15 September 2010

Private Eyes | รัก (ทะ) ลวงตา

Private Eyes, adapted for Thai theatre-goers from the original script by Steven Dietz, had its premiere yesterday. The translator and director, Pawit Mahasarinand, also took a role in the play, which aims to make the viewers confused and question the thin line between fiction and reality. Not only does the main actors, Nophand Boonyai and Dujdao Vadhanapakorn, retain their real names throughout the play, the situation is made more complex with them playing the roles of actors. In a sense, this play can be labelled 'metafiction', as it's a work of art that discusses its own fictive status, something that is not totally unheard of in the theatre scene. However, the cast of only five characters does bring freshness to this postmodern structure with the same characters taking different functions in different layers of Chinese-box reality.

Love figures prominently, as the whole play deals with the issues of trust and faith. Scenarios are repeated, though not with precision, only to be revealed later as possibilities in dreams, instigated by either fear or desire. However, even though the play is complex, its complexity is not there just to mesmerize the viewers, but indeed to portray the increasingly distorted mind of a man who believes that his lover has an affair with a director.

Nothing can be trusted in this play, as it revels in its own self-reflexivity and fictive status. Even the psychoanalyst, who is supposed to be a reliable voice of sanity giving 'objective' comments to the viewers, somehow cannot be trusted. What we have left here is our own attempt at understanding and our little faith, faith that what we're watching tells us something about life, even though we know only too well that the writer has a lot up his sleeves. Perhaps towards the end we are merged with the actor, whose last words are simply 'don't fool me' ...

More details of the play can be found here.

14 June 2010


Kinsey is a very touching film that details a man's fight against cultural prejudices. Alfred Kinsey was a renowned scientist working at Indiana University and, despite his religious background, he set out to find truths about life and the world. The film does show how Kinsey, during the early decades of the twentieth century, tries so hard to study sexual behaviour of American people. Of course, given the age and time, what Kinsey does is pioneering and daring, as the oppressive nature of society at the time rarely permits such a study to be conducted without prejudgement. With the Protestant belief riding high, Kinsey manages to secure a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, though it was later put to a stop due to the public panic over such a sensitive issue.

The figure of Kinsey, however, triumphs over all this, as we see the man braving his way through the society full of moral hypocrisy and double standard. His unrelenting fight is comparable to that of Prometheus, who risks his life to give fire to mankind. Kinsey himself is an experimenter, as we see he tries and tests different forms of sex, at times injuring himself in the process and pushing his moral boundaries to the limits. Nevertheless, somehow we see him as a courageous fighter for his own belief -- that everything can be measured and analysed -- and that his belief is itself very cautiously formulated.

He clearly distinguishes love from sex and strictly analyses the latter, accepting the fact that the former is somewhat much more complicated and cannot be measured. However, I can't help wondering that at times Kinsey is ill-at-ease distinguishing between sex and love. When his wife wants to 'sexually experiment' with one of his assistants, we clearly see that Kinsey is apparently worried. This perhaps raises a pertinent question that somehow sex can't just be measured either, simply for the fact that sex and love can't be separated. Somehow we try to use reason to analyse sex, but little do we realize that we can't simply be a detached observer of such a delicate issue.

But of course this doesn't mean that the world should ignore Kinsey or that his study should be treated with less respect. Totally the opposite, I reckon.

30 May 2010

The Devil Wears Prada | Confessions of a Shopaholic

Look closely and you'll start to see a lot of similarities between these two recent films, The Devil Wears Prada and Confessions of a Shopaholic. Needless to say, both are based on the novels of the same names and both feature a central female character who has problems with her lifestyle. In The Devil Wears Prada, we see Andrea Sachs or Andy having problems with choice, whether to be a successful fashion columnist in a top fashion magazine or to have a lovely relationship with her boyfriend. On the other hand, Rebecca Bloomwood in Confessions of a Shopaholic, also chooses to decline a once-in-a-lifetime offer to work in a fashion magazine in order to stop living a lie.

Both films see the whole fashion industry as an arena full of heartless struggles and competitions, where the winners are left soulless and the losers nothing but ... losers. Here, we can't help but aligning this world with working women, a rather new generation of women who need to prove that they can work as effectively as (or even better than) men, women who have been under enormous pressure to prove themselves that they can survive in this dog-eat-dog world of consumerist capitalism. One can't help but wonder how in this day and age of affirmative right and political correctness can women be stereotyped in such a cruel way, especially when one takes into consideration that these negative images are created by female novelists. Of course, I don't mean that they misrepresent women, but they are rather too heavy-handed in painting this rather cold image of women, whose personal lives suffer at the expense of their career success. A good example would naturally be the character of Miranda Priestley, whose ice-queen looks are just a external layer that conceals her vulnerability.

