Saturday, February 09, 2008

Dublin International Film Festival...

And time to put on my amateur film critic hat :)

This year's DIFF will run from Feb 15th to 24th. I was planning only to go see a few, especially given my work schedule, but once I checked out the programme I couldn't help but wanted to see a ton. I still can't believe that in the end I bought tickets to 14 shows!!!! But there IS a method to my madness - as there are just so many good choices in the categories of movies I like to go for in film festivals that I found it really hard to narrow the field down to just a handful. I would be completely movie'd out by the end of this month (going for 3 movies in a row on a Sunday must NOT be good for you, no matter how much of a film buff you're, and I'm not at all qualified to be called a buff in matters celluloid), so let's just hope that the films will prove not to be a waste of my precious time and money... (All movie blurbs that follow are excerpted from the DIFF website).

Amongst the 14 final choices, quite a few deals with current wars (Iraq and the recent bombing of Lebanon by Israel). Well, according to my purchasing logic, these films are not likely to get a wider release in Dublin, and it'll be pointless to wait til they come out on DVD (that is, IF they do become available in DVD in Ireland at all), because events/debates would have moved on and I don't want my viewing of these films to be coloured by the later twists in public discourses about these events, so I may as well binge on these documentaries while I can...

Under the Bombs (Sous les Bombes)
"Philip Aractingi's film is made in Lebanon in the immediate aftermath of the war last year. Aractingi was living in Beirut during the Israeli attacks on the city and filmed some footage at the height of the conflict. This may have been a project conceived in chaotic circumstances and shot on the hoof, but it is deftly scripted, boasts two fine central performances and is far more than a piece of reportage dressed up in dramatic clothing. "

War on Democracy
"John Pilger, the celebrated veteran film-maker and human rights campaigner... aims his quiver of poisoned arrows directly at the US and its policy of using secretly funded surrogates, covert actions, secret diplomacy, disinformation and subversive propaganda - not to mention alleged torture and murder - in pursuit of its so-called 'self interest'."

Battle for Habitha
"The film is a highly realistic, verite-like fictional rendering of an incident that took place in the village of Habitha, a hotbed in the middle of the Sunni Triangle where much of the insurgency has taken place... The film renders the harsh realities of this quagmire where innocent civilians, simply trying to get by, are caught in the crossfire, victims of Americans who kick down their doors, and Iraqis who do the same thing."

The other film in this war category that I'm missing out on is "Redacted", as it's shown on a week evening at an out-of-town venue so it's just not meant to be... At any rate, I think I would have had my fair share of grim films with the above choices.

My other main category of film choices concern Asian cinema, again because these films would not likely have any general release in Ireland, so the film festival is really the only time that one can catch them...

Blind Mountain (Mang Shan) - "Li Yang's intense psychological drama was one of the stand-outs at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. Portraying the kidnapping of a young female student by a peasant family... the film delivers a trenchant commentary upon relations between rural Chinese and their urbanised neighbours."

The Mourning Forest (Mogari No Mori) - Winner of Grand Prix, Cannes Film Festival 2007. "Naomi Kawase's naturalistic touch creates an inner geography of emotion, gracefully linking it to the region's awe-inspiring togography in a way that recalls Japan's long tradition of landscape painting."

Tuya's Marriage (Tuya De hun Shi) - Winner of Golden Bear Award, Berlin International Film Festival 2007. "Living conditions are deteriorating for those who lead a rural existence in north-western Mongolia. China's industry is expanding - and the government is pressuring Mongolian sheppards to give up their nomadic way of life... Beautiful and self-confident Tuya refuses to leave her pastureland. She'd rather stay here with her disabled husband, two children and a hundred sheep and continue to pursue a life of privation in the endless expanse of the steppe."

Mongol - "The tale of how a young boy ascended to become Khan centres Bodrov's epic tale of love and betrayal... This saga plays out against the stunning landscapes of Central Asia, where tribal loyalties rule and violent warfare trumps other means of resolving differences."

