porcine-themed decorations for Chinese New Year(s) of the pig when I was growing up in Penang.  In addition, my impression back then was the prejudice that people had about pigs wasn't as  strong as that of the mouse or rat (which also is one of the animals of the Chinese zodiac)!
As a matter of fact, while I can't recall Chinese New Year decorations meeting with much controversy in previous pig years, I remember many people being loathe to have rat or mouse-themed decorations adorning their house, store or other business premises when the rat year came along: that is, until some bright spark decided to co-opt Mickey Mouse into helping celebrate Chinese New Year!  (And for those who're wondering: there is no distinction between rats and mice in the various Chinese dialects.  Put another way: the same word is used for both these creatures that are quite distinct to English speakers!)
With McDull being a beloved local character, I wouldn't be surprised to see the porcine cartoon character pop up all over Hong Kong in the next few weeks the way that it (and its cousin, McMug) did the last time the year of the pig came along.  Thus far though, I've only see a whole host of Chinese New Year decorations featuring pigs that resemble McMug without actually being McMug.  Oh, and -- while walking around in Causeway Bay last night -- statues of Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie with a pig in one hand and a Chinese New Year greeting in the other for some reason! ;b

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Dearest Anita is a loving fan tribute to an admirable personality (Film review)

Poster for the first Hong Kong movie 
I viewed in 2019
Dearest Anita (Hong Kong, 2019)
- Clifton Ko and Leung Pak Ho, co-directors
- Starring: Sonija Kwok, Myolie Wu, Paris Wong, Alex Lam, Yuki Fong, Elvina Kong 
Have you ever been touched and/or inspired by a star, sent him or her fanmail or presents, met your idol and even been a friend before you became a fan?  If so, you should be able to relate to the main characters -- all purportedly based on real people -- in Dearest Anita, a loving cinematic tribute to the late Anita Mui Yim Fong conceived by her dedicated fan club, Mui Nation, that was released just a few days after the 15th anniversary of the singer-actress' death.
Back in late 2013, a number of personal items belonging to Anita Mui were auctioned off by the late star's estate (against the will of her mother, among others).  At the auction, die-hard fans of the entertainment idol often referred to as "Mui Chea" (Elder Sister Mui) successfully outbid others seeking to get their hands on those items.  In addition, as Dearest Anita shows, they also managed to salvage a good percentage of those of Anita Mui's belongings that had been declared not valuable enough to auction off and consequently thrown away as trash.  

Among Anita Mui's possessions rescued from a dumpster and found in large bags at a nearby secondhand store by the team of fans headed by Edith (Sonija Kwok) were items given to the star by her fans.  While most entertainment luminaries didn't care for -- and tended to readily discard -- their devotees' offerings, it appeared that the object of the Mui Nation's affection was very different -- and, in fact, kept every single item that those who adored her sent to her in a room in her home in Shoushon Hill.
Rather than sell them or keep them for themselves, Edith and co go about returning those gifts -- be they a letter, a photograph in a handmade frame, a script for a play about Anita Mui or something else altogether -- they had managed to salvage to the fans who had sent them to their idol.  Over the course of doing so, they connect with other Anita Mui fans who, grateful and happy that the woman they adored had cared enough to see those offerings as the tokens of affection that they are, recollect and share their warm memories and often moving stories of Mui Chea (portrayed in the film by Elvina Kong, whose shot in such a way that her face is never seen and/but whose speaking voice sounds remarkably like Anita Mui's).
Almost needless to say, Dearest Anita will appeal most to fans of Anita Mui.  At the same time though, those who weren't her fans at the beginning of the film might well be by the end of it.  For one thing, the movie shows how Mui Chea helped a young man (played by Alex Lam) who lost his father to SARS to continue to pursue his goal of becoming a professional musician.  For another, it also shows how good she was to her friends (including one played by Myolie) and fans (including one played by Yuki Fong). 
If nothing else, Dearest Anita makes clear how Anita Mui could come to be seen as a noble "Daughter of Hong Kong" and the kind of figure that a teacher (Paris Wong) could be inspired to write and stage a play about.  And even if this movie can undoubtedly appear to be on the hokey side at times, it's also true that a number of its more touching scenes are well capable of moving people (like me!) to tears. ;b
My rating for this film: 7.0 

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Evocative and amusing Jeju images (Photo-essay)

It's been more than two months since I was on Jeju; so I really should wrap up my series of posts about my visit to that South Korean island where I got to see a lot of truly scenic sights and eat a lot of wonderful food.  But since I still have a number of photos from the trip which my mother and one of my friends -- both of whom are major Korean drama fans -- had proposed that we (along with one other friend and Puppet Ponyo) go on together, here's sharing this photo-essay that, together with my other Jeju posts, will undoubtedly evoke happy memories when I look at them later on... :)