It comes as no surprise to learn that both Andrea and Rebecca at the end decline these lucrative offers but prefer to take low-profile jobs. But the reason actually varies: while Andrea chooses to quit her job because she doesn't want to be cold-hearted as Miranda, Rebecca just refuses to take the job at Alette because she thinks the job just keeps her in a web of lies in the world where she needs to entice people to spend more money in retail therapy. However, despite this difference, what is similar between the two films is that their decision not to enter the fashion world is related to their discovery of the truth of life -- that the meaning of life lies not in jobs or shopping but in ... men. Now, call me sarcastic if you may, but I do believe that in this day and age of postfeminism, we could have done better, to see that perhaps women don't EVEN need a boyfriend or a relationship, but a belief in their true self, the self that they can rely on and be contented with. What I see in these films, however, is that women choose not to depend on a job or shopping, but to depend on men instead.

13 May 2010

Read Out Loud!

I just stumbled on this language joke whilst arranging my stuff at home. Reading it once again, I just realised how imperial the joke was and it did disguise the unequal power relations between the "native" language user and those who are not "qualified" to use their language.


One day ima gonna Malta to bigga hotel. Ina Morning I go down to eat breakfast. I tella waitress I wanna two pissis toast. She brings me only one piss. I tella her I want two piss. She say go to the toilet. I say you no understand. I wanna to piss onna my plate. She say you better not piss onna plate, you sonna ma bitch. I don't even know the lady and she call me sonna ma bitch. Later I go to eat at the bigga restaurant. The waitress brings me a spoon and knife but no fock. I tella her I wanna fock. She tell me everyone wanna fock. I tell her you no understand. I wanna fock on the table. She say you better not fock on the table, you sonna ma bitch. I don't even know the lady and she call me sonna ma bitch. So I go back to my room inna hotel and there is no shits onna my bed. Call the manager and tella him I wanna shit. He tell me to go to toilet. I say you no understand. I wanna shit on my bed. He say you better not shit onna bed, you sonna ma bitch. I go to the checkout and the man at the desk say: "Peace on you". I say piss on you too, you sonna ma bitch, I gonna back home.

A Lesson for Everyone

Two English-language teachers, an American and an Englishman were sitting in a coffee-shop puzzling over why their Thai students seemed so slow at grasping the fundamentals of the English language. They agreed it was an appalling state of affairs.

Yank: Of course, the worst lot are the sophomores.
Brit: I didn't know we ran a signals class.
Yank: Not semaphores, you idiot. Sophomores, second-year students.
Brit: Why didn't you say so in the first place? Which are the most troublesome?
Yank: The lot on the first floor.
Brit: There aren't any classes on the first floor. There's only the library. The sec... sophomores are on the ground floor.
Yank: That's what I said, first floor. By the way, I don't think much of those drapes in the library.
Brit: Drapes? You mean the backward class?
Yank: The drapes on the windows, I can't stand the pink colour.
Brit: You mean curtains. I've got some like that in my flat.
Yank: You've a flat? There's a gas station nearby. They'll fix it.
Brit: No, my flat. Where I live.
Yank: You mean your apartment. How is it anyway?
Brit: Okay, but the lift's a bit of a pain.
Yank: You hurt your back? Why don't you take the elevator?
Enter an Australian colleague.
Bruce: Good-day! Where did you get those strides? They're beaut.
Brit: I beg your pardon.
Yank: He means your pants.
Brit: Where I buy my underwear is none of your business. If you must know, I got them from a pavement stall.
Yank: Those sidewalk stalls in Bangkok are something else. You can buy anything from sneakers to thumbtacks...
Brit: From plimsolls to drawing pins...
Bruce: By the way, what were you two having such an intense conversation about?
Brit: Our students. They just don't seem to be able to grasp plain English.
Bruce: That's right. I spent an hour last week trying to explain what a freeway was.
Yank: I couldn't make them understand what a throughway was.
Brit: What's a freeway?
Bruce: Don't come the raw prawn with me son.
Brit: Okay waiter. Make that fried prawns instead.

