Kung Fu Hustle


Thursday, February 27, 2014

Two Films: Journey Into The West and The Wind Rises

There are two films you really must see.  One is Journey Into The West.  This is the new film by Stephen Chow, the director of Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle.  The plot is:

This is a world plagued by demons, who cause its human inhabitants unspeakable suffering. Young demon hunter Xuan Zang, fearlessly guided by his belief in "giving himself for the greater cause," risks his all and conquers a water demon, a pig demon and the demon of all demons, Sun Wukong. He embraces them as his disciples, and melts them with love. Meanwhile, Xuan Zang discovers the true meaning of Greater Love himself. In order to atone for their own sins and save the common people, the four of them embark on a journey to the West that's full of challenges...

The other film I would strongly recommend is The Wind Rises by Hayao Miyazaki.  Miyazaki is a briiliant animator who created My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle.  This is the last film Miyazaki will do as he is retiring from animation.  

This film follows the career of Jiro Hirokoshi, the designer of the Zero fighter plane.  In the film, you begin to understand Miyazaki's lifelong love of flight, watching the development of concepts from inception to the drawing board to flight.  Add to this historical events like the Great Kanto Earthquake from 1923 and characters who are truly nice, polite people as most of Miyazaki's characters are, you have a family film really worth seeing.

Monday, February 24, 2014

My response to an article by Michi Trota

Below is my response to Michi Trota's essay, I Don't See Color on Jim Hines' blog.

Let me start by saying thank you for your article and I really appreciate what you have written. I have a slightly different opinion. I see color. As someone who dabbles in art, you have to. You can’t always paint in monochromes. I see people in much the same way. I look at people through their cultures (usually food). Everyone uses pretty much the same stuff when cooking, what changes is the spice. And remember, variety is the spice of life.
One of the best books I have read recently is Alif the Unseen, by G. Willow Wilson. In this story, there is only one white character, a Muslim woman. All the other characters are Middle Eastern, but they are all interesting and smart. A different culture presented well.
Kylie Chan has a series of books that deals with Chinese Mythology and Martial Arts. True, she is not Asian, but she does write about the main character, an Australian woman, who loves a Chinese god and lives in Hong Kong. The only thing both these books have in common are that they are very readable and do not focus on white culture. I could give you more examples dealing with Australian Mythos, Hindu gods, African gods and Norse vs South American gods, all good stories, just using different colors.
Maybe part of the reason I look for stories dealing with different cultures is because I am a frustrated traveler. I would love to go around the world drinking in the differences in each country. Meeting new people, exchanging ideas and finding points of commonality. I spent this weekend taking my wife to fashion expo with clothes from India and Bangladesh. We were invited to go by a former co-worker. So while my wife shopped I talked with one of the guys working there, a film student, about the films of Stephen Chow and how I was watching Shaolin Soccer on a local Spanish language channel, but having seen the film before I could follow pretty well. That gives you a white guy talking to an India guy about a Chinese film in Spanish.
What I am trying to get across is that you should not be afraid to write about anything that interests you. You are the girl who brought chicharrĂ³n with spicy vinegar and garlic pork-filled siopao to the annual block party. Do the same with your writing (if you want). Sure, if you love a pseudo-European Tolkienesque world, go for it. But, if you want to write about the Philippines, there doesn’t seem to be much competition out there. I would think a story that has a knifefighting-based martial art form that shares the name of a Hindu goddess of chaos and destruction might be a good starting point (Kali). Or a story that includes a nice recipe for siopao.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My entry in Tim Morehouse's Contest

Tim Morehouse, a silver medalist in Foil on the USA Fencing Team has a contest asking who would win in a bout between Yoda and Zorro.  Below is my entry.  If you want to follow the competition, you can follow it here.

