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

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/

Taiwanese word of the day: to fall off your motorbike (but forget to let go of the handles) 犁田 (雷殘) lê-chhân

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I was discussing Taiwanese expressions that are quite hard to translate today with my coworkers over lunch, and one word they mentioned really stayed with me because it evokes a very comic picture in your mind. The phrase is 「犁田」lê-chhân and is often rendered phonetically into Mandarin as 「雷殘」. It’s original meaning is to plough fields, but it has been extended to mean when people fall off the back of their motorbikes but keep holding on to the handles so that they get dragged behind, like a man driving a plough, although it can be applied to falling off your bike or motorbike in general. It is a jokey term, so only really appropriate for minor scrapes. It is another of these Taiwanese terms that you can use in Mandarin, the equivalent (but without the comic image) is 「摔車」. Drive safe people!

The Ministry of Education’s Taiwanese dictionary provides this example:

伊昨暗車騎無好勢,犁田矣。I cha-àm chhia khiâ bô hó-sè, lê-chhânah. (他昨晚車子沒騎好,就摔車了) Last night he wasn’t driving carefully, and fell off his bike.

Feel free to contact me with any cool Taiwanese words or phrases you hear and want featured on the blog.

Taiwanese word of the day: Fail to hit the mark/to muck up 脫箠(凸垂) thut-chhôe

脫箠(凸垂) thut-chhôe to make a mistake, to muck up; Mando: 出差錯
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One of my friends used this word in a message he sent me today. The message read as follows:

在工作…客人要來工廠我很忙>_<
我怕我講英文惠[sic. should be 會]凸垂
緊張!!!!

I’m working… a client is coming to see the factory [so] I’m really busy>_<

I’m worried I’ll make a mistake with my English

Nervous!!!!

Continue reading

Taiwanese phrase of the day: You can tell if people are stupid by looking at their faces 人若呆,看面就知 lâng nā gōng khòaⁿ bīn tio̍h chai

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I seem to have learned mostly offensive Taiwanese so far, but hopefully that will change as I slowly run out of offensive material. This is still one of my favourite phrases in Taiwanese, because it’s so cutting. The photo above (not mine, found on Facebook, but originally posted to ptt) had me laughing for a while during the Sunflower movement. Cabinet member Hsiao Chiachi (蕭家淇 Xiao Jiaqi) remonstrated with the press that someone ate his taiyangbings (太陽餅 a flat pastry filled with stuffing, like a moon cake) during the brief occupation of the Executive Yuan by students – obviously his major concern at a time when the Legislative Yuan was still occupied by students. The caption reads: “The ones I was going to give my colleagues were eaten too!” His words and his despair have spawned many a meme, but this one has to be my favorite. I don’t agree with the premise of the phrase, as it’s pretty offensive to call anyone stupid, and I don’t think Mr Hsiao is stupid either, his comments were just comically ill-timed. He was probably attempting to portray the students, who were being deified in the pan-green press at the time, as vandals (stealing, damaging property etc), and therefore undermine the support in Taiwan for the protest in the Legislative Yuan. This came across, however, as a passionate love for sun cakes, and utter disappointment that someone else had gotten to them first. Continue reading

Taiwanese word of the day: sông (俗) (Did you buy that at Walmart?) sông

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This is an amusing term, as it describes the Walmart-esque fashion often showcased on 9gag, and the Taiwanese equivalent of it – the red tint to the hair, the blue and white flip flops, leopard prints, teeth stained by betelnut, pretty much the calling card of the 台客 – and is generally considered the broader version of the phrase 你很台 (You’re very into Taiwan style – puzzling enough this is not a compliment, it’s kind of like calling someone a chav (痞子pízi in Mandarin) in the UK).

This word is really common, and you’ll often hear it (with Taiwanese pronounciation) in Mandarin. It’s often written using the character 俗, but I don’t think that this is the actual character that it’s derived from, as the dictionary lists the romanization sông, and 俗 is pronounced sio̍h and sio̍k and means cheap when used in isolation. The other character I found it listed under – 倯 – appears just to be a phonetic rendering into Mandarin, as it doesn’t appear in any dictionaries – although I could be wrong.