Footnote: The above conversation originally included a Scot, but nobody understood a word he said. However he did refer to Postscript as "just a wheen o'blethers" which is apparently something less than complimentary.

The Letter

Once there was a boy who loved a girl very much. The girl's father, however, did not like the boy and did not want their love to grow. The boy wanted to write a love letter but he was sure that the girl's father would read it first. At last he wrote a letter to the girl.

The great love I said I have for you
is gone, and I find my dislike for you
increases every day. When I see you,
I do not even like the way you look;
the only thing I want to do is to
look the other way; I never wanted to
marry you. Our last conversation
was very dull and in no way has
made me anxious to see you again.
You think only of yourself.
If we were married, I know that I would find
life very difficult, and would have no
pleasure in living with you. I have a heart
to give, but is not a heart
I want to give to you. No one is more
demanding or selfish than you, and less
able to care for me and be of help to me.
I sincerely want you to understand that
every I speak is the truth. You will do me a favour
if you consider this end. Do not try
to answer this. Your letters are full of
things that do not interest me. You have no
true concern for me. Good-bye! Believe me,
I do not care for you. Please do not think
I am still your loving friend.

The girl's father read the letter. He was pleased, and then gave the letter to his daughter. The girl read the letter and was very happy. The boy still loved her.

Abort, Retry, Ignore

Once upon a midnight dreary, fingers cramped and vision bleary,
System manuals piled high and wasted paper on the floor,
Longing for the warmth of bedsheets,
Still I sat there, doing spreadsheets;
Having reached the bottom line
I took a floppy from the drawer.
Typing with a steady hand, I then invoked the SAVE command
But I got a reprimand: it read Abort, Retry, Ignore.

Was this some occult illusion? Some ethereal intrusion?
These were choices Solomon himself had never faced before.
Carefully, I weighed my options,
These three seemed to be the top ones,
Clearly I must now adopt one:
Choose Abort, Retry, Ignore.

With my fingers pale and trembling,
Slowly toward the keyboard bending,
Longing for a happy ending, hoping all would be restored,
Praying for some guarantee
Finally I depressed a key --
But on the screen what did I see?
Again: Abort, Retry, Ignore.

I tried to catch the chips off-guard
I pressed again, but twice as hard.
Luck was just not in the cards.
I saw what I had seen before.
Now I typed in desperation
Trying random combinations
Still there came the incantation:
Choose: Abort, Retry, Ignore.

There I sat, distraught exhausted, by my own machine accosted,
Getting up I turned away and paced across the office floor.
And then I saw an awful sight:
A bold and blinding flash of light --
A lightening bolt had cut the night and shook me to my very core.
I saw the screen collapse and die
"Oh no - my database," I cried.
I thought I heard a voice reply,
"You'll see your data Nevermore!"

To this day I do not know
The place to which lost data goes.
I bet it goes to heaven where the angels have it stored.
But as for productivity, well
I fear that IT goes straight to hell
And that's the tale I have to tell
Your choice: Abort, Retry, Ignore.

-- Author unknown

10 May 2010

Lust Caution

The latest film by Ang Lee, Lust Caution is simply not for faint-hearted viewers. Expect scenes of strong sexual nature and violence as this film involves a secret relationship between an influential politician and a spy who tries to coax out his secrets.

Stylised and dignified, the film does show the complex relationship between them, as the spy turns out to be very good, so good that she just falls in love (or at least sympathises) with the man she is supposed to betray. I believe the director does want to show the viewers the thin line between love and hate, between pure sex and love, and between intimacy and love. Indeed, what we see from the film is also how malleable the human mind is -- how one can force oneself to love or hate someone and also how one can fall victim to this process of self-hypnotism when one actually believes in one's own concoction.

Also, I believe there is this issue of difference between self and nationhood that the film tries to bring up. What should Wong Chia Chi do when she has a conflict of interest, when she plays the role of Mak Tai Tai and falls in love with the enemy of the State? Once the conflict at this level is played out, her choice at the end does portray that she puts herself before her country -- somewhat a romantic ending whereby a woman chooses to trust her enemy, simply because he shows her how much he has trusted her. The ending does beg some questions though. Does she love him simply because he gives her a jewel? Does it mean that she believes that love should be quantified in material terms in the age of wartime when you cannot believe in anything? Perhaps the director wants to say that even a hard-core resistance fighter is still very much human, having her own dreams, aspirations, and especially the need for love. Perhaps underneath the guise of a ruthless, cold fighter, there lies a fragile woman in need of love.