Having cleared a piste in the halls of Vahalla, Cyrano de Bergarac, acting as director, reviews the rules of the match, “Standard epee rules will apply, point only attacks, anywhere on the body. Master Yoda has agreed to forgo both Jedi mind tricks and Force attacks.”
Pointing to each side, he continued, “Our floor judges for this match will be Mme. Julie d’Aubigny and M. Miyamoto Musashi, they shall determine if the equipment registers an invalid touch upon the floor.”
“The piste has been modified to accommodate both combatants, so instead of 14 meters by 2 meters, the area of action is 20 meters in diameter. The bout will be to 10 touches. Time for bout will be 8 minutes and as with standard epee rules, double touches are allowed. Gentlemen, shall we begin?”
“Don Diego De la Vega, Master Yoda, ready? Fence!”
Zorro stands straight legged and begins to walk the perimeter of the circle. Master Yoda remains where he is en garde with his eyes closed, unmoving. As Zorro passes Master Yoda, he begins to tighten the circle, until he is almost directly behind the Jedi Master by six feet. As he reaches attack distance, he lunges, point directed to Yoda’s left shoulder. As the point reaches Master Yoda, his shoulder drops a few centimeters until the point passes, and then rises again to pick up the blade. As Master Yoda turns pushing the blade up and past him as he spins in place. Yoda’s blade is pointed Don Diego’s midsection. Don Diego stops just before running onto the blade.
“Try harder, you must.” Says the Jedi Master.
Zorro backs away. Warily watching the small, green Jedi, he begins again walking the perimeter of the piste. Again Master Yodi maintains an en garde near the center with his eyes closed. De la Vega continues until he has nearly made a second circuit around the Jedi Master and again closes from off to the right hand side. Again, as the point reaches Master Yoda’s right shoulder, it drops fractionally, just allowing the point to pass, and rises again, picking up the side of the point. As Yoda pivots, the point passes him and he again has his point directed at Zorro’s midsection. Zorro halts again before he can impale himself upon the point.
Yoda straightens his arm slightly gently, barely touching Zorro as the green light goes on.
“Halt!” yells Cyrano, “Touch left!” as he points to Zorro.
Don Diego De la Vega nods, removing his mask and says, “Master Yoda, I concede. I shall buy the drinks today.”
The crowd in Vallaha roars with appreciation and lines up for their drinks.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Robocop out?

Lee and I went to see the new Robocop film.  I liked the first film.  I think Paul Verhoeven did a great job, especially skewering the corporate side of things.  I thought Peter Weller's performance was great.  Add to that it was one of the few films that dealt with robotics that remembered to deal with Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics.

If you read science fiction, as I have, then you are familiar with Asimov's Laws.  If not, please be aware there have been a set of programming laws since the 1940's that would prevent movies like The Terminator, The Matrix, or any other computer/robot goes evil and tries to take over the world.  The Laws are simply:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

These rules cover about 99.9% of all robotic interaction.  Isaac Asimov wrote a series of stories dealing with how robots might interprete  those laws and seem to fall outside of normal robotic interaction.  The film I, Robot covers this subject, but it does get lost in the action just a bit.  But it was used very well in the original Robocop (though modified just a bit).

So if the above are reasons you liked the original Robocop, then the new Robocop might leave you feeling a bit empty inside.  There are some good things about it. Alex Murphy is still a good man trying to be a good cop and a family man, even after most of his body is destroyed.  The film leaves no doubt as to the amount of damage done to Murphy, showing the loss of almost everything below the neck except the heart and lungs.  Gary Oldman is great as the man who rebuilds Murphy, but then when isn't Gary Oldman great?  And the film has Samuel L. Jackson.  But Jackson's role, while a brilliant send up of Bill O'Reilly, looks like it was tacked onto the film after everything else was shot.  The only interaction Jackson has with anyone in the film is a short interview with the CEO of OCP, played by Michael Keaton.  That interaction does nothing to move the story, only to provide a soupcon of satire found in the original film.

