Restaurant: Din Tai Fung Food: Chinese/Shanghai Cuisine Location: Various (see below) Price: Expect to spend around TWD 300-500 per person When it comes to food, Din Tai Fung has become synonymous with Taiwan. It is certainly the most well-known, having been named one of the top 10 gourmet restaurants in the world by the New read more
Ninja Assassin is a movie likely to polarise viewers. On the one hand, you have the anime generation numb to the gory violence cheering on every move of the spectacular ninja Raizo (played by Korean actor/popstar Rain). On the other, there will be those outraged by the excessive blood and carnage, wondering how a movie read more
I had a great catch up with one of my former bosses this week. He’s undoubtedly the best supervising partner I’ve ever had (where I worked that didn’t mean much), though he didn’t really supervise me much as I was often pulled away by other partners for long-term deals and projects. However, I always appreciated read more
Yesterday I watched the ‘based on the true story’ film The Haunting in Connecticut. First, a short review To be honest, despite the poor reviews the film was received, it wasn’t all that bad. It was just average, and for a supernatural horror film, ‘average’ is pretty good these days. In my opinion, it was one read more
So I’m finally back after a month, the longest hiatus this blog has experienced since its inception in 2009. It’s a long story, but basically I took on a crippling freelance gig that sapped me dry for a week and then I immediately left for a three-week trip back to Sydney with two kids under two, where every single day was packed to the shithouse with activities and catch-ups.
But now I’ve returned to work, where I will do my best to start doing some serious catching up on this blog before the end of the year. At the top of the list is my best and worst movie lists of 2012 (that’s not a typo, I am indeed referring to last year), which shall be done , I swear, shortly. I’ve probably got one or two movies left to watch and I’m ignoring everything else left in the backlog. Rest assured, my lists for 2013 will (probably) follow immediately because I’ve been pretty up to date with those, though the arrival of a second child has made it nearly impossible to watch any recent movies that ought to be considered. Thor 2 has unfortunately already left my local screens and The Hunger Games 2 is in danger of following its footsteps, and I still have no idea how I will ever get to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. I’m in pain, I tell ya.
One other interesting piece of news to report is that it appears readers have abandoned this blog completely, so I don’t even know why I am typing up new posts. My average daily blog hits already more than halved after I moved from WordPress.com to my own domain a couple of years ago, but from the start of this month the hits suddenly plummeted from 300-600 a day to less than 5(!). I have no explanation for the drop off other than inactivity, though two weeks appears to be a ridiculously short period of time for a blog to experience something like this, considering most of my regular hits were coming from very old posts anyway. I’m going to start posting regularly again to see if anything changes, but either way it won’t stop me from blogging. It’s pretty tragic that the blog has dropped from heights of nearly 10,000 hits in a single day to a single hit (so far) today.
[Update: Well, as it turned out it was a coding problem, and it has now been fixed, thanks to the technicians at Stiteground, who were very helpful and efficient. Tell your friends! The website is working again!]
That said, blogging is going to start sliding back in my priorities list a little bit in the future as I begin to shift my focus towards, at last, my novel(s) and screenplay(s). I’ve pretty much wasted this year on that front and I can’t waste another one with the shot clock winding down on my cruisy work days. It’s just gotta be done.
I was surprised to see that it’s been about a dozen days since I last posted. And is it really October already? Time flies when you have a full plate.
The last couple of weeks have indeed been hectic but have also allowed me to put things in perspective. My elder son contracted some crazy contagious virus again at daycare and I had to take a few days off work to look after him because we had to segregate him from my younger son to prevent contamination.
Spending so much time with him has been exhausting and great at the same time. He’s really become obsessed with basketball (“ba-ke-bo”, he calls it) and we went about four days straight to practice at nearby courts, sometimes for as long as two or three hours. We would then follow that up with a stroll to a mall in the afternoon and then games at home after a shower. My wife has her hands full with the three-month old so most of the time it’s just me and him.
Kids really are amazing creatures. Maybe it’s because I recently read the book Mindset by Carol Dweck (which I am in the process of reviewing) which is all about living up to your potential by equipping yourself with the right frame of mind. My son has that eagerness and fearlessness right now; he’s curious about everything and once he becomes fascinated with something he can work at it for hours and hours without getting tired or losing interest. He just wants to learn and grow, whereas most of us grownups just want to get by, or worse, achieve something without genuinely putting in the time and effort.
