Addicted to ‘Addicted’《上癮》上癮了

So I watched Addiction/Addicted or 《上癮》 the gay-themed Chinese drama that got banned recently and… I thought it was great for a Chinese drama. If you don’t want spoilers skip down past the first photo. Although let’s face it, spoilers aren’t really a concern with formulaic but fun dramas.

Albeit it’s a little bit problematic that stalking, rape, kidnapping and violent jealousy are treated as normal (and almost comical) ways in which the couple finally get together. If I hadn’t seen a lot of straight Chinese dramas along similar themes, I would think this was an attempt to demonize the gay community, but in other series that don’t feature gay themes and even in the straight relationships featured in the series, bat-shit crazy is seen as a normal expression of love. Although it may be seen as encouraging unhealthy behaviour in relationships, let’s face it, this is a soap opera, so drama is par for the course. It was therefore a little bemusing to see the couple waking up as lovers the night after the kidnap before – but let’s not try and find too many life lessons here and explore some of the language instead! My friend told me the book is worth a read and is a bit of a tear-jerker, but can’t find it on online bookstores.

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So this may all be common knowledge for those of you who studied Chinese in Beijing, but for learners in Taiwanese, it can raise a few eyebrows. Here we see the phrase 「每次都找我的茬」「茬」(chá) could be replaced by 「麻煩」, as the phrase means  “He’s always trying to make trouble for me”.

The second word 「慫」 (sǒng) seems to mean “I couldn’t be arsed arguing with you, so you can have it your way” – a super long explanation for one tiny word, lol.
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The next term 「奴家」 isn’t really a slang term, I just thought it was funny to hear in the context of banter between two bi-curious guys in a Chinese drama

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Dahai uses 「奴家」(a humble self-referential term used by women) as a jokey self-reference.

Below we’ve got the old classic 「咋了」 which just means 「怎麼了」

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Happy to get an earful from any Beijingers who take issue with any of the interpretations here or just be nice and leave some more Beijing slang in the comments section.

A Dictionary of Maqiao 《馬橋詞典》書評

A Dictionary of Maqiao is a really considered and philosophical book, whilst managing to retain an earthiness and wit throughout. 10867069_10101763657599809_38699079_nI liked the way the narrator poses the book as an effort to deconstruct traditional story-telling. He sees the traditional novel as directing its gaze selectively – focusing in on those things that relate to the central narrative, while ignoring the things that are on the periphery of this:

Things that can’t be put in the traditional novel are normally “insignificant.” However, when your focus is theocracy, science is insignificant; when it is humanity, nature is insignificant; when it is politics, then love is insignificant; when it is money, then aesthetics are insignificant. I suspect that everything in the world has the same level of significance, however, and that the reason that some things appear insignificant at times, is because they are filtered out by the author’s framework of meaning and are resisted by the reader’s framework of meaning, as they are not exciting enough. Clearly, these frameworks are not innate and unchanging, but rather the contrary, they are reformed by fads, habit and cultural tendencies – this mould is then set in the form of the novel. [My translation]

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Film Review ‘Ice Poison’: All the right ingredients but no magic 《冰毒》影評

Ice-PoisonThis film is set in and around Lashio in Northern Shan State in Myanmar, a region populated by many ethnic Chinese. Some are later immigrants, while others are remnants of the retreating Nationalist Army – posted there as guerrilla forces after the main force retreated to Taiwan. Conflict between rebels here and the Myanmar central government spilled over into Yunnan province recently when a bomb dropped by a Myanmar Air Force plane killed some villagers there.

The film deals with a very current issue as the civil war in Myanmar between government forces and northern ethnic rebel groups continue. China has been struggling to outdo the US in wooing the government and the main opposition ahead of general elections there next year, although illegal border trade with China is believed to be the main supply line for rebels in the north. Chinese business people are also responsible for a lot of the illegal logging and mining taking place in the region (despite getting permits from northern rebels, many of them are aware that logging is illegal in Myanmar).

This had the unfortunate effect of raising my expectations for the film, as despite being located in a fascinating part of the world, I felt that the “love story” wasn’t done in a convincing way. The female protagonist returns from China where she has married a substantially older man, from whom she seemingly wants to escape. She travels home for the death of her grandfather, taking him funeral clothes from his hometown in Yunnan. She is driven home by a farmer-turned motorcycle driver, who is not very successful at his new job. She meets him again when he takes a message to her from the town, and eventually she proposes that they go into the meth business together, as her cousin is in the business and can set up deliveries for her. They fall in love while working together and both start using from their own supply. Eventually they get caught on a delivery and the male lead flees the scene, leaving her with all the blame. He then flees back to his rural village and appears to be in great mental trauma. The process of the female lead stripping the male lead of his innocence was portrayed in montage style, so we end up feeling distanced from the process which would have drawn us in and made us identify with the two of them. The girl’s life in China is never really presented in a way that allows us to understand in a visual sense why she comes back and what motivates her to get involved in the drug trade, as we just learn about her treatment in China through phone calls with her mother in law.