28 April 2010

Julie and Julia

Based on a book by Julie Powell, Julie and Julia is a film that details the relationship between two people who barely know each other physically, but who get connected through their memoirs. Julie tries to make her days more meaningful by initiating a project -- to start blogging about her one-year assignment to cook all the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking by none other than Julia Childs and her two French friends, Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle.

The film does show that to accomplish such a tasking assignment is not easy and you need more than just yourself, but a very supportive spouse to help you through, in the same way that Julia Childs had her husband encourage her to realise her true passion -- cooking. Similar to Chocolat and Like Water for Chocolate, Julie and Julia uses cooking as a poignant metaphor of learning about oneself, one's desire, and one's fear.

But across the two generations, one starts to see the difference in terms of social status. Julia was a wife to a political diplomat who was designated to station in various US embassies overseas. She didn't need to work and cooking was more like a hobby-like vocation. Julie, on the other hand, represents a modern-day city woman in her early thirties, who has to work full-time. Cooking for her is definitely something extra that she needs to fill in her time. But the similarity is that the two women find cooking a hobby that makes their lives meaningful.

It makes me wonder that there's something about this film more than just cooking. It's the writing about it: Julia collaborating on her French cookbook and Julie on her blog. Writing does emphasize the experience of sharing and communication, something that we nowadays are deprived of. Like cooking, writing means you spend time thinking about words and about how to mix them up before sending them out. Both Julie and Julia are concerned with publishing, as it means that their voices are heard and that people out there appreciate what they're doing. Publishing, in this sense, is not so different from seeing your friends enjoy the food you just cooked -- sharing something good.

I'm not sure whether I'm doing the same thing here, trying to share something good. But I guess that somewhere somehow in this blog I've laid myself bare for your scrutiny. Sexy feeling, isn't it?

19 April 2010

V for Vendetta

Perhaps V for Vendetta is one of a few films that directly pertains to what is currently happening in Thailand. Centering on the issues of censorship, power, and violence, the film is set in London in the future whereby civil wars are common and violent suppression is something not totally unheard of.

V, the name of the masked man, is unhappy with how the government administers their work through distorted media and a series of cover-ups. People are brainwashed not to think or disagree with how things are run. Those who show a modicum of dissent will be 'silenced' and made disappeared through various means, some of them including the use of fatally poisonous germs. Thus, it's no wonder how in the beginning of the film we see people just go about doing their routine jobs in a very boring setting, where there's no art or literature that may enable them to think and criticize.

This tedious setting is set in contrast to V's own apartment, peopled by a great number of famous paintings and books. This acculturation of early forms of civilization enables V to think differently and abhor the government's cheap media spinning and concocting of lies or partial truths. Besides V was also a victim of the plot by the government to try their new invention -- a fatal germ -- on living people to test for possible immunities. Apparently, none but V survived and his body has ironically been beefed up in this process.

However, watching this film doesn't give me any hope for change. Just look at how surreal the whole thing is presented, how V is modeled on a superhero figure who is both intellectual and distinguished by his bodily stamina. Besides, he's eloquent with words, a feature that is rarely attributed to the majority of heroes who choose to remain reticent. V, on the contrary, talks a lot and somehow one can sense that he'd better be an English teacher than a hero.

There's one thing I don't like about the film -- the torture of Evey Hammond. It turns out that she's been subjected to a series of torments by V's own hands. What I don't understand is how she could forgive him so easily and continue to trust him, despite his misbehavior that could've led to her death. However, there're also some points that strike me as interesting -- how she needs to learn not to fear death before being part of his team. The film shows that such fearlessness ironically needs violent infliction of pain and mental stress. This leads to a crucial issue in the film, that is, how violence is somehow necessary in the creation of freedom. To have freedom, you must be able to stare at death in the eyes and must also be able to stand out from the crowd. However, in order to do that, you need to be subjected to violence that breaks you from the societal mold. This is simply because somehow peace comes with fear and fear sometimes comes with selfishness.

08 April 2010

The Women

One of the most unlucky aspects of The Women is, despite its star-studded list of actresses, its timing, which is a bit too late. This is because everybody who is interested in this type of film would more or less definitely have seen Sex and the City. The main four characters are quite similar and the fact that all of them dwell in an urban landscape even emphasizes the similarity even more. What is even more strikingly similar is that both films do highlight the power of men, despite the status of present-day city women.