(While we are on the subject of Asian cinema, I must mention the fact that I've finally seen Lust Caution - yes, the film that all the Chinese bloggers were raving about last year, it was finally out briefly late last month in Ireland. I went to see with a Korean friend, and has wanted to blog about it immediately afterwards. I have soooooo much to say about the film! But alas, it coincided with my laptop crashing last month, so I never got around to finishing the post that I started... and then I got caught up in commenting on the sorry real life sexphotogate after my laptop came back to life.... oh well, let's see if commenting on the DIFF films on my blog later this month would help me finish that post on the most controversial Asian movie of 2007).

The third category of film choices are the more typical art-house fares from renowned maestros around the world that film festival buffs like to boast about, and which I feel I would miss out if I don't indulge in these also...

Chacun Son Cinema - contribution by 33 of the most acclaimed directors in world cinema, each responsible for 3 minutes of celluloid.

Estomago - A Gastronomic Story - "An adult fable on power, sex and cooking." Director Marcos Jorge's works "have received more than 50 festival awards".

Empties (Vratne Lahve) - "Arguably the Sverak's best film, this sophisticated and perceptive comedy is full of the low-key observation characteristic of the best of Czech cinema - unpretensious, involving, and apparently effortless."

Love in the Time of Cholera - Enlisting "a stunning cast to bring this multi-generational tale to life", Newell's adaptation of the Gabriel Garcia Marquez masterpiece is "nothing short of lush, extravagant, sad and touching throughout.'

Caramel (Sukkar Banat) - Lebanon's Official Submission to the Best Foreign Language Film Category of the 80th Annual Academy Awards (2008). "In her gorgeous and love-affirming feature debut - a sleeper hit of hte 2007 Cannes Film Festival - Nadine Labaki finds gold in the hot goo used to strip body hair. Set in and around a Beirut beauty salon, Caramel stirs together five women's lives."

Finally, there's a film that I'm really looking forward to see, as I missed it the first time round when it was out in Ireland last year, just like so many others who didn't realise that this gem of a film was out at all, despite the fact that it apparently won the Audience Award at the DIFF last year, and then gone on to win Sundance. Why then did its makers not make any effort to promote this film when it was on a very short general release last spring just completely boggles the mind!! (And really unfair to Irish audiences, I have to say, especially when compared to the way the film was recently released in the UK this year). Anyway, as Oscar buzz starts gathering, this film is now being brought back to the DIFF again this year, to make up for its complete lack of an Irish distribution strategy last year. I do hope that this will be brought back to the Irish cinemas for another proper run, but until that is firmly on the cards, I am not going to miss an opportunity to see this film again. Oh yes, so this is the film I'm hankering after...

"Even the great Stephen Spielberg has been reported as declaring that the film gave him enough inspiration to last the rest of the year... infused with an emotional honesty that bewitches its audience, filled with heartbreaking songs performed by lead actors..."

It's been compared to an Irish version of Before Sunrise/Before Sunset, and being a complete die-hard fan of the latter films, I simply CANNOT WAIT to see this, even though it means having to skive off work slightly earlier as it's on on a weekday at 4:30pm!!! (Just don't tell my boss... anyway my work is not a 9-5 job and given how many late evenings and even all-nighters I've pulled on numerous other occasions, I'm really not feeling too guilty about having to leave half an hour earlier for this... But again, can you see the complete IDIOCY of the release of this film in Ireland??? It's like they are doing everything possible to PREVENT people from going to see this!)

However, the first movie I'd get to see at the DIFF, is Stuart Townsend's Battle in Seattle. It's on at an ungodly hour (11am on a Saturday), but apparently Townsend and his wife Charlize Theron (yes, that Charlize) would attend the screening and the film will be followed by a post-screening discussion, so I still look forward to dragging myself to a dark cinema on a Saturday morning. (Not to mention the fact that I love Seattle as a city when I visited it on a conference trip in 2004, and actually our conference was held at the World Trade Center, where the protests against the World Trade Organisation took place back in 1999).

