Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to one and all. May Santa leave you many goodies under the Christmas tree or in your stocking. My tropical interlude is over and I am back in the frigid cold but I did manage to miss the biggest snowstorm of the century (so far!). I kind of regret that actually. There isn't much in my Christmas bag to hand out this season I am afraid, but I do have the lovely Mona Fong singing Jingle Bells to us. This was in Hong Kong Nocturne and I expect this song was done by Mona before she became Run Run's main squeeze. Mona appeared in only a couple films singing (Mambo Girl being one), but her singing voice was heard in many more. She is still going strong today.

and continuing with my recent theme of music from long long ago, here are a few songs from the wonderful Rebecca Pan who Wong Kar-wai fans know very well from her performances in Days of Being Wild and In the Mood for Love. Back in the 1960's she was one of Hong Kong's top entertainers singing in all sorts of languages and performing around the world. Here are a few selections from her 101 Songs CD set. Best Wishes to all of you.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Some Selections from The Actress Soundtrack

Ah, it is 85 degrees with a sun as bright as a new born grapefruit. I am working on my Louis Koo, but chances are I am going right past that look into red. A color that doesn´t really suit me. I uploaded a few musical tracks before I left and will get some of these up over the next week. I am starting off with four tracks from a film directed by Stanley Kwan, The Actress a.k.a. Centre Stage. It details the tragic story of perhaps the most famous Chinese actress from the 1930´s in Shanghai, Ruan Lingyu, portrayed by the delicate and elegant Maggie Cheung. It is definitely one of Maggie´s top performances.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

A bit of this and a bit of that before leaving

On Saturday I am off on holiday! Even though I haven’t been working for quite a while I still like to think of it as a holiday when I leave the country. Getting away anywhere, anytime is a holiday of sorts.

I think most of us have something from our childhood that we cling on to for nostalgic reasons – of times when the only responsibility we had was getting home for dinner on time. For some it’s baseball cards, for others Hello Kitty – for me it is Tintin, the intrepid boyish reporter that the Belgian cartoonist Herge created back in the 1930’s and who is still popular today. I’ve got all the books (20 or so of them), have purchased a number of Tintin t-shirts in Asia and recently picked up a slew of his animation DVD’s in Thailand. I recall getting into Tintin way back when I lived in Turkey and a Pakistani friend who lived behind us introduced me to Tintin (pronounced like bon-bon as a Belgian corrected me once). He travels all over the world seeking stories and adventure with his best friend Captain Haddock and his faithful dog Snowy. Much has been written on Herge who as I discovered didn’t exactly lead an exemplary life – some racial prejudices that were later erased out of the Tintin books, a philanderer and a collaborator with the Nazi’s after they took over Belgium. But besides being a racist, a cheat and a traitor . . he wasn't such a bad guy! You try not to think about that stuff though and focus on Tintin who is always loyal to his friends and always ready to rush off on another adventure no matter where it takes him – from Tibet to the Congo to the jungles of South America.

Cool stuff when you were a kid traveling all over the world yourself and feeling a long way from home. Much critical analysis has also been written on Tintin's sexuality suggesting that he was gay (he never is remotely interested in women) and that he represents a last remnant of a European imperialism that took on in Kipling’s words “the white man’s burden”. No matter, he has fans all over the world though in America he is still only vaguely known – but that should all change in 2011 when Spielberg comes out with his first Tintin movie with others to follow. My t-shirts will be worth millions! The film is I believe a combination of The Secret of The Unicorn and its sequel Red Rackham’s Treasure. I can’t wait. But I guess I will have to!

Speaking of the “white man’s burden”, one of the two films I saw yesterday at Film Forum in the continuing James Whale retro was filled to the gills with it and it’s interesting to see how certain films age so badly because of changing attitudes. Green Hell (1940) had a great cast – Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Vincent Price, George Sanders (doing his usual lady man’s bit) and Joan Bennett as the damsel in distress - but it was hard not to wince at times as they all go exploring somewhere in Central America looking for Aztec treasures with the poor natives doing all the hard work as they sit about and drink martinis and make goo-goo eyes at Joan. When they find the ruins – which Fairbanks interestingly compares to Angkor Wat – they are in awe but then proceed to basically blow huge holes in it to find the treasure! But that is probably how people thought back then and so in a sense this film can be viewed as a periscope into the past.