All in all, I don't find the film too objectionable, as most reviews have said. The director does manage to convey the important message that female bonding is indeed crucial and even indispensable at the time when male power is invisibly pervasive, as we literally see no men in the film, apart from the baby in the end.

What is central here is how the city women are stereotyped in this film -- one taking an editorial post in a very trendy women magazine, one a woman who loves to have children and a big loving family, and one a lesbian. But the film does center on another stereotype, which I find banal yet interesting -- a woman who is rich but whose husband has a secret affair with a salesgirl. What we see here is a spoiled housewife who has this ideal American dream facing the 'real' crisis for the first time when her husband is found to have a secret lover. This betrayal is so vital to her growth, making her question what she really wants in life. My first impression here is that, like Sex and the City, this film brings up a lot of questions. It portrays how fragile modern women are, how much they are sheltered from real life, and how such a middle-class life blinds them to so much that could've happened in their life. No wonder that while a lot of city women may identify themselves with the film, a lot as well would find these problems too banal and light -- so insignificant and repetitive that a budget and a powerful cast should not have been wasted.

Perhaps the genre of romantic comedy does hinder the serious development of the film, as we see Mary excel in her fashion designing career and then able to be financially independent. What would've happened if she had failed? What would've happened if her daughter had liked the mistress of her husband? In other words, what if the film cares a little bit more to show the harsh realities of life in the city, where not everything is rosy?

30 March 2010

Departures | Okuribito

Death has always been a taboo but Departures has turned this unspeakable subject into an art of sublimity. Daigo Kobayashi is a cellist who finds himself unemployed as his manager decides to dissolve the band. His wife and he make a big decision of moving to his hometown and living in his long-forsaken place which was once a cafe owned by his Father.

Daigo, then, accidentally gets accepted to work as a person who prepares the dead body for their funeral, a ritual that is at once very artistic and typical of a dying Japanese convention. Even though some people look down on him and think that what he is doing is improper, especially his wife, who threatens to leave him, Daigo finds this job spiritually rewarding as he perceives how people show suppressed emotion and passion, something that is quite impossible to express when the dead were alive. He learns the great truth of humanity, how everyone's life has some moments of greatness and beauty and how everyone deserves at least a little bit of dignity when they die.

Perhaps one can see that Daigo's decision to take this job is caused by his need for love, which has been denied to him by his broken family, especially when his Father decided to move out and live with one of his cafe staff, to the distress of his mother and him. However, through this job, which is demeaning to some, Daigo manages also to learn some of the most meaningful lessons -- forgiveness and unconditional love.

Of course, in a way we can see Departures as a very masculine film, in which two generations of men learn about each other, with women taking back seats and looking at them with support and respect. One can see that perhaps the ending is a little bit too melodramatic when Daigo manages to remember his Father's face, symbolically recognizing the role of fatherhood that he needs to perpetrate. His wife, on the contrary, just smiles and quietly lets him continue this honorary job. With this line of thought, one can also think of how Japanese society is still very much in close alliance with patriarchal codes. But somehow the film does portray the sweet and impressive side to these codes, not the oppressive ones we usually see.


L'iceberg, a film by Dominique Abel, Fiona Gordon, and Bruno Romy, is a surreal comedy showcasing the dream of an alienated woman who longs to see an iceberg. She realises her desire one day after she accidentally traps herself in a walk-in freezer at a fast food chain where she works. Somehow this experience miraculously makes her realise how alienating her everyday life is, especially when, after a night of entrapment, she goes home to find that her family hasn't actually realised that she's not home. Bitter and confused, she finds herself more and more attracted to ice and coldness.

What the film nicely portrays through their odd cinematography and eccentric acting of main characters is the distinction between a city and a seaside town. The former is a breeding ground of angst and alienation, whereas the latter is the place where our main actress, Fiona, realises what she really wants -- the dream of seeing an iceberg -- and the man she really wants, a deaf sailor who owns a small boat aptly called Le Titanique. Rene is pitted up against her husband both in terms of dress and behaviour and it's no wonder why Fiona falls for Rene, as he's portrayed as a Heathcliff-style hunk who talks less but seems to ooze passion and depth, the exact features that go well with the ocean where he works.

