31 August 2008


Directed by Terry Gilliam, Brazil is a touching film for those (me included) who are swamped with paperwork and lost in the administrative labyrinth. Had I watched this film five years ago when I didn't start my career, I wouldn't have understood it or sympathised with Sam Lowry, the protagonist who works in the Ministry of Information.

The plot is simple: Sam is a normal office worker, soullessly slaving away under the dominion of Mr Kurtzmann. Until the day he meets Jill, the woman that has appeared in his dreams, he falls in love and decides to escape his dreary world of officialdom. Of course, things are not easy because everything that happens is recorded and monitored by the authorities. Those who decide not to conform to the State's stringent rules and regulations will be 'deactivated' and vanish without traces.

From this perspective, Brazil may be regarded as a Kafkaesque prototype of such dystopian films as The Matrix and Minority Report, in which people are trapped and closely monitored by the State through technological advances. Looking back, I think Brazil can easily be compared to such films as Blade Runner, which similarly portrays a futuristic world that is both unlivable and soulless. The tone however is different: while Ridley Scott's Blade Runner touches upon this dystopian world through a rather serious and poetical viewpoint, Gilliam's Brazil chooses dark humour and satire (something quite British, I guess).

There're quite a few memorable scenes, including one in which Sam is ushered into his new windowless office partitioned in half by a thick wall. He even needs to share the desk. The reason I find this amusing (and sad at the same time) is simply because it resembles my office, which is similarly divided into two by bookcases. Another scene is the beginning when a bug is hit and falls into a machine, producing a printing error that leads to a series of mistakes and the unnecessary death of a wrongly accused man. This is rather chilling: it not only shows how we depend so much on machines, but also how chance works its way into this apparently foolproof system. No matter how much we try to systematise and regulate our world, things are bound to go not according to plan.

The ending, which I'm not going to reveal, is also very touching and worth waiting for.

23 August 2008

My Blueberry Nights

Wong Kar Wai never changes. His is the spirit of a loner, a city-dweller who loves aestheticising his own alienation. Non-smokers may start to smoke after watching his films.

My Blueberry Nights is his first feature-length film that speaks English. I couldn't help but recall those days of yore when I first watched Chunking Express and Fallen Angel (lent to me by Celine herself). These two films became the first in the series of eye-openers that have completely changed my viewing experience. Before this, I had thought that watching films was all about trying to grasp what's going on. But Wong Kar Wai's films were so emotional that sometimes grasping what it meant was not the point; getting the feeling right was perhaps more of what he aimed at.

That's why I rather treat My Blueberry Nights as another confectionary, an object that appeals to the senses rather than to the critical faculty. Compared to a type of dessert, what else could it be but a blueberry pie, a savoury pastry that is shunned by the majority of people (who would of course go for chocolate cake or apple crumbles) but is a precious item for the marginalised, myself included. I don't know why I love blueberries but I like the colour and its sour yet sweet taste, especially when the berries themselves ooze their dark aromatic juice. This film is like blueberries and I just like it for the sake of its appeal to my senses. If you use reason, you probably wouldn't enjoy this film. You are bounded to have the following questions. How come Norah Jones (as Elizabeth in the film) is so naive? Can you still find such an innocent girl in New York? Haven't all New Yorkers been transformed into cynical senseless automatons? Why has Jude Law (as Jeremy) been so loyal to her waiting for her for almost a year? Can you still find such a nice man in New York? These questions are just starters. Some people out there will have more queries, I guess.

The thing is, you need to relax when watching this film and just get the pure emotions. Relish it. All the better if you smoke and have a glass of wine while watching it. Not because having lung and liver cancer is fashionable, but because watching the smoke linger and enjoying a glass of wine makes you ponder as things around you are becoming slower. If you follow these instructions, things start to make sense.

However, it still doesn't mean that I really enjoy this film and give it a thump-up. Not really. I don't mind it being stylised but I do mind when it gets too cheesy. Like when Lessie's father dies in hospital waiting for the stray daughter to return. But some scenes do bring about powerful emotions, like Lessie's loneliness and Arnie's acceptance of his failure. But in my opinion, what somehow mars these is arguably the acting. Of course I think they're all great actors, especially David Strathairn starring Arnie. But wouldn't it be better if the acting had been a bit more understated? That's perhaps what makes this film differ from Kar Wai's other films, such as Chunking Express and In the Mood for Love, in which characters reveal less emotion and more weird, eccentric action that functions as key symbols. Of course, symbols abound in this film too, such as the collection of keys, Elizabeth's wish to buy a car, and the blueberry pie.

The ending makes me think though: isn't Elizabeth such a cunning slut, pretending to be asleep so that Jeremy can kiss her at the end? Perhaps travelling turns her into a sophisticated girl in the end, making her realise that men are indeed important and it's infinitely better to die as a wife rather than as a single spinster.

