恭喜發財: Happy Lunar New Year 2016

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Yes, the new Lunar Year is upon us and it’s the Year of the Monkey.  Monkeys rule in so many ways and that’s certainly because they are cute AND clever.  For those of you born in the year of the Monkey, they’re sociable, clever (duh) and adventurous, but prone to suspicion and jealously.  The previous link here states that monkeys are unlucky when it’s their year, but at the same time, points out that monkeys are gonna get rich somehow.  Hopefully not by an elaborate ponzi scheme that heralds economic doom (cough cough MADOFF).  This year however will be the first where GF and I will celebrate Lunar New Year apart, and it’s hard.  I’ve made my parents standard dumplings, the traditional food for the New Year and chances are I’ll be avoiding the Super Bowl today.  To all of you guys, love life, be prosperous and have a Happy Lunar New Year!   新年快樂!

R.I.P. Maurice White (1941 – 2016)

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The mind and beat behind Earth, Wind and Fire has left us on 2/3/2016.  Some of the songs he helped create were not just mere pop hits, but inspirational anthems for a generation of people.  I never owned an EWF album but I was always on my toes when a song would pop up in the radio.  Fantasy, September, Shining Star and others were full of powerhouse brass, heart-pounding bass work and singing that literally touched the Gods.  Maurice White was a part of all of that and more.  He even helped produce an Anime soundtrack for Gatchaman’s 1994 OVA.  White and his band are a force of nature, and I hope his passing can be a way for us all to see that he didn’t leave this plane, but that he returned to the force that bore him many moons ago.  Remember the man, and definitely hit up his songs below.  Rest in Peace Maurice.  What you gave to us was truly a fantasy in the best sense.

Naika Reviews “Black Coal, Thin Ice”

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Hailed as a triumph in Berlin and a throwback to 1940’s American film-noir, Diao Yinan’s Black Coal, Thin Ice is a simmering story of lust, murder and despair that comes to a boil in sparks of absurd brilliance.  With a haunting performance from female lead Gwei Lun-Mei and the hard-boiled gumshoe trope nailed down perfectly by Liao Fan, Diao’s film is an auteur’s delight as it masterfully weaves many dark threads under the frigid desolation of Northern China.

In 1999, Detective Zhang Zili (Liao Fan) is investigating a series of body parts being strewn about in coal shipments throughout the province.  His team eventually identifies the victim and contact his wife, Wu Zhizhen (Gwei Lun-Mei), who happens to work in a local dry cleaning establishment.  During a round-up of possible suspects however, Zhang is embroiled in a sudden gunfight reminiscent of a Kitano film and is heavily traumatized in the process.  We flash forward to 2004 and find that Zhang is now a drunken security officer with no prospects on the horizon.  However, things turn around for him as he suddenly finds himself immersed in a new case where Wu Zhizhen re-emerges as the central thread.  These events soon draw Zhang into Wu’s life, where we watch the rest of the tale unravel under a cold veil of urban darkness.

Black Coal, Thin Ice is an amazing film with an array of merits.  Every frame is unique in color and movement, where dynamism is enslaved by neon luminescence.  The story itself is very simple (until we close in on the ending), but the emotions on display draw you in and never let go. The assured camerawork stalks our cast ever so slowly. providing an intimate yet surreal view into the proceedings.  Furthermore, Northern China is a character unto its own as it plays off as both jailer and jester, setting the stage for scenes where the despair of our characters linger in the daytime frost, while their desires prowl under the alluring neon glow of the night.  Reminiscent of Twin Peaks, Diao Yinan’s film expresses a duality of sorts that I find intriguing.  White with snow yet black as coal, simple in scope yet confounding at times and full of both very real yet very surreal moments, Black Coal, Thin Ice is a revelation that celebrates the potential of Mainland Chinese film.  Yet this celebration is given to a film that paints both a tragic and relevant portrait of urban fatalism which reveals so much, yet says so little.  With the harshness of modern China in full view, Black Coal, Thin Ice reminds us that life is a cold nightmare, and that only the dreams of daylight fireworks can set us free.