Initially I thought taking a child who hasn’t even turned two to play basketball would be a waste of time because the ball was nearly as big as him and he couldn’t even hold onto it properly. Besides, I wanted to play myself and didn’t want to share the ball. But he chased me around and whined and he whined until I gave the ball to him, and then he began trying to imitate me bouncing the ball off the ground. He stumbled and fell at least a dozen times, scraping both knees until they bled, but he wouldn’t let me take the ball off him or show him how to do it. He wanted to learn for himself.
Amazingly, by the end of that session, he had learned how to bounce the ball with his hands a couple of times. It was only then that he would let me teach him to try and bounce the ball with his fingertips rather than slapping it with his palms. He continued practicing for the next couple of days and got better and better at it, and he even learned how to throw (toss is probably more accurate) the ball further than before. And he was so proud that he had improved.
Unfortunately, he hurt his finger a little bit practicing one day and got scared of bouncing the ball, so I went and bought him a smaller and softer ball to practice with. He’s also become obsessed with watching basketball highlights on TV and loves flipping through books or magazines with basketball pictures. It’s the kind of childlike wonder and passion I wish I had. Not knowing — not believing — that there is a limit on what you can achieve must be a marvelous feeling.
Speaking of passions…I recently celebrated my birthday, and the sinking feeling that I’m not moving forward with my writing is starting to scare me. I’m still writing every day, usually on things I don’t mind writing about, but not on the things I should be writing about. There’s still that fear of starting, that fear of failure, that fear of not being able to do something as well as you imagine you could.
So I’ve been coming up with a lot of excuses. I need to exercise (I do, but maybe not as much). I need to watch TV (which is only true in the case of Breaking Bad, and that’s over now, and the new seasons of The Mentalist and Homeland and Revenge haven’t been very good, though The Walking Dead seems promising…but I digress). I have too many blog posts to catch up on (that is true, but they can wait). I have too many freelance cases to do (I have some, not too many). I have to play Candy Crush, Scramble with Friends and Plants vs Zombies 2 (I don’t). Anything but writing the epic novel or screenplay I have been planning to write for years.
A few weeks ago the names of a couple of my old classmates from my 2010-2011 writing course popped up. I was ecstatic to see that they had each published their own novels, some of which were actually projects they were working on in the course we did together. But at the same time it made me sad and ashamed to realize that I’ve barely touched my own in-progress works. And even with two kids and a full-time job, I probably still had more free time than them.
It’s not just writers either. People all around me are going after what they want. I have friends — some of whom I would never have pictured doing anything — running or trying to run their own start-ups and businesses. Studying things they would like pursue a future career in. Taking risks, chasing dreams — or even just doing something they enjoy more.
I have the time to do it too because of flexibility at my workplace. About three weeks ago one morning I was really pysched for some reason and started writing a screenplay. I got a couple of pages done — it wasn’t particularly good either, but I loved the thrill it gave me. I thought the momentum would carry on naturally and I would keep working on it every day after that, but I haven’t touched it since. What it’s telling me is that if I really want to do something I need to keep at it and don’t think it will come easily. Persistence!
This is on the fringe of relevance, but I will mention it anyway. Last Sunday was one of the most exciting days of my life. I went to watch the Indiana Pacers take on the Houston Rockets in Taipei — courtside — and the experience blew me away. I’ll blog about this soon, but what I want to mention is a former Pacers player I saw sitting in the stands. I was surprised to see him there because this player has not played in the NBA since 2008. He was a promising talent who was selected in the first round of the draft, but his on and off court attitude and drug use pushed him out of the league in a hurry. After playing overseas for a few years he’s still looking for a chance to get back to the NBA, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 now and couldn’t even get an opportunity in the NBA Summer League this year. I looked him up on Twitter and it seems he is full of regret over blowing his past opportunities and taking the people who genuinely cared about him for granted. Now that he’s finally grown up and ready to play the opportunity is no longer there.
I guess this is a roundabout way of saying I don’t want to look back years from now and regret having squandered an opportunity to go after what I want when I have the time and energy to do it. So this is it. It doesn’t mean I can’t still do the other things. It just means I need to get down to doing what matters. No more excuses.
