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April 2008 Archives

Movie: Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

Toast Toast

I've had a few conversations lately about how I've been fortunate not to have experienced direct racism much growing up, at least not of the "Hey, Jackie Chan Ching Chong!" type. A week ago, I experienced it for the first time in a while, late night in front of Denny's in Santa Clara: A drunk white couple in their 20s walked by me and said, "Yo, Harold! Where's Kumar?" I kind of had this, "Um, is that it? Is that the whole joke?" reaction. I didn't actually say that, of course, non-confrontational Asian that I am. :P

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay often felt a little like that racist comment. For instance, they had an unsympathetic character talk in mock Korean, "Aaa waaa looo zaaa moo taaa," that sort of thing. I was like, okay, your point is that racist jokes like this are lame, so why are you spending so much screen time on this racist joke, without any real follow-up? Breaking a taboo isn't inherently funny; you have to do something more with it. In the original, when Kumar's dad unwittingly said lewd things because of his Indian accent, it was funny not just because he had an accent, but because he was Kumar's dad, and so the comment was embarassing to Kumar. Layers.

When the original was released, I compared it favorably to that darling of Asian-American cinema, Better Luck Tomorrow. Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle didn't treat Asian-Americans as a totally separate group, but as Americans who also have Asian in them. It basically said that Asian-Americans don't have to ignore their race, but they don't have to let it define them, either. The sequel ruined that by making race the primary topic.

Despite all this, though, I still found myself enjoying the movie, and it's only because of the fundamental likability of the two main characters. That's why I'm giving it two slices of toast instead of one and a half or less. Occasionally, the movie did focused on personality traits of the characters that rang true, like the math joke, but those moments were few and far between. I think this sequel was a misstep, but I think there could still be life in these characters. I would look forward to seeing Harold and Kumar back in action if they came up with more subtle and nuanced writing again.

Movie: 投名状 The Warlords


Toast Toast Toast and a half

"He has no idea. He really has no idea."
"Have you heard anything I've said?"
"There are pragmatic realities he refuses to face."
"Well that's the problem, of course. He's saying what he thinks is right."
"Well yeah. He's Lee. Thing is it probably is the right thing, but... sometimes the right thing is a luxury, and it can have profoundly dangerous consequences, and it's... it's almost as if he doesn't want that to be true."

No, those are not lines from The Warlords, starring Jet Li, Andy Lau, and Takeshi Kaneshiro and directed by Peter Chan, winner of Best Picture at the 2008 Hong Kong Film Awards, and which just had its North American premier tonight as part of the San Francisco International Film Festival. They're lines from last night's episode of Battlestar Galactica. But while watching The Warlords, I kept thinking about how it's like Battlestar Galactica in 19th Century China.

The Warlords is about three blood brothers who join the Qing army to fight against the Taiping Rebellion in order to bring home food and money for their families. They are imperfect, but they each try really hard to do the right thing. Unfortunately, just as in Battlestar Galactica, doing the right thing can sometimes lead to tragic results.

Another conversation, this time between a friend of mine and I after I watched the movie:

"So how was the movie?"
"It was pretty good!"
"How was Jet Li?"
"He.... acted!"

Before the movie, someone brought up Jet Li's vow that Fearless would be his last martial arts movie. But I don't think The Warlords breaks that vow because it's really a drama in the guise of an action movie. The action scenes were gritty and efficient (if not neccessarily totally realistic). The movie instead focused its attention on the story and the characters. I much preferred that approach to fancy cinematography with a crappy script. (Zhang Yimou's martial arts movies, I'm looking at you guys!)

So, like I said, well-written drama about complex characters in complex situations, with nice action scenes as a bonus: Battlestar Galactica in 19th Century China! (Of course, BSG itself has been going downhill since mid-3rd season, and the 4th season so far has been seriously irritating me (the aforementioned dialog notwithstanding), but that's a rant for another day.)

This movie was released in China December of last year. I don't know if it's going to get wider US distribution, but I hope it does.

* * *

P.S.: One bit of bad subtitle translation: There's a scene where a number of soldiers chant before attacking a city, "Take their money, take their food, take their women!" And the subtitle read, "Take their money, take their food, take the city!" I would chalk it up to harmless bowdlerization except for the fact that the last bit becomes a significant plot point. (To be fair, when it's repeated at a point where it's more obviously a plot point, it's translated directly. So I think this was just a bit of sloppiness.)

Chinese Warning

Chinese Warning

This is an anti-smoking ad in a magazine. On the left you see a warning flyer posted on an elevator, and on the right is a closeup of the flyer, which is mostly in Chinese. The small print at the bottom is in English, and it says, "In some developing countries, one tobacco company voluntarily placed warning labels on cigarette packs in English."

So it was showing you how useless a warning label in another language is. The cool thing, though, is that the Chinese isn't gibberish, but it isn't just a normal warning label, either. It roughly translates to:

ELEVATOR WARNING IF YOU CAN READ this message, that means you understand Chinese. Congratulations! The reason we're doing this is because we want you to know how people in Third World countries feel when they read warnings on cigarette packages that they can't even understand. But we think the fact that you understand Chinese is really great.