 

Iron Chef Chen Kenichi is AWESOME!!!

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Iron Chef is friggin’ awesome.  There.  I said it.  It’s engaging, eye-opening, entertaining and full of grandeur.  A multitude of culinary traditions come crashing together in front of a wild-eyed Chairman whose sole job is to maniacally set the tone for what’s at stake in Kitchen Stadium (via the Secret Theme Ingredient).  What ensues is furious cooking, artistic cuisine and some spurious dubbing, but all in all, Fuji TV’s Iron Chef is a marvel to behold and I recommend you dive into it if you haven’t already.

The Iron Chefs themselves are all intriguing.  Hiroyuki Sakai is truly a hardened master as Iron Chef French, while Michiba and Morimoto are awesome chefs in their own right as both Iron Chef Japanese.  However, the Iron Chef that intrigues me the most is Chen Kenichi, son of Chen Kenmin, the God of Sichuan Cooking in Japan.  Ironically, Iron Chef’s Chinese-themed battles are what opened my young eyes to what Chinese cuisine actually was in the late 90s, especially in terms of region.  Iron Chef Chen was obviously Sichuan, but many competitors dabbled in Cantonese, Shanghai and other variants / fusions of Neo-Chinese cuisine.  The fact that Chen was so into spice was what got me hooked on his battles.  Therefore, I’m devoting this post to some of his most memorable battles that are personal favorites of mine, so please enjoy!!

Bamboo Shoot Battle: Chen tackles the young Munetaka Takahashi, an exponent of Kyoto cuisine.  This is a personal favorite of mine since it shows off Chen Kenichi’s intricate skill in cutting (which Takahashi matches).  A great battle indeed.

THE GREAT HEICHINROU WAR: Chen squares off against Japan’s oldest Chinese restaurant establishment Heichinrou in 3 battles.  Heichinrou’s chefs duel with Cantonese cookery, but the gloves come off in the third match where Heichinrou Grand Chef Xie Huaxian comes in to settle the score once and for all.  A must watch of epic propotrions!!

PRAWN BATTLE: Chen does battle with Takashi Saito, Chen Kenmin’s former protege as they go head to head with each other’s own Ebi Chilli!

So for the lot of you who haven’t indulged in Iron Chef, now’s a good time to do so.  I would especially recommend this if you’re a fan of Chinese food and want to see how Chinese cuisine is made.  I’ll conclude this with an awesome recipe video (in Japanese) of Mapo Tofu from Chen himself, which utilizes the original Sichuan recipe.  Bon appetite my friends!

Returning to Eternity: RIP David Bowie (1947-2016)

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How many times have I at least heard one of David Bowie’s songs throughout the day on the radio?  From Let’s Dance on The Mix’s 80s at 8 to Space Oddity on a classic rock station, it never doubted me that the Bowie would end, but it did, and I’m at a loss for words.  I haven’t even seen any of his videos because I never needed to; his hits took me to so many places that the videos were secondary.  With Blackstar released just last Friday, I felt as though he knew his time was up and wanted not to fade into obscurity, but to shine his last beacon into our collective consciousness.  The Prince of the Universe has returned to Eternity.  Farewell David Bowie…I’ll never forget to wear red shoes when I dance the blues…

Fighting Game Babe of the Week (1/11/2016)

I’m a fan of fighting games, especially when it comes to the BABES of fighting games, so I’ll be doing something new.  I’ll be posting an awesome image of a fighting game lady (either official or fan made) each week, so please marvel at the awesome art work and hopefully this will get the gaming itch going for some of y’all.  This week’s focus will be on DOA’s wrestling bombshell Tina Armstrong as she sports the bad teacher outfit from DOA 5.  Rock you!!

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