Li Shang Yin’s Untitled Poems

Li Shang Yin (813-858) is a well-known Tang poet who wrote so many poems that he simply titled some of them “Poems in Four Lines”, which I translate as Untitled. Here are excerpts from two of them:

 

(1) Meeting was hard and parting was harder,

Flowers wither when the winds turn weaker,

 

Silk is exhausted when the silkworm dies,

Tears will cease when candles become ashes.

 

(2) The winds and the stars last night

Drew us together at the east hall of the Western tower;

 

We had not the phoenix’s wings,

But had hearts linked by magical powers.

 

Bends

This 2013 movie, in Cantonese and dubbed in Mandarin, was selected for several International Film Festivals (in Toronto, Korea, London and Hong Kong) and stars Carina Lau and Chen Kun.

Anna (Lau) is an affluent housewife and Fai (Chen) is her chauffeur. Fai’s wife (a Mainland Chinese) is about to give birth to their second child, and they don’t want to be fined for having a second child in China and don’t want their child to become an illegal citizen.Though Fai crosses the border easily every day for work, it is a struggle for him to find a way to bring his wife and daughter over to Hong Kong from Shenzhen.

Anna is also struggling to keep up the facade of an affluent lifestyle, even for her daughter studying overseas, especially when her husband suddenly cancels all her Credit Cards and disappears. Her maid leaves her and she has to resort to sell her expensive paintings, sculptures and antique vases.

To Anna’s surprise, she’s not the only one facing financial turmoil. She unwittingly discovers about Fai’s attempt to smuggle his wife in the boot of Anna’s car when it overheats and stalls on a long drive one day. Eventually, Fai flags down a taxi to take his wife to the hospital and Anna is left to walk down the hill in her high-heel shoes and two branded handbags.

I did not quite like the way the story is told and find the music used  disappointing. When a beautiful cello is shown next to where Anna is seated at home, I expected to hear some cello music in the background, even if she doesn’t play it. When Anna attends her ballroom dancing classes in preparation for a Charity Ball, I expected some dance music in the background. To my disappointment, there is no cello (or any classical music) or any dance music. Even the movie’s theme song, The Beginning of the End, sung by Carina Lau, did not impress.

Dealing With Negative Emotions

Two weeks ago, I signed up for this talk with a couple of friends at the Serangoon Public Library, forgetting all about the jazz performance on the same afternoon at the library@esplanade.

I wondered if I had made a wrong decision when I saw there were only about a dozen attendees at the talk. When the two facilitators could not play the introductory video, I wished I was enjoying the jazz performance instead.

It was only when the facilitators role played an incident highlighting the destructive emotional cycle that I felt that perhaps I would learn something, like some useful tips on how to deal with negative emotions. For eg, instead of blaming others and justifying our triggered thoughts when a hot button is pressed, we should learn not to take things personally, nor make assumptions, but move away from the situation to avoid further conflicts.

Besides discussing what “thinking” and “emotional” brains and “emotional destructive cycle” mean, the facilitators also shared some signals to show that the body is stressed and strategies to manage negative emotions. These include

  • Body Talk – clenched jaw & gritted teeth, stomach upsets, aches & pain, chest pains & rapid heartbeat, insomnia, nervousness & shaking, ringing in the ear, and cold & sweaty hands & feet;
  • Feelings Talk – easily agitated, frustrated & moody, feeling overwhelmed, like losing control or need to take control, difficulty relaxing & quieten the mind, and feeling lousy, lonely, miserable & depressed;
  • Mind Talk – constant worrying & racing thoughts, forgetfulness, inability to focus and poor judgement;
  • Behaviour Talk – changes in appetite, procrastinating & avoiding responsibilities, increased use of alcohol, drug or cigarettes, and exhibiting more nervous behaviouss such as nail-biting, fidgeting & pacing.

Some ways to stay calm and happy in the long run include:

  • Giving people the benefit of the doubt
  • Looking at yourself for the problem first
  • Be mindful
  • Choose your battles
  • Confront with compassion

In conclusion, Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony (Mihandas Gandhi).

Spinning Plates

This 2013 documentary is about three extraordinary restaurants and the incredible people who make them what they are:

  1. Alinea is a cutting-edge Chicago-based restaurant, named seventh best in the world, where food is at once art, at once craft, at once science. The chef has to battle a life-threatening obstacle to pursue his passion.
  2. Breitbach’s Country Dining is a 15o-year-old family restaurant in Iowa. Once, a gas explosion blew the restaurant but it is still standing because of the unbreakable bond with its community.
  3. La Cocina de Gabby is a fledging Mexican restaurant in Tucson whose owners risk everything just to survive and provide for their young daughter.

