How To Warp A Child's Mind…

What do you remember from your childhood in regards to movies, television or other forms of entertainment?  Seeing an old Chinese gangster movie last night made me remember some horrible stuff I saw while I was trapped in the playpen.

This weekend, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) goddess invited me and my husband to screenings of old Chinese movies which were part of “A Century of Chinese Cinema” featuring films from Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The first one we saw was Chungking Express (1994), introduced by cinematographer Christopher Doyle.  He said that the apartment in the film was actually his old apartment in Hong Kong and that the movie couldn’t have been set anywhere else but Hong Kong as it paid homage to the city at the time.  He was rambling a bit and perhaps slightly drunk as he laid on the carefully covered grand piano, then started dancing at the Faye Wong song during the credits.  TIFF goddess sighed at the lack of professionalism; but I smiled knowingly, thinking about all the Anime North guests I had taken care of in the past who were just as difficult and had to be chased down all the time to keep their activity schedule.  The ending in which two characters waited for each other for over a year made me wonder if people now would wait such time for true love even it if was uncertain?  Then I remember that my Viking (this is my nickname for my husband due to his red hair & beard) and I had been separated for three years as we were in different schools for a while.  It seems like a small blip of time in our relationship now that we are on year 14.

Christpher Doyle introduces Chungking Express
Christpher Doyle introducing Chungking Express

It was the music in the second movie, A Better Tomorrow (1986) which made me and much of the audience (Chinese girls/boys) feel nostalgic as we grew up listening to this music which infiltrated Hong Kong culture at the time.  The movie was not really about cool gangsters (trend of the 90s) as they were on the “wrong road”, but about comradery and the Chinese title “True Colors of a Hero” explains the extent of sacrifice one would do for their friends.  The long trench coats, brick cellphones, cd players, eighties hairdos and horrible subtitle translations added to the charm of the film.

The songs in the movie were mainly sung by Leslie Cheung, a super talented pop star who came out in the later years and then committed suicide due to depression.  Nansun Shi was the executive producer of the movie and she had some great stories about how everyone thought that the film would fail as nonsense comedies were the trend at the time.  She sounded like a super smart lady who would make a great role model; will have to learn more about her sometime.  “Surely your mother would not have let you watch gangster films as a child!” the TIFF goddess lamented after I told her how the music reminded me of my childhood.

Nansun Shi Q&A, A Better Tomorrow
Nansun Shi Q&A, A Better Tomorrow

I started to recall what the days were like when trapped in the play pen/child jail.  Back in the day, there were barely any Chinese video stores around, so my mother’s friends would record many movies onto VHS tapes and lend them around.  It was important that the children watch Hong Kong entertainment or we would never learn the language!  I remember watching happy children cartoons…which faded into static…then movies with war, monsters, ghosts, vampires and other things that were adult rated would come on as the tape kept rolling.  My most vivid and frightening memory of a movie during my play pen days was one about the Vietnam war and a scene in which a prisoner was tortured in various ways before finally being hung upside down and having his throat slit.  I remember crying out for my mother, but no one came.  I’m sure they were busy with something at the time.  Anyhow, speaking with my brother, he remembers a movie with a clown running around raping police women.  The clown was caught after the police hired a prostitute to dress up as a police women as a decoy.  He was scared of clowns for years and still is, perhaps.

As for me, after the horrible torture scenes, I was not bothered by aliens, monsters or any “horror” genre things after this.  It might also explain how afterwards I started reading lots of Stephen King and Clive Barker to find the initial “thrill” of being shocked again.  My parents assumed I was reading Jane Austin, but they didn’t really care as long as I was reading something to improve my English…My siblings and I turned out ok in the end, but I’m not sure if I would do the same to my child as I think I’m become indifferent to many things compared to my Viking. Horror movies gives him nightmares and he is not my partner when it comes to watching that type of stuff.

Japanese psychological horror movies are more interesting to me now than the American slash stuff as I have read/watched too much of it as a teenager.  The most disturbing scene in the famous horror franchise Ju-On (American remake – The Grudge) for me is not the killing, but it is when the main character tries to hide under her bed sheets, but can’t, as the little boy ghost is there watching her.  Similarly, in the Japanese manga Uzumaki in which people turn into snails and are trapped in a small town; the most horrible scene is when starving business men start eating the snails and saying that it tasted like sashimi.  After randomly picking up that book and reading that panel, I thought with glee – wow, that is so horrible, that it’s going to be stuck in my brain forever!

