‘The Last of Us’ Diary: Part VIII — Winter is Coming

May 27, 2015 in Uncategorized by pacejmiller


Where are the White Walkers?

Note: This is the eighth part of a multi-part series detailing my experiences, observations and thoughts on The Last of Us on PS3. Part 1 can be found here, Part 2 can be found here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here, Part 5 here, Part 6 here and Part 7 here.

Day 14 (May 18, 2015)

After farewelling Tommy, The Last of Us begins to gather momentum towards its climax. It’s unfortunate this game has to end at all, but there’s only so much travelling a middle-aged man and a teenage girl can do across a post-apocalyptic USA.

I should also note that we are now also entering my favourite part of the game, for reasons I will discuss later.


Go Big Horns!

The mission to track down the Fireflies next takes Joel and Ellie to the University of Eastern Colorado, as instructed by Tommy. They enter through the front gate in style, on a horse, of course, and soon you’ll be able to wander around the campus with a certain level of freedom. There’s a little bit of scavenging at this point, some zombies to kill, but for the most part it’s more of the same.

The highlight of this entire chapter of the game is, needless to say, the monkeys. I know what you’re thinking, and I’m sure you know what I’m thinking.


Nothing would have pleased me more to discover that the game had a secret major twist — that the whole world has in fact been overtaken by super intelligent apes. Alas, it turned out they were just normal test monkeys, but it was still cool to see them wandering around the labs and on campus. A very nice touch, Naughty Dog.

Anyway, a little while later, the game does offer a huge twist, one that the developers actually lied to protect before the game was released.

During an ensuing cut-scene tussle with Hunters, Joel topples off a second-floor railing and pierces his torso on a protruding screw.

That's not his first piercing

That’s not his first piercing

You have to try and make it out staggering around like Lindsay Lohan on a Friday night, while Ellie saves your ass time after time against oncoming baddies. Eventually, Joel collapses and the screen fades to black.

Now what?! Is that it? Joel’s dead and the game’s over?

Then this screen pops up:

WInter is coming

…is coming

A cute little bunny bounces out of a burrow in the snow. Hi bunny!

And then…


Bye bunny

That’s Ellie’s doing. She’s still around, shooting rabbits in the snow. But where’s Joel?

We don’t find that out for now because Ellie is distracted by a deer and the next part of the game is about hunting it down.


It’s nice to see that Ellie has chosen the bow and arrow as her weapon of choice, joining a short list of strong female characters who have made the same decision.

Like her.



And her.


And her.

And her.


Her too.


And her too.

Just kidding

Just kidding

Her as well.


And of course her!



Nevertheless, the deer hunting leads Ellie to a couple of creepy dudes, led by this guy, David, a seemingly normal dude just out looking for food for his people. It is at this point that we find out that Joel is actually still alive somehow and Ellie is in need of medicine to help him stave off an infection.

The Last of Us™ Remastered_20140824200422

I’m not creepy at all!

David is the kinda guy that immediately reminds you of an actor, and in this case it’s John Hawkes, specifically from his performance in Winter’s Bone. I dunno if it’s the hair or the creepiness or just the snow, but he would be perfect for the movie version, no?


I’m not creepy at all!

Ellie reaches a tentative agreement for David’s nervous companion, James, to go back to their camp to get some antibiotics in exchange for the deer she shot down. Of course, as they wait for James to return, zombies — including a bloater — come attacking, and together Ellie and David have to fend them off.

As I noted earlier, the segment where you play as Ellie is probably the best of the entire game. It’s a small fraction of the story in the grand scheme of things, but it’s also the most tense in terms of gameplay and emotionally involving in terms of the storyline. Having gotten used to Joel and built him up into quite a formidable dude, it was great to have to go back to basics with Ellie, who starts off with just a bow and a knife. She can’t punch people out like Joel, so you have to use your smarts a little more, and the way she flings her entire body at enemies to take them down is more visually spectacular than what Joel does.

It’s also interesting from a plot perspective, because up to that point the player controls Joel to protect Ellie. Now it’s the other way around, and Ellie gets the opportunity to show you what she’s capable of. She’s more vulnerable than Joel, and that sense of anxiety is really transferred to the player as you control her.