ACTUALLY, WE'RE EVEN A LITTLE ENVIOUS. Elevator warning if you can read this message, that means you understand Chinese. Congratulations! The reason we're doing this is because we want you to know how people in Third World countries feel when they read warnings on cigarette packages that they can't even understand.

[Yes, it repeats.]


When the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka the Mormon Church, aka LDS) shunned polygamy, some members left and formed the spin-off Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka FLDS), which continued to practice polygamy. A large number of them have been living on a large ranch in Texas.

Recently, Texas law enforcement raided the ranch and removed over 400 children. Here is an interview with three women from FLDS who want their children back:

YouTube link

Oh, and here's that former FLDS member who recorded a statement in that video talking about her escape [YouTube]. It's pretty intense. The summary of her autobiography is worth a read, too.

Ebert Blog!

Roger Ebert finally has a blog, though I don't know how often he'll post it. Sadly, his first two posts are about the passing of his friend Arthur C. Clarke and how he can't attend his own film festival this year because he broke his hip. I'm definitely going to attend his film festival next year.

Barely started Hitchhiker's game sequel discovered

Someone got his hands on a copy of the old Infocom servers. Infocom is most famous for making the classic text adventure game Zork, but they also made a pretty good text adventure game based on the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The sequel got mired in development hell, though, and never got very far. Now, you can read about the story behind the sequel's development as well as play the work-in-progress!

RC Car and beer bottles playing Super Mario Brothers Theme

Not much more to say about this that I haven't already said in the title.

Break.com Link

Stupid Monkey

I was watching the Duck and Cover video again, and a thought occurred to me: What a stupid monkey! Pay attention to what has happened after the monkey's dynamite has gone off.

Rodham Clinton

As you may or may not know, I have amused myself but pondering the best way to address Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. I find the term "Hillary" a bit diminutive. Even though she uses it herself on her campaign stickers, it makes me uncomfortable to call her "Hillary" while I call the other candidates by her last names. Yet, simply saying, "Clinton" is ambiguous. Of course, using her full name is too long. So I've taken to calling her "H. Clinton" and find that a reasonable compromise. I also think "Sen. Clinton" works rather well. But the April 5 electoral-vote.com post points out that her last name isn't even "Clinton" at all!

She's posted her tax returns on her website, and, according to them:


Her last name is actually "Rodham Clinton"! With no hyphen!

So everyone who's been calling her "Clinton" or even "Senator Clinton" is technically wrong. We should technically be calling her "Senator Rodham Clinton". If you know me, you know how I love to be unreasonably anal about this stuff, so I'm gonna refer to her as "Rodham Clinton" from now on. Well, at least when I write. I reserve the right not to call her that when talking in real life to avoid sounding ridiculous. :)

P.S.: Oh wow, I had no idea people had already made a big deal about her using "Hillary Clinton" instead of "Hillary Rodham Clinton" in her campaign. Man, such a complicated issue, that name.

Of RPGs, Jeeps, and killing a kid: More Overheard in Halo

I bring you another edition of Overheard in Halo, where I get a glimpse of the part of America that I normally don't hear about first hand. While playing a Halo 3 match online, two people on my team who knew each other were voice chatting. A guy (R—) and a girl (W—). Paraphrased from memory:

R—: So are you going to have to kill anyboody?
W—: I don't think so. I hope not.
R—: Probably not?
W—: Well I'm just gonna be like an administrator.
R—: What about J—? Did he kill anybody?
W—: Yeah, he did.
R—: Yeah, but if some towelheads are, like, shooting at you, what are you gonna do?
W—: I guess.
R—: How many did he kill?
W—: Just one.
R—: Was he all freaked out about it?
W—: No, not really, but it was a kid.
R—: It was a kid? How did it happen?
W—: Well, there was an AK-47 on the ground next to the kid because his dad just died, and J— told him not to pick it up, but he picked it up, and so he had to shoot him.
R—: Oh wow, where did he shoot him?
W—: In the chest, I think.
R—: So at least it didn't make his head explode or something. Man. But the dad was probably some towelhead who was shooting at him or something, right?
W—: Yeah.
R—: Oh well, I guess I don't see J— getting too freaked out about that. He probably wouldn't be freaked out at all if it wasn't a kid. Hey didn't J— get shot at a lot over there?
W—: Yeah I think so.
R—: Didn't an RPG hit his Jeep or something?
W—: Well, an RPG went through his Jeep, but it didn't explode. But yeah he got shot at a lot.
R—: Oh, okay. Man, this game is so laggy! I can't hit anything! I hate when they keep popping up behind me where they weren't a second ago!

And the chatter petered out for the rest of the game for the most part, except with R— complaining about network lag every once in a while.

(Here's my last overheard in Halo post.)

About April 2008

This page contains all entries posted to the klog in April 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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