Parker Mah: Representing Young Chinese Canadian voices in Quebec

Parker Mah is a Montreal-based musician, and co-host of the documentary film « Être Chinois au Québec » (Being Chinese in Quebec). In the film, Mah and Bethany Or take a road trip across Quebec to meet various Chinese Quebeckers to answer the question: What does it mean to be Chinese in Quebec? What are the impacts of the Canadian government’s actions, such as the implementation of the Chinese Head Tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act on young Chinese Quebeckers?

I met with Mah in Montreal to discuss the film in anticipation of its Ottawa premier on May 22 and its Montreal theatrical run at Cinéma du Parc starting May 24.

You’re from Vancouver. Is there a difference between being Chinese in Vancouver and being Chinese in Quebec?

Yes, of course there’s a difference. And it’s not necessarily a bad or a good difference.

When I was in Vancouver, I wasn’t forced to confront my identity as much as I am here. Even though in elementary school, I was one of three Asian kids, it never came to my mind that I had to assert myself as Chinese Canadian, or someone of Chinese cultural heritage.

It’s just the cultural context of Vancouver I suppose, in which people from ethnic backgrounds are generally not singled out as such. It’s a good thing in that you’re not confronted with having to define your cultural identity at each opportunity. But at the same time, it meant my awareness of my cultural identity was underdeveloped.

Then I came to Montreal, and I was confronted with questions of “where are you from?” and “why do you speak French instead of Chinese?” These types of questions forced me to really define myself in terms relative to Québécois culture.

Being Chinese in Quebec is much different than being Chinese elsewhere in Canada. That is one of the big reasons we wanted to focus on Quebec in this documentary. [This is] one of the only documentary film projects that deals with young Chinese people in Quebec.

How did you get involved in the film?

It started with an interest in my family history. My family has roots in this country going back four generations. I became interested in my university years in researching the details of my family. I interviewed my grandmother to get the whole story.

That was also the beginning of my participation in the New Voices Project, a project that aimed to expose and promote the distinct cultural and creative identity of the new generation of young Asian Canadians. It started as a book project in Vancouver and became a series of oral history interviews in Montreal. Around the same time [in 2010], Malcolm Guy and William Ging Wee Dere, the co-directors of the film, approached me. They knew about me through my involvement with the New Voices Project and asked me if I’d like to be in the film.

I should mention that Malcolm and William had already collaborated previously on a documentary called Moving the Mountain, which was about the history of the Head Tax and Exclusion Act and the direct impact it had on Chinese Canadian families. Originally our film was going to be about the legacy of the Head Tax and Exclusion Act and its influence on the new generation. Long story short, the idea of the film evolved. It became an extension of what we had started in the New Voices Project: an exploration of the construction of identity of the young generation of Chinese Quebeckers, on a much larger scale.

What was a surprising discovery for you when you started your road trip?

What was surprising to me was the diversity of the Chinese community. There is no one Chinese community.

Parker Mah

We interviewed this family who has been running the Wok ‘n’ Roll on [Boulevard] Charest in Quebec City for three generations. There are students who have just only been here a few months. We interviewed a young woman who’s majoring in French literature. She’s a huge Francophile, so she came specifically to Quebec to study in French. She came with her husband because she felt that Canada was a paradise for children.

We met people who are living in Gaspé—a family who’s running a restaurant. They’ve been there for 20 years and they have a son, and he speaks perfect Gaspésien. We met a Chinese woman who got married to a Québécois from Rimouski and came over here to start a new life.

Then of course we have the whole subsection of urban Chinese Quebeckers who are born here, and speak French—who might not even speak English or Chinese. We have the generation of Vietnamese of Chinese origin who came here in the ‘70s after the war, and then there are many who are adopted, mainly girls. All these people – we are sort of grouping into the ‘Chinese community,’ even though they might not themselves consider themselves Chinese.

What we’re showing in the film is the different types of Chinese that can exist. We want to portray them in all their variety, because one of the themes in the film is to break out of the stereotypical views that people have of the Chinese community.

What do you hope that people get out of the film?

What I would hope is that people come out of the film with a better understanding of the following themes:

The first involves the representation of Chinese in the media in Quebec and in the public sphere in general. Why are so few Chinese politically engaged? Why aren’t more Chinese involved in the cultural or arts scenes and telling their own stories?