You may have noticed, dear reader, that I have been blogging up a storm lately. Contrary to my best laid plans, however, I do not have extra time on my hands.
I’m on paternity leave this week with the birth of my second child, but most of my spare time has been gobbled up by my ill firstborn, who contracted the cumbersome foot and mouth disease from daycare. It’s an awful affliction that can worry parents to death and requires around the clock monitoring and care. Even with the benevolent assistance of my parents, I am now far more exhausted than before I commenced this so-called “break”, and a part of me looks forward to returning to the office for some much-needed rest (and it has not escaped me how messed up that is).
The reason I have been writing — and reading — like a demon these last few days is because I’m finally starting to rediscover my passion again. I’m not forcing myself to read or write, like I had been at times earlier this year. Admittedly, it felt like a chore and I made excuses to avoid it. But now, I’m doing it because I want to, and I’m enjoying it immensely too. I’m hoping this is a sign of things to come (you stupid, stupid jinxer).
I don’t want to speak too soon. This recent change in attitude could be because I don’t have to write monotonous articles daily for work, or it might be because becoming a father to a new son has given me a sudden burst of energy. I’d thus like to keep taking baby steps rather than proffer some grand declaration. I talk a good dream like every aspiring writer, but lord knows how many promises I’ve broken to myself when it comes to actually getting something done, especially in the last couple of years (too many dick moves on my part, I know).
It seems a stable family life and a cruisy, stress-free and relatively simple job have robbed me of my desire to pursue the goals I once had. And while I despise myself for it I found the drudgery and banality of everyday life too taxing to overcome — at least on a consistent basis. There were days where I’d be productive at work, and by that I mean complete my professional writing assignments quickly (I use the term “professional” loosely here) so I could spend the rest of my day on my own writings, but such days were becoming a rarity. Instead, I wasted most of my downtime at work on junk like Candy Crush, YouTube videos, Grantland podcasts and sports news. It certainly doesn’t help when just about everyone else around you is doing something similar, fuelling a vicious vortex dragging us all deeper and deeper into a depressing realm of utter indifference.
We often don’t realise what we had until it’s gone, but in this instance I am acutely aware that the abundant free time I have during work hours is a rare opportunity. I’m not going to be in this job forever and there might come a time in the near future when I have to take up a more demanding role, and the last thing I want is to look back at this period regretting how I had wasted it (pretty much how I have viewed each preceding period In my life, sadly).
There’s nothing more euphoric than the feeling that you are actively pursuing a goal and you are putting all your heart and soul into achieving it. It’s something a few of my friends back home have been doing and I’ve been following them from afar with a mix of pride and envy. They’ve probably had far more setbacks than victories, but it’s their passion and drive that impress me the most. I want to feel what they’re feeling. Whether I eventually reach my goal is irrelevant, as long as I can tell myself, honestly, that I did all that I could.
So I am hoping that this minor revival means I am slowly turning the corner and that I will rededicate myself to improving my writing with a steady diet of reading, blogging — and once I get my confidence back — novel and screenwriting. For now, I just have to keep reminding myself: baby steps, not dissimilar to this.
I checked my blog this morning and saw that the last time I posted was May 1, or two weeks ago. That is not acceptable. It’s not like I have nothing to write. I saw Trance a couple of weeks ago, and of course, Star Trek: Into Darkness, last week. There are two books I need to review, and the final posts from the back end of my trip to Japan in MARCH are still outstanding. So what the heck has been going on?
I don’t really know. It’s like I’ve been sucked into a vortex where the space-time continuum is all out of whack. The other day my sister responded to an email I sent her. I thought it had been more than a month, but as it turned out it had only been a week. Same thing with this new credit card I signed up for. I was fretting about not receiving a bill for the first month, which I was convinced had passed ages ago, but again, it had only been a couple of weeks. It’s like I’m living day by day without being conscious of the passage of time. I’m enjoying life, but I’m also in a weird daze where all days kind of melt into one because of the familiarity of my schedule.