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Will the real moral police please stand up?

I hate to write another post on this, but the hullabaloo of "sexphotogate" in HK over the past weeks has led me to realise one thing:

Chinese morality is a soap opera, and has little or no relations to prinicipled deliberations.

Why would I think that? Witness a typical comment:

"若果今次受害人勇於站出來,承認一切,譴責放相人,我相信,所有人會同情、支持佢地,年少輕狂、誰人未試過?當天遇人不淑,引致今天惡果,錯不在他們,承認當年年少無知,希望香港人支持他撐落去,試問那一個香港人還可以不動容?網民會支持誠實勇敢的藝人,正如當年同樣被人公開裸照,她勇於出來面對公眾的藝人一樣,網民最反感的是,那些不肯承認真相,還要保住甚麼形像的偽人!" (cited from the comment page from thosewerethedays)

The victims are being asked to come out and admit the truth, to beg for support, forgiveness and sympathy from the general public. You know, just like one of those misguided-girl-made-good plotlines from the melodramatic TVB serials.

I'm sorry, but the above attitude makes me puke.

When has Hong Kong turned into a place where VICTIMS have to beg for forgiveness?????????

I thought only in places like certain countries in the Middle-East with Taliban regimes, would one find that victims of sexual violence are being blamed for their victimisation, whose only recourse is to beg for sympathy, often from the actual perpetrators themselves.

And I can't believe I actually need to spell out who are the victims and the perpetrators in this case, but given the extent to which debates have been muddied by massive schadenfreude and self-serving bias, they have to be pointed out again.

The victims include all the stars involved, for their privacy (both in terms of their private sex lives as well as their physical anatomy) have been grossly infringed upon if the photos are in fact real (which many people think they are, in fact, almost all netizens concerned are highly derisive of those who maintained that the photos are fake). The victim status of the female stars concerned is obvious to almost all people, but even so, a great many saw fit to blame the victims for their apparent stupidity in their private sex lives, and even more outrageously, for their so-called "dishonesty" in misleading the public due to their previously squeaky-clean image. Unsavoury name-calling abound, with variations of the "whore" epithet being substituted for the names of the female stars.

Excuse me, I must be missing something, but when has sex between two consenting adults who are both single at the time and who wish to keep their private life private became a grave moral offense in Hong Kong society???????? FFS we're not even talking about a threesome or an extra-marital affair here, so where the heck is the scandal???????? Are girls "whores" because they dared to have sex before marriage??????? Are we living in the 1950s?????????

Oh apparently, their fault is that they are celebrities. See, according to the ill-conceived logic of a sizeable segment of the HK population, once people become performers and have a public profile they are obliged to tell the public EVERYTHING. Apparently they have eaten the salted fish so everything is up for grabs, including their private parts.

The people with such sincerely-held beliefs about their right to know all the minutiae of celeb lives didn't realise that they are the ones who are morally-suspect even while they rejoice in playing the role of moral police in judging the alleged sexual misdemeanours of the stars. Having poked their noses into private affairs that are clearly none of their business, they don't have the gumption to feel ashamed, but rather feel indignant at the victims themselves for "not really saying anything". How dare they keep quiet and not snake our thirst for gossip!

The victims don't even have the right to remain silent, it seems.

But this is not even the end of it. According to many respectable bloggers, the male star concerned is not a victim at all, but a perpetrator, because he (1) engaged in deviant sex acts (cunninlingus and bjs, apparently) with multiple partners; (2) had the perversity to photograph / film his sexual escapades with his various partners AND store these materials; (3) was negligent in protecting his personal data, allowing such compromising materials to be leaked out to the public domain.

Those who are making the points (1) and (2) above, please look into the mirror, and recognise that you have just become a proud member of Hong Kong's newest moral police, arbitrating on what is to be deemed morally-appropriate sexual behaviours between consenting adults.

