Archive for the ‘China media’ Category

The Shinjuku Incident

March 22, 2010

Recently I came to the conclusion that in order to enhance my Mandarin learning, I need to mix in a few other elements, such as regularly watching Chinese movies where Mandarin is the spoken language and listening to Chinese music. There are a ton of Chinese movies out there, but it seems that a lot of the better ones come out of Hong Kong – so are in Cantonese; which is effectively useless to me. While Cantonese has some similarity with Mandarin, it’s basically a completely different language altogether.

 I dropped down to the local Box Hill Xinhua bookshop and picked up a copy of a movie I had been wanting to see called The Shinjuku Incident (新宿事件). Starring Jackie Chan in a role quite removed from his normal action packed (and often comedic) acrobattery(tm).

In this role, Jackie plays either a tractor repairer or salesman named Steelhead, from a small snowy village in what I have to assume is Northern China. I am not actually sure why he was called Steelhead, or why he was a tractor ‘person’ as it really has no relevance in the movie. What we do learn early however, is that Jackie is courting a young girl by the name of Xiu Xiu who has for some reason gone to Japan to find an Auntie of hers.

Steelhead boards a ship full of illegal immigrants and heads for Japan, but the ship is wrecked and he’s forced to hoof it towards Shinjuku where he somehow finds his Chinese friend, Jie. Taking whatever work is available; from sorting rubbish in landfill to cleaning sewers, Steelhead slowly begins to get involved in all forms of petty crime that the Chinese immigrants are involved in – gradually making a name for himself; and a small wad of cash.

And that’s about as much as I am going to say about the plot as it only gets infinitely more confusing from this point. To cut a long story short – and yes the movie went on a little too long for my liking – he discovers that Xiu Xiu has married one of the local Yakuza bosses – who happens to also be conveniently charming and a loving family man, and after one thing leads to another and another and another and his friend Jie is conveniently beat up twice – the second time with somewhat nasty results – let’s just say the earlier charm of the movie is somewhat lost in what becomes just an excuse to have a big climactic battle.

I have to say, the plot was definitely fairly weak, but it was an entertaining movie. There were a few things that stood out to me about The Shinjuku Incident.

1. The relationships between the Chinese and the Japanese was something I had not really seen before in a modern film. The Japanese looked down on them, often referring to them as Chinese Pigs – whilst the Chinese basically had to endure it, dropping comments such as, “If he had the balls to come to Mainland China, I’d chop him up” etc etc. The Chinese and Japanese have a colourful history together with much cultural animosity. In this movie, I wondered whether this was born from this history, or just a general dislike of ‘migrants’ in general – which is a common theme no matter which country you’re in.

2. Beyond anime, it occurred to me that I don’t think i have really seen many films set in modern Japan…period. Beyond Lost in Translation, I really cant think of any. I really enjoyed the extremely different environment to say Hong Kong – which is a prominent part of many Asian movies. Sure there’s many glowing streets and neon’s, yet while they are similar, they are so extremely different at the same time.

3. The combination of Mandarin and Japanese was fantastic. Often various Japanese characters would speak a little Mandarin (their roles meant they knew a little), and I enjoyed the various discussions which constantly crossed back and forth between the different languages. As a language learner, it’s immensely satisfying to recognise various words as they are being said. While learning a language is immensely difficult, it can also be immensely satisfying.

4. The Yakuza element was also interesting enough to have me wanting to do a little further reading on them though while they started off quite  – I don’t know, mysterious or unique in their own way – by the end of the movie they were just your standard ‘mob of bad guys’. Perhaps that is all the Yakuza are, a mob of bad guys, but who knows – early on into the movie I was seeing a very Samurai’esque clan thing going on.

So there we have it. I would recommend The Shinjuku Incident to anyone with an interest in Asian cinema. The plot was somewhat weak and left various characters ‘endings’ completely unexplained. While full of overly convenient plot devices and running just a tad too long, it still was interesting for nothing other than that awesome randomness that seems to occur only in Asian movies – where you literally have no idea where it is going to end up.