I have also been busy with a couple of freelance cases. I started my first subtitling gig, for a short film, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Nothing better than watching movies while you work. The other thing is a pain in the assbender that had been dormant for a couple of months, but suddenly decided to pop up just when I was ready for a break. And there is a bit of a pay dispute too, so hate is all around for those douchebags. (They take more than 10% of the agreed payment, and when I ask they call it “taxes” and say I’ll get it back next year when I do my tax return. Why has this never happened before?)
Apart from that, not much else. My growing son takes priority, of course, and then whatever free time I have left I have invested in my renewed exercise regimen. I’m officially back, and I’m feeling much fitter, even though the schizo weather has been leaving me restless and deprived of quality sleep. I’m watching more TV shows — Game of Thrones, Touch, The Mentalist, The Good Wife — and I’ve recently ventured into the world of free classic books available on my new iPad mini. First up, The Picture of Dorian Gray. The 2009 film version starring Prince Caspian sucked, so I am hoping the source material will turn me around.
It is my hope that whatever I still need to get out of the way will be settled by the end of this week. Then shall begin a glorious Golden Age of blogging. Stay tuned.
In typical me-fashion, I am blogging about something that happened almost a month ago. That’s right; I’m talking about the 85th Academy Awards.
This recap is really for my own selfish benefit because I don’t want to forget it in case I never get invited again. Not to the Oscars, of course (though I still hold out hope that this could still happen some day – as soon as I have the time and money to write, produce, direct and star in my own film, Tommy Wisseau-style), but to be a consultant on its Taiwan telecast.
Allow me to take a step back and explain. A few weeks ago (well, a month and a few weeks ago), a colleague recommended me to one of the two TV stations with rights to broadcast the Oscars in Taiwan. These stations will air the Oscars (at least) twice – live in the morning (Taiwan time) and again at night with subtitles. Each producer will have a team of dedicated translators who will work tirelessly all throughout the day to get those subtitles ready in time for the second telecast.
Sounds easy, or so I thought, but it’s actually a lot of work. It’s more than just direct translations from English to Chinese — there could be a lot of obscure film, TV, music, pop culture or fashion references that need to be researched and confirmed; jokes, slang words or accents that are difficult to understand for non-native speakers; or just a lot of indecipherable mumbling and hollering that even most native speaker don’t get. All of it has to be impeccably translated, verified and matched with the recorded footage. While there are bits of scripted material and lists of names that will be translated in advance, the vast majority of the work is done on the day, on the spot.
Where did I come in? Well, notwithstanding the dozen or so high-quality translators they hired for the day, they still needed someone with English as their native tongue who knew a thing or two about the movies. Just in case. The pay, as is usually the case in Taiwan, is not great, but to be honest I would have done it for nothing. I’d have to take a day off work, but I knew the experience of being a part of an Oscars telecast was too good to pass up.
We started early. By the time I arrived at 7:30am, the two rooms dedicated to the challenge were already filled with translators plugging away and preparing for the dreaded red carpet (which would be re-broadcast with subtitles after the ceremony in the rerun later that night). The rooms themselves were small and crowded. One was crammed with tables and laptops for the translators, while the other was crammed with couches and a TV for people like me.
This is the TV I watched the broadcast on
The day itself was a blast. Very long but extremely enjoyable and insightful. It was fun to watch the Oscars live for once (it’s usually on during work hours in Sydney and it was impossible to avoid finding out the winners before getting home) and with a group of people who have a passion for film.
For the majority of the live broadcast I was glued to the TV with our other consultant, a radio personality in Taiwan who once tutored Chinese actress Gong Li (you know, the one with the icy stare from Memoirs of a Geisha and Miami Vice) in English for a year. Apparently she is…um…nice — in person, that is.
Gong Li stares
Every now and then we would hear a call from the other room for “er duo” (literally “ears”), and we would go scampering over to assist. Sometimes it would be to decipher the name of a fashion brand (especially during the red carpet), or the punchline of a joke, or the name of a person mentioned during the acceptance speeches. Sometimes it was just a whole lot of gibberish from William Shatner or Queen Latifah.
Shatner tearing it up at the Oscars
The only real “work” I had to do all day was to help transcribe a couple of songs from the opening act of host Seth MacFarlane – so that the translators could use them to do the Chinese subtitles. On this point, I am disappointed to say, I could not, for the life of me, figure out one of the lines in MacFarlane’s final song, Be Our Guest, in which he tried to make fun of the name of the nine-year-old Oscar-nominated star of Beasts of the Southern Wild, Quvenzhane Wallis.