The second is the awareness of cultural identity, vis-à-vis the Québécois context. How do Chinese Quebecker youth identify themselves? Do they feel connected to their history in the place where they live? These are important questions that go beyond inclusion, that have to do with reclaiming a cultural space that is proper to us.

The third thing we want to show is the struggle for equality. As you know, the Chinese Head Tax and the [Chinese] Exclusion Act [in 1923] had a direct impact: it separated families for generations. Although systemic racism doesn’t exist anymore in the form of a head tax, there are still barriers for not only the Chinese, but people of ethnic background in general. Certain things like access to workers’ rights and health rights are not even across the board. What we’re trying to do is make the link between these struggles in the present to the struggles of the past.

How do you think the new Parti Québécois government will affect on the Chinese community?

Parker Mah 2I feel like the definition of what a Québécois can or can’t be is restrictive. For instance, Bethany’s grandmother has been here since the ‘60s, but she doesn’t speak French—because she was working in a factory to support herself and her kids, and she didn’t have the time and the energy. But does that mean she wasn’t a contributing member of society? She paid taxes and she voted. Yet, she’s not considered Québécois because she doesn’t speak French.

At the same time, it’s a very hairy issue, because some of the people I’m speaking about may not want to consider themselves Québécois. So it becomes much more complex than [just asking] “do we include them or not?”

How do you identify yourself?

I’m a Montrealer above all, and then a Canadian Quebecker of Chinese origin. I’m saying that because I don’t think I need to leave behind my Chinese culture to be Québécois. I can be Chinese; I can be Canadian; I can also be Québécois, and those three can overlap, and for me, that’s not a problem.

“Être Chinois au Québec” will have its Ottawa premier on May 22 at University of Ottawa, MRT 212 (Morrisset Hall) at 6:30pm. After the screening, a panel discussion on Asian Canadians will follow, featuring Parker Mah, Bethany Or,  (Schema’s own) Robert Parungao, and Professor Timothy Stanley from University of Ottawa.

“Être Chinois au Québéc” will be showing in Montreal at Cinéma du Parc (3575 ave du Parc) from May 24, with special guests present at each screening.

Episode 2 of “They’re All So Beautiful” Asks: Do You Have to be White to Have “Yellow Fever”?

The second episode in the web series “They’re All So Beautiful” asks this big question: Do you have to be white to have “yellow fever”?

In this episode, men and women weigh in on who exactly finds “Asian-ness” attractive. Some say that Asian women seem more willing to listen. One of them says that you can be an Asian and have “yellow fever”. White women can also have “yellow fever” when they find Asian men exotic.

With the help of interns Annie Chung and Omar Kutbi, I asked a few Asian men whether they personally have “yellow fever”:

Jackson:

Well, I am no expert in this field but one would assume most would be most easily attracted to their own ‘kind’.

Darren:

Fever? More like the Yellow Plague! I have nothing against other races, but I just have an Asian preference. Having dated non-Asians, I think it’s easier to ‘relate’ with similar family values.

Jordan:

I don’t think it really applies to Asians, but if it counts I have no racial preference when it comes to girls.

Steve:

No – I date any attractive girl!

Steven:

I don’t have it. I’m pretty sure I’ve been attracted to girls of all races all the same.

Howard:

… Yes, for 2 women who are equally beautiful and sophisticated, I would choose the Asian over the non-Asian.

So I guess Asian men can have “yellow fever” after all! Remember to check out TheyreAllSoBeautiful.com for additional episodes to this fascinating series.

Vinnie Yuen writes about sex and relationships, and all that fun stuff in between. Follow her at @vinnieyuen

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Kerry Washington | Celeb Bio

 

Kerry Washington is among the few that has been able to work in television and film. Actors usually stick to one because switching between different audiences can be hard and so it’s rare for us to see movie actors also star in lead TV roles. Washington, however, handles this difficulty with ease.

Born in New York City, Washington grew up in the Bronx, the only child of her educational consultant mother and real estate broker father. She studied at George Washington University and graduated with a double major in sociology and anthropology and later continued studying acting at Michael Howard Studios.

Her degree in sociology and anthropology is interesting and seems to reflect in her movie and TV roles, so many of which confront race and culture directly. She’s starred in The Last King of Scotland, in David Marnet’s play Race and in Tyler Perry’s For Colored Girls.