 Admiring the sunrise at Seongsan Ilchulbong
Warning signs galore at Sangumburi
Yes, I did try some local craft beer while on Jeju ;b
I am happy to report that I never was in such a state
when looking for toilet facilities on Jeju! :D
Drying squid that will be snacks before too long!
 I saw a lot of windmills on the island 
I also saw lots of orange trees on Jeju and oranges
for sale -- some for pretty high prices! 
One last photo of Puppet Ponyo 
on a cliff by the sea on Jeju :)

Sunday, January 13, 2019

My top ten 2018 Hong Kong movies list

Poster for my favorite Hong Kong movie of 2018

A grand total of 53 new Hong Kong movies were released in local cinemas in 2018; the same as in 2017.  Quantity wise, then, things look as disappointing for last year as they did the previous year to those who remember a time not so long ago when more than 300 films a year were made in Hong Kong and didn't realize that the Hong Kong film industry was punching way above its weight relative to such as the size of its local population and physical territory.  

And while there may be people who think otherwise, I actually think that 2018 saw a general improvement of the local cinematic output.  Consequently, not only did I view more contemporary Hong Kong movies in 2018 than 2017 but I also feel able -- for the first time in three years -- to get back to compiling a top ten Hong Kong movies list for the year.  So, without further ado... 

I count myself very lucky to have caught a screening of this heart-warming social drama that revolves around a Filipina domestic worker and the Hong Kong man paralyzed from the waist down who she goes to work for at the 2018 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival for many reasons.  For one, there was a post-screening Q&A which was attended by its director (Oliver Chan Siu Kuen), lead actor (Anthony Wong Chau Sang), lead actress (Cristel Consunji) and a third cast member (Wong Ting Him).  For another, the film still hasn't gone on general release in Hong Kong (and may not do so until April 2019!).  

Then there's the fact of this movie being one of those works that really just is a superb watch.  Deeply moving, yet imbued with a generous sense of humor, it is pretty close to miraculous how good Still Human is when you consider that its director (who also scripted and edited the work) and female lead are feature film debutantes!  Along with a bonafide super star actor in Anthony Wong Chau Sang, these folks -- and, actually, pretty much everyone involved in the production -- never seemed to put a single foot wrong as they went about producing this big-hearted work that had me laughing out loud, weeping a lot and also smiling pretty broadly over the course of my viewing it.

There are films so sad that my heart threatens to break when viewing them.  Ying Liang's A Family Tour is one of those films.  And the degree of upset I feel increases upon realizing that this very personal drama centering on an exiled filmmaker is a semi-autobiographical work.  Intelligent and thought-provoking, its story of a now Hong Kong-based filmmaker who goes with her husband and young son to Taiwan to temporarily unite with her Sichuanese mother -- ostensibly there for a group tour -- also tugs at the heart by showing how much love people forced to live apart, and in stressful conditions, continue to have for each other.  

In a perfect world, the family of Ying Liang could and would live happily together in a place of their choice.  As shown in this film, even if its members can't do so though, they will never stop loving one another even while also continuing to adhere to those principles that more honorable governments than Communist China's would respect and reward rather than resent and seek to reverse.

I viewed a number of old film favorites (a few of them starring my favorite actress of all time) in 2018.  And there also were a couple of 2018 releases that I viewed more than once at the cinema.  The first of these was Crazy Rich Asians; the second was Jevons Au's Distinction.  And for the record: yes, I did get much out of the repeat viewings and actually did enjoy my second viewings of both of those movies more than the initial ones!

With the Hollywood movie: I was able to catch and appreciate the background details more the second time around.  With the Hong Kong film: I found myself admiring all the more how great the director was at getting super naturalistic performances from the cast members, regardless of their age, acting experience and actual mental conditions; and feeling my appreciation of how heartfelt and informed is its account of the challenges and pressures faced by too many local students and teachers.            

In retrospect, I think my inkling that 2018 was going to be a satisfying Hong Kong film year for me came when I found myself really enjoying watching one of the two Chinese New Year movies I chose to check out this past year.  Super star-studded and offering up plenty of laughs, A Beautiful Moment benefited enormously not only from headliners Carina Lau and Simon Yam's star power but also their great onscreen chemistry -- and some times (particular during the Chinese New Year movie viewing period), that really is all a Hong Kong movie fan girl needs! ;b

I didn't write a top ten 2017 Hong Kong movies list but if I had done so, Vampire Cleanup Department would have been at the top of it.  And in 2018, its director (and co-scriptwriter), Yan Pak Wing, came up with another quirky supernatural winner as far as I was concerned in Hotel Soul Good.  The kind of film that's quite a bit better than its (English language) title and premise makes it sound, it's also the kind of genre-transcending movie that Hong Kong cinema used to be famous for and -- so long as people like Yan Pak Wing are given a chance to do so -- still produces against the odds.

