Crazy New Year’s Eve

Crazy New Year’s Eve is a 2015 Chinese romantic comedy movie made up of six separate stories with almost no connection between the stories:

* The Proposal Story: A professional wedding planner in Shanghai tries to seduce her longtime boyfriend into getting married;

* The Traveling Story: A group of youngsters on an adventure holiday in Hainan get lost in a forest after escaping from a supposed kidnapper-murderer;

* The Policemen Story: Two cops hunt down a wanted criminal in Beijing;

* The Family Get-together Story: A North-Eastern family is torn by bickering as their father lies dying in hospital;

* The Train Story: A rich tycoon is thrown together with “ordinary” people on a train between Xi’an and Beijing;

* The Superstar Story: A superstar singer is torn between performing a Beijing New Year Gala and being with his wife during delivery.

Despite the promise of the title (in Chinese, 一路惊喜roughly translates to “surprises all the way”), there are no unexpected developments in the stories. However, the movie is still watchable and entertaining, mainly because of the cast. Fans of Jam Hsiao would have been pleased.

When Love Hurts

When Love Hurts: Stories of Women, Men and Children Learning to End the Violence in their Lives by Dr Sudha Nair and the team at PAVE is a very impactful book which strikes a chord deep in me because there are many instances described that remind me of my past life.

The stories tell of domestic violence that occur behind closed doors which, unsurprisingly, would open the eyes and minds of many in society who are in denial that there are many such occurrences around us. I can never forget my shock and disbelief when a fellow participant (a righteous and religiously devout person) in my Memoir writing class questioned me: “How much of this is true? You really didn’t just make up the story? How could such things possibly have happened?” (My story, titled Freedom, was published by the National Library Board in My Life My Story: Personal Narratives by Singapore’s Seniors.)

Written by social workers who worked with the clients, the stories in this book are based on case notes. One of them had been headlined in the national newspaper.I hope people would read this book to be more aware of a sad reality in many Singaporean homes.

The book is divided into seven sections:

* Women Who Stay with Violent Husbands

* Dating and Violence

* Trapped by Mind Games

* Foreign Women, Abused and Alone

* Men Who Beat Women Who Love Them

* Children and Violence

* Elder Abuse, the Tip of the Iceberg

I take my hats off to these social workers who help survivors break free from the shackles of abuse and regain their self-worth and dignity. I cheer the survivors for having the courage to share their private pain and shame in the book. I am heartened that there is now a family violence agency that believes strongly in combating family violence. (PAVE, formerly known as the Centre for Promoting Alternatives to Violence, was registered in 2002).

Everyone should read this book!

Today We Go Home

When I saw a copy of Today We Go Home by Kelli Estes on the library shelf, my eyes widened in delight. I enjoyed reading her debut novel, The Girl Who Wrote in Silk and have been waiting for this one for a while now.

The sophomore effort is a novel about women in military service. There are two separate but interwoven plots, one set in the nineteenth century and one contemporary. Both women are equally powerful and remarkably devoted to serve and protect their country and family. Both suffer the trauma of war, grief and loss. Both are compelling stories.

The author has done a tremendous amount of research into women serving in the Civil War and the plight of today’s veterans. In her notes, she explained a little more about how she came to write this book (which took about two years). There are also a list of recommended reading and resources with a Reading Group Guide at the end of the book.

Lucky Boy

Lucky Boy is a 2017 movie directed by Boris Boo. The main character, Lin Yu, is always No 2 in whatever he does, from the moment of his birth.

The movie is like a feature length comedy skit: lighthearted and entertaining. What makes it relatable is that the content is thoroughly local, with memorable events incorporated (such as Singapore’s football win at the Malaysia Cup in the 70s, the Hotel New World collapse in 1986, the SARS outbreak in 2003 and the Mas Selamat case in 2008) alongside the narrative.

This is one of those movies that doesn’t require the viewer to exercise much brain power or exert full concentration yet still able to laugh intermittently at the humorous scenes.

What They Had

What They Had is a touching and thought-provoking movie about a family in crisis – the mother suffers from Alzheimer’s and how each member of the family deals with it.

A woman flies home when her brother informs her that their mother has wandered off in the middle of the night halfway across town during a snowstorm.

The brother proposes that they move her into a care home, and he needs his sister (who has the power of attorney) to help persuade their father that it’s time for professional care. Their father, however, refuses to live apart from his wife. The siblings also have struggles in their own lives. The relationship between all four of them is intricate.

There is a sadness about the ordeal and a sense of helplessness because there’s no way to stop the disease from deteriorating. The old couple’s happy time together are now coming to an end and their deep love has moved into the past tense.

The devastating effects of Alzheimer’s is crushing not only for the person affected but also for the entire family. Memory loss is a painful thing.

Scarred

I have never heard of NXIVM until I came across this book by Sarah Edmondson in the library – Scarred: The True Story of How I Escaped NXIVM the Cult that Bound My Life. It sounds like another fascinating subject, Scientology (Troublemaker). Indeed, there are some similarities: the money, time and effort members have to put it; and the tributes paid to the founder (in this case, Keith Raniere, whose name I’m hearing for the first time).

This memoir tells of Sarah’s twelve-year experience as a member of the Cult. The brainwashing and manipulation tactics show how cults can prey on a person’s feelings of being incomplete. The group pulls people in, slowly and surely; they appeal to those who are feeling vulnerable and insecure. The psychological and physical abuse, her eventual escape and hopes for redemption tells of terrifying stuff yet shows her honesty and courage in eventually exposing the bizarre and disturbing ‘branding’ practices, resulting in the leader being found guilty of racketeering, sex trafficking, conspiracy, wire fraud and other crimes.