This phrase is pretty useful as it can be used in Mandarin in phrases like 他很sông, to indicate your disapproval at someone dressing like they’re from Kaohsiung (only joking Kaohsiung, most Kaohsiungers are really well dressed – I’ve just been living up north for too long to have sense). The Taiwanese equivalent to that phrase would be:

伊足sông i chiok sông
or
伊真sông i chin sông

伊 i he/she 他/她
足 chiok 很*
真 chin really 真
sông out of touch/unfashionable

*There are also other ways to say 真 or 很 in Taiwanese.

A word of warning, although you may be eager to try out your Taiwanese on people, make sure that you don’t offend anyone. This may be alright to joke about with friends, but might not be appreciated if said to strangers or people you don’t know very well.

Feel free to contact me with any cool Taiwanese words or phrases you hear and want featured on the blog.

Taiwanese phrase of the day: Taiwanese people are up to their ankles in money (throwback) 台灣錢,淹腳目 Tâi-ôan chîⁿ im kha-ba̍k

10_Custom_Gold_Units_1930台灣錢,淹腳目  Tâi-ôan chîⁿ im kha-ba̍k In Taiwan, they’re rolling in money (lit.Taiwanese money floods your ankles)

If you buy Ma Ying-jeou’s line on the cross-strait trade-in-services and trade-in-goods pact, though many don’t, the end is nigh for Taiwan if it doesn’t sign. So the idea of Taiwanese swimming in money might seem slightly incredulous, but it wasn’t always this way – back in the 1980s, the “economic miracle” was in full swing, and in the words of Li Ang in her new book 《路邊甘蔗眾人啃》 (Everybody nibbles on the sugar cane at the side of the road):

要等到多年後台灣經濟蓬勃發展、八〇年代的台灣錢淹腳目,帶著大筆現金橫掃歐州精品店:「這個、這個,那個不要,其他的包起來」。

It wasn’t until years later, when Taiwan’s economy began to take off in the 1980s that the Taiwanese were really rolling in money, and swept through boutiques in Europe loaded with cash, saying: “I’ll take this, and this, I don’t want that, but can you bag up everything else for me”.

台灣 Tâi-ôan Taiwan

錢 chîⁿ money

淹 im flood or drown

腳目 kha-ba̍k ankles

Feel free to contact me with any cool Taiwanese words or phrases you hear and want featured on the blog.

Taiwanese word(s) of the day: country bumpkin face 莊腳面 chng-kha bīn ; ‘Ancient meaning’=earnest 古意 kó͘-ì

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I was flicking through one of Wu Nien-zhen’s plays the other day, called Human Condition 2 (《人間條件2》) and came across two phrases that I thought sounded rather funny. The first was 莊腳面 chng-kha bīn (click for pronounciation) , basically meaning that someone’s face looks like they’re from the countryside, or a bumpkin – which got me wondering what this kind of face looks like. It’s not always used in the negative, as it can imply innocence or directness and honesty too, I guess it depends on what your opinion on people from the countryside is. I found an answer on Yahoo which gives quite a good explanation of 莊腳 and other terms, although I’m not sure if the first three are still used in Taiwanese: Continue reading

Taiwanese word of the day: the bed god 床母 chhn̂g-bó

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床母 chhn̂g-bó  A bed deity in Taiwanese folk religion, who protects children and ensures they grow up safely.

Found this in Li Ang’s 《路邊甘蔗眾人啃》 (Everybody nibbles on the sugar cane at the side of the road), the context is below:

陳俊英還會不時與她作這類的談說:

「我小時候聽過床母,都說床母是神。」他回復了一貫的平和:「真好,睡的眠床也有神,我便總感覺有人抱著我睡,很安全、很被照顧著。」

Chen Junying would say this kind of thing from time to time:

“When I was little I heard about the bed deity, with people saying that it was a god.” He recovered his normal composure: “It was great, even the bed I slept in had a god, I always felt that someone was holding me while I slept, I felt really safe, like someone was looking after me.”

Quick update: the book is as sexually explicit as the 18+ label suggests.