Those readers who are familiar with my Hong Kong movie tastes will know I prefer local Hong Kong movies to Hong Kong-Mainland Chinese productions.  They also will know that I'm hardly a big fan of Aaron Kwok -- and that even while I like Chow Yun Fat, I don't adore him like many Hong Kong movie fanboys (and girls) do.  Considering all this, it's pretty miraculous that Project Gutenberg was able to entertain me as much as I do.  The thing though is that, in this case, the co-production arrangements allowed for an ample enough budget to make this globe-trotting effort look super slick and sophisticated, and director-scriptwriter Felix Chong was wise enough to provide Chow Yun Fat with the best role he's had in years as well as strong enough to get Aaron Kwok to rein in his ego and over-acting in a surprising restrained second fiddle role!   

When you see the name Yuen Wo Ping attached to a movie, you know that it's going to contain some genuinely exciting fight scenes.  Happily, Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy doesn't disappoint in that regards.  And even better is that this spin off from the Ip Man movies starring Donnie Yen also has powerful dramatic moments, interesting characters, and capable actors and actresses who can pull off dramatic roles as well as action ones.  Also gratifying is how there are formidable females as well as males in the movie -- but you could say that should be expected in a film whose helmer's directing -- not just action directing -- credits does include Wing Chun! ;b    

This dramatic offering screened at the 2018 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival is a bit of an oddity in that it's actually a video recording of a theatrical production: specifically, the 2017 revival of Pants Theatre Production's dramatic documentary theater retelling of the riots that broke out in Hong Kong in May 1967.  Created from interviews, news clips and other found documents, the theatrical work premiered to great acclaim in 2014.  Recorded on film, I found the performance that I got to see creative and also informative; the latter not least because the 1967 Hong Kong riots is a subject not often covered in films and, for that matter, in or by other media.

9) Tracey           

This drama from debutant director Jun Li has attracted much attention and publicity for being Hong Kong's first film centering on a transgender individual.  Where Tracey derives its greater power and resonance as far as I'm concerned though is by it actually having a wider focus than may be realized.  Put another way, it's an affecting story not only about one person but also that individual's loved ones, including family members and good friends -- all of whom are portrayed by capable thespians, among whom Kara Hui Ying Hung (aka Kara Wai) and Ben Yuen in particular provide standout performances.   

The second film produced by Donnie Yen on this list, Big Brother also sees the action superstar in front of the camera playing a crack soldier turned dedicated educator.  Almost as improbable as his character is how this movie actually is a serious social drama in parts as well as an entertaining comedy and exciting actioner!  Much less of a vanity project and more of a labor of love, this earnest little movie has its heart in the right place -- and so does the main man behind it. :)

Saturday, January 12, 2019

An unlikely haven for lovers of nature in Hong Kong

At Sham Chung this afternoon

Blue sky, green countryside and clear water in Hong Kong!

 Photo of a friend photographing a lizard spotted
on our Sham Chung hike ;b

My heart sank when I walked out of my apartment this morning and saw how polluted the air looked -- about as bad as last Saturday, as a matter of fact.  Having arranged a couple of weeks to go hiking with two friends in the Sai Kung Peninsula, I pressed ahead with my journey to Sai Kung town.  

After meeting up with then though, we quickly agreed to change our hiking plans.  More specifically, we decided to save Tai Long Wan for a clearer day and venture instead on a largely inland route from Pak Sha O to Sham Chung that would offer up plenty of cool close-up sights as well as be less physically demanding.

Early on in the hike, I mentioned to my friends -- who had never been to this part of Hong Kong despite being long-time residents of this territory -- that I liked going along this route in warm weather as certain sections of it can seem like a veritable bug highway.  And while we didn't spot as many bugs out today as on other times that I've been this way, it's worth noting that it's supposedly to be currently the middle of winter in the Big Lychee!

Still, it's also true that today was an unseasonably hot day -- with maximum temperatures of 27.3 degrees Celsius having been registered in Pak Tam Chung this afternoon!  So I guess it shouldn't have been all that surprising that we did spot some butterflies, a couple of dragonflies and at least one long-tailed lizard as well as quite a few birds about the place!

