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Film top twenty-one

by CSLi on April 4, 2009

CComing up with a Top Ten movie list is impossible. Bah! Here’s the best I can do — movie titles link to a scene clip, review or trailer.
HAVE A GOOD RECOMMENDATION FOR ME? Tell me what I’m missing — Always looking for a good flick!

1. La Graine et le mulet (Secret of the Grain): The winner! Following a community of Tunisian immigrants in Sète, a French port city on the Mediterranean coast. The boundaries of love, sacrifice and family are explored in this beautiful film.

2. shortbus: Close 2nd for this gorgeous, honest movie about Better Living through Sex. Prepare for all types of bodies to be demystified. One of the most humane, forgiving storylines I’ve seen…and fun!

3. Babel/Before the Rain The link between these two movies is structural (as the reviewer states), but tonal as well. I love both of ‘em. Try to watch “Rain” first, if possible? It’s the grandfather of the two in its scope and narration.

4. Dancer in the Dark: (see clip above) Between my two von Trier picks (the other is “Breaking the Waves“), this one inches ahead due to Björk’s incandescent portrayal of a Czech immigrant living in 1960’s America. This heartrending tale is delivered as a musical featuring the most oddly exquisite soundtrack ever.

5. Oasis: A social misfit and a young woman with cerebral palsy form a friendship in the face of their abusive families. Hailed by many as the turning point of the Korean New Wave cinema.

6. Freeway: Wacky, subversive, trashy and smart. Love this movie! You’ve never seen Reese Witherspoon like this! The girl can ACT! (when she’s not trying to be a sweetheart…)

7. Ben X: Belgian film about a teen with Asperger’s Syndrome who tries to navigate his harsh reality through an MMORPG avatar, “Ben X”. Powerful and sad.

8. Lilja 4-ever: This 2002 film by Lucas Moodysson is set in Estonia, then Sweden. Based loosely on the story of Dangoule Rasalaite, a Lithuanian girl who jumped off a bridge in Malmö in 2002, Lilja 4-Ever depicts the trafficking and forced sexual slavery of a sixteen-year-old girl. Tough to watch, but important.

9. Marat/Sade: A “play within a play” depicting a fictional conversation between the French revolutionary, Jean-Paul Marat, and the Marquis de Sade. Based on a 1963 play by Peter Weiss and performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, this is one of my all-time favorites.

10. Sympathy for Lady Vengeance: This third installment of Park Chan-Wook’s Vengeance Trilogy is its most delicate. Fellas might prefer Oldboy, which is just as deft, but as an adoptee I will always think of “kind-hearted Geum-Ja” as my birth mother. If only! With characteristic violence, plot layers and music like a tapestry, Lady Vengeance delivers Park’s final blow.

11. Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? I saw this when I was 20, and it put me off marriage for a decade. Liz Taylor and Richard Burton are classic, but Sandy Dennis just makes me giddy.

12. Tian mi mi (Comrades, Almost a Love Story): Yes, another sappy love story…almost. This is one of HK’s best movies, fairly sweeping all the trophies at the 1996 Hong Kong Film Awards. Starring the amazing Maggie Cheung.

13. 28 Days Later: Zombie flick re-packaged as social critique. Love it! (NOTE: avoid the sequel “28 Weeks Later”, it’s terrible.)

14. Vicki, Christina Barcelona: Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall are all involved in a love quadrangle. Fortunately, it’s far more entertaining than that sounds. Cruz steals the show!

15. Paris, Texas: Moving at its own pace, like a dream. A haunting portrayal of the trappings of life, and of love.

16. Moulin Rouge: A simple, idealistic fairytale about the love between an aspiring young writer and a hooker with a heart of gold, set in Fin de siècle Paris. An Australian movie with lots of great music!

17. Amores Perros: a friend once told me that this title means “Love’s a Bitch,” and not “Dogs of Love”. Is there a difference?

