Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Another Happy New Year

Ah, the years fly by. Another year done and gone and I must admit to not being a better man for it. Just a year older. It was an interesting year to say the least, the best and the worst of times. Seeing Obama get elected still astonishes me even a few months after the election and I have to persuade myself at times that it really happened. Following the campaign totally consumed my time and emotions this year. As I traveled around from place to place the first thing I would do in a different hotel would be to check the air conditioner and then check to see if they had CNN on the TV. In a few hotels I got stuck having to watch Fox News which was always good for a laugh. Then of course the economy went south and so many of us were hurt in many ways. Fortunately, I was already unemployed! And not looking too hard.

I very much lost touch with what was going on in Asian films. Nothing very important happened from what I can gather. The various Asian forums are empty of much enthusiasm for anything new. The financial mess didn't help but even before that the film industries seemed to be catching their breath and holding back. The collapse of a few US distributors who focused on Asian films was the pop of another smaller bubble. Asian films for a while were being picked up like candy on Halloween for silly amounts and I never understood the economics of it. Apparently neither did the distributors. Asian films have come a long ways in popularity in the USA over the last 10 years but at the end of the day they still rest near the bottom of the viewing barrel - right above travelogues. Film people on both sides of the equation who think differently are just chasing after fool's gold.

My ambitions for the new year are slight. Stay solvent. Get back to Asia. I want to review more films as I have slacked off way too much in this regard but for the most part I want to review older films that are not being covered by a hundred other web sites out there. The fascination for new films and the hype that often surrounds them that some sites cater to has left me jaded because the films so rarely live up to the hype and those exciting breathless trailers. I'd rather dig into the past for a while.

I want to read a lot more. A friend recommended a biography of Neil Young called Shakey that I put on my Christmas list. Santa brought it to me. 738 pages. I can barely lift it. It's great so far but I am questioning whether I really need to know that much about Neil Young. I figure if someone wrote a biography about me it would run to around 5 pages. My love for Asian films would be covered in a paragraph. "In the mid-90's he walked by a HK film festival on 12th Street in New York City and he came to an abrupt halt after spotting a poster of The East is Red with a colorful messianic picture of Brigitte Lin spreading her arms outward. He went in to the theater and in a sense he never came out. Later he joined up with some fellows who wanted to put on Asian film festivals and he began to watch films from Korea, Japan, China, Thailand, Taiwan and anything else Asian. He liked those a lot too. Mainly because they were not afraid to draw their films outside the lines of conventional film making and film narrative. That and the beautiful actresses of course. His fascination began to wane a bit circa 2008 when many of the film companies began to draw within the lines in an attempt to sell their movies to Hollywood. The actresses are still beautiful, but there are no Brigitte Lin's out there."

Neil Young by the way is a rock and roll singer who has been around since the mid-60's and is still going strong today. Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and over 40 solo works. His quavering, plaintive voice has had a hold on me for decades. Except for the 80's where he really sucked. Sometimes acoustic, sometimes screeching electric he never fails to surprise you. Just to kill time I put together a top 5 albums and a top 10 songs:


After the Gold Rush


Everybody Knows This is Nowhere

Neil Young

Tonight's the Night


Like a Hurricane (American Stars 'N Bars)

Sugar Mountain (only released on a Best of album Decade and in concert)

Cortez the Killer (Zuma)

See the Sky About to Rain (On the Beach)

Helpless (Deja Vu with Crosby Stills and Nash)

Cowgirl in the Sand (Everybody Knows This is Nowhere)

Broken Arrow (Buffalo Springfield Again)

Ohio (4 Way Street with CSN)

Living in War (Living in War)

I Believe in You (and pretty much every song in After the Gold Rush)

I want to get to Edinburgh but probably won't. My sudden desire stems from reading three of the Isabel Dalhousie novels by Alexander McCall Smith over my Christmas stay at my parents. I am not sure I really like these books that much as they parade themselves as mysteries but are really just about the philosophical musings of Isabel. But I really love the Edinburgh that the author describes. I was there years ago as one stop on my hitchhiking tour around the British Isles one summer and I recall being charmed even back then when few things charmed me much.

