Thursday, April 04, 2013

New Words in Creation: Bargument

Noun: Bargument - a difference of opinion between two or more totally inebriated individuals at an establishment that legally dispenses alcoholic beverages.

"We got into a bargument over political parties.

Verb: Bargue - to enter into a bargument over some totally ridiculous issue.

We bargued about political parties.

Always pleased to further pervert the English language.

Thank you.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Noodle Easterns: the birth of a new movie genre

The Sword Identity Trailer

For an awfully long time, we've had Spaghetti Westerns. This year, we have the first of the "Noodle Easterns."

The analogy is not exact, but in "The Sword Identity" a 2011 film written and directed by Xu Haofeng and distributed by the impossibly named "GooTime," there is no doubt whatsoever that we are witnessing the birth of a new "martial arts" movie genre in Chinese film.

Sergio Leone, the acknowledged (and undoubtedly self-proclaimed) master of the spaghetti western, deeply loved the American Cowboy Movie.  It drools off the screen in his Clint Eastwood westerns, in "Once Upon a Time in The West" and in just about everything he made whether they contained cowboys or not.

It's equally clear that Xu HaoFeng loves Chinese fighting movies under whatever authentic Chinese terminology you want to label them. 

The defining quality of the spaghetti western falls more or less into the "I know it when I see it" category of literary analysis, but there are certain points that are somewhat consensual:
  1. they are classic cowboy movies
  2. they are deeply in love with the American cowboy tradition
  3. the amount of "movie nerd" references and details in them is totally ridiculous
  4. they star one or more insanely charismatic actors (usually American in most cases, but not necessarily, and thank God for Claudia Cardinale!)
  5. the plots are totally predictable up to the point where they suddenly aren't, and the audience is ambushed by their own expectations
  6. you can't seem to get enough of them if they "talk to you." You can barely manage to sit through one if they don't
  7. they're usually pretty funny until they get serious, and then they're really, really, really serious (except when they're very funny right in the middle of the serious)
  8. the "spaghetti" part identifies them as being Italian or rather as being made in Italy by purported (or authentic) Italians.
We must concede The Sword Identity several points right off the bat for being far less doctrinaire about what it sets out to do than the typical spaghetti western, but then, we're speaking here about the birth of something new, something not completely formed, something that will take shape before our eyes over the next few years until we "know it when we see it."

There is some "getting used to it" about this film. The story defies the expectations of a traditional "wu xia" / Martial Arts / Kung Fu type of movie, yet it is all about all of the cliches in those film. There's no doubt that the actual, historical martial arts that it portrays were carefully researched or, at least, the filmmakers saw a whole lot of old movies and, I'm guessing, have been in a couple of street fights, not to mention studying weapons forms in a real school.

One of Sword Identity's particular joys -- for the initiated -- is the attention to detail about actual, "real" fighting. The Hong Kong Action Film is chock-a-block with wondrous and extravagant impossibilities: leaping, striking, flying, breaking, smashing martial artistes who defy gravity, physics and logic to provide us with amazing entertainments.

There's barely any of that here in The Sword Identity and that fact, more perhaps than any other argument I'll make, may mitigate against my own assertions. But I won't let that stop me: I'm going to go on asserting.

The details here are the details of genuine "fighting." Real fighters fight far less than fantasy fighters. In one or another of Tsui Hark's marvelous Wong Fei Hong movies starring Jet Li, Wong faces down a villain in the streets of a town.  Wong spreads his legs into a fighting stance, clears his garb from his knees and places his hand in front of himself in preparation for his opponent's attack. Instead of rushing him, however, the opponent smiles and concedes that he has been beaten? But how? He is so perceptive that he can see in Wong's stance alone that he is going to get beaten to a pulp and just, sensibly, backs off before it actually happens.

Sword Identity is full of such moments and also of the pay offs for ignoring the "signs of victory" being offered, rushing in and getting the crap beaten out of you.. There is a final payoff for this, but no spoilers here.

So now we have a film loaded on one hand with every silly cliche about martial arts, martial artists and competing martial arts schools, and on the other hand with an extraordinary amount of reality about how real human beings with some sense in their heads really fight one another when their goal isn't to throw their lives away or to titillate an audience full of Kung Fu Yahoos (in the Jonathan Swift sense, not the internet sense and who would have thought that a writer would ever have to explain a reference like that? Not I!).

Once you get used to this strange brew of  "seen that a million times before" and "oh yeah, isn't real fighting boring" (even three of the courtesans in the film complain about how little "action" is going on among what they want to be "real men" fighting it out for their favors), there are some astonishingly suspenseful and exciting moments that match -- viscerally, but not visually -- the delights of the "special FX fighting" that we've all become so accustomed to.