Kerry Washington with Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained. Photo credit: The Film Experience

Most recently she’s starred in Django Unchained as Broomhilda von Schaft and on ABC’s Scandal as Olivia Pope. On this, she commented to The Telegraph UK, “It’s quite a dichotomy, to go from playing a slave, who isn’t even considered a full person, to playing literally one of the most powerful women in the country.” The switch from big screen to TV screen is one thing, but the change from damsel in distress to elite political crisis manager is another. Her Scandal role is “groundbreaking”. It’s the first prime-time TV show to feature an African-American lead actress for more than 30 years.

Kerry Washington in Scandal. Photo credit: BeyondHollywood.

Washington still says she prefers TV over film. In an interview with The Telegraph UK ‘Sometimes in features there are a lot of cooks, and story is not the most important thing. The director has one agenda, the producers have another, the lead actor has another and so the story can get muddied. But in television, the writer is king – or in the case of Shonda [Rhimes, Scandal’s creator], queen. The person in charge of story is in charge.”

Kerry Washington at the Human Rights Campaign Gala. Photo credit: Daily Mail UK

Off-screen, Washington is also a political activist and a fashion icon. She has been campaigning for Obama since 2008, serving on his Committee on the Arts and the Humanities to help schools in Washington, D.C. expand their arts programs. At the Human Rights Campaign Gala in Los Angeles on March 23rd, Washington wore a wonderful strapless Jason Wu gown with a simple headband while showing her support for equal rights among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups.

Brilliant, gorgeous and political — what’s not to love?

Teppan Kitchen | Fun and Innovative Dining at Richmond’s Aberdeen Centre

 

I was a little nervous riding up the elevator to Aberdeen Centre’s food court. I might have been a little wary as well. Although I’ve only eaten at Aberdeen Centre a couple times, I can’t say I was too impressed with the food. But then again, that was before I tried Teppan Kitchen. The big restaurants downstairs used to lure me in, and I was never really one to eat at the food court, but one whiff from a customer’s TK dish as I walked up to the counter and I was sold! How often do you come to a food court and your food is served to you still sizzling hot on its plate? Not often, I’ll presume, but at Teppan Kitchen, all the main dishes are served like this — hot on a hot cast iron plate, ready for you to dive in to eat. I had to meet the face behind this clever innovation! I had to meet Brian Leung!

The Idea

Great restaurants have exciting beginnings and Brian’s journey is just as inspiring. Brian opened his first restaurant when he was 24, but after a few years, decided to move to a smaller-scale environment, bringing his savoury dishes to a food court setting.

 

Brian Leung, owner and chef of Teppan Kitchen. Photo courtesy of Mimi Dejene.

Annie Chung: So Brian, tell me a bit about yourself and why you decided to open Teppan Kitchen.

Brian Leung: Well, I’ve been cooking for about 12 years now. First, I went to cooking school at Pacific Culinary Institute. From there I worked everywhere in the lower mainland at various restaurants, mainly fine dining, serving French and Italian food. From there I opened up a small catering business to serve families and small parties and eventually went on to cater for bigger jigs for corporate parties and small weddings.

In 2007, I opened my first restaurant called Queens Cafe. This was in Richmond on No. 3 Road and Westminster. I was serving mainly French and Italian cuisine. I did that for three years and sold it in summer 2010. Then I took some time off travelling and that’s when I started developing Teppan Kitchen. I opened that two years ago on Christmas Day for 2010 and I’ve been doing that since.

AC: So what inspired you to move from the big restaurant style to the smaller food court setting?

BL: It was a lot of work running such a big restaurant. It was a 100-seater with a big space and it took a lot of work. For me, moving to something smaller opened up doors to a franchise business where I could open multiple locations worldwide. It’s obviously a lot easier to run than a big restaurant.

AC: What gap were you hoping to fill with the opening of Teppan Kitchen?

BL: Well, generally in food courts you don’t really see this type of cuisine presented where you get an actual hot cast iron plate. The idea’s kind of playful: you get to fry your own rice, everything’s served piping hot and you’re not eating with plastic utensils and take out containers. I wouldn’t say it’s like higher-end food but it’s definitely a different experience. I think the price is reasonable and I think it’s definitely different.

AC: Do you ever think you’ll ever expand into a bigger restaurant or a bigger space?