That’s not his first needle, if you know what I mean

Eventually, James returns with the medicine and Ellie returns with it to Joel. It would have been funny if she had found him dead, or if the medicine kills him, but as required by the plot he recovers, though not before their hideout is discovered by David and his men and Ellie is forced to try and lead them away.

The Ellie action is unfortunately short-lived, as she is captured by David and taken back to his camp. The scene cuts to Ellie in a cage, and this is when we discover David’s poorly kept secret. Yes, in yet another Walking Dead parallel, David and his followers are cannibals! But instead of wanting to eat Ellie, David recognises her awesomeness and tries to recruit her.

Have some...er...chicken

Have some…er…KFC

I found this revelation to be extremely well done. There’s nothing particularly visceral about it; in fact, it’s kind of unveiled in a matter-of-fact manner. It’s not staged as something extra shocking, almost as though the gamemakers excepted you to have guessed it already.

Meanwhile, Joel awakens and becomes generally the same as before, albeit a little pale. Now the game shifts back to Joel, and he’s going on an exciting rampage of violence to rescue Ellie. If you’ve ever wondered how Liam Neeson feels as he goes about his business in Taken, here’s your chance to experience it first hand.

I'm going to find you, and I'm going to kill you

I’m going to find you, and I’m going to kill you

Interestingly, my playing style naturally evolved along with Joel’s emotions. I’m usually quite conservative and careful, but with Ellie’s life on the line, I’m going all out and busting caps up people’s asses left and right, taking no prisoners and beating the shit out of everything in sight.

There’s one particular scene where Joel gets his hands on a couple of David’s henchmen and must force them to spill the beans on Ellie’s whereabouts. If you’ve ever wondered how Jack Bauer feels as he goes about his business in 24, here’s your chance to experience it first hand.



If I were to guess what would happen next, I would say that Joel would find Ellie and rescue her after killing everyone in David’s camp. That’s the typical male hero fantasy gamers are used to. Thankfully, The Last of Us is no typical game, and I was ecstatic to discover that Ellie will get to finish out this chapter of the game as its protagonist. The perspective shifts back to her and she kills stupid James, setting up an epic showdown with David in a burning restaurant/inn.

Without her weapons, however, this climatic battle plays out differently. All Ellie has is a knife, and she must evade the gun-wielding David on the one hand while finding ways to sneak up behind him on the other so she can stab him. Being the tough dude David is, one stab won’t do the trick, and you’ll have to repeat the difficult task three times to trigger the next cut scene. Trust me, it’s well worth it.


So epic

In many ways, this is the true climax of the game. It’s essentially the last time you get to use Ellie (OK, there’s one more time, but you don’t get to do anything), and the next and final chapter of the game is surprisingly tame compared to this one because it focuses more on the emotional journey of the characters. I’ll get to that in my next post, where I will also deliver my overall verdict on the game.

Post-Oscars Movie Blitz: Amour (2012)

July 1, 2013 in Uncategorized by pacejmiller


And so we’re back to my post-Oscars movie blitz (fr0m 2013, that is), with just a couple more waiting in the wings before I can finally move onto something else more…contemporary.

The second last Best Picture nominee I managed to get to is Armour (meaning “love” in French), possibly the most depressing experience I’ve had in years. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a brilliant film that explores the depths of devotion, sympathy, empathy, mortality, and ultimately, what it means to be human, but it’s not the type of movie there you’ll be walking out of the cinema exchanging high fives.

Directed by Michael Haneke, who gave us the frightening Funny Games (both the original and the US remake) as well as 2009’s acclaimed White Ribbon, Amour starts off with a death, and backtracks to the lives of Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) and Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant), an elderly couple in their 80s.

This is kind of a spoiler, but very early on something happens and one is forced to take care of the other. It’s a heartbreaking and unflinching portrayal of what I’m sure happens to a lot of elderly couples, many of whom don’t have the resources that they do — though that does not make the story any less traumatic.

With this kind of film it’s easy for the director to overplay his or her hand and turn the movie into a sappy, melodramatic mess. However, while Armour undoubtedly tugs the heart strings, it does so a-matter-of-factly, with a sombre dignity and skilled subtlety. It is a deserved winner for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscars.