The unforgettable stories of family, legacy, passion and survival come together to remind us  how meaningful food can be, and the power it has to connect us to one another. It is a celebration of the art and passion of nurturing people, not just feeding them but nourishing their soul and making them feel comfortable.

Life is what we make it. Let’s make it a feast.

Thoughts On A Quiet Night

I first came across the well-known Tang Poem ‘jing ye si’ by Li Bai (701-762) when I was a kid, learnt it in lower secondary school, and only now try to translate it into English:

 

Thoughts On A Quiet Night

 

Glowing moonlight over the bed,

Like early snowflakes on the ground;

Observing the bright moon above,

Thinking of homeland far away.

A Morning In Spring

I find it quite interesting to translate Tang poems into English. Here’s one by Meng Hao Ran (689-740) which I translate as A Morning In Spring:

 

Deep in slumber in spring,

Unaware of daybreak;

Upon awakening,

Birds can be heard singing;

 

Howling wind and loud rain

Were heard throughout the night;

Who knows how much petals

Have fallen on the ground?

The Zero Theorem

Since I’ve never liked science fiction, the only reason I borrowed this 2013 DVD is Christopher Waltz and Matt Damon. And was I disappointed! First, Waltz is completely not what I remember him to be; second, Damon appears in only one scene!!

The story is set in a futuristic London. We are in a chaotic and confused time. There are so many choices and so little time. What do we need,  who do we love, and what brings us joy?

Waltz is an eccentric and reclusive scientist (Qohen Leth) working on a mysterious project delegated by Damon (Management) who asks: What is the meaning of life?

Somehow, the futuristic sets ring forced and faked. I find the story mind-boggling, with endless mention of software, data, programming, mass, uploads and target overrun tedious, despite the stunts, special and visual effects.

Demolition

If I remember correctly, I gave this movie a miss last year because the review wasn’t great. But since it’s on the shelf of the library@esplanade when I last visited, I thought: Why not just watch it? After all, there’re Jake Gyllenhaal and Naomi Watts, if nothing else.

Because I didn’t have high expectations, I wasn’t really disappointed, though I didn’t think much of the story or even the way music is used.

The movie opens with Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) having a short conversation in the car with his wife just before an accident killed her. It’s tragic; but the music is a nice, soothing piano solo. Quite puzzling.

After the funeral, Davis left alone while the family, relatives and friends gathered at home. Here, J S Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto is used. This is a solemn occasion, so I understand the choice.

Davis works as an investment banker with his father-in-law Phil Eastwood (Chris Cooper). Phil didn’t like Davis, who grew up in Jersey and didn’t come from money. On top of that, Davis’ behaviour after the funeral was unexpected, erratic and bordering on bizzare, like pulling a train to an emergency stop, watching people’s luggages for hours at the airport, tearing the bathroom door apart, smashing almost everything at home, pulling the refrigerator apart, paying construction workers to take over their demolition work, and even getting a bulldozer to completely bring his house down. All these are accompanied by loud and fast music. To depict the ‘craziness’, the destruction and the devastation, I suppose.

Davis forms an unlikely connection with Karen (Noami Watts) and her son Chris (Judah Lewis) after Karen calls Davis on behalf of the vending machine company because Davis wrote four letters to complain and ask for compensation for the M & M chocolates that were not dispensed. It is fine when lovely instrumental music plays when they enjoy the beach and ocean, but I don’t understand why the ethereal Chopin’s Nocturne Op 9 No 2 is used when Davis and Chris are badly assaulted, so much so that Chris needs surgery.

When Davis discovers a shocking secret, there is no suitable music (not silence either) that brings out the mood or atmosphere. Neither is there any when Davis visits the grave of his wife. The closing scene is most puzzling of all – Davis walking along the pier to rock music.

 

Baby Driver

I was unaware of this movie until I read a newpaper article about a press event in Kuala Lumpur. I had never heard of director Edgar Wright or the lead actor, Ansel Elgort. But I instantly decided this movie is a must-watch because there are 46 songs in it, including Simon & Garfunkel’s Baby Driver. (This song was in the same album as Bridge Over Troubled Water, one of my favourite songs.)