There is action in the film, lots of action.  Jackie Earle Haley is great as a secondary villain who runs OCP's mercenary arm.  The action while plentiful, does look more than a bit robotic, in fact, it looks like it would be in a video game.

Overall, if you are desperate for the taste of movie popcorn, then go see Robocop.  If you are looking for a fairly smart, fun film, rent the original.

If you would click on the Amazon links provided to buy something.  Anything you buy helps to keep me writing.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Slavery and Shirley Temple

This weekend seems strange right now.  Simply put, Lee and I went to the Gaslamp to celebrate Chinese New Year in San Diego.  It is a small, but fun event and last year Lee won a prize in the raffle (we gave it away, but winning was nice).  Sunday, during the day, we went to see 12 Years a Slave.   Then today the news that Shirley Temple Black passed away.  How do you fit all this together?  Well, settle in and I will try to guide you through this.  Bear with me, this is not a well mapped road.

Let's start with 12 Years a Slave.  This was a powerful film, but very difficult to watch.  The last film I saw that was this hard to watch was Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ`.  The performances were excellent, but almost overwhelmed by the power of the story itself.  12 Years a Slave is the film that makes you want to see Django Unchained.  You need a good revenge fantasy after seeing all the evil that occurred without any justice being meted out.

If you are not familiar with the film, 12 Years a Slave is based on the true story of Solomon Northrup, a free man from Saratoga, New York in 1841 who is tricked into coming south to Washington, D.C. and is chained and sold as a slave.  This occurs within sight of the Capitol dome.  From the moment chains are placed upon Solomon Northrup, he is stripped of all he expects, the respect he has earned as a musician, common courtesy, his clothes and even his name.  Alone, bereft of his family, beaten regularly and even forced to play the violin as the other slaves are forced to dance after a hard day of picking cotton.  When a female slave begs him to kill her rather than allow her to continue to be raped and beaten by their master, you urge him to consider it.  Even though Northrup regains his freedom, the people who are responsible for his situation are never brought to justice.  Even though his book was on the best seller list for over eight months, nothing that happens in his life could restore the belief that other people are generally good and the world is benign.  In his life, every twig snapping must instantly become the sound of a whip cracking, and in a world where carriages use whips, there would be no escaping the sounds of a nightmare made real.

After watching 12 Years a Slave, I could not help but reconsider the exhibits I saw in the small museums in San Diego relating to Chinese immigrants in San Diego.  Comments made in journals regarding casual discrimination suddenly seemed more than just isolated instances, but rather exactly the same behavior occurring just a few years earlier in the eastern states with African Americans.

Then on Monday morning, hearing that Shirley Temple Black had passed away, it made me think.  Shirley Temple had done a film, The Littlest General, about a little girl in the south who warmed heart of the old Confederate grandfather she was living with.  In this film, she dances with Bill Robinson.  Now Ms. Temple-Black was never a bigot and certainly neither was Mr. Robinson.  However, the scene of them dancing together could easily have been edited into 12 Years a Slave and not have changed the tone of the film at all.  If anything, it would have included Shirley Temple's character in with the evil slave owners and shown Mr. Robinson dancing only for the entertainment of a white child who must be  obeyed. 

With Ms. Temple-Black's passing, perhaps it is time to put away the cute images of slavery, as shown in The Littlest General.  Better to pay attention to 12 Years a Slave, or if you cannot bear to watch the horror depicted there, at least watch a series on Youtube called “Ask a Slave”.  The young lady in the series, Azie Dungey, works as a historical character at Mount Vernon.  The series is simply a compilation of the clueless questions she gets asked during work.  She approaches the subject in a humorous fashion, staying in character throughout.  Sadly, people provide her with a great deal of material for her series by displaying a level of ignorance that barely recognizes slavery as a bad thing.  Perhaps they have not moved beyond Shirley Temple yet. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

There's Bad Blood between Jonathan Maberry and me!