The performances are also remarkable. Riva got most of the acclaim and accolades (including the Best Actress nomination) for the way she portrayed Anne’s fragility, fears and anger, but I thought Trintignant was every bit her equal and the film wouldn’t have been the same without either of them. Isabelle Huppert is also very good as their daughter.

But I can’t honestly say I enjoyed Armour. At 127 minutes, it was a little long, and it felt long because of the deliberately slow pace. And the sense of inevitability just added to the pain and anguish. It’s a film I can certainly appreciate for its filmmaking brilliance, performances and ability to strike hard at the audiences’ emotions, but it’s not a film I would recommend to people looking for something to lift their spirits. Probably also best to avoid if you are old or depressed.

3.5 stars out of 5

An Afternoon at Hangzhou’s West Lake

June 17, 2011 in Uncategorized by pacejmiller

An old school drawing of West Lake in Hanghzou

On a cold, windy March afternoon, we decided to take a boat ride on Hangzhou’s famous West Lake.  We had just eaten a massive meal at the excellent Wai Po Jia (review here) and really needed to walk off the food babies, so after disembarking we spent a couple of hours wandering around the outskirts of the lake.

Here are some random photos I took along the way.

(click on ‘more’ to see)

Read the rest of this entry →

Movie Review: The Lost Bladesman (2011)

June 16, 2011 in Uncategorized by pacejmiller

It’s amazing that Chinese films are showing at my local mainstream cinemas these days.  One such recent film is The Lost Bladesman, based on the life and times of legendary warrior Guan Yu from the awesome Romance of Three Kingdoms stories.

I’ve been a huge fan of Guan Yu since those Dynasty Warriors games on the Playstation, which are still being churned out these days.  One of the missions in the game requires Guan Yu to escort his sworn brother’s wife/concubine(?) through five passes and requires him to slay six of Cao Cao’s generals on the way.  That’s what this movie is essentially about.

Guan Yu is played by Hong Kong action hero and geniune martial arts expert Donnie Yen, who is a strange choice in some ways because he is nothing like Guan Yu physically (Guan Yu is supposed to be a giant dude with a red face but Yen is a tiny dude with a normal face).  He demonstrates decent range as an actor, but of course it’s his fighting abilities that carry the film.

Speaking of action, the film has plenty of it.  It can get a little crazy at times, but I suppose it’s fitting considering how much of a legend Guan Yu is supposed to be (so much so that he is regarded as a diety by some and idolised as one).  Without giving away too much, the fight scenes often resembled a Dynasty Warriors game, which is pretty cool, I guess.

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve seen so many of these new generation Asian martial arts films (since Crouching Tiger), but The Lost Bladesman doesn’t particularly stand out.  I enjoyed the story and the action but on the whole it didn’t do a whole lot for me.  The ‘five passes six generals’ story is only a very small part of Guan Yu’s legend and I was actually expecting to see a lot more of his other battles.  Granted, it would have been impossible to tell his entire life story in a 107-minute film, but it felt like I wasn’t getting the full picture.

Nonetheless, fans of Asian martial arts films will appreciate many aspects of The Lost Bladesman.  It’s beautifully shot, decently acted (Jian Wen, who plays Cao Cao, was a standout) and packed with well-choreographed action sequences.  The dramatic elements didn’t resonate with me but I admit there was some potential.

3 stars out of 5

PS: I don’t understand the title.  He was not lost at all.

Misty Trees by Nine Streams

June 11, 2011 in Best Of, China, Travel, Uncategorized by pacejmiller

‘What the heck?’ I hear you say.

That’s what I said at first too.  Jiu Xi Yan Shu (direct translation: Misty Trees by Nine Streams) is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Hangzhou, but apparently not a lot of tourists know about it — or so we were told by our taxi driver.

To be honest, there’s not a lot there to do, but the sight of the thick trees surrounding a misty lake is a marvellous sight.  Reminded me of Crouching Tiger and the various Chinese martial arts films that followed it.  Definitely worth dropping by and taking a few snaps if you have a few minutes to spare.

I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking.