F*CK SPARTA

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I kid you not. This is a gym around where I used to work in Tampa. Can you guess what kind of gym it is?

When you watch a film like Zack Snyder’s 300, there’s so much in it that appeals to us in a primitive sense.  There’s this sense that you, the hero (or in this case, Sparta) and his or her way of life is threatened by foreign hordes.  There’s also this inherent love of muscle and military might that borders on the fanatical.  Lastly, there’s this inherent feeling of righteousness in smiting the ‘other’, which is exemplified in the film’s last words from Dillios:

The enemy outnumber us a paltry three to one, good odds for any Greek. This day we rescue a world from mysticism and tyranny and usher in a future brighter than anything we can imagine.

I remember how twisted my feelings got when I heard those last words in the theater.  Sure I had fun, but I seriously never knew that in the years to come, that “world [of] mysticism and tyranny” meant me…meant us.

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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.

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Huang Fei Hong Spicy Peanuts are the SHIT!!!

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It’s probably no coincidence that this awesome snack is named after the famed martial artist from Foshan because Huang Fei Hong’s irresistable combinantion of crunchy, jumbo peanuts (from Shandong province mind you), chillis and peppercorns pack the right amount of kick that will keep you begging for more.  It’s a relatively simple snack that’s a farcry from the stuff we usually gobble here in the States, but maybe that’s what makes it so great to eat.  How can peanuts simply taste so good?

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Naika Reviews “Ashes of Time: Redux”

Rivers of blood and the froth of death runs rapid in the minds of those that follow the way of the sword, but for anyone that has ever loved and lost, nothing could cut more than the razor of heartache, and nothing could dig deeper than the dagger of loss.  For stories such as this, no other filmmaker can express these ideas through the world of wuxiapian quite like Wong Kar Wai.  Whether it’s across the neon streets of Hong Kong or amidst the parched wastelands of a mongolian desert, Wong expresses the triumphs and tragedies that befall the memories of sword fighters with flawless grace through his only wuxia film, Ashes of Time.

Based on Jin Yong’s famous wuxia novel series, The Legend of the Condor Heroes, Ashes of Time was released in 1994 as a prequel / companion piece to the novels, acting as Wong’s imaginings of what he feels are the emotional origins of the book’s characters, centering on the unorthodox and carefree Huang Yaoshi (played by Leung Ka-Fai) & the bitter Ouyang Feng (acted out beautifully by the late Leslie Cheung).  Ouyang Feng is more central to the story than Huang since he acts as an intermediate for assassins and mercenaries, placing his quest for glory amongst swordsmen aside for reasons that are revealed later in the film.  Leslie Cheung’s portrayal of Ouyang Feng is clever, informative and balanced since it is his character that creates the narration, monologues and exposition that help to flesh out the story, while Leung Ka-Fai’s portrayal of Huang introduces us to the notions that drive one to forget the past.  For many a Wong fan, the film has come under considerable criticism over the years for how “elliptical” and “nonsensical” the plot is, but I feel that these criticisms have little to do with the merits of the film and more to do with peoples’ taste on how they think movies should deliver or flesh out a story.  In reference to what other net reviewers have pointed out, Wong’s work on Ashes of Time has less to do with what’s exactly being said and more to do with how the film makes YOU as a viewer feel as you watch the film.

Bridgette Lin turns out a stunning performance in Wong Kar Wai's "Ashes of Time: Redux" (2008)

With that said, the performances from all the actors and actresses involved in the film are nothing short of outstanding.  I for one possess no grasp of the Chinese language, but the amount of feeling and emotion portrayed by everyone, from Charlie Yeung carrying eggs in the desert to Bridgette Lin’s stunning, if not marvelous turn as two characters in the film, paints a vibrant portrait of jiang hu angst that is made more grandiose thanks to the creative eye of Wong’s long time cinematographer, Christoper Doyle.  And with Wong Kar Wai alum Tony Leung rounding out the cast as a blind swordsman, I think we got ourselves a FINE film to watch.