18. Heavenly Creatures: A phantasmagorical tale, based on a shocking, true story. This film adeptly handles the intensity of female friendship, proto-lesbian attachment and murder in a charming, “night-before-christmas-ish” way.

19.Battle Royale: The premise is preposterous, but I love these armageddon-esque movies! BR has a huge cult following who adore the gore and sensationalism; these are definitely present, but if you look carefully, you’ll find a touching, poetic and insightful coming-of-age tale…with a Japanese twist.

20. Jackie Brown: This opening scene of Jackie on the airport walkway always gets me. Narrative pacing at its best! Go on Jackie, get yours.

21. Maze: Rob Morrow plays a NYC sculptor with Tourette’s. He falls for his best friend’s girl, played by Laura Linney. This is a sweet “period piece” that has New York 90’s all over it.

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Guest blogging at 8asians.com

by CSLi on March 30, 2009

CClick the logo above to see a heated conversation generated by my post, “Say My Name” over at 8asians.com. How exciting! I’ll be a regular contributor to 8a, presenting the unique perspective of a thirty-something KAD with a fondness for comic books, one-eyed cats and maangchi.com (if you follow the recipe, the food will be delicious).

ooh check me out!

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a FREE film and video festival!

by CSLi on March 26, 2009

“Nikamowin/Song” (2007, 11 min.) dir. Kevin Lee Burton

AAll NYC area residents, hear ye! This weekend marks the 30th annual Native American Film and Video Festival, held in downtown Manhattan over the course of four days. It ends on Sunday. Its 14 features and 43 shorts are by phone registration (think of it as a dinner reservation), or — if you want to try your luck during the day — on a first come basis. All of the screenings and talks are FREE. When’s the last time you got to view current Native American film? When’s the last film festival you attended that was FREE?

It’s at the National Museum of the American Indian.
The directions are here, the schedule is here.

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no Kitchen God’s wife

by CSLi on March 15, 2009

Monkey Bread gone terribly wrong
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Monkey Bread gone terribly wrong

Monkey Bread gone terribly wrong

TThe Kitchen God, we are told, was once a wealthy farmer named Zhang who fell for a concubine at the expense, literally, of his dutiful wife. (In another version, he is a poor farmer who must sell his wife to pay off debt). Both versions of the story end with Zhang in a fallen state, his wife taking pity on and caring for him. Zhang, feeling humbled by her selfless devotion, jumps into the fiery hearth whereupon his ashes fly up toward heaven; the Jade Emperor appoints him Zao Jun, the Kitchen God, who descends from heaven at the end of the year to report on each family’s behavior. How exactly this Zhang qualifies for such a post is not clear to me: he was either a rich guy who wanted two women but failed to keep them happy, or a pimping husband. Of course, the storytellers are able to praise his wife’s piety, but it’s the farmer who heaven rewards.

I wanted to write a post about my latest attempt in the kitchen (see photo above for evidence) — but instead, you’ve only got this desultory ditty. I’m sorry.
I am not the Kitchen God’s wife.

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Say my name.

by CSLi on February 5, 2009

“My Name is a Cloud”, Cho Yong Pil

SSitting down in a chair the other day, a funny thing happened: I turned a year older. It got me thinking about my name. Six months earlier I’d handed over some papers and a check for two-hundred dollars; just like that I became Chun-Soon Li. So, like a blanket of snow that falls on our city, or a cool spoon pressed on the eyes, I applied a new name, though a very old name, to myself.

If I was given a name at birth, it is gone with the woman who could say it. There was a day. It was raining, that’s how I’ll tell it. On this day I wandered off from my mother, or was placed in a basket like a little yellow Moses, or left behind in one of the ways it happens, just like that. I was about a year old and didn’t know anything. She was a young woman, as I’ve always seen her, beautiful despite the day. Did she hold me one last time? Did she pray for us?