However, with the film of this kind, a stereotypical ending where Rene and Fiona fall in love with each other and live together ever after is not going to happen. Fiona does see an iceberg in the end but it doesn't last, like one's dream that ironically loses its fizz once it is fulfilled. What perhaps is more interesting is to see that one still struggles for it nonetheless and one doesn't know what life will bring next. I know that this kind of moral twist is pretty boring and, to be honest, predictable, but L'iceberg does cast a fresh light on this twist via surrealistically minimalist dialogue, setting, and acting. This minimalism is somehow cast against the vastness of the ocean and the dream and aspiration of Fiona herself.

21 March 2010

เงาสีขาว | The White Shadow

The White Shadow has long been held as one of the best contemporary fictional narratives by those in the know. A work of substantial length, The White Shadow or the Portrait of An Artist in His Turbulent Years is not an easy read, especially when we take into account the author's eccentric choice of not dividing the whole text into paragraphs and his daring revelation of his angst and hatred for himself, those around him and the world in general.

Of course, this sense of hatred is not uncommon in modern literature with those works of such French authors as Baudelaire and Rimbaud, who were sick of their surroundings and used their literary skills as a means of psychological healing (and paradoxically dwelling further into the dark abyss of the human mind). What is distinguished about The White Shadow, however, is how the author brings this state of mental complexity to the Thai landscape and shows how an average man, like him, can feel the same way.

With the literary work of this kind, one of the problems the author faces is how to steer the narrative away from the creation of a whimsical narrative that is eventually simply a work of self-gratification. Danaran Saengthong manages to move away from this, with his subtle criticism of Thai society, in which political correctness and the double standard of morality are something as commonplace as Starbuck's in Bangkok. However, through his masterly storytelling, he doesn't extol himself as a hero that can have an effective distance from all this mental corruption; he is himself corrupt and this leads to an ironical question that is strongly felt throughout -- how much can we believe this man, when he himself says that he's not that better from the rest? Perhaps this is exactly the reason that makes the message of this life story so pithy. Aren't we all like him? We like to criticize the status quo and yet emerge as an immaculate judge? The White Shadow just makes manifest that such an arrogant standpoint is impossible.

Another element that is special to this narrative is how the author seems to bare all the hidden social conventions that are hushed. His misogynistic standpoint, however, is highly controversial but is symptomatic of Thai patriarchy in general. His inability to love is also another reason why he is unable to settle down with a woman. Perhaps what we see here is something perhaps worth a psychological study. It is my conjecture that the author wishes to retain an emotionally charged life, in which he sees things as bright and interesting so that he can turn them into a work of art. However, life is not art and life is in fact boring, especially when we take into account certain 'traditional' stages of life that each of us is subjected through, such as education, courtship, marriage, procreation, children rearing, and coping with old age and death. Through his life story, we can sense the anger and anxiety of the author who doesn't want to subject his life to such mundane stages, whilst at the same time seeing them as unavoidable. This existential crisis is closely tied with the traditional Thai sense of manhood, in which men need to prove their performance through the conquest of women as well as their skills in infringing social codes.

Through the sense of inexplicable hatred and complaint of existing conditions, I find the book a compulsive read. As the novel progresses, we can perceive that the author is in fact a storytelling virtuoso who can keep us riveted to the chair reading his narrative that gradually unfolds the stories of people around him, those stories that are somehow related to his as well as his implicit comments on them.

16 March 2010

Ensemble, c'est tout

With my limited free time, I can't watch all the films that I want. But tonight it's the turn of a French film called Ensemble, c'est tout, starring the likes of Audrey Tautou and Guillaume Canet. It's a romantic tragic-comedy that is easy to digest, with the two main characters starting off with mutual hatred. The setting of Paris is appropriate, as it is the place where people do not care for each other and indifference is the general ambience. Tautou plays Camille, an office cleaner who often works in the night shift. She lives in the damp and freezing attic. Occupying the same building are two men, Franck and Philibert, who share the same flat despite their personality difference: Franck is a surly chef, while Philibert is living the remnants of his aristocratic past.

During the first half of the film, I thought that there would be a romance developed between Philibert and Camille, as he's the one who really cares about her health and takes her downstairs when she's seriously ill. Then, as the narrative progresses, we see a conflict gradually emerging when Franck seems to have a crush on her, too. However, to my disappointment, out of the blue, Philibert is taken out of the equation when the fate has him meet with another girl and fall in love with her instead. This is not quite what I expected as the film should have perhaps dwelt on the realistic complexity of the triangular relationship among the three main characters. Or at least just making Philibert realise his homosexual tendency would not be too bad and far better than bestowing him such an easy exit.

