…….Tidings of Comfort and Joy (happy July)

I’m in an internet cafe, listening to a sappy Mandarin love song that is, oddly, to the tune of “Good King Wenceslas.” Now I’ll be wandering around all day humming, “oh tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy….”

Last week I went to see “shi mian mai fu” – a moving with the English title, “The House of Flying Daggers,” which is so not a direct translation. It is the latest Zhang Yimou flick to assail East Asia (for the uninitiated, he’s the director of Hero, which he made specifically to please audiences on both sides of straits and the Pacific – Jet Li in a classic Chinese Qin dynasty story – and which was uniformly declared around the world, by everyone except for pretentious US film critics, to be a terrible movie).
I don’t know how many classic mainland Chinese movies everyone has seen, but there are certain conventions. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon sort of explifies these conventions done reasonably well – it begins with a declaration of what dynasty the story is from and a claim that it is all completely true. Then they introduce some sort of martial arts school from somewhere obscure with specific talents that is either working for or against the government (depending on whether the government in question is thought to be good or bad). From there it spirals into a totally ridiculous plot with lots of beautifully correographed fighting, a love story that ends tragically, and at least one sequence that involves a large group of people suspended high in the air in a bamboo grove.
In yet another ill-fated attempt to appeal to all of Greater China, Zhang picked a lead actress from the mainland (Zhang Ziyi, no relation to the director, also star of Crouching Tiger and, of course, Hero), the Cantonese actor par excellence from Hong Kong Andy Lau (whom I loved in “Needing You” and less so in “Magic Kitchen,” – which was not about him, but a showcase for F4 hunk Jerry Yan – but this is a bit of a stretch for him), and seriously handsome Taiwanese actor Takeshi Kaneshiro (whose father is Japanese, hence the name).
I’m told that this time, at least, mainlanders loved this movie – found it (and I quote) “very moving.” Taiwanese, by contrast, laughed themselves silly. Bear in mind, it is a drama. The cross-straits cultural gap widens, it seems, but, I admit, I giggled and snorted right along with Taiwan. My absolute favorite scene was right at the end, when the two men are fighting (literally) over the girl, whom one has already killed with a dagger through the heart. After about ten minutes of fighting during an unexplained summer snow storm (hey, these things happen), this poor girl pops up out of the snow and starts to talk. She’s done for, and we all know it, but it seems that much like the average opera diva, she can’t just die and be done with it. She still has things she needs to say, and, more importantly, a dagger to pull out of her heart and threaten someone else with. Ridiculous? Yup. Unbelievable? Sure, but the movie crossed that line in the first ten minutes. Completely fun? Absolutely – and therefore I recommend it very highly for anyone in the mood for a good time and an entertaining two and a half hours.
On the subject of cultural differences…
I was watching an MTV “behind the music” style documentary on my favorite Taiwanese Rock band, Mayday (the ones who split up for two years to go do their mandatory military service, and are now back, and going strong), and was amused by the section on their farewell concert (the “gee you’re in the army now” send-off concert) from 2001. Chen Shui-bian (the President of Taiwan) attended, and the band’s lead singer commented reflectively that that was the kind of event that he felt would “bring honor to his ancestors.”
And about Taiwanese leaders….
The other day I tried to tell my friend Yu-Wen that I was really in the mood for some potatoes – I don’t know why, but they are very hard to come by in Taiwan and occassionally I get a sort of craving. Chinese is a very direct language, so what I actually needed to say is that I feel like eating some potatoes (ma-ling-shu). Completely accidently, what I said was that I feel like eating Ma Ying-jiu, i.e. the Mayor of Taipei. Now granted, all the girls think he’s dreamy (really!), but I’ve never counted myself among them. Now, of course, I’m in for it for the rest of the summer.
Other plans for the present: every day at the archives, evenings in class, feeling pretty warm generally, off for some hot pot on Friday. Not much else here.

Comfort and Joy to you all.

Copyright 2004 by Meredith Oyen


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