Southern Wild had some luck, it was made for 50 bucks
With a star whose name looks like a …?
After listening to it about 50 times, none of us could figure out what the heck Quvenzhane’s name looks like. It didn’t really matter in the end because the Chinese translation simply needed to convey that her name was difficult to read or pronounce, though I must admit that the line really bugged me for the rest of the day. After researching on Google and Twitter I still couldn’t find a single person who knew what he was referring to.
(A few weeks later, an article I read suggested that he had compared the name to “a vision test” – which could be correct, but even watching it again now I still think it doesn’t quite sound right. Check out the video of the entire opening below – the line comes in at around the 13:44 mark.)
Anyway, the rest of the broadcast went along very smoothly, with Ang Lee’s win for best director, naturally, drawing the biggest emotional high. It was probably the only time during the day that everyone stopped whatever they were doing and just watched the man they call “the pride of Taiwan” (along with basketballer Jeremy Lin, pitcher Chien-Ming Wang, and any other Taiwanese person or person with Taiwanese heritage who has ever done anything remotely newsworthy in the world – though one must wonder why Justin Lin, the Taiwanese-born director of the last few entries in the Fast & Furious franchise, has barely gotten a mention).
The moment Ang Lee accepted his Oscar for Life of Pi
Much of the real work would come after the awards ceremony ended. You would think with a dozen or so people each translating a different segment that it wouldn’t take all that long to translate every word uttered in a three-and-a-half-hour ceremony and the preceding red carpet show – but it does! It really is hard work.
I must mention here that the translators we had working on the subtitles were amazing. Since moving here a little more than a year ago I’ve often been appalled with the quality of the translations in Taiwan – even for official government documents, brochures and marketing campaigns. But the people they hired on this day were all brilliant; I’m sure they are some of the best translators in Taiwan. I was particularly impressed by their meticulousness and their abilities to pick up the nuances and fudge difficult lines into coherence. One of them was a subtitle specialist who had worked on more than 5,000 films and TV shows, including good old porn (which is, allegedly, a pretty stiff job given that much of the dialogue occurs during hardcore close-up scenes…).
I feel I really should write a post on the plight of translators in Taiwan some day because it’s a topic I’m sure many people are passionate about. In short, it’s a shitty industry because the pay is so low and the work is so often very very hard. There are plenty of translation agencies out there taking advantage of translators by offering ridiculously low rates of say US$0.01 a word. At the same time, there are a lot of hopeless translators vying for – and often scoring – freelance gigs because they are willing to work for peanuts in exchange for horrendous translations. It’s a vicious cycle that keeps dragging down both the quality and the price of translation work in the country.
But I digress.
Oscars day was fun, and it stretched well into the evening and beyond the 8pm start time for the re-run thanks to the final subtitles for the red carpet. Contrary to my understanding of how Taiwanese media treat their staff, all of us were well looked after, with all three meals taken care of throughout the day. I really hope there will be another opportunity to work with them again in the future.
Thoughts on the Oscars
Seth MacFarlane as host
As for the ceremony itself, I thought this year’s was one of the better ones. Seth MacFarlane received average to negative reviews for his performance, but I actually thought he was pretty good. Not gut-bustingly funny but amusing enough for the stuffy Oscar oldies, and nowhere near as uncomfortable as Ricky Gervais. Yes, the opening monologue was a little longer than usual, but I’ve always considered it the most entertaining part of the show, so no complaints from me.
As for the low-brow humor, including the “We Saw Your Boobs” song (in which all the actresses were clearly in on the joke) and some orgy comments from his teddy bear creation Ted, I don’t think any of it was unexpected. I mean, come on, the show’s organizers knew exactly what they were getting when they signed the creator of Family Guy and Ted – no one could say with a straight face that they had expected him to be Hugh Jackman and keep away from the crude jokes. No one can beat Billy Crystal, of course, but at least MacFarlane was better than the disaster that was Anne Hathaway and James Franco in 2011 (almost entirely the fault of the stoned latter) and the bizarre duo of Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin the year before.