I need to get to Shanghai also just because I want to finally read the three mystery novels I have of the Inspector Chen series by Qiu Xiaolong. But I am holding off on them till I go - hopefully on a train from Hong Kong.

I had posted a comment on this blog about dropping out of the New York Asian Film Festival. Thirteen festivals and three million films felt like enough and it was time to move on. It just gives me more time to do the things that I want to do these days. Needless to say the festival will continue without me - stronger than ever I am sure and likely without as many of the sentimental films that I always fought for. It will give me many fewer opportunities to see and report on new films but as mentioned above that is fine with me.

Anyway enough about me. I wish all of you a great year and exciting times.

A few pictures:

Tien Niu

Vivian Chow - 1, 2, 3

Vivian Hsu - a little risque but I am just in the process of putting up everything I have left.

Wu Chien-lien

Yoyo Mung


Glenn, kenixfan said...

Happy New Year Brian!

I finally watched Prince Charming the other day and was amazed that you had not reviewed it already. I posted a small psuedo-review on my site.

My New Year's Goal is the same as last year: watch the remaining 44 Shaw Celestial DVDs that I have yet to open. Prince Charming was the first one I had watched in some time.

I am saving up my Cherie Chung Celestial titles for one marathon viewing experience.

But I am still looking for Twinkle Twinkle Little Star which sounds dreadful in many ways.

Brian said...

I have a stack higher than a Nebraska corn field of unwatched Shaw Brothers dvds though not really sure Prince Charming is among them. I expect to make a big dent in those as well as a bunch of Cathay films as well. Twinkle is there though. Its a shame that both Shaw and Cathay stopped putting out their backlog before they were done but I guess economics forced that. Also it seems a lot of their dvds are out of print and may remain that way. Glad I picked up dozens way back when I had an income!

Let's have a contest to see who watched the most Shaw films this year. The winner gets . . . er nothing really.

Happy New Year. It snowed a bit in NYC today which felt kind of neat.

Glenn, kenixfan said...

Well, if you ever decide to sell your Twinkle Celestial DVD, e-mail me. At the time, I had no idea the titles were going out of print after one pressing.

I am SOOOO glad I got all the Cheng Pei-Pei films already and almost all of the Lily Ho ones (still need Lady Professional on DVD, have the VCD).

I too don't understand why they didn't keep going with the releases.

I was shocked at the poor quality of the Cathay DVDs I finally watched; YTSL talked up a few of the titles but I will admit that the quality may keep from being enthusiastic about watching more of the titles.

WiseKwai said...

Thanks for bringing the Neil Young bio to my attention.

My current favorite album by Neil is Live at Fillmore East with Crazy Horse. Down by the River, Cowgirl in the Sand. Doesn't get any better than that.

Except maybe Powderfinger on Rust Never Sleeps.

I'll always have a soft spot for Harvest though.

Brian said...

Hi Wise Kwai,

Read about the fire in BK today - real sad way to start the year.

The bio is a great read so far and I have gotten thru his Buffalo Springfield days. What a car wreck - it's amazing that their 3 albums were as good as they are. None of the other members wanted Young to sing his own songs because they thought his voice was so bad! He and Stills hated each other - hard to believe they got together later. The bio came out in 2002 so its a little out of date. Interestingly, in the first chapter he talks about the Archive project that Young has been working on for years - he wants to put tons of his old work out from concerts and unreleased songs to other song versions. Amazon has a 10 Archive cd set available in Feb for $300. More than I can spend these days! I've picked up Fillmore East, Massey Hall and Canterbury so far (Sugar Mountain finally!). Massey also has Cowgirl and River on it but with only Neil and his acoustic guitar. Powderfinger is a great song - I have it on the Weld live concert cd - his storytelling at its best. Also has Hurricane and Cortez so I love that cd.

Btw - just want to say how much I appreciate your site - its a real work of love and the best out there by miles on Thai films. Happy New Year to you.