The film is beautifully shot and the issues it deals with, the rise of amphetamine in Myanmar and Southeast Asia and the poverty of Chinese ethnic groups in Myanmar, are interesting, although they get a more interesting examination elsewhere. Check out the references below for a more interesting analysis on how the meth trade is affecting China and for more news on Myanmar and South East Asia from a news site run by exiles from Myanmar.

That said, I thought that certain scenes were moving, like the death scene of the grandfather at the start of the movie and the bookend-style scenes on the male lead’s family plot at the start and end of the movie. The film does achieve its end in the sense that I was convinced of the frustration felt by these people and that there is no way out for them other than death from starvation or criminal behavior and prison, however, I felt this could have been achieved with a lot more pathos if the characters and the love between them had been more three dimensional than the “romantic montage” allowed for.

Wang Gong wuz here ’15 尪公進天公繞境

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Saw this torn poster around the Wanhua district while out to lunch. It’s a path marker left by a parade to welcome the Gods of Loyalty (尪公) into the Palace of Heaven. The gods of loyalty were two Tang dynasty generals Zhang Xun (張巡) and Xu Yuan (許遠) who were honored by Emperor Suzong (唐肅宗) posthumously for their loyalty in dying defending the Tang dynasty during the Battle of Suiyang against Yan troops. Interestingly, this was quite controversial as they are said to have encouraged cannibalism during the battle.

「尪公」 or Gods of Loyalty is a common way to refer to the 「保義大夫」 or “senior officials upholding justice,” which you can see written at the center of the torn poster.

I found a helpful description of the events (and other events) in Taiwanese folk religion at this site. Here’s the description of the 迎尪公 (Welcoming the Gods of Loyalty) parade:

十二日為保義大夫祭典。尪公,即保義大夫俗稱。據傳,保義大夫為驅除田園害蟲之神,俗信其神輿過處,附近害蟲將盡死滅,因此,迎神輿須通過田中畦道。保義大夫之神輿極小,僅以兩人抬扛。祭典當日,住戶例均供祭牲禮,並供五味碗,犒賞其部下神兵,遊行隊伍,均甚壯大。

The tweflth day [of the fifth lunar month] is the ceremony of the senior officials upholding justice. Wang Gong is the colloquial name for the “senior officials upholding justice.” Apparently the “senior officials upholding justice” can help to get rid of pests in farmland and people believe that wherever the palanquin of the gods passes will lead to the death and destruction of pests and insects in neighboring land, so the palanquin has to pass through the paths around fields. The palanquin of the senior officials upholding justice is quite small and is carried by only two people. On the day of the ceremony, offerings are made by local residents, offering a variety of sweet, sour, bitter, spicy and salty dishes to reward the celestial troops and give strength to those taking part in the parade.

Not sure why it is torn – if this is tradition or someone concerned that the extremely dirty reflector on the traffic light pole was being blocked from sight

Memory and Small Town China: ‘Hometown Boy’ Review 《金城小子》影評

jinchengThis is a slow-brewing documentary and Taiwanese director, Yao Hung-yi (姚宏易) clearly shares a love of long but poignant camera shots with executive director Hou Hsiao-hsien (侯孝賢). The documentary is about Chinese artist and actor Liu Xiaodong (劉小東) going back to his hometown of Jincheng in China’s north-western Liaoning province to paint his childhood friends. Liu was a producer on Devils On the Doorstep, which I reviewed here, and starred in the film The Days (《冬春的日子》), which I haven’t yet seen. Continue reading

Guest post: Garrett Dee on Jia Zhangke’s ‘A Touch of Sin’

This is a guest post from blogger Garrett Dee which offers a different perspective on a film I reviewed a little while ago, Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin. Check out Garrett’s blog here

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Devoid of musical background and utilizing the now smog-covered skies over much of China as its primary color scheme, Jia Zhangke’s most recent film A Touch of Sin presents to the viewer an aggressive portrayal of modern China in which the average citizen fights a sometimes life-or-death struggle for their societal niche. Spanning a series of four short vignettes, each focusing on a single character and based (partially) on real-life events, Jia’s engaging film seems meant to be viewed as a loosely-fantastical interpretation of a Middle Kingdom in which what has been thought of as a  traditionally communal society has become atomized by wealth, power, and frustration.