BL: Actually for this I actually want to do two options. So we have the food court option like we have here and a stand-alone option maybe a 30-40-seater restaurant. This way it gives potential franchisees to option to open either kind of restaurant. I want both of those to still be concentrated on quick service of food and beverages.

AC: This is the only Teppan Kitchen in the Lower mainland right now, right? Are you hoping to open a few more restaurants sometime soon?

BL: For now, yes. I’m working to develop it more and hopefully get it to be bigger than it should be.

Brian Leung standing in front of the Teppan Kitchen store front. Photo courtesy of Mimi Dejene.

The Obstacles

Every restaurant owner has had obstacles to overcome whether they be business-related or food-related. Despite already having a lot of experience with opening and running a restaurant, he still had to overcome some obstacles.

 

AC: Did you have any obstacles you had to overcome when you decided you would open Teppan Kitchen?

BL: Just mainly dealing with mall requirements. The logistics of getting these plates back to us was a little worrisome at first. I didn’t know if the customers would bring our plates back or if the mall staff would help clear our plates but they’re doing that for us now so it runs a lot smoother.

AC: I know the competition in Richmond in the food industry is really fierce. Obviously you have all the restaurants in the food court to compete with, but even outside this mall there are a lot of other restaurants too. How did you raise the money to finance this whole idea?

BL: Well it was mostly from the money I used from selling my old restaurant. Plus there was an existing food place already so taking over wasn’t a big hassle. There weren’t big renovations involved and that saved me quite a bit of money. Specifically I like this mall in particular because it’s Asian-themed and it’s pretty competitive and cut-throat so I used it as a test-market so if I could survive here, then I’m pretty confident that everywhere else I open, I have a chance of doing pretty okay.

AC: You mentioned you went to cooking school but was there anyone who mentored you through the business aspect of things?

BL: Business side I learned most of it through managerial positions in various restaurants across the lower mainland. I also had my first test of running my own business when I did catering prior to opening the first restaurant.

AC: Cooking’s obviously been in your career path, but did you ever see yourself doing anything else?

BL: It is more like my passion. I’m not really an office person. I’ve done that before too —the 9 to 5 office job. It just wasn’t really my thing. I’m more of a hands-on person.

No. 1 ‘A’ Grade Rib Eye Beef Teppan Rice. Photo courtesy of Mimi Dejene.

The Food

Let’s get to the most exciting part! After all, at the heart of a great restaurant idea is the food! Brian introduces the idea of teppans and the special items on his menu.

 

AC: Teppans are part of Japanese dining right?

BL: Well, teppan just means hot plate. The menu is sort of Japanese-focused since they invented the whole teppan concept. I just use that phrase because it describes the actual plate and I thought it sounded kind of cool.

AC: So did you create all these dishes by yourself? That must have taken a lot of hard work!

BL: Yea, but moving from fine dining to this — it’s actually pretty easy.

AC: Why did you decide to develop this kind of brand?

BL: I think because it’s something no one has ever done, the idea’s innovative and different from the regular style at food courts. Rather than the traditional teriyaki chicken on rice, we have something fresh and local.

Teppan Kitchen’s menu.

AC: Everything on your menu looks and sounds so appetizing! I really enjoyed trying out the No. 1 ‘A’ Grade Rib Eye Beef Teppan Rice. Of course the Teppan Seafood Linguini and Fish and Chips were awesome too! What’s your personal favourite dish on the menu?

BL: It would be the No. 1 for sure! It’s the most popular and I’d definitely recommend that to anyone who hasn’t tried this type of food before too. I tried to fill a bit of everything on the menu. There’s seafood and salmon like in the seafood linguini. We’ve got pork in the tonkatsu cutlet. We’ve got chicken. We even have even fries with the poutine and the cheese is always nicely melted on the hot place. It’s pretty cool. I also run daily specials for people to try.

I definitely know where I’ll grab a bite from next time I stop by Aberdeen. What a great accomplishment for someone so young! If you want to learn more about Teppan Kitchen, you can visit their site at teppankitchen.com.

NYFW 2013 | Backstage at the Vivienne Tam Show with Nadia Hatta – Part 2

The spotlight fires up the runway as the tent begins to pulsate, inviting the audience to join in the impromptu Chinese New Year celebration.

It’s New York Fashion Week and we’re at the Vivienne Tam runway show, watching models in Tam’s Fall 2013 Collection, their hair slicked and swept atop their dazzling crowns, strut down the runway. The room is packed, the pace swift. One blink and you’ll lose a fleeting fashion moment.