The other Whale film was a doozie – The Man in the Iron Mask (1939) – a great adventure tale of intrigue, deception and swordsmanship. As far as I can recollect from reading my Classic Comic version of it this film resembles the book as much as I do Brad Pitt but I don’t think any of the film versions really do. In middle age, the four Musketeers mount up for one last fling with death. Great stuff.

Park Slope, the neighborhood where I live in Brooklyn, could be known as Nanny City – in the afternoon the sidewalks are filled with nannies of all nationalities pushing strollers with white babies of good means. Today I overheard one nanny from Central America teaching the little boy in her care how to say penguin as she pointed to four of them on a window - pronouncing it “peeee-win”. Cute. She should be teaching him words like “La revolucion” though.

And here are some photos of actresses from a more recent age – Anita Mui and Fennie Yuen. Anita was all class and Fennie all cutes. Both great in their own way and making films in Hong Kong back in a time when females actually had good roles in movies.

Anita - 1,   2,   3,   4,   5

I love Anita's headgear - she always had so much style and she must have had a closet bigger than the New Territories to keep all her clothes.

Fennie – here and here

To go along with the photos I promised myself to watch some of these older films I have lying around and this one has both actresses and turned out to be a great choice – the very amusing Trouble Couples directed by Eric Tsang.

Trouble Couple
Director: Eric Tsang
Year: 1987

Talk about an Idol gangbang – the Happy Troupe Girls meets the Grasshoppers in a wonderfully amusing teenage romp with Anita Mui and Eric Tsang trying to be the adults in the class – good luck. At the time of the film The Grasshoppers hadn’t really found fame yet but were soon to become one of Hong Kong’s biggest boy bands. They formed in 1982 but it wasn’t until 1985 when they had a stroke of luck while winning the New Talent Singing contest. Anita Mui, who was a judge, took a liking to them and asked them to be her back-up dancers and perform in concert with her. In a sweet musical montage, they are shown performing with Anita on stage. As far as I can tell The Happy Troupe Girls were a group of some very adorable teenage actresses who were starring in a number of teenage romantic comedies (often produced by Cinema City) - Fennie Yuen, May Lo, Charlene Chan, Ann Bridgewater and Loletta Lee - and a combination of them often appeared together in films like The Happy Ghost series or Fantasy Island. They are like little kittens in a box – you just want to take them home.

All of this cuteness in one film may seem like overkill but to my surprise the film is actually quite funny at times – good sight gags, excellent comic timing and witty dialogue that someone took the trouble to translate very well into the English subs. On top of this throw in a number of cameos from actors like Sandra Ng, Shing Fui-on, Wong Jing, Clarence Ford (director of Naked Killer), Ha Ping, Wu Fung, Charlie Cho, Hui Ying Ying (a veteran actress with credits going back to 1955), Fung Ging-man (with credits going back to 1937!), Helena Law Lan and Ann Mui (Anita’s sister). It is the kind of film that 20-years later you can simply enjoy for the actors involved. Tsang directed this towards the end of his very successful stay at Cinema City.

Anita plays Tai, the older sister and proxy mother to her three much younger sisters – keeping a roof over their head with her restaurant business and keeping a wary eye on their innocense when the inevitable suitors come round. She is every young sister’s nightmare – a harridan, a grouch, a slashing tongue and apparently on the verge of becoming a mean spirited spinster. When an older employer makes approaches to one of the sisters, Tai scares him off and says to her “losing your job is better than losing your virginity and ruining your life” The young sisters (Fennie Yuen, Charlene Chan and Ann Bridgewater) just want to have fun and romance and they find it easily – Yee (Ann) with a radio DJ (Matthew Wong) and Sam (Charlene) and Sai (Fennie) with three classmates at high school (the Grasshoppers – Calvin Choi, Remus Choi and Edmund So) – they just have to sort out which two of them get the two girls!