YTSL said...

Hi Brian --

"The actresses are still beautiful, but there are no Brigitte Lin's out there."

As you can imagine, definitely second that sentiment -- and this post just having watched her in "Love Massacre" for the third time (second at the HK Film Archive!).

"I need to get to Shanghai also just because I want to finally read the three mystery novels I have of the Inspector Chen series by Qiu Xiaolong."

Were these the books you bought in Hong Kong early in 2008? Goodness if so because, since then, I've bought and read all five of those mysteries! ;b

"I had posted a comment on this blog about dropping out of the New York Asian Film Festival."

Want to take this opportunity to state that I think that it's a big loss for the festival that you've dropped out. Anyways, thanks for what you did with it -- including help give me the opportunity to watch such as "Swordsman II", "Green Snake" and "The Chinese Feast" on a big screen where they truly belong.

Steve said...

"I too don't understand why they didn't keep going with the releases."

The story seems to be they weren't getting the sales they wanted. Ever. It's possible if they did more market research up front they wouldn't have started releasing DVDs at all.

If that was really the case I'm glad they went ahead and released the films. I'm about half-way through watching the films released (barring one or two I missed buying) and overall it's an embarrassment of riches.

Brian said...

YTSL - yup those are the books! I take it they are good if you have read that many of them.

Looking back I am still proudest of the Johnny To/Milkyway fest and the Tsui Hark fest of all the fests we did. They were pretty much our first ones way back and I just loved the movies and it felt really good bringing them to the attention of a US movie going audience. It felt like a cause back then. Now it was beginning to feel like an ego trip. The one regret I had for the Tsui retro was that one distributor thought they had a print of SHANGHAI BLUES but could never find it. I would so have loved to have seen that on the big screen.

Steve - have been told by someone in the know that the Shaw sales and audience figues for their cable channel never came close to their projections. Whether they did a lot of market research is doubtful. It was a basic field of dreams biz proposition. Also I wonder if they might have done better over the long run if they had spun out the releases over a much longer span - I think nearly everyone was overwhelmed and unable to keep up time wise or financially. But they also probably needed a quick return on investment. Like you I am just extremely glad about the films that were released and am happy that I picked up so many of them in anticipation of having lots of time to watch them at some point in the future. I think that point is now!

Steve said...

"I picked up so many of them in anticipation of having lots of time to watch them at some point in the future. I think that point is now!"

Then let me draw your attention to The Secret of the Dirk, which has Ching Li leading a group of "kung fu kids," love, betrayal, buried treasure, etc. etc.

Really quite good and surprisingly not well known.

YTSL said...

Hi again Brian --

Yup, they're good alright. And if you want more China-located crime novels, try the three by Lisa See and then e-mail her to ask her to go back to crime novel writing. (She apparently is doing very well with more romantic stuff!)

Re the Subway Cinema fests: Funny you should say you're proudest of the Milkyway and Tsui Hark fests as they're my favorite Subway Cinema fests. :)

Re "Shanghai Blues": You just have to come over to Hong Kong when it gets screened here again one day because yeah, it really is wonderful to watch on a big screen... :b

Jason said...

Hey Brian,

Sad to hear you're leaving the NYAFF. I really enjoyed finally meeting you after having used your Brooklyn Bridge database as an invaluable tool for filling in missing names and faces during my "formative years" of HK film fandom. It was a pleasure working with you, Grady and co at last year's fest and I have a good feeling that if you're in the country this summer, I'll probably see you at this year's as well. Hope 2009 brings you everything you wish for.


Brian said...

YTSL - the Tsui Hark and the Milkyway fests were also the easiest fests that we put on - though it was all new to us at the time. There were 2 distributors of HK films in the US and we just had to go to them to put together decent retros for minimum cost. And we did it just in time - both companies lost their rights to the prints and now it would be extremely difficult and expensive to put on those same fests. Kind of sad that films like GS, A Hero Never Dies, Spacked Out, Peking Opera Blues, Expect the Unexpected will likely never be screened in the US again.