Nadia Hatta and her MTV Asia team are here to report on the show, and I’m here to report on them, listening in on their interview with the designer backstage, and joining them in front of it. As hundreds of cameras flash like fireworks throughout the grand tent, all eyes are on Vivienne Tam’s new designs with their themes of love, hope and longevity (appearing as Chinese characters on several of the designs) worn by the digital-savvy, QR-code tracking, independent women of 2013.

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+ See Kiki Murai’s album from backstage at the Vivienne Tam Show

The models appear stoic and confident, and I marvel at the change in character from just an hour ago, when we interviewed this fresh-faced beauty backstage. Having come to New York City from China on her own speaking little English and landing this show, she’s the symbol of tenacity. During the interview, she laughed and chatted with us until a PR rep had to remind us, “Please wrap it up, we have to get her makeup done!”

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Immediately following the show, Nadia is immediately on her feet, winning interviews with front row attendees including Carmen Electra, former Miss USA Alyssa Campanella, and Malaysian Chinese model Ling Tan, our personable MTV host making the seamless switch from Mandarin to English (and back) on-camera.

Thirty minutes and several spirited conversations later, the house lights are on and the guests have left the building. Maintenance crew workers and volunteers have begun a massive clean-up to prepare the main stage for the next show. With the heat turned off, the temperature in the tent drops sharply, close to the twenty-five degrees it actually is outside.

Though everyone else has left to find warmth, there is a reason we’re still here. Back in the real world, our eyes are glued to the floor in the midst of an unexpected easter egg hunt, except we’re looking for a different kind of plastic. With the help of everyone who passes us, we search for a lost memory card that holds all of the valuable information filmed throughout the day, including the interview with Vivienne Tam. Deep breath.

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Said memory card has somehow gotten misplaced in the frenetic pace of a congested backstage, and we’re now turning over trash cans of complimentary water bottles, fashion show programs and a few used tissues (the worst of it, thank heavens), crawling on the ground and feeling rather untrendy. Nadia and team quickly move to disaster-control mode. It’s moments like these when one’s true capacity and think-on-your-feet capabilities emerge.

Moments later, Nadia and team keep their outer calm while madly tracing their steps in their minds, when Vivienne Tam walks by with her team. They look like they’re off to a well-deserved celebratory Chinese New Year dinner after a triumphant show.

nyfw2013-vienne-tam-outfitThere is only one thing to do. Nadia quickly approaches Tam, who greets her with a smile and puts a kind arm around her. Nadia congratulates Tam on a beautiful show and the two fall into step, heads close as if sharing a secret. Our secret is that we need a second interview. Minutes later, Tam has graciously invited Nadia to interview her in her Manhattan showroom later in the week. The connection between the two women is palpable, the day saved, and we head to our own Chinese New Year celebration.

Four days later, we’re in Vivienne Tam’s spacious showroom eleven stories up in the Fashion District, surrounded by the very dresses that decorated the runway at Lincoln Center. Ever so gracious and inviting, Vivienne Tam welcomes us into her world, sharing (again) her inspirations for the collection. There is not a hint of irritation in her expression about having to redo the interview, and when Nadia emerges from the changing room wearing a Vivienne Tam design, Tam adjusts the piece herself to fit properly. Incredible.

Nadia herself glows as she recalls the week. “Vivienne is nurturing and loving and stable, and right next to her I could feel her very calm aura, like still water, full of wisdom. She’s seen a lot, she’s found herself, she found her belief. It felt like she was my godmother, when I was next to her.”

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“I was inspired by her presence most of all,” Nadia says, after completing the interview in Vivienne Tam’s showroom. “I think her beauty lies in how she is so warm and has these positive messages she wants to send out to people through her designs and her words.”

“What do you think is behind the connection you had?” I ask, to which Nadia replies, “she’s an east-west Chinese woman who lives in New York. We’re mixed culturally. She understands the cultures that I grew up with, all the values that have been instilled in me, but she’s living in New York so there’s an openness and warmness that’s very Western. And then there is the very Chinese, conventional side of her that is about strength, self-respect and hard work.”

Finally, Nadia says “she said it’s really important that we women support each other in this world.” That’s just what Nadia and her all-women team have done this Fashion Week, lighting it up wherever they go.