But there is a snag – big sister – so the solution is of course to find her a man – a complete loser who would want to be with her and so they go looking for someone committing suicide. They think they find their man (Eric) as they see him break up with his girlfriend (Sandra) who has found more security with a gangster (Shing Fui-on) who has made her mother a bookie and her uncle a heroin dealer. They talk him into courting their sister though he has reservations – she is a ‘laundry board” – but who else will have him. Along with the help of the girls and the boys he launches on a gargantuan plan of courtship that will have him pretending to be a mob boss, a lover in the rain, stabbed in the stomach, pretending to have had sex with Tai and so on. All is fair in love and war and this is closer to war than love. But it is all in goofy fun with enough cuteness to curl your toes.

My rating for this film: 7.5

Bigger screen captures here.

And as a bonus for getting this far – you have the incredible opportunity to listen to songs from . . . The Happy Troupe Girls! In this case the trio of May, Fennie and Charine. I had never actually listened to this till today though I bought it years ago – it was just one of those impulse buys that bankrupt so many of us! Just don’t shoot me. This isn’t exactly Anita singing.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

FYI - Film Titles for the Three Shaw Brother's Song Compilations

At some point I am planning on putting up a bunch of selections from three Shaw Brother's song compilations but thought it would make sense to include at least the film from which it came (forget the song title or the singer) but the film title is not on the CD in English. So I went through the time-consuming and eye-straining process of trying to match up the Chinese title on the CD with that in the HKMDB or the book The Shaw Screen: A Preliminary Study (though like an idiot I remembered having this late in the process). Much to my surprise I actually was able to do this and so thought I would put them up here in case anyone else has those CDs and didn't know the film titles. It is probably already up somewhere on the all-mighty Internet but please don't tell me if this is the case! This was a pain in the head.

But by doing this research it hit me again how many of the Shaw films didn't and may never make it on to DVD and many of them sound right up my alley. I think Celestial released the majority of the martial art films as those sparked the most interest and buyer dollars but in truth it was all the other genres that most intrigued me - melodramas, musicals, adventure, historicals. I remember that at the Chinatown DVD store where I spent much of my retirement money Paul used to kid me that he only ordered one copy of a bunch of titles because he knew I would be the only person to buy them! True.

 I was a sucker for anything with Peter Chen, Paul Chang Chun, Betty Loh Ti, Diana Chang, Lily Ho, Julie Yeh Feng, Angela Yu Chien, Jenny Hu, Essie Lin Chia, Tina Chin Fei, Betty Ting Pei, Lucilla You Min (pictured at top of page in the 1958 Love with an Alien) and two of Dave Durian's rightful obsessions - Fanny Fan and Margaret Tu Chuan. Yup, for the most part all the sleek sexy sirens of Shaw. And there are loads of films in which they appear that never made it to DVD - and of course besides those there are all the films made in the 1950's of which only a handful were remastered and none as far as I know of their Cantonese division usually starring Patricia Lam Fung (pictured above in the 1961 Manhunt) . Hey, Celestial I want to see films like Oh Boys, Oh Girls (1961) with Paul and Margaret or Three Dolls in Hong Kong (1961) with Paul, Pat Ting and three Japanese babes or The Lady and the Thief (1963) with Peter and Pat. I don't know if they are any good but I want them!