I have been reading Jonathan Maberry's work for a while now.  I was wandering around Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego and one of the staff asked what I was looking for.  I told them something new and good.  They asked what I liked and made a recommendation, Patient Zero, the first of the Joe Ledger novels.  With this novel, I was taken hostage.  I read Dragon Factory.  I then read the Pine Deep Trilogy.  And then I read his comics.

Well now Jonathan Maberry has come out with Bad Blood, a five issue series dealing with vampires.  Trick, a stage 4 cancer patient, is attacked by a vampire.  It is only the chemo he has been taking that saves his life.  However, the audacity of having bad blood, blood that would poison a vampire, begins a blood feud between Trick and the unnamed vampire.  The vampire tears apart Trick's link to the world of the living, his friend, Kyle.  The only person fighting to keep Trick alive.  Trick also loses Jared, a former teammate from Trick's healthier days.  This is all part of the vampire's plotted revenge forcing Trick to watch as his world is torn apart around him, literally.

In the second issue, Trick encounters Lolly, his passport into the world of vampire clubs and even darker goth sex clubs.  Lolly is a part-time stripper who wants to become a vampire, but it willing to help Trick find Kyle and Jared's murderer.  She does not believe it would be a vampire who murdered Kyle and Jared, but her faith is shaky, due to what seems to be her experiences with evil at the hands of people in a position of trust in her life.  Trick is exposed to new experiences, but grows no wiser.  Lolly is a sucker (hey, you were expecting that one!) who will have to wise up quickly as she has her own encounter with a vampire, one of the minions of the vampire who attacked Trick.

The artwork by Tyler Cook, whose work has been seen in Dark Horse's B.P.R.D., is shadowy and largely monochromatic lending itself to the vampire-noir vibe of the story.  I expect we will travel from dark underworld to an even darker underworld within the next three issues leaving nightclubs and heading underground into sewers and lost sections of the city inhabited by vampires and the Goddess of Blood.  Bad Blood is sold at all the better comic shops, including Comic Quest, 23811 Bridger Rd. #100, Lake Forest California 92630.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Brief Glance Inside My Skull

I decided to start a blog.  Why?  Well, I have things to say about primarily movies, books, and comics.  I find my co-workers are not terribly conversant on these subjects and Twitter offers little in the way of a conversation.  Add to that the emergent desire to climb on a soapbox as I get older and speak my mind, that leads me to starting a blog.

What do I have to say about movies?  Movies have been a religion for me.  Where some people quote scripture, I quote movies.  Instead of teaching the lessons of the parables, I point to screenplays that brilliantly examine the human condition by Paddy Chayefsky, Billy Wilder, Menno Meyjes or David Seidler.  I have spend more time in the dark, watching movies than almost anything else I do, except reading.  Good movies have been an essential teaching tool to bring history and literature to life.  The Tuskagee Airmen was a great opportunity to teach my sons about racism, especially after they had the chance to meet surviving members of the 332nd at a local airshow. Add to that I like to speculate about who should make what films, especially things like getting Guillermo Del Toro to direct Viggo Mortensen as Dr. Strange.

Books are simple.  I have worked in bookstores and libraries. I like to match up readers with good books, introducing them to authors who deserve to be read.  Neil Gaiman, Seanan McGuire, Tim Powers and Jonathan Maberry are just a few of the people I will review and support.  I will cover subjects like why I think e-readers are a good thing, despite loving books.  

I bought my first comic book in the late 1960's.  I have stopped buying for a few years at a time, as money has been needed for more important projects, but I return and collect.  As we look as DC's struggle to make something worthwhile from the New 52 and Marvel's desire to bring all their title closer to a single narrative to support their film franchise, I will also look at what may be the new rise of independent comics and the flow to webcomics.

Are these the only things I will write about?  Nope.  I have things to say about television, politics and swords.  I have more to say about swords than most of you will want to hear about, but some things just need to be said.  I will try to keep it a balanced mix, though.