My favorite parts of the opening monologue were those that received assistance from another star – the Star Trek segments with William Shatner and the Flying Nun skit with Sally Field. On the whole, however, it was one of the better openings in recent memory. As they say, it’s the toughest gig in Hollywood, so kudos to MacFarlane for at least having the balls to take it on when he knew he’d probably be savaged for it.
Seth MacFarlane as the Flying Nun
Winners and losers
Having finally watched all of the nine best picture nominees, I have to say that this was a strange year in which there was no real favorite because no film really dominated.
Argo, which won best picture, only had a single acting nomination (for Alan Arkin), while its director, Ben Affleck, didn’t even get a nomination. And let’s face it: it was a very very good film, but still one of the weaker best picture winners in Oscar history. At least it was better than Crash.
They may take away my best director nomination, but they can never take away this Oscar!!
On the other hand, you had Lincoln, which may have ticked all the boxes but was a bore that few would call the best film of the year. Amour was the token foreign film nominee that was far too depressing to win, and Beasts of the Southern Wild was a nice little fairytale (given its shoestring budget) that was too weird for a lot of people (including me).
Les Miserables divided audiences and critics alike (I was more against it than for it), while Zero Dark Thirty was too “controversial.” Personally, my three favourite films of the best picture nominees were Django Unchained, Silver Linings Playbook and Life of Pi, probably in that order.
If I were a betting man, I probably would have put my money on Life of Pi because it will probably go down as the most memorable of the lot, and plus Ang Lee won for best director, which I felt was totally deserved. But unlike many who have seen it I didn’t think it was that amazing. Django and Silver Linings Playbook weren’t perfect and were genres unlikely to win best picture, but they were by far the most enjoyable of the nominees.
At the end of the day, Argo probably won by default.
As for the rest of the major categories, apart from best director (for which I thought Spielberg was the favourite) and best supporting actor (Tommy Lee Jones reportedly had the odds on his side), most of the outcomes were predictable. Daniel Day-Lewis, the male Meryl Streep, rarely loses once he gets nominated. The annoying thing is that you know he totally deserves it every time. The only guy that really could have competed with Daniel Day out of the nominees was Joaquin Phoenix, and you know they were never giving it to him.
One of the best non-Ang Lee moments at the Oscars this year was when Jennifer Lawrence, who is on the verge of overtaking Kate Winslet as my favourite actress, won for Silver Linings Playbook. I thought Jessica Chastain was excellent in Zero Dark Thirty, but Lawrence really hit a home run with her performance and proved that her nomination for Winter’s Bone a couple of years ago was no fluke. To top things off, she stacked it on the steps while heading up to the stage. Right now she’s like the female Ryan Gosling – impossible to dislike no matter how hard you try – well, except he’s still looking for his first Oscar.
Jennifer Lawrence takes a tumble on her way to the stage
Anne Hathaway’s win for supporting actress in Les Miserables turned out to be the most “meh” moment of the night. Yeah, she was good, but she pretty much won for shaving her head and signing one song. I wasn’t anywhere near that bandwagon..
Christoph Waltz has now made it two for two in his collaborations with Quentin Tarantino. I think this is why his win surprised a lot of people, because few expected that he would win the same award for the same director two times in a row. All the nominees were great, but if we were being honest with ourselves we would admit that the guy who truly deserved to win didn’t even get nominated. Waltz won for playing a Nazi, so I don’t get any of this “too controversial” or “to villainous” argument against Leonardo DiCaprio, who absolutely should have taken home the golden statuette this year.
Let’s face it, Leo was robbed
One final comment about the best foreign film category, which to no one’s surprise was captured by Amour this year. I said the same thing a dozen years ago when Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won it: how can a film in that category NOT be the best foreign film if it is the ONLY one also nominated for best picture? It may seem unfair to deprive films like Amour and Crouching Tiger of an Oscar win for best foreign film, but it also completely kills any chance the other nominees in the category have.
PS: On a side note, it was kind of ridiculous that last year’s best picture winner, The Artist, did not get a nomination for best foreign film because the award is actually “best foreign language film.” So despite being a French movie made by a French production company, with a French director and French stars, The Artist was ruled ineligible because the few words uttered in the film were, more or less, in English. Another reason for this is because each foreign country can only submit ONE film for consideration to the Academy, which is totally stupid too.