Greatest Hits

1. The Dancing Millionairess - 1964

2. Till the End of Time - 1966

3. The Singing Escort - 1969

4. Love Without End - 1970

5. Love Without End - 1970

6. The Black Forest - 1964

7. Hong Kong Nocturne - 1967

8. My Dreamboat - 1967

9. Swan Song - 1967

10. Moonlight Serenade - 1967

11. Moonlight Serenade - 1967

12. That Tender Age - 1967

13. Sing High, Sing Low - 1967

14. The Millionaire Chase - 1969

15. The Black Forest - 1964

16. The Black Forest - 1964

17. The Black Forest - 1964

18. Hong Kong Nocturne - 1967

19. Hong Kong Nocturne - 1967

20. My Dreamboat - 1967

21. My Dreamboat - 1967

22. Moonlight Serenade - 1967

23. Moonlight Serenade - 1967

24. Moonlight Serenade - 1967

25. The Warlord and the Actress - 1964

26. The Warlord and the Actress - 1964

Timeless Favorites

1. When the Clouds Roll By - 1969

2. Diary of a Lady Killer - 1969

3. My Dreamboat - 1967

4. The Second Spring - 1963

5. Till the End of Time - 1966

6. Swan Song - 1967

7. Love Without End - 1970

8. Song of Tomorrow - 1968

9. Song of Tomorrow - 1968

10. Come Drink With Me - 1966

11. Come Drink With Me - 1966

12. Come Drink With Me - 1966

13. Dragon Creek - 1967

14. Swan Song - 1967

15. Swan Song - 1967

16. Susanna - 1967

17. Susanna - 1967

18. The Rainbow - 1968

19. Forever Diamonds - 1968

20. The Enchanted Chamber - 1968

21. The Enchanted Chamber - 1968

22. Torrent of Desire - 1969

23. Torrent of Desire - 1969

24. Raw Passions - 1969

25. Love Without End - 1970

26. Flower in the Rain - 1972

27. Till the End of Time - 1966

28. Song of Tomorrow - 1968

29. The Second Spring - 1963

Romantic Classics

1. The Lark - 1965

2. Till the End of Time - 1966

3. The Black and the Blue - 1966

4. The Venus Tear Diamond - 1971

5. The Price of Love - 1970

6. Mist Over Dream Lake - 1968

7. The Singing Killer - 1970

8. The Lark - 1965

9. The Lark - 1965

10. The Lark - 1965

11. The Black and the Blue - 1966

12. Love Without End - 1970

13. Song of Tomorrow - 1968

14. Blue Skies - 1967

15. Dragon Creek - 1967

16. Unfinished Melody - 1969

17. Unfinished Melody - 1969

18. The Orchid - 1970

19. The Price of Love - 1970

20. The Price of Love - 1970

21. Love Across the Seas - 1973

22. The Joy of Spring - 1966

23. Till the End of Time - 1966

24. Poison Rose - 1966

25. Poison Rose - 1966

26. Lady Jade Locket - 1967

It is interesting (to me at least) that so many of the films that I associate with Shaw musicals didn't make it on to any of these CD's - Hong Kong Rhapsody being the major one but also nothing from Love Parade, Les BellesThe Yellow Muffler, Tropicana Interlude, Linda Lin Dai's Love Without End and many others. Perhaps there were more CD compilations in the works that were also dropped for lack of interest.

Here is one selection from Timeless Favorites - from a 1968 film called Forever Diamonds with Peter Chen and Pat Ting Hung that never made it on to DVD.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Just YouTubing Today

I actually spend next to no time on YouTube but I went there in seach for something that now I can't even recall - but while there I jumped around a bit to see what they had on some of my very favorite HK films and found a few fun things that I thought would make for a very easy lazy Blog post! And I wanted to see if I could embed a YouTube video as well. It should be easy since every one does it.

First up is Shanghai Blues, easily one of my top five HK films. Without context these two clips won't mean much but first up is this tiny little montage that Tsui Hark pulls out of his hat that has a perfect emotional resonance of war, remembrance, loss, hope, despair and peace - all in Tsui shorthand to the tune of Shanghai Blues. I basically went to the HKIFF earlier this year just to see this film on the big screen. I will put Sally Yeh's version at the end of the post.