+ Watch the video of this collection on viviennetam.com

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Hannah Simone | Primetime TV’s Multi-Ethnic Crush

Photo: Fashion Magazine.

Far from being your typical TV celebrity, Hannah Simone’s career is about as diverse as her ethnic background. Although she’s been quite famous since 2007, her recent surge to popularity is probably due to her role on Fox’s hot new sitcom New Girl.

Why is Hannah Simone the epitome of ethnic cool? For one thing, she’s a multi-ethnic person: her father’s Indian and her mother is half German-Italian and half Greek-Cypriot. For another, she’s lived in so many different places: she was born in London but has also lived in Saudi Arabia, India, Cyprus and Canada.

In her interview with Anokhi Magazine in 2007, she said, “Being raised as someone who is multicultural and multi-ethnic has been the greatest gift to me”.

Her own resume reflects this diversity. She has two undergraduate degrees, one at the University of British Columbia in International Relations and Political Science and another at Ryerson for Radio and Television Arts. Before becoming an actress, she modeled and it’s hard to believe that her list doesn’t stop there. After hosting HGTV Canada’s Space for Living for its first season, she went on to become a VJ at MuchMusic. After leaving in November 2008, she turned to hosting WCG Ultimate Gamer, a reality TV program about 12 gamers living in a loft on Syfy.

Her greatest TV role by far is her current role as Cece, best friend of main character Jess (Zooey Deschanel) on New Girl. Despite still being fresh in its second season, Simone and the rest of New Girl‘s fun and quirky cast already have quite a following. Although Cece is a model on the show, the face behind her character is definitely more than just a pretty face. It’s also interesting that Cece’s cultural background is quite developed in the show. Last week’s episode featured an Indian dating convention about which Simone tweeted, “To my fellow Indians, get ready to have your mind blown by all the desis on your screen tonight on @NewGirlonFOX #powerofabillion #desi”.

Simone also stars on H+: The Digital Series, a new dystopian web series that airs every Wednesday on YouTube. Although H+ is more serious, Simone, in an interview with Fashion Magazine in 2012, says she’s not done with comedy yet. She’s a great fan of Mindy Kaling, whose show The Mindy Project follows New Girl on Tuesday nights. “It is so cool to think that there are two female, Indian actresses on prime-time American network television who are considered attractive and funny and smart,” said Simone. “It excites me for the future, for actors who are an ambiguous minority, who are a very obvious comedy stereotype.” I am excited, too, for the future Hannah Simone will bring to the television world.

You can follow Hannah Simone on twitter @HannahSimone and also check out New Girl on Citytv and H+ on YouTube.

Top 10 Reasons Why Life of Pi May Be the Greatest Movie of 2012

Photo courtesy of thedailybeast.com

I know it’s a little early to be looking back at 2012 already, but Life of Pi is truly one of the most amazing films I’ve seen last year. I watched it just last week and it has already made my top 10 favorite movies. Here’s why:

10. The awards

Since its release, it has already won numerous accolades including three Golden Globe nominations for Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director and Best Original Score.

9. The critics’ responses

Roger Ebert, whom I always trust to have an objective opinion, loved it. If you want to read his review, it’s here. Other critics have called Life of Pi “a visual masterpiece” and a “delightful” adaption of the novel.

8. The audience’s responses

A lot of the times I feel there’s a great discrepancy between what critics think and what the audience believes to be a good film or movie. In the case of Life of Pi, I think that these two groups would likely agree that it was a great movie. On Rotten Tomatoes, 89% of critics enjoyed it and 90% of the audience members liked it.

7. The cinematography

Much of the story takes place at sea and so the movie is full of vivid images of whales and dolphins and jellyfish and flying fish and every possible sea creature you can imagine. There’s a zoo with exotic animals. There’s a carnivorous island full of meerkats. You thought Avatar in 3D was impressive? Life of Pi will blow your mind.

6. The tiger

Did I forget to mention there’s a CGI tiger in the movie? Richard Parker is a pretty impressive-looking cat.

Photo courtesy of expedientmeans.com

5. The humor

Although it’s a pretty serious movie, there are parts that are unbelievably funny. There’s something great about movies that can make you cry, laugh and contemplate life in one sitting; Life of Pi is one of those movies.

4. The ending

It’s the type of movie that makes you think. It’s not just entertainment; there’s also something meaningful. It’s a little like Inception since you’ll begin to question what’s real or not, but more so with this movie, you’ll probably learn a life lesson or two.