To be sure, almost all girls would prefer their ideal partners to be devoted only to them and not be a player, and probably very few would prefer to be photographed / filmed during sex and certainly no girl would wish their ex to keep such materials once the relationship is over. However, that is not to say that those who do engage in the above are necessarily a pervert.

Edison Chen may well have voyeuristic tendencies, as one of the media reports quoted a psychologist as saying. However, the real voyeurs in this sorry state of affairs, make no mistake, are members of THE CHINESE PUBLIC, who get a rise out of viewing free celeb porn. To quote a member of the peeping-tom brigade, they are happily "popping peanuts and watching the good show".

The key difference this time round, is that this is NOT your usual legitimate internet porn. These are explicit materials that have been released WITHOUT THE SUBJECTS' CONSENT. None whatsoever. All the stars concerned have released statements as soon as the story broke that they condemn the dissemination of such materials. You didn't pay for them. They were not sold to you, UNLIKE Paris Hilton's video.

In fact, the oft-used Paris Hilton analogy is wayyyyyyyyy off. Hilton has been freely expressing her sexuality and flashing her private bits to camera way before the video came out, and the more intimate exposure of her sex life did not caused a fundamental shift in her reputation. In contrast, at least one of the female stars concerned in this case have been seen as clean-cut girls-next-doors, whilst one has recently become a mother determined to "set a good example for her son", and another has already retired from the HK pop scene. If we're really to draw parrallels with current Western stars, it'd be more like Anne Hathaway or Angelina Jolie having their sex photos with say, Robbie Williams, leaked to the public. And while such news would still be sensational in celebrity gossip mags in the West, somehow I don't think these would make headline news in all major newspapers for days on end, nor would Western audiences be berating the stars for being "dishonest" about their private sex lives.

So who are the real perpetrators?

From where I stand, the key crime is and always has been infringement of privacy, while the dissemination of indecent materials online is a far more secondary concern. (After all, as many bloggers also pointed out, explicit adult materials are available in the public domain without any legal implications as long as proper warning labels are attached). It is extremely unfortunate that the police relied on the second far lesser charge in its arrest warrant, and even more unfortunate in their arbitrary detainment of a suspect without bail for eight days for such a minor charge, which called into question its adherence to the rule of law while being agents for law enforcement themselves.

But for those who have helped proliferate such private materials in the public domain, say hello to the real perpertrators. (What, you thought only the first guy who uploaded them online was to blame? How naive of you. But while naivete may be a mitigating factor, it doesn't excuse the crime for being party to gross infringement of individual privacy).

Of course, when a mob of gossip-hungry self-righteous joe publics have already passed judgement about the rights and wrongs of a case like this, it is nigh on impossible for any plea for reasoned debate to be heard in the court of public opinion. It is very, very difficult to be told that one is the perpetrator him/herself. The group is never wrong, according to the rules of the mob, and if one of its members were to be made an example of, then woe betide the law enforcers for daring to challenge the received wisdom of the group for their god-given right to infringe on the privacy of the individual. Of course, the law enforcers in this case have their own agendas, and relish the opportunity to flex their muscles and command compliance from a populace that has long lost its taste for draconian authority. Everyone is looking for political advantage from the scandal, and in the process, the fall-out has created another set of victims:


Taliban-like morality regarding sexual mores, together with a seemingly cavalier attitude towards due process by agents of law enforcement, have taken hold in HK society. Not to mention the fact that an open season has now been declared on individual privacy, whereby it is considered de rigueur for any person to have his/her private life unvoluntarily and unceremoniously exposed in public, so long as the person could be deemed a celebrity in some shape or form (those well-established bloggers who vehemently promote the idea that it is okay to pry into celebs' sex lives, should keep their fingers crossed that their own online celebrity won't bring similar karma to themselves and their loved ones in the future just because of a moment of heroic self-righteousness). In the end, the victims are the people, and who could we blame but ourselves?

[updated: Finally, I discovered a post by a Chinese blogger who could best express my viewpoint on the whole incident - see Hung One Bean's citation of Achoii's comment. A more thorough and humane reading of the whole sorry affair is also provided by the ever level-headed Man in Central.