Again without context the finale of Shanghai Blues won't mean much but it is a classic run for the train scene as the girl you love goes away thinking you don't love her- we have all been there - with Kenny Bee, Sylvia Chang, Sally Yeh, Loletta Lee and Woo Fung all making an appearance. Oh, and to make it really special it is in French!

Brigitte Lin in Swordsman II is breathtaking - probably her most iconic and memorable role as a man turning into a woman falling in love when she isn't destroying the world. This musical montage is all Brigitte.

Just a Peking Opera Blues trailer. The best film from Hong Kong and maybe anywhere. It always makes me smile to watch this.

And finally another one of my favorite films that I feel the need to see every year, Chungking Express. I am not sure who put these musical montages together but they did a terrific job. The first is to the tune of Be My Baby by the Ronettes and the second to U2's Where the Streets Have No Name.

And as promised, Sally singing Shanghai Blues from her movie themed CD - of which I will get more up at some point. Btw - Peking Opera Blues above is also Sally singing.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Another Soundtrack Sampling - Once Upon a Time in China

It is a beautiful Sunday afternoon here in New York City as I sit here with an open box of clementines keeping me company (and somewhat sticky) as I type this up. I am sure it is chilly outside but with the sun streaming through the window it is toasty. I feel like a cat on a windowsill barely being able to keep my eyes open. Ah, it is less than a week to go till I head off to warm southern climes where a pool and many juicy mangoes await me. My pool reading arrived yesterday via Amazon - two French pulp novels of yesteryear - Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-Thief by Maurice Leblanc and Fantomas by Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre.

The other day I made it to two films in the James Whale retro at Film Forum - Frankenstein and The Invisible Man. Both classics obviously though you have to watch them with the realization that they are over 70 years old. People were clearly much more mellow back then and much more easily frightened. I was thinking how much fun it would be to take my time machine into the past and sneak into a theater and show the audience something like Saw (which I confess I have been too weak-kneed to watch). Their heads would explode. I hadn't seen either film in donkey's years and so to some extent it was like seeing them anew (my fading memory being a plus in this regard!) and what struck me was almost how prescient Whale seems to be about the coming age. The early 1930's was the dawning of the terror of Fascism and both films had dark murmurings within though likely they were not intentional. Frankenstein (1931) takes place in a lovely quaint German village with the Baron's son trying to create a new race of man that goes horribly wrong. The old Baron represents the passing age of good manners and a paternalistic attitude towards the common people while the son is all about science, progress and obsession. Then later the village town people go from schuhplatting (no, not having sex - that is a German folk dance) to an angry hunting mob that was within a few years to turn its anger in real life on the Jewish population in the infamous Kristallnacht (1938) and all the horrors that followed. In The Invisible Man (1933 - the year the Nazis came to power), the character played by Claude Rains is a cheap suit echo of a mad ranting Hitler in his dreams to conquer the world - and is done in only by the snow as Hitler was on the snows of Russia. Ok - that may be a stretch but it was kind of eerie. The Whale retro continues all week long.

Hallelujah! Yesterday I finished the final episode of Alias. I loved the first three seasons of that show and a while back I went through the DVD' s like butter popcorn but with conspiracy piled atop conspiracy it began to weigh itself down with so much absurdiity in the forth and fifth seasons that it took me a long while to get through them. The final fifth season cranks up the nuttiness full throttle with Sydney (played by Jennifer Garner) pregnant and as big as a two story cottage bungalow hanging on to crains and saving the world. When one of her evil female nemesises is dunked into a Hawaiian Punch brew of Sydney's DNA and comes out not only looking like Sydney but speaking like her I groaned at how corny the series had become but still continued to the end.