The movie opens with Baby Driver at the wheel of the getwaway car (a Subaru, as blending in with the traffic was important) of a heist. The opening credits came on soon after and I was pleasantly surprised to see Kevin Spacey and Jamie Foxx among the cast. I anticipated a wonderful two hours’ entertainment.

Elgort plays Baby, and he got this name because that’s the first word he said. (His real name would only be revealed at the end of the movie, and it reminds me of a jazz musician of the same name.)

Spacey plays Doc, the boss and the brains behind the crimes. He turns out to be not a good leader but shows some good moments. He claims Baby is his lucky charm but he threatens Baby and his loved ones yet also protects him and lay down his life for him when the police descend on them.

Foxx plays Bats, a ruthless criminal in the gang. The members of the gang vary for every job. Other ciminals, all violent, include Buddy (played by Jon Hamm), Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) and JD (Lanny Joon).

The car scenes are well choreographed and exciting. The pace is fast and the action is great. But there are also touching moments; for eg when Baby fails in protecting his foster dad, Jo (CJ Jones), and has to put him in a home for assisted living. Another example is when Baby steps on the brake when his girlfriend Debora (Lily James) wants to reverse the car they are in as they come to a police block on a bridge; Baby turns off the engine and exits with his hands raised and throws the keys into the waters. The most sentimental scenes I must say involve Baby’s mum and what happened to her. This includes the many flashbacks and the song, Easy (originally by The Commodores), is sung by Sky Ferreira, who plays Baby’s mum.

The movie is so infused with music that even the characters talk about them, besides the heists and the romance between Baby and Debra. Some of these include Egyptian Reggae (Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers), Was He Slow? (Kid Koala), Let’s Go Away For Awhile (The Beach Boys), B-A-B-Y (Carla Thomas), Unsquare Dance (Dave Brubeck), Debra (T. Rex), Brighton Rock (Queen), Tequila (Button), and You Are So Beautiful (Bug Hall).

The car chases are set to high-energy tracks like Bellbottoms (The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion) and Neat Neat Neat (The Damned).

This is a movie about a young man with multiple skills, a getaway driver who is driven by music. There is something special about him. Besides his driving skills, Baby creates music from the audio samples he has recorded. He always carries an audio recorder with him and records conversations and then use these to crop and track to music. There is inspiration all around him.

He always has earplugs in his ears because he has tinnitus, a condition where his ears are constantly ringing and listening to music helps ease the ringing. (I wonder, though, how true this is.) Bats is frustrated with Baby’s listening to music and believes Baby isn’t listening to Doc when he gives instructions, but Baby could recite word for word the plan Doc has laid out for the next heist.

I look forward to more movies like this – filled with great music, a good story, wonderful acting, well-choreographed scenes, awesome stunts, and excellent visual and special effects!

Life Support

Life Support is inspired by the true story of Andrea Williams (AW), sister of Nelson George, the director of this movie. The result is a poignant tale of loving, losing and letting go.

In the movie, AW is Ana Wallace, played by Queen Latifah, which was the reason I borrowed the DVD. Together with Jamie Foxx, they are two of the Executive Producers.

Ana is a HIV-positive former drug addict from Brooklyn. She now works with other HIV-positive women in an AIDS prevention and support group and is passionately involved in an AIDS outreach programme.

Brooklyn has the highest rate of HIV-positive people so she tries to focus on Brooklyn and educate people, giving them tools that they need so they won’t become infected with HIV. The story is truthful of the reality of how the virus is affecting people and the reality of how families grapple wiht the complexities of this.

A lot of the movie is about forgiveness, about how difficult it is, with the virus or without the virus, to forgive. The story tells of Ana’s strength, her ability to overcome, her courage and how she is manifested in this virus and then makes it a force for good both in her life and in the lives of people she touches.

This is a slice of modern life; a second-chance story and a redemption. Previously, Ana’s passion might have been drugs, but now that passion goes from drugs to preventing drug abuse, to being an activist, to being a mother. HIV is a terrifyiing epidermic that is preventable.

The movie is also a little emotional roller-coaster. The most emotional scene I find to be the final Rooftop Memorial scene, where each month all in the support group, their families and friends, gather to give thanks to those who stand alongside them to give them the strength and courage to carry on, and to release balloons in honour of those they have lost. And they do it with love, with sorrow and with the hope that one day a cure would be found for this virus.

The music used here reflect the tough but aesthetic streets, tough places, tough topics, tough subject matter. It is somewhat like a ‘stylish’ documentary. Of the more than a dozen songs and pieces, I only recognised Thelonious Monk’s Ugly Beauty, an excellent choice.