16 August 2008


We went to see Wall-E this evening. I didn't know anything much about the film, but the company name Pixar would naturally guarantee its quality. Of course, I wasn't disappointed and was even able to sympathise with both robots in the film -- Wall-E and Eve. Perhaps ironically if the characters had been real people I wouldn't have been able to do so. Perhaps I've simply lost faith in humanity.

The message of this film would probably please Al Gore, as it aims to criticise all of us (even Al Gore) who can't stop consuming and eventually making the world an ugly big junk heap. I couldn't help but feel depressed after watching the film even though there's some sort of hope at the end of the film when people are willing to give it another try, i.e. to make the world a better place.

But isn't this self-contradictory? To live is to consume, I believe. And as long as we breathe, we eat, drink, be merry, and produce rubbish. Perhaps the world will actually fare better without us. In this line of thought, the ending is not perhaps as optimistic as it may seem. Of course, humans will start rebuilding their civilisation, but we have seen the downside of civilisation -- rubbish and more rubbish.

I'll attempt another reading of the film. I believe what the Auto decides is right -- to abort the world and thus force people to remain on board in permanent exile in space. But this is not because the world has become unlivable, but because if we return we just do more damage to the world. Towards the end, you can see that plants do grow on earth without any help from us. The world has already begun the process of self-healing and it's us once again who return to destroy it.

What right do we have to claim that the earth is our home? What right does the captain have when he says that he wishes to return home? As long as we continue to think in this anthropocentric vein, the earth will continue to suffer.

The Dark Knight

I know some blog readers might've thought I've completely vanished from the Blog world. The belief is, I must say, not totally unfounded as I haven't updated my blog for more than a month. Some might've thought that after reading a self-help book like Compass of Life, Dechito would've been brought back to sanity and started living as a monk, filling his time with meditation and religious chanting. Well, sometimes cynicism dies hard, even though there're a lot of films and books nowadays that elicit a need to believe, to have faith in mankind, not to give up hope that mankind is essentially virtuous and capable of positive sensibilities.

Yes, I'm talking about The Dark Knight. I know there're a lot of people out there who love it and begin seriously thinking about putting it in the list of the top ten best films of all time. I like the film too, especially the Joker, who is just so indifferent to social order. For me, he's more 'amoral' than 'immoral', especially in the sense that his anarchy makes us acknowledge the imaginary foundation of our ethical system, i.e. that our belief in what is right and wrong is just our own imagination. Like Iago in Shakespeare's Othello, the Joker makes us realise that our ethics doesn't exist prior to the birth of mankind, but 'after' our society begins to take root. For some reason, this reminds me of Nietzsche's philosophy.

That's perhaps why people are so scared of the Joker, not only because of his appearance, but mainly because his presence reminds us of something even starker. We can find no determinate cause for his evil making. Even his stories vary. Perhaps, the Joker might like to remind us, we're not decent animals after all; we just want to believe that we're a far superior race, but in fact we're simply not. The case of Harvey Dent as a man losing faith in humanity even drives us further into the abyss of pessimism and hopelessness. One couldn't help but feel sorry for this guy, but alas it's even more terrible to learn that there're a lot more people out there in the real world facing the similar crisis of faith.

That's why we need the Batman. He's a confirmation that we as a race are capable of unconditional sacrifice and virtuous acts. In the modern day when people tend to do something out of their interest, unconditionality becomes a marker of good and the Batman's role at the end to shoulder the responsibility somehow gives us hope. This film perhaps heralds a significant shift in our Zeitgeist -- we can no longer be cynical and indifferent towards everything around us, we need to act and hold on to our ethics 'even though' we know that it's all imaginary. (But of course when we come to seriously think about it, the Batman is so terribly rich he could afford to be good. Is it possible that good acts are reserved to rich people only?)

This doesn't mean that I agree with this ending. I couldn't help but be embarrassed when Commissioner Gordon extolls the Batman at the end, saying to his son that the Batman is an outsider, destined to live in the dark, blah blah blah, ending with the words 'he's the dark knight'. I almost fell off my seat. It's such a shame, with an ending as cheesy as that.

The other thing that I feel could be improved is the role of the betrayers. When it turns out that it's Detective Anna Ramirez who betrays everyone's trust, I couldn't help but wonder who she is. Her role is too marginal in the film and this twist really needs someone more significant. I think if the betrayer had been Commissioner Gordon himself, it would've been much better in terms of suspense and surprise. (Of course, LA Confidential is a very good example of this kind of twist.)

Well, the film does raise a lot of interesting questions. Like The Mist, it's not just a Hollywood blockbuster, it's also a philosophical tract rewriting what such philosophers as Kant and Nietzsche pondered and wrote long time ago.