Actually, the sight that I really was surprised to see today was beautiful blue skies over Sham Chung on a day when much of the rest of Hong Kong was enveloped in haze.  Coupled with the clear waters to be found in Sham Chung Wan, I felt like I was in a most unlikely haven in Hong Kong; one I sincerely hope will not be a case of Paradise lost -- be it as a result of greedy land owners, property developers or the government -- any time soon.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The seafood feast that was the best meal we had on Jeju!

The main dish we ordered at dinner 
at a Jeju City seafood restaurant :b

The second dish we ordered for that meal :)

A partial view of how our table for four ended up looking! :O

All too soon, it was time to say goodbye to Seongsan Illchulbong and the rest of eastern Jeju.  But before we bid farewell to the southern Korean island where we had had such a good time, my party of four first drove back to, and spent the evening and night in, Jeju City.
When scouting for restaurants to eat at near our hotel, I noticed a preponderance of Korean fried chicken and barbecue places.  I'm not sure if the rest of Jeju's provincial capital is like this but the sense I got from my neighborhood recce was that Jeju City felt more typically Korean -- at least in culinary terms -- than the rest of Jeju.  

While I have nothing against "regular" Korean food (and, in fact, am a big fan of it!) or, for that matter, the meat of land animals, my party nonetheless unanimously agreed that we'd like to have one more seafood dinner in Jeju before we bid farewell to the island and also different members of our quartet.  

So we ended up going to one of just two seafood restaurants I had seen on my neighborhood recce: an establishment which felt like a truly local family as well as thoroughly unpretentious place in that it came complete with a playpen to one side of the dining area for the restauranteur's children that one cheeky member of our quartet joked was where we could make "picks" the way some people like to do with seafood in restaurant aquariums! 

With two members of our party being non-Asians, we caused quite the stir when we first went into the restaurant.  But once one we started ordering food and drinks (beer and soju as well as both cold and lukewarm water) in a manner that assured them we knew what we were doing, and especially after we started tucking into the food laid out in front of us with obvious relish and enthusiasm, everybody relaxed and things got really comfortable and super enjoyable.

At the end of it all, every member of my party decided that this was the best meal that we had in Jeju -- which is saying quite something since we had a lot of good meals and food over the course of our all too short time on the island!  Here's the thing: the main dishes we ordered (a seafood hotpot that came topped with large abalone that were still alive and moving(!), and a large grilled mackerel) were really delicious but what truly made the whole affair so outstanding was the banchan that we were served.  

In addition to the regular kimchi and vegetable banchan, we also were given a big bowl of soup/stew, a grilled fish dish that I initially mistook for the grilled fish we had ordered (to the point of whispering to the friend closest to me that we might have mistakenly ordered grilled saury rather than grilled mackerel) and a pickled/marinated crab dish that more than one of my party later said that we would have been happy to order and pay for if we had seen it on the menu! And, amazingly, after we devoured all the ganjang gejang laid out before us, the waitress came over to our table and asked us if we'd like a refill of that particular banchan -- to which we all told her "yes" most emphatically! 

One member of our party pronounced mid-meal that she would have been happy if served just that pickled/marinated crab dish and soju alone for dinner.  Another laughed and pronounced her a cheap date but I think we all were agreed that it was absolutely delicious.  Even now, when writing about it, my mouth is actually watering at the memory of this dish -- which is similar to a Teochew (aka Chiu Chow) marinated raw crab dish that I've had before and equally delectable to my mind!  And for the record: I thought those super fresh abalone were pretty good too! ;b 

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Birds abound at Jeju's Seopjikoji!

Bird among the rocks at Seopjikoji ;b
Another bird spotted in the same area!
Cormorants on the Jeju coast

Back in the winter of 2013, I went on a World Wildlife Fund tour of the Mai Po Nature Reserve.  At one stop in the tour, our guide pointed to a bunch of rocks in an area where lots of birds had flocked and asked us if we knew why the tops of them were white.  When one person guessed that the white stuff on the rocks was bird shit, our tour guide signalled that the answer was indeed correct with a big laugh.
So when I went to Seopjikoji and saw that a number of the rocks in the area (including its landmark candlestick-shaped Sendolbawi) were white topped, I knew that this area would be one where birds abounded.  Still, it was quite the bonus to come across species that were more interesting looking than the ones I had caught sight of while visiting the Jongmo Shrine in Seoul some years back.   
Because of their size, the cormorants -- which look similar to ones I've seen in Hong Kong, as opposed to the great cormorants I saw in Inuyama, Japan, just a few months previously -- hanging about on the coast were easy enough to spot.  And a more brightly colored bird made itself easy to spot by posing atop a wooden post close to the path I was walking along!

Less easy to spot though was a small spotted bird that I initially mistook for a small rock!  That mistaken identity may sound unlikely but I think you'll be able to see how I made it when you look at the photo at the top of this blog post! :b