In his day, Jackie Chan was justifiably renowned for his derring-do and literally death-defying stunts as were his co-stars, co-students Yuen Bio, Sammo Hung and the rest. But we all lose our youth, and the days of Chan's brushes with madness are much diminished, though he's still a wonderful and entertaining performer. There is no future in parodying genius like Chan's, but there may well be a future in transcending it in a unique and smart way. Stephen Chow is, without a doubt, the Robin Williams of Asian Cinema, but his films are consciously and often brilliantly satiric, a different approach than that taken here by Xu.

While the term "noodle eastern" may, as I've said, take a while to mature into a truly useful definition of a genre, I think it has a foot in the door now, and I can't wait to see what the next one is going to be like. I've never seen anything like this before, and I want more! The Chinese love their noodles as much as the Italians love pasta. It's rumored that Marco Polo stole the recipe for spaghetti from the Chinese and brought it home to Rome. Indications are that those in the "East" are going to lay claim to a certain kind of story-telling rights that have all but disappeared from the mainstream. Maybe something of Leone (but more likely of King Hu and Cheng Cheh) will transplant back into Chinese Cinema. Very tasty indeed.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Brass Cash Register

From somewhere unknown or unremembered, my Father purchased a brass cash register. It was heavy, shiny and had wonderful working mechanical parts. The inside was stained with purple ink form some sort of printing device no longer present in the works, but no matter: It made a satisfying "ka-ching," the numbers appeared behind the glass at the top and the drawer opened and closed.

The compartments in the drawer were beautifully made from some dark, hard-wood. Perhaps we had filled them up with pennies or toy money at some time or another, but mostly they were empty.

Originally intended to become a planter (one plant in each compartment in the open drawer), it never acheived that goal. A wonderful plaything that sat on a counter top in our basement for years.

Then one day it was gone with no explanation. Sold for money? for space? because of boredom?

I never knew. It just vanished like so many other objects I loved. And now I'm older or old and soon I'll vanish like the cash register, though I'm nowhere near as heavy, solid or shiny. Where do we all go?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Waking Up III

Yes. I am moving.

The fact that I'm typing this is proof, isn't it?

But, oh, my brain is still asleep.

So much so, that I didn't finish my morning entry until 5:30 in the afternoon.

Not that you can tell. It all looks like one paragraph to you, but I know the truth. I could have lied and pretended that I finished it all before lunch. But no. It's almost dinner time and it's just being wrapped up.

Let's see what happens on Tuesday.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Waking Up II

It was my short term goal to add at least a second daily entry about waking up once I had managed to do that. But I didn't manage to do it.

I could have said that I've just been sleeping several days, so that, indeed, I just haven't woken up for all this time. That would have been a swell excuse. Alas, it's just not true.

The truth is that I was lured away from this by email and breakfast cereal and falling back to sleep.

So here I am drinking day old coffee warmed up with some soy milk in it and not quite finishing this.

I've been distracted by the radio, by email, by the swirling rainbows of my solar powered window prism (you should get one).

Now the solar powered prism is a great distraction! It only works when the sun is shining directly on it. A little solar chip powers a tiny motor that turns a hexagonal prism that hangs from the bottom like an earring. It scatters lovely rainbow patterns all over my room and it's hard not to watch it. Better than typing.

Well, now, I changed the radio station so that it's only classical music (though now the announcer is talking about oil in Alaska, but, thankfully, not Sarah Palin) and she's about to play Berlioz.  It's far less distracting than talk radio.

So, I've managed to mangle a few sentences and paragraphs after meandering mentally for half an hour, and have communicated next to nothing.

It would have been better to lie and say I was sleeping for two or three days.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Waking Up

Waking up has become a lengthy process for me.

It used to be I'd open my eyes, zoom to the bathroom (and take care of things), then get on with the day.

No more. Even getting both eyes open requires attention. Stumbling to the bathroom with monocular vision is no treat, either. At least the (taking care of things part) works pretty much as expected.

The next half hour or so requires great volumes of strong tea. (I gave up on coffee: too acid for my early morning stomach) and is usually spent staring at several hundred un-opened emails while my eyes come into focus.

In the old days, I tended to write fiction first thing in the AM. What passes for my mind always had its imagination amped up before I was too awake. But, I think, email overload has usurped most of that.

However, this morning seems to be an experiment, because I'm writing this before reading a single email!

Will this be a new trend? A new awakening?

Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Genuine Cookie Fortunes: Number One of an Infinite Series

Chinese Fortune cookies often contain astonishing pronouncements.

From time to time they will be quoted here exactly as found within the original cookie.

Number One:

Only listen to fortune cookie,
disregard all other fortune telling

qie(2) zi(2)
Lucky Numbers 46,26,50,45,56,49