I don’t remember reading anything about the trial in the local newspapers, and I applaud Sarah Edmonson for her courage in writing this book (with Kristine Gasbarre, who also co-wrote Etched in Sand with Regina Calcaterra). Courage is not the absence of fear, but action despite fear.

If You Tell

If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood by Gregg Olsen is a shocking tale of abuse and manipulation and three sisters’ determination to survive their mother’s house of horrors.

Their mother (Shelly) loves to inflict emotional and physical pain on others – her three daughters, a young nephew, her former hairdresser and best friend and two other men endure years of humiliation and torture and even death for four of them. The level of depravity and cruelty are horrific and unsettling. Shelly is most happy when she is being horrible mean and is calm when she is being evil and vengeful.

The terrible acts are really horrifying to read; I can’t understand why these people choose to live with her and not escape or seek help when they could. More than that, I wonder how all these horrible things could have gone on for so long without any response from the authorities (such as the police) when they were alerted.

Did Shelly suffer from a personality disorder or some other mental illness? How could she and her accomplice husband ever be allowed to leave prison? (Husband was released in 2016, and Shelly will be released in 2022 when she is 68yo.) What will happen then?

The sisters have been stoic about how they were treated, and are courageous to finally tell the truth. They have been determined to survive and they have forged a new life for themselves. The sisterly bond is strong and they have found love. But will Shelly’s release from jail mean history repeating itself?

The Peanut Butter Falcon

I’ve wanted to watch The Peanut Butter Falcon since I found out a week ago that the lead actor, Zack Gottsagen, has Down Syndrome. I wondered about the significance of the movie title. I got the answer at the halfway point.

In the story, Zak is a young man who doesn’t know why he has been staying at a retirement home for two-and-a-half years and being labelled a ‘retard’ by the staff. His life is being stolen away from him by the state where he knows he doesn’t belong. So he escapes.

He chances upon Tyler (Shia LeBeouff) and tells him from the start that he is a Down Syndrome person but he is a friend because “friends are the family you choose”. He repeatedly says he”can’t be a hero because (he’s) a Down Syndrome”. He is not retarded; he is who he is and his dream is to meet his professional wrestler hero (Thomas Haden Church as Salt Water Redneck) and learn wrestling from him.

Tyler puts Zak to training by getting him to learn to balance, shoot, push, lift, combat, do Jumping Jacks and breath control exercises under water. Zak and Tyler have a special handshake when they achieve something or to cheer each other on.

This story tells of what it’s like to be different. It sheds light on people with Down Syndrome and the struggles some of them go through. These people can be full of self-confidence and relentless in chasing their dreams.

Besides the theme of friendship and redemption (mostly Tyler’s story, told in flashbacks, which will take another essay to tell), the acting and the cinematography are the best things in this movie. The acting is natural and authentic and Zak is a likeable character. The countryside and the vistas of bayous and woodlands are sights to behold.

Definitely a movie worth watching!

Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology

Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini caught my attention because I vaguely recall an article in The Straits Times about an actress (whom I had never heard of before or since) who left Scientology. I am also very curious about Scientology. (The only thing I know is that Tom Cruise and John Travolta are its most famous followers. And that Nicole Kidman and Katie Holmes divorced Tom Cruise because of Scientology.)

I gather, after reading the book, that Scientology is basically a cult (though referred to as a church). Leah was indoctrinated at a young age by her mother. She left the church about three decades later and wrote this book with a ghost writer (Rebecca Paley) to speak the truth.

In her introduction, she says that “describing Scientology is no easy undertaking for anyone” but that “this book is written from (her) heart and based on personal knowledge and (her) attempt to portray (her) experience within Scientology and the repercussions (she) endured as a result”.

She also revealed that when it came to talking about her role and required activities in the church, she would often lie to people. “Being a Scientologist was like having a double life.”

She learnt in Hollywood about friendship. “Friendships are not made overnight; it takes time, effort and energy. … Friendships are treated not in the best of times, but in the worst of times. … If real friends are hard to come by in life, you can imagine what it’s like in Hollywood. … Finding real friends is almost impossible as well.”

After leaving the church, Leah Remini has been learning how to deal with her emotions in therapy. Her therapist pointed out that in life there are “knowledges”. “You can take a little bit from this and a little bit from that. Use what works for you and leave the rest.”

In the end, change is never easy. But we all have a strength in that “we will never ‘believe’ just because”. We learn, and we heal; “it’s never too late to begin again. Better, stronger, more evolved”.

This has been a fascinating and captivating read, though some of the details are quite disturbing.

Under the Hawthorn Tree

Under the Hawthorn Tree caught my attention because I’d heard of the book Hawthorn Tree Forever by Ai Mi but had not read it (and not very keen to). It is supposedly a true love story set during the Cultural Revolution. Also, the director is Zhang Yimou and lead actress Zhou Dongyu, both of whom have left good impressions on me.

Jingqiu (played by Zhou) is a final year high school student sent down to Xiping village to learn from the peasants, and to conduct research for the school curriculum. She gets to know San, an intellectual from the city attached to the geological unit. Theirs is love at first sight. They make a pact to see the blossoming of a Hawthorn tree, the landmark of Xiping village, a symbol of their love and loyalty.

Zhou is young and exudes serene calm. Her character’s naivety, embarrassment and perplexity come across as genuine. Jing is an emotional and vulnerable character which Zhou portrays with a heartfelt tenderness.

The story ends with an aching sense of loss and mourns the transience of happiness.