January 16, 2009

Anyone who has spent even a nanosecond in China will know of the Chinese love for fireworks and crackers.  Not a day went by when we weren’t woken by the splutter of fireworks in the distance, and it was a rare night when they did not like up the sky.  On our first night in China as we were driven to a banquet dinner with the school, we were amazed to see fireworks in the distance.  We asked one of the teachers “What are the fireworks for?  Is there a celebration?”  To which we only received bemused and puzzled looks.  We joked to ourselves that perhaps the fireworks were in our honour, but were soon to realise this was a daily (by multiple) event. 

The Chinese use fireworks for all sorts of occasions, symbolising the end of the old and the beginning of the new.   They have been used throughout time to bring prosperity and happiness and to frighten away evil spirits.  We were to learn that fireworks would be set off for all manner of reasons – birthdays, weddings, store and restaurant openings…hell, buy a pair of socks and set of some fireworks to celebrate! 

Of course, if you put together the concepts of China + fireworks, your mind is bound to realise that a lot of these fireworks must be made illegally and perhaps many Chinese must die each year as a result of fireworks related accidents.  Well, you’d be right on both counts.  In fireworks-1news this week, police and firefighters destroyed a large amount of illegal fireworks that had been confiscated in the lead up to Spring Festival (Chinese New Year).  The pictures are pretty impressive, but would have been moreso if the destruction had have been staged at night (possibly with an epic song about the flag and some children in bubbles).  Alas, there are possibly thousands of Chinese whose New Year is looking a little more grim and lacking in good fortune.

Sadly though, with the illegal production of so many fireworks comes the obvious lack of safety, hence Chinese news is littered with stories throughout the year of accidents, explosions and hundreds of deaths.  The latest resulting in the death of 13 people in an illegal factory.  Whilst the media claims of crackdowns, it’s impossible to halt the scale of these sorts of operations when there is  money to be made and an ever growing market.


Beijing Bicycle

January 9, 2009

Last night we watched the movie Beijing Bicycle and it really was great – if not a little depressing. It started off as the story of a country boy who had come to the city to find work to support his family. He was provided with a really good bicycle, a new silver mountain bike. He started out at a low rate of pay(something like 20/80% cut out of every delivery cost) which would rise(50/50) once he had earned 600 yuan. He would also then own the bike. Everything was going along swimmingly until of course the bike was stolen.

Enter the second character. Here we start to learn about a second boy, a local Beijinger who happens to live in the Lake Houhai area. This was cool as we were very familiar with this area – having stayed there when we were in Beijing. This area is also famous for its Hutongs(courtyard homes). This second boy has been promised for years by his father that he would be getting a bicycle…and hasn’t. His father promised if he was in the top 5 of his class he would buy it – then something else, then something else again until such time as his younger sisters tuition at a good school then became more important, and well, no bicycle. So of course he takes fate into his own hands, steals the tuition money and goes and buys the bicycle…which just happens to be the bike poor country boy has lost.
What then happens is a very odd, depressing and in the end almost enlightening relationship between the two boys as they vie for control of the bicyle. There is in fact a third character, and that is the bicycle. What the movie pulls off absolutely perfectly is how these two boys from different backgrounds, both impossibly poor in their own ways, put different values on the bike. The bike can and does change both of their lives in different ways.

It is odd to think of a mere bicycle as anything of real worth, coming from a culture where effectively every adult member of the households here owns a car. There was one scene in the movie where I don’t know whether it was intentional or not, but a rich neighbour pulled up in a hatchback car outside what was really just a shanty little shop – something we would see very regularly. This car then put into perspective just how small the bicycle was – compared to the wealth that allowed this probable middle-class woman to comfortably purchase a car. Yet here is this bicycle, the very centre of wealth and lifestyle to these two poor kids from different backgrounds.

Guei, the 'country boy.' I felt for this guy.

The movie was quiet and moved at a slow pace – very arthouse. I really really enjoyed it. Part of the appeal to us was the fact that it all looked so familiar. Every time we see Chinese documentaries or movies now, we take more from them. While in China we experienced all these things as spectators. We couldn’t really comprehend a lot of the more meaningful sides to events due to the language barrier. There is only so much you can comprehend visually. When you put human conversation alongside it, it takes on a completely different meaning.

The other side to the movie that I found highly interesting is that it doesn’t matter what culture you come from or how much money you have. Potentially, we can all be equally as cruel to each other as the next person.

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