Although most wuxia films focus a great deal of it’s time on fighting, Ashes of Time avoids all of that to give the viewer something more cerebral, if not lasting, with evocative visuals and strong acting.  However, opinions on the film became more divided when, in 2008, Wong re-edited the film and released it as Ashes of Time: Redux, which is readily available on DVD and on Netflix streaming.  More commercially available then the original film, the re-edits and the new score have either alienated older fans or re-introduced new fans to a film that was seldom seen outside of the arthouse circle.  I for one am of the latter, so I am unaware of the differences between the two, so maybe it’s a bit too soon for me to sing praises for this version of the film, but at least in my honest opinion, Ashes of Time: Redux is a brilliant piece of filmmaking.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this review, nothing can cut deeper than the edge of one’s memories.  Pain and sadness, longing and regret, and the lust for conquest that drives broken individuals towards the way of the sword are what color the characters that we find in Ashes of Time: Redux.  The film has divided many a movie fan over its unorthodox storytelling and out-of-character viewpoint of the wuxia world, and yet the film is remembered and loved by many for those very same things. Wong Kar Wai has given us a vibrant painting that not only provides us with a bleak view of how cruel the way of the sword can be, but a longing look at how our memories haunt our present and cloud our future, no matter how fearless we seem to be.  Like the pain that we find ourselves feeling over things we wish were long forgotten, it continues to come back even more when we actively try to forget.  However, despite all of this, there is a duality that is present in this motif.  Only by embracing the past for what it is, we come to eventually learn more from ourselves, let go, and, possibly, succumb to the remarkable possibilities that may be hidden right in front of us.  In the end, a sword can only strike down so much…

The Allure of Autumn

If I were in Chicago at this time of year, I would be greeted with a fleeting sea of gold, saffron and crimson that would waft slowly down with the wind from what would soon become barenaked branches.  Much of what I’ve just said sounded quite poetic to onlookers such as myself, whose self-pitying gravitas is underwhelmed completely by the poor bastard that has to rake all of that.  However, such is the nature of life, where one enjoys the pleasantries of one phenomenon while another must bare the consequences that beget said phenomenon.  The allure of autumn is no different…

We are obviously getting closer and closer to December, which means that winter will arrive soon (and thanks to global warming, it already has…with the goddamned snow of course).  For folks like me and GrumpyGrad, who live on opposite sides of the country, we don’t have the chance to see snow much anymore, but for someone like myself who lives in shitty Florida, I don’t see much of autumn either.  We get brown leaves that turn to dead colors and simply become dead weight for various landfill areas in and around the area.  Sure, green is still avast in most areas, but that whole idea of withering gracefully is more or less non-existent here.

After having Thanksgiving at the usual spot for me with my Aunt and Uncle (best friends of my old man), I came home with a full stomach and a worn out body from playing piggyback with my little niece.  I sat down and browsed Facebook to see that “said girl” had this wonderful photo of her old college campus in China.  God, I wish we were able to see things like that here in Florida, and from there,we went back and forth about this photo, where she wondered if we could paint the leaves gold and someone would shake the tree for them to fall.  I remembered when I was greeted in a sea of gold as Chicago bid farewell to the seasons with one last show of grace from nature, from the vain campus of Lane Tech High School to the hollow grounds of UIC.

The allure of autumn and its meaning to me has alluded me for some time I suppose.  Was it the cool weather that made me love this season so much?  Was it the vibrant palette of colors that the leaves painted in each and every neighborhood?  Or was it the company you had as you walked through sidewalks that would eventually become drenched not in leaves, but in black snow?  As I think back at the picture she placed on her Facebook wall where we typed about our longing for the season, I am again reminded that nature refuses to wither in shame, but in brave, vibrant and upstanding grace,  With all this in mind, I can only hope that my feelings for her will pass on in the same fashion, where the allure of a season is not only found in a lucid sea of gold, but in the promise that new, more livelier beginnings will emerge strong…