Adoption is many things. It’s commonplace, it’s a dream-come-true (for some), and it’s an efficient way to deal with a surplus of orphans. During the Korean war, transnational adoption solved the embarrassing problem of biracial offspring sired by Western soldiers. These children, thousands of them, were the scar tissue of the wounds of war, representing the double blight of mixed-race and illegitimacy (their unmarried mothers bearing the brunt of this stigma). In 1956, a zealous American named Harry Holt formed the Holt International Adoption Agency in an effort to harvest the “seed from the East” as prophesied in Isaiah 45:3. By the 1960’s, war babies were replaced by a new supply of orphans, by-products of South Korea’s brutal push to industrialise.

I want to speak to the heart of the matter: The status of women is the status of children in society — don’t let the guys in charge tell you otherwise. In Korea, divorced women, raped women, and unwed mothers all face the same stigma of being…deeply…sullied. There is no social support system which helps them survive in Korean society, much less provide for their children. To date, there have been over 150,000 Korean children sent out-of-country as adoptees, two-thirds of them to the US. This industry nets Korea between fifteen to twenty million dollars per anum, which is to say that selling off your unwanted children is more lucrative than caring for them, or implementing the systemic changes that would keep families together in the first place.

In the past fifteen years we’ve seen seventeen nations call an end to transnational adoption due to charges of exploitation, coercion of birth mothers, abduction and child trafficking. This contrasts sharply against the shining picture of an integrated American family with asian kids, which is the image in the Holt catalogs. When children are sent out-of-country, they are sent West. They are sent to white families who Mean Well. And they are given new names.

People have always had their own names for me: Mary, Mao, Pumpkin, Slowpoke. Identity, for an adoptee, is the feeling that nothing is yours by birthright. At times there is a freedom to this, an untethered-ness that is nice; mostly, though, it just feels weird. My adoptive parents saved my life, and they did it with Christian love in their hearts. They even retained my “temporary Korean name”, Chun-Soon, as my middle name. Six months ago, I reclaimed it. This one piece of my mother’s land that I do have. I chose the family name Li (Yi, Rhee, Lee)…an ordinary, commonplace name. A typical Korean name. Confucius be darned, I am now the beginning of my bloodline in this country.

So say my name, family and friends.
Say my name, chagiya, as no one else can.

Because nothing ever just happens, just like that, please say my name.

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dreaming of a white sand christmas

by CSLi on January 5, 2009

December 2008 in Sint Maarten, Netherlands Antilles
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December 2008 in Sint Maarten, Netherlands Antilles

December 2008 in Sint Maarten, Netherlands Antilles

FFor a long time I have liked the work of travel writer Pico Iyer, who captures so well a type of travel abroad (in a “broad way”), that I often find myself viewing a new locale through his eyes. His writing is fluid, it’s easy. You are yanked out of your moment and thrust side-saddle as he canters through the most pastoral, forlorn, opulent, or depraved places on earth. I read The Lady and the Monk as a teen, my young head swooning over Iyer’s dichotomous year of Love in the time of Abstention. (Revisiting this book now, though, I am much more critical). Years later, Falling Off the Map: Some Lonely Places of the World was the book I took on my first international trip (to Taipei, at 23, with no clue about anything). The idea that one could gain an insight, a kind of thermodynamic equilibrium of emotion, was very appealing to me. My temperature inside had always been twelve degrees above lonely; Iyer’s writing inspired me to travel.

This Christmas, my love and I flew to the Caribbean island of St. Maarten/St. Martin to escape New York’s winter. There was snow on the ground at Laguardia airport…and because NOT ENOUGH PEOPLE are SEEING SOMETHING/SAYING SOMETHING I had to relinquish a new bottle of perfumery that makes me smell good. When we deplaned at SXM airport, the salty air promised us happiness. It promised us Rum Jumbie, and then a nap.

Iyer writes:

Few of us ever forget the connection between “travel” and “travail,” and I know that I travel in large part in search of hardship — both my own, which I want to feel, and others’, which I need to see. Travel in that sense guides us toward a better balance of wisdom and compassion — of seeing the world clearly, and yet feeling it truly.
For seeing without feeling can obviously be uncaring; while feeling without seeing can be blind.