3. The director

It’s always difficult to translate novels to movies and I think Ang Lee did a wonderful job capturing the novel’s aspects into motion. The Taiwanese-American director won an Academy Award for Best Director back in 2005 for Brokeback Mountain and he’s directed numerous other equally notable films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000 and Hulk in 2003. He’s got a pretty impressive record. If you haven’t seen his other films, you probably should, but preferably after you catch Life of Pi.

2. The storyline

The movie is adapted from the best-selling novel of the same name by Yann Martel. There is a reason why people choose to make motion pictures out of novels—the stories are well-written and, at the very least, interesting and intriguing.

1. The cast

As a frequent movie watcher, I can say with confidence that the plot that drives the story is just as important as the character in that story. I think it’s pretty incredible that Lee managed to cast all international actors. There are no big Hollywood stars in this film.The story’s main character Pi is played by Suraj Sharma, and this is his debut film. It’s always enjoyable to see fresh new faces take on big roles. I thought Suraj Sharma did a wonderful job, as did the rest of the cast.

Vol 3 Part 3 : My Hyphenated Existence

My 45-day guerrilla bicycle trip from Barcelona to Florence alongside two of my dearest friends paved the way to fields blooming with questions rather than to a footpath of concrete answers.

“Well, if you want to be technical, I was born in Tehran in Iran, lived there for a good seven years. After that, I lived in Dubai for four years, which was when my family decided to move to Vancouver, Canada. I’ve lived there for close to 12 years now, but for the last year I’ve lived in Barcelona while completing an exchange program. For the last month I’ve been on a little bicycle adventure starting in Spain and going over to France and Italy,” I would say like an automated reply message during the course of my trip.

The questioner would glance back at me with what must have been feelings of both awe and regret. For a few, it was “incredible” how I stood for so many colours from different corners of the world. But for most, they got the answer they were looking for as soon as I begun to utter the word “Iran”.

They found convenience in the fact that they were able to label me with ease, with comfort, with thinking as little as possible.

What mattered most for these latter minds was convenience. They found convenience in the fact that they were able to label me with ease, with comfort, with thinking as little as possible. This is how the story usually goes. Spot a big fluffy beard, dark facial features, a lot of hair, a slanted accent and tanned skin, and out comes the question: “So, where are you from?”

I don’t mind this at all as I too would ask someone who felt different than me where they were from to feed my own curiosity.

“From Canada,” I usually react without much thought. But here comes the catch: the part where I see the questioner searching, unfulfilled and unsatisfied with my one word answer, waiting for the next best moment to ask me that million-dollar question. “No, what I meant was, where are you really from?” they ask quickly in a way that rids them of all the weight of those words.

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Living in Canada for over 12 years has made me nothing less of an expert in these sticky situations. So, I give them my rehearsed spiel. But I don’t let this go easily. From that point onwards, I aim to take control and steer our conversation to corners that makes them confront the very assumptions they had made about me and my identity prior to even meeting me, those subtle categorical interconnections we all hold dear in our minds of how some faces just have to fit into certain spaces and places in this world.

I don’t blame them. Truthfully, thanks to our pop culture’s perpetual drilling of linkages between our identities and certain representations, we are all guilty of carrying mental schemas of all types of identities.

We are all guilty of carrying mental schemas of all types of identities.

To me, thinking of “identity” in the context of travelling leads me to a double-edged sword. On the one hand, travelling compels you to identify with what people already perceive you as in that space…a Canadian, Iranian, male, female, punk, nerd, hippie, or whatever connection you potentially can have with a larger group.

This part roots itself in judgement, in association, in a process of labelling of people you don’t know too much about. And what’s more is that this is normal. Social psychologists have said that one’s own identity begins to form only when a person starts to identify people around them. You are “you” only because the ones around you are busy being “them”. In other words, your identity only makes sense in its relation to the identity of others.

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On the other hand, with travelling — and real hardcore down-to-the-ground raw travelling that is — comes a complete suspension of all your schemas; all those big fluffy values you held yourself accountable to and all those self-perpetuating ideas you had of yourself and your identity.