On the other hand, I'm really disappointed to read the latest post by Thosewerethedays who once again failed to distinguish the public from the private, and who failed to understand the point made by Julian Baggini (the British ethics expert he cited to lend gravitas to his blog post but whose main contention completely escapes him), about the fundamental difference between holders of public office versus those who simply have a public profile due to their position as a performing artist. The most hilarious thing is how this blogger tried to smear those who argue for the importance of individual privacy as "moral police", which shows up his complete lack of understanding of the meaning of the phrase (hint: it's used to identify those zealots who insist on imposing public moral codes on private affairs). Hah, this guy really should look himself in the mirror.]

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Friday, February 01, 2008

One of many reasons I'm glad I don't live in Hong Kong...

As my computer has been out of commission for the last while, I didn't realise until today, when I finally had the leisure of browsing blogs, that I discovered from the ESWN the huge scandal over some sex photos of several young Cantopop stars, including, again, Gillian Chung, who seemed to suffer more than her fair share of lurid attention from the porno segment of the HK population. Except it was way more explicit this time round - forget about being filmed fiddling with bra-straps through a key-hole camera, this time, apparently her full genitalia was on display, and it doesn't stop even there, as apparently she was captured during a sex act with fellow star and previously rumoured boyfriend Edison Chen, who apparently ensnared not just Gillian but also Cecilia Cheung and Bobo Chan in similarly compromising pictures.

And it doesn't stop even there - not satisfied that he (and it's invariably a he) has the kind of salacious material beyond the wildest wettest dreams of the perviest teenage peeping toms in HK, the poster chose to release his materials in a way that would induce the maximum damage to the female celebrities involved. Thus the release of teaser pictures, followed by promises of more sensational pictures to come, then the release of a few more pictures followed by promise of video clips. All this done on high-traffic forums, whipping the Chinese language blogosphere - followed closely by the mainstream media, and thus the entire Chinese populace across MC/HK/TW - into a veritable frenzy.

In the furore that followed, lawyers' advice was sought, police contacted, even Interpol got involved. Typical working days ground to a halt with office joes (and janes) crowded around computer screens passing judgements on the veracity of the photos and the physical anatomies and moral fibres of the stars involved. All this apparently happened since Sunday and the saga is continually being stoked by sensationalist front-page headlines in all the newspapers in the region.

This is so, so sad.

What does it say about the quality of the Chinese people when they could be so easily excited about smut? What's truly scandalous is not the fact that celebrities have sex lives, but the fact that the Chinese public found this fact of life scandalous.

What disgusts me the most are those who saw fit to pass moral judgements on the rights and wrongs of the stars involved. Somehow the fact that sex between consenting adults is a private matter escapes them completely. And somehow they don't think that there is anything wrong with prying into matters that are clearly none of their business. There are even those who clearly relish the opportunity to one-up the celebs, dissing their genitalia and their figures, in blissful ignorance of the fact that private parts are named "private" for a reason.

Just don't give me the crap about how the public feel "cheated" by the cleanly-scrubbed image of the stars. If you are so stupid as to think that Gillian Chung should remain a virgin forever just because she is "a role model for little girls", or that Cecilia Cheung should not have had any sex before marriage and that to do otherwise is sacrilegious, then clearly there is something wrong with you, and you should get a life. And don't get me started on the whole unsavoury virgin/whore complex the male of the species have about female stars, I could cite a whole load of Hannah Arendt / Susan Faludi / Gertrude Stein about the politics of the female body but such civilised arguments would simply go over the heads of those who equate feminism with their mothers telling them off, so I'm not even going to start.

If this latest in sexual exploitation and trial-by-media does result in ending Gillian Chung's career in the Hong Kong pop scene, she should really count herself lucky. What I mean is, time to get out of the cesspool, girl, you deserve way better.

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A bunch of snowdrops by any other name...

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