It is the casual method with which Jia peppers the plot with violence, which is neither discussed or lingered upon for too long a frame, that appears more crucial than the violence itself. I am reminded in a way of the titular character of the novel American Psycho, who intersperses his daily routine with random acts of murder in such a nonchalant way: a killing of a homeless man during a coffee break here, murdering a prostitute before going to a nightclub there, and so on.

Jia’s film’s violence, however, seems to want so say something about his homeland in that very circumspect way that many Chinese artists (see, Mo Yan and company) seem to have perfected given the limitations under which they labor. In most of the vignettes, the characters are only driven to violence after suffering some sort of injustice. This seems in part, though, due to the ubiquity with which violence is dealt out in Jia’s China, the young woman in particular suffering through several bouts of violence with no ​visible reaction from onlookers, who have no apparent qualms about a woman being forcefully thrown against a car and wandering into an inexplicably unattended snake pit.

The exception to this theme of flight from some kind of persecution seems to be the second vignette, the story of the young man returning to his family village to celebrate his mother’s birthday before murdering a woman and bystander in order to steal the woman’s purse. Based on the factual incident of Zhou Kehua, a gunman suspected of murdering nine people before he was finally gunned down by Chinese police in 2012, his acts of brutality appear to be somewhat cathartic, a symptom of the same restlessness that has driven him from city to city in such a driftless manner.

Indeed, this listless mobility weaves into the narrative throughout the final three vignettes and seemed to be one of the strongest unifying themes of the film as a whole. The characters seem to have little compunction against abandoning their place of abode for somewhere new, whether out of necessity or, in the case of the Zhou character, for the sheer desire to be an abandoner of past and family in favor of something new. China is indeed undergoing the largest mass migration in human history, and the way in which these characters constantly reshuffle their lives around jobs and lovers, alighting at their family homes before departing for parts unknown, seems realistic when set in this context.

The order in which Jia chose to place each of these vignettes appears to form a kind of meta-narrative, descending from the high vantage point of characters who proactively seek redress and agency towards a state of utter hopelessness in the face of a bleak future, driving them towards either death or a profound detachment. The final scene, in which the young woman, who we last see as having cut her hair short and fabricated a new identity, stumbling aimlessly through the barren landscape before joining a crowd of blank faces gazing at a puppet show ends the film on a hollow, bitter note.

This is, after all, Jia’s puppet show, one in which he cruelly dangles his marionettes in agony before cutting their strings and smashing them on the ground. In Jia’s version of China, though, the real puppeteers seem to be the most wealthy and powerful, whose fortunes and statuses allow them to not only afford lavish lifestyles in significant disparity from the meager existence of the various protagonists, but also permit them to do as they please with impunity. However, the initial vignette, is an answer to this problem, a fantasy in the style of the 2011 film God Bless America in which J​ia ​gets to have some darkly humorous fun of his own as his protagonist​ sets about​ literally blow​ing the heads off of those who have wronged him.

Jia’s fascinating film serves his homeland up to audiences as a cynical, lawless society in which violence permeates daily life and wealth is the only respected authority until it annulled at the barrel of a gun or the edge of a knife. Jia stays away from explicit criticism of the policies that have led to this sort of situation, but the implications of the desperation and restlessness with which he portrays the lives of his main characters suggest these are but a microcosm of problems on a macro scale.

‘The Military Wisdom of Mad Tse tung’ spotted at Eslite in Gongguan 誠品DVD中有《(有)毛(病)澤東兵法》

This made me laugh when perusing the DVD shelves at Eslite Bookstore in Gongguan:

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The English title of the third DVD from the left reads, “The Military Wisdom of Mad Tse Tung, although the Chinese reads as normal. Not sure if this was a passive aggressive gesture from the English proofreader or just a genuine mistake. Probably a more accurate representation of the content anyway…

Devils on the Doorstep: Film Review 《鬼子來了》影評

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In a phrase: A pantomime until the end, at which point it rushes to satisfy nationalistic appetites.

(Spoilers below)

This film is set in a small Chinese town called Guajia (hang up armor) under Japanese occupation during the second world war. Two prisoners are mysteriously delivered to a Ma Dasan, a man who lives in the village, at knife point by a stranger who does not reveal his face. Ma Dasan is told to hold on to the two prisoners, a Japanese soldier and a Chinese translator, until “they” come for them and to make sure they don’t escape or die, or Ma Dasan, played by Jiang Wen, will be killed. Slapstick comedy ensues as Japanese soldiers come into the village several times and very nearly discover the prisoners, Ma Dasan is picked by the villagers to kill the two prisoners, but can’t do it so the village sends to the nearest town to hire a professional killer who also fails to carry out the task. All the while the villagers have built up somewhat of a rapport with the Japanese prisoner through the translator, who deliberately mistranslates between the two according to his own best interests. I found these slapstick elements and the “comic” mistranslations all a bit trite and pantomime-like.