Last night I had dinner with a friend and he mentioned in passing that an acquaintance of ours had died a few months back. I was sad to hear it as it felt like one more New York institution was gone. A weird institution mind you as this was the famous Roberta, an elderly occasionally cranky woman who was known to all the true movie fans in the city. Her life was going to the movies every day and she would put together a schedule of films for that day, their starting times and her route to get there as fast as possible. On some days she told me once she would see five films if the timing was right - otherwise only three to four. She would show up at nearly every one of our films at the New York Asian Film Festival and almost always wheedle her way in free. She truly loved the magic of movies and kept as a remembrance every untorn ticket stub she ever got. You had to pray for the unknowing usher who would tear her ticket up and face her wrath. Roberta was one of the subjects of a documentary about film obsessed people called Cinemaniacs, but the one time I brought it up with her she began sputtering like a broken faucet "They made me look crazy in that film!". Well, ya Roberta, but lovable crazy. She was one of a kind. I hope there are movie theaters in heaven with comfortable seats and free popcorn for her.

Here are some selections from the soundtrack to the truly classic film, Tsui Hark's Once Upon a Time in China. Looking at the pictures that were included on the insert made me feel like I need to visit the film again soon - it is just a great movie - Tsui at his best and of course Jet Li as well. The main theme song is famous and always brings back instant images of Wong Fei Hung training his students on the beach. There are two versions of the song (written by the legendary James Wong) that is based on a Chinese folk song from the Ming Dynasty (according to Wikipedia) - the first here in Cantonese is from George Lam and the second is in Mandarin from Jackie Chan. The rest are instrumentals that I tried joining together with some software but I was unsuccessful. I thought it would be easier than having to click on each individual song, but such is life.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The East is Red Soundtrack, Jane Austen and Other Mundane Ramblings

It was 65 degrees Fahrenheit today in New York City. Two days ago I booked a ticket to the Caribbean beginning later this month. It better be freezing-ass cold by then. 10 days of reading by a pool sounds sooooooo good right now. Tomorrow the Film Forum here in NYC begins a retro on James Whale with all of his classics in tow – Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, The Invisible Man and The Old Dark House – but also have a number of his much less well-known films. Double features! You can’t beat that when you are not working so I hope to get to a bunch of them.

Over on the A Pessimist is Never Disappointed Blog, Glenn makes mention of the old Biograph Film Theater in Washington DC that used to have double features of old American and foreign films. It is no longer with us, but when I was in my 20’s I used to frequent it from time to time and thinking some more about it last night it dawned on me that the Biograph was to a large degree the jump start to my fascination with film. Up till then I was your standard once a month blockbuster filmgoer and in fact had not even seen a lot of films. There is a good reason for that – I was deprived as a child! I was brought up in places like Calcutta, Karachi, Ankara and Kabul in the days when American films being shown were a rarity. Ankara had a theater run by the US military but it was way across town and my parents would not let me go at night on my own. In Kabul forget about it – they tried bringing in a film once every week or two and it was already a few years old. And television? Ha, fat chance. So I had no film base really until I began visiting the Biograph and seeing old Hollywood classics, French, Japanese and Italian films. I recall thinking that Lina Wertmuller’s Seven Beauties was the most amazing film I had ever seen.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately and co-incidentally begun to realize that there are some Jane Austen obsessed people out there. I don't think they are dangerous but you never know. Now I guess I would put me down as a Jane Austen fan of sorts though in truth more in the film/TV versions than her actual books. The books are so dense with detail and dialogue that I find myself having to put it down after 10 pages or so and rest. I always wonder if her class of society really spoke so formally and often so wittily back then. What happened to the art of conversation if so? Austen’s life in some ways resembled one of her novels except without the happy ending. She grew up in a very close family with a number of siblings (her brothers being quite successful in business and the navy), her father was a minister in a small parish, she never married as neither did her very close sister, she accepted one proposal of marriage but soon changed her mind realizing she was only doing it for security, she lived in middle class respectability with her financial floor always on the verge of collapsing, she never gained much fame in her lifetime for her books and she died at the age of 41 in 1817. It wasn’t until decades after her death that her books began to gain the status they hold today. Now if you have already read all of her books and seen all the film versions, you may find these Austen related books rather enjoyable, I know I did.