To what things have I been blind?

We stayed at the Princess Heights, a boutique condominium resort near Dawn Beach. We slept by the sea. Sint Maarten, the Dutch counterpart to French Saint Martin, is a pretty place with roads like ribbons laced through the hills. We ate fresh fish — do they feel pain? — and witnessed, languidly, the unfolding of our love in this Caribbean paradise. Our conversations often turned to life in St. Maarten, both the observable life (buying eggs in Phillipsburg, eating on the French side) and the actual life as best we, two Asian American tourists, could surmise it. Of course, silly me, fish do feel pain.

Sint Maarten is officially an eilandgebied (”island area”) of the Netherlands Antilles, one of five municipalities under the jurisdiction of a gezaghebber (Governor) appointed by the Dutch crown. There are an estimated fifty-thousand residents, and eighty-five percent of the labor force works in the tourism industry. This industry, nursed since the 50’s, caters to travelers from the so-called first world who want to enjoy a bit of Gainsbourg’s “sea, sex and sun”. This means me. On the tourism website www.st-maarten.com, I am told that the island is “A Little European….a Lot of Caribbean!” and that it is the “biggest small island in the world.” I’m told that the Treaty of Concordia, signed by the Dutch and the French in 1648, is the “oldest active, undisputed treaty on our planet!”

But how did this happen? Being Korean, this splitting and sharing of a small island by other countries makes my lip curl. Sint Maarten, originally called Sualouiga, or “Land of Salt”, was inhabited by the matrilineal Taíno (aka Arawak) people around 800 AD. Relatively peaceable hunters and farmers, their numbers were threatened and eventually overcome by the fierce neighboring Caribs, who gave the region their name. On November 11th, 1493 — the feast day of Saint Martin of Tours — Columbus claimed the little “salt island” for Spain. Over the next 155 years, Spain wrestled with the Dutch and French for control, each of these conquerors introducing new diseases (smallpox, measles, influenza) which proved cataclysmic to the native populations. In the 16th century, Spain enslaved the remaining Taíno and Caribs, in the 18th century the French imported African slaves for their sugar plantations, and after slavery was abolished in 1848 the British brought in Chinese and East Indian laborers. The Europeans, it seems, do not like to do their own work.

Meanwhile, the Taíno of the Caribbean disappeared. Nearly four-million of them at the time of Columbus’s arrival were, by 1502, decimated to a remarkable sixty-thousand(!) by disease, Carib aggression, and Spanish brutality. Mass suicides and forced abortions among the Taíno were common, as they sought to spare themselves the harsh reality of their subjugation. Today, Taíno mtDNA can be found among Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and the Garinagu of Central America, mixed –quite literally — with Carib and African blood.

As we vacationed in St. Maarten, I looked for bits of this history in the faces around me: the large woman selling mangos street-side, American tourists dining at the Westin, our snorkeling guide named Peter. Admittedly, the people we encountered seemed comfortable and happy. Is it even possible for us to see them, through the thick veil of the service industries? Through the sticky, stained veil of our collective past? and WHY are the mangos imported? Pico Iyer observes:

We travel, then, in part just to shake up our complacencies by seeing all the moral and political urgencies, the life-and-death dilemmas, that we seldom have to face at home. And we travel to fill in the gaps left by tomorrow’s headlines: When you drive down the streets of Port-au-Prince, for example, where there is almost no paving and women relieve themselves next to mountains of trash, your notions of the Internet and a “one world order” grow usefully revised. Travel is the best way we have of rescuing the humanity of places, and saving them from abstraction and ideology.

To what things have I been blind? In what ways have I been complacent?
It makes me angry.

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Canon Rock!

by CSLi on December 8, 2008

Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major, arrangement by JerryC.

BBecause, on a night like this, you make me soar. Happy birthday chagiya!

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