However, if I'm not mistaken, the whole point of the film has something to do with human connections. If Paris is portrayed as a place where people no longer feel connected and end up pretty much alone and miserable, it's high time we re-established connectedness among ourselves once again. Care (with or without understanding) is crucial, exemplified by Camille's act of humanitarian selflessness -- her decision to take care of Franck's dying grandmother.

Not only do urban people need a sense of connectedness, the ability to express oneself is also stressed in the film. The director appears to give a comment that with our life separate and alone, we somehow lose our ability to talk and express ourselves, especially our delicate emotions, preferring to live inside the shell of our lonely yet secure self-defence. The ending of the film criticizes just that and tells us to articulate our suffering and need should we need the help of our friends or someone close by.

Die Vermessung der Welt | คนวัดโลก

Die Vermessung der Welt is an ambitious novel by German novelist Daniel Kehlmann, who was born the same year as I was. The narrative centres around the lives of two important people in German intellectual history -- Alexander von Humboldt and Karl Friedrich Gauss -- and how they "measured" the world in different ways. Humboldt was by nature an explorer, travelling across the globe to Latin America trying to find a system whereby they could measure everything most accurately. Gauss, in contrast, was a prodigious mathematician, who liked to stay at home working on his mathematic formulae.

Kehlmann juxtaposes the two narratives together in a criss-cross manner, allowing us to have a glimpse of the lives of these great pathfinders. Gauss suffers from the fate of a genius whose intellect does not permit him to see that everyone else around him is not equally clever. One of his sons, Eugene, is a lost cause but his assistance is something that Gauss cannot live without, especially when he needs to make a long journey. Also, we see Gauss perceiving his own mental degeneration, which for others, is still the mind of a genius nonetheless. His suffering is more like a loner's, with pain he himself only sees and needs to endure.

Gauss complains and makes a lot of fuss whenever he needs to travel. The same cannot be said with Humboldt, as he is an avid traveller. His narrative borders on magical realism, especially when he goes to Latin American where everything seems to be marvellous and surreal. He is followed by his fellow companion who always complains but remains with him nonetheless, despite the fact that his name does not receive the same recognition Humboldt obtains.

I believe what Kehlmann does here is to portray how two different people set out to travel and measure the world, one internally and the other externally. What we also see is the beauty and subtlety of these two minds whose determination and complexity are brought into full display. Somehow the world is not the only place that needs to be discovered, as Kehlmann argues indirectly that perhaps our minds, especially those minds of great people, are also worth exploring too.

King and the Clown

Last year one of my beloved lecturers lent me a DVD -- a Korean film called King and the Clown. Of course it took me several months before I had a chance to see it. It turned out to be one of the most emotionally intense films I'd ever watched.

The story involves the complicated relationships among main characters, including two clowns and the King. Apparently it's based on a true story that once happened in Korea during the reign of King Yeonsangun of the Joseon Dynasty. I was intrigued by the playful yet serious performance of these three main characters whose fates are somehow intertwined in the solemn atmosphere of the palace.

The film does highlight the omnipotent power of the King, who can dictate the destiny of people around him with only a few words. The implication is that his power can be both alluring and rewarding for those who can secure his favour, but the same power may potentially be a death sentence for those who are not in his book or have enough dignity not to be obsequious. Then one day come Jangsaeng and Gonggil, two clowns, who are popular thanks to their ability to mock people around them. The awkward situation is when these two clowns don't have a choice but to provide an entertainment that borders on the satire of the whole court. The even more awkward situation is when the King is pleased with their performance and even has a crush on Gonggil and is willing to forsake his duty to spend time with this rural comedian and his beautiful storytelling skills with the aid of puppets and phantasmagoria.

The film delicately shows the moment when power and favour intertwine and how these two comedians react to their instant favour at court, despite their knowledge that the courtiers hate them, not only because they take the King away from his duty, but also because their satire just exposes these courtiers to ridicule. The tension between the rurality of the comedians and the urbanity of the courtiers can never be clearer. However, the clowns also find themselves in a very vulnerable position: once they lose the King's favour, their lives may be finished too. I reckon the film does a great job in portraying the arbitrariness and absurdity of the whole situation when everything does depend on the King's ups and downs, unfettered by any rules or traditions. Yet, both the clowns and courtiers need to do their jobs, knowing only too well the absurdity that lies underneath their acts.