A series of Jane Austen mysteries from Stephanie Barron, in which our heroine Jane, writing in first person, becomes involved in murder and mayhem. Barron sets Jane very skillfully into her milieu and her timeline and does her best to imitate Austen’s writing style. The first in the series is called Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrove Manor and she has to save her friend from going to the gallows.

If you ever wondered what happened to Eliza and Darcy after their marriage in Pride and Prejudice, you may be surprised to know that they too become amateur detectives of a sort. Author Carrie Bebris has concocted a bit of a conceit though a fun one in which Eliza and her beloved Darcy become entwined in mysterious deadly happenings that have to be sorted out. In the second in the series, Suspense and Sensibility, she takes this concept even further by bringing in the characters from Sense and Sensibility and mixing them with those of P&P. The writing is fluid and easy but she needs to develop better mysteries as she depends rather fancifully on the supernatural which just feels a bit out of place to me.

And just last night I embarked on a book I came across in the Brooklyn Library and it pricked my curiosity – titled Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler. In it a contemporary woman from California suddenly wakes up to find herself in another person from Austen’s time named Jane Mansfield. It is an odd idea but could make for fun. All these I notice are written by women.

I always enjoy coming across scenes of Hong Kong depicted in old American TV shows. A number of episodes from the I Spy TV series took place in Hong Kong (and Tokyo) and clearly some of the outdoor scenes were shot in those locations. The other night I was watching an old black and white TV series called Checkmate and came across a 1961 episode called Terror from the East. The series starred the portly bearded Sebastian Cabot (Mr. French to many out there), Doug McClure and Anthony George who have formed a detective agency. I can’t say it’s really all that good but they get some famous film stars to appear on the show as guests. This one has Charles Laughton playing a missionary from China who is going to San Francisco to warn a Chinese anti-communist that he has been targeted to be assassinated. It begins in Hong Kong harbor on a sampan but quickly moves to San Francisco where Laughton visits a Chinese Opera and the show actually films a lot of it and Laughton and Cabot get into a lengthy discussion on it. But the real reason I bring this up is that the actress singing in the show and later on with a speaking part looked very familiar and though it took me a while I finally put my finger on who she was – Lisa Lu. Now I know her from some work in Hong Kong – in particular the classic 1969 film The Arch which is considered an influential precursor to Hong Kong’s New Wave film movement. As far as I know it still hasn’t made it on to DVD but I was lucky enough to see it on the big screen (with YTSL if memory serves). Some of her other Hong Kong films are 14 Amazons, Temptation of a Monk, Postmodern Life of My Aunt (from Ann Hui), Invisible Target (still have yet to watch) and a bit part in Lust, Caution. But her main career has been in the West. Born in Beijing in 1927, she studied Opera (so maybe that really is her singing in the TV episode) and then her family immigrated to America. She got into acting and appeared in loads of TV episodes – most I assume of a stereotypical nature – her name in four episodes of Yancy Derringer is Miss Mandarin! If you look her up on IMDB you will see all her credits. I see I have a copy of the Shaw Brothers film Dowager Empress so I will give that a ride this week.

I was going to ramble a bit about Obama’s decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan but I will save that for another day. All I will say is that as much as I hate being there and as much as I look forward to the day (not too far away I pray) when we don’t have one single soldier in the Middle East, he is caught in a horrible box with no good options. Stay at the same troop levels and nothing will get better, pulling out quickly is just plain irresponsible for many geopolitical reasons but most important me it will leave thousands of Afghans who trusted us at the mercy of the revengeful Taliban. As much a Leftie as I am, I get so pissed at their kneejerk reaction to war and peace. So my guess is that this is basically a stopgap decision – go in strong and give the Afghan government and people time to either get their act together (which I highly doubt) or probably start making individual plans to get the hell out by 2011. What a sad tragic mess for a country that I still have very fond feelings for.

Here are some selections from the soundtrack of The East is Red. The film is considered the weak sister of the Swordsman Trilogy by many, but I really love it for its flair, its rash of colors and of course for Brigitte Lin and let us not forget Joey Wong.