The film goes some way to humanizing the Japanese soldier in captivity, as we learn that he is just a farmer like the villagers in Guajia. The slapstick comedy in the film is also divided between Japanese soldiers and the Chinese peasants – with the same actors used to play two hapless Japanese soldiers as play two of the main villagers. The resulting idea that comes across is that these are simply bumpkins playing at war – which is possibly the closest the film comes to a nuanced view of war.

When the villagers draw up a contract with the prisoner, stating that they will return him to his unit in exchange for food for the village, we are presented with the “baddy” of the piece – the unit commander, who is the incarnation of the Chinese (and Western) impression of Japan’s wartime ideology. In a climatic scene in which the unit commander “reveals his true colors” the whole village is slain and burned to the ground while Ma Dasan is fetching his wife Yuer from her mother’s house to get their share of the reward for returning the soldier. While the scenes are not quite as graphic as the bayoneted fetus in Black Sun: The Nanking Massacre, there is the murder of the elderly village head, a woman and a young boy and the human side to the Japanese soldier in the village we saw before disappears. The cherry on the cake is when the unit commander stops the Japanese soldier who was taken prisoner from committing seppuku by announcing that he has already received notice that the war was over, but had let his soldiers perpetrate this massacre before telling them. This seemed to be an attempt to fan the flames of Chinese anti-Japanese sentiment and lacked the breadth of nuance of films like The Railway Man which tries to contrast war mentality with post-war mentality, or like the Human Condition (《人間の条件》) film trilogy. In the Railway Man, a man confronts the Japanese translator that was party to his torture long after the war is over and they eventually come to be friends. Human Condition on the other hand documents one man’s journey from enthusiasm and seeing the colonial project as a humane civilizing mission which has been tainted by violent and corrupt officers on the ground to a realization that the problem is with the entire idea of colonialism itself (see more here).

I didn’t feel that this film achieved its goal in this sense, given that this is what Jiang has stated he was aiming to achieve. There are hints that it was trying to however, for example, as the villagers of Guajia are being killed, there is a broadcast from the Emperor of Japan, announcing Japan’s decision to lay down arms and making reference to the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Another interesting aspect of the film was the portrayal of the Kuomintang (KMT) or Nationalist army. Ma Dasan returns to the local city where the Japanese soldiers are being held in detention after the war and he goes on a rampage with an axe, killing many prisoners. The KMT leader then makes an impassioned speech about how much he too has suffered and compares this to the suffering of Japanese people themselves. When Ma Dasan is executed by Japanese troops on order of the KMT he honks like a donkey when asked for final words. This denouement sets the stage for the Communist takeover of China – as the Kuomintang are seen to be simply pawns of the Allied Forces and overly friendly to the Japanese. That the film portrays the KMT in government during the victory over Japan (albeit as puppets of the allies) and the lack of overt anti-Japanese sentiment among the villagers, who are also portrayed for the most part as ignorant bumpkins, may be why the film was banned.

Overall this film is watchable in the same gung-ho way as many older Western movies on German prisoner of war camps. There is no deeper level of analysis here and it is a bit of a crowd-pleaser.

Score: 2.5/5

I found this Chinese language review from a mainland Chinese viewer online: http://i.mtime.com/liyang5201314/blog/2762633/

《天注定》影評 A Touch of Sin Review

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A Touch of Sin is a film by Jia Zhangke (賈樟柯). I’ve only seen Platform (《站台》) by him before, so am unfamiliar with the majority of his work. The Chinese title of the film differs from the English title, in that the Chinese means literally, “fate appointed by the heavens,” whereas the English title has a more Christian ring to it, although I read that it is apparently a nod to the English title of a martial arts film called A Touch of Zen (《俠女》).

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Font Matters 字體異型

I’ve noticed certain interesting irregularities in Chinese fonts. The book I’m reading at the minute (《馬橋詞典》; the edition was originally published by 聯經出版社/Linking Books) in Feb. 2011, and this copy is the second printing) uses the form of the character 感 seen in the top line of the image below, as opposed to the one on the bottom. The character on the top line has a 丿that encloses the entire character, as opposed to the one on the bottom line in which the heart radical at the bottom is separate.
ganI’ve noticed similar differences in other characters before and was curious if anyone else had spotted any other slight differences that come to mind. Also curious if this is influenced by historic instances of difference in the way the character can be written.

The interesting thing for me as a Cangjie user is that it should technically change the way the character is written in Cangjie, as instead of 戈口心 it should follow the example of 威 (戈丿一女) and be written 戈丿一心, although obviously this is just a font.

Which form do you come across the most in the books you are reading? What are the names of the different fonts that use this form?