But for now, I think I’ll pause and listen to this beautiful music from “A Better Tomorrow” while feeling some nostalgia.  Some people tell me that childhood was their happiest time in their lives due to lack of responsibility and worries.  For me, I remember being depressed and a bit suicidal starting at the age of four, perhaps due to watching so much death on film.  My brain was warped early on I suppose, which explains why I’m so dark and cynical sometimes!


Life is depressing…and my husband doesn't have enough dwarfs!

After work today, I went to see a film with the TIFF goddess (she is a major Toronto International Film Festival sponsor/hobby film historian).  Entering the TIFF theatre, I was impressed that there were six people in the room.  For some reason, I tend to frequent really odd films which usually have few people in the audience.  Anyhow, just before the movie started, someone walked in and announced that “Lore” (a film about children of Nazi soldiers who have to travel across the country with a Jewish companion) was showing in another theatre.  So 2 people walk out.  Great!  We have a total of four people in the room with me and TIFF goddess making up half of the audience.

The movie we watched was Pietà, a Korean film which made its world premiere in the competition line-up of the 69th Venice International Film Festival, where it won the Golden Lion. It also won at three major international film festivals — Venice, Cannes and Berlin.  I had read reviews in the newspaper where snobby critics said that “The Master” should have won instead of this film in Venice, which made me wonder as I really didn’t like The Master that much.  I am happy to report that this movie was much better that The Master and was very moving, although there was a lot of violence and torture.

Its title refers to the Italian Pietà (piety/pity), referring to depictions of the Virgin Mary cradling the corpse of Jesus.  The main character Kang-do, is a thug who cripples people to collect insurance money in lieu of the payments they owe his loan shark boss.  One night, after a day of crippling people, a strange woman shows up at his doorstep and claims to be the mother who abandoned him 30 years ago.  To test if this is true, he tortures her in various ways and eventually believes that she is his mother.  He becomes attached to her and of course, at this point, you figure that she probably is back for revenge after she says:

“Money is the beginning and end of all things. Love, honour, violence, fury… hatred, jealousy… revenge… death…”


Without giving too much away, at the end of this movie, everyone suffers or dies.  The film was quite touching though as it depicted how much a mother is willing to go through for her children, whether it be physical torture or self-sacrifice.  Korean movies always have the most beautiful crying scenes, everyone looks so pretty!  It was sad as well to see all the unfortunate lives who thought that borrowing from a loan shark would give them the ability to make a better life, but in the end there were dire consequences.  The main character is a cold, uncaring person who does a good job at inflicting pain due to his abandonment – however, after developing strong feelings for the new manipulative mother in his life, he does change.  So there was a message of hope for a few seconds.  Alas, did I mention this is a depressing movie?  It is also a moral tale to not borrow from strange loan sharks who charge 10x the loan after a month or to care too much about money as it leads to bad things.

df title

After seeing this, I came home slightly sad over this film and wanted my husband to give me some hugs.  After a few minutes, he started to complain that he had to pay attention to his dwarfs, as he had accidentally drowned one in a well and the other dwarfs were drinking water from it.  Also, the dead dwarf had returned as a ghost to haunt the others.   He is one of many addicted to a game called “Dwarf Fortress“, in which the point is to keep the dwarfs in the game happy with beer (they don’t drink water) while building mines and expanding their territory.  They also like cats and if their cats are killed by various enemies (dragons, goblins, etc), the dwarfs will become depressed, commit suicide or go on murderous insane rampages.  I was feeling grumpy, so I threatened to erase his game.  He gave me the puppy dog look along with, “there are dwarf children, elderly dwarfs and baby dwarfs…”  He then excitedly showed me the new “Dwarf Therapist” program which lists all the dwarfs and the skills they can be assigned as it is difficult to manage his current 91 – which is a small number, as he started to complain that he was being limited by manpower in whatever he was trying to build next.  I told him I was excited for his new therapist program and was now I was going to write about it.  He called me a meanie and that was that!  Great conversations we have in this household!