Re-thinking and re-defining my identity shattered all that used to make sense around me. I came to truly live the uncertainty in the notion of identity. I constantly changed identities going from being that displaced Andalucían in the Spanish north, to being the Algerian hoodlum chilling on the French Riviera, to being the rural Sicilian on the rich tip of Italy. But this whole identity business really didn’t matter anymore. It is irrelevant to the bigger picture.

I came to truly live the uncertainty in the notion of identity.

What matters most is what my mind identifies with, and not how my physical attributes are identified. An adventurer, a seeker, a wanderer, a nomad, a spiritual vessel, an unconventional traveller, a student — these are the identities that truly matter.

Elements that add something to you, an intention, a purpose, a point of discussion that almost any other walking creature on this Earth can relate to. This is what identity is, not things that deepen the physical vacuum that hovers around you and the person sitting next to you, but things that distinguish and celebrate the mutuality that exists between two residing streams of consciousness and modes of existence.

So for all my “miscellaneous-looking” readers out there, if you are confronted with the golden question: “But where you are really from?” Do not be intimidated.

Think about it this way: you are interesting-looking enough to have aroused the little curious wiggle that lives in the heads of people around you, those very same wiggles that live for confirmation, validation, and reaffirmation of their mental landscapes in the name of comfort and convenience. Those things are just ignorance and passivity on their end. You just keep calm and shine on my friends.

Brazilian Street Artists Transform Payphones into Art

Smile

Photo courtesy of http://koikoikoi.com

 

At the heart of São Paulo, Brazil, phone booths are being transformed into amazing pieces of art. A project titled Call Parade that is sponsored by Vivo (a phone carrier in Brazil) has brought together 100 different artists. Each individual artist has transformed their own unique payphone into a work of art. The 100 payphones transformed reflect the uniqueness and talent that each artist has to offer.

This public art project not only serves to add character to the city but it also serves the purpose of transforming the useless pay phones into phone booths that people can respect and utilize. Like in many cities, phone booths are rarely used in São Paulo. They have become so obsolete due to their uselessness and vandalized conditions. Vivo was hoping that with this project, citizens would respect and utilize the phone booths. It certainly has done just that! The project has transformed each booth into beautiful pieces of art in which people can appreciate and use.

payphone

Photo courtesy of www.mymodernmet.com

 

This is definitely an exciting project to see in action! I love street art and I am definitely a big advocate of it. With street art, I feel that the artist has complete creative freedom to express him or herself. I am glad that the aesthetic of street art is being more appreciated and promoted today. It is wonderful to see that a telecommunications company will be supporting the arts!

payphone

Photo courtesy of www.mymodernmet.com

 

This project is certainly one of the most interactive and unique pieces of street art I’ve ever seen to date. You can check all of the designs at callparade.com.br and see which one is your favorite.

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Continue reading “Brazilian Street Artists Transform Payphones into Art”

VISAFF Brings Urdu Poetry to Vancouver

The Vancouver International South Asian Film Festival took place in rainy Gastown just last weekend. In its sixth year, this innovative film festival highlights the artistic and creative achievements of the South Asian film community. I know what you’re thinking. Bollywood is already a multi-billion-dollar international industry with superstars akin to Hollywood A-listers and a reputation that conquers the globe. So why do we need VISAFF? First of all, it creates space for non-commercial, indie, and socially innovative movies. It brings filmmakers and artists previously not well known to the forefront. The event is also a method to bring together the South Asian diaspora living in Vancouver. The platform VISAFF provides allows for the community to come together and address important issues in our society. Furthermore, the festival also showcases South Asian works that often get ignored since they don’t fit into the “Bollywood” category.

Case in point, I was thrilled to attend the VISAFF screening of “Mah e Mir” (ماہ میر), a Pakistani movie tackling the state of contemporary Urdu (اردو) poetry. The film addresses the life and impact of Mir Taqi Mir, an 18th century poet who lived during the Mughal Empire and who would later be called the “God of Poetry”. Urdu poetry is a staple in South Asian culture as Urdu is often the language of choice for many writers. In the 17th century, Urdu was declared the official language of the court and so started becoming popular. A mixture of Persian, Turkish, and Arabic, Urdu poetry, or shayeri (شاعری), became the method of communicating social and political issues. Urdu poetry is usually recited in gatherings where a live audience is necessary. This stems from the fact that its inception is rooted in mushairas (مشاعرہ), gatherings that took place in the 18th century for the purpose of presenting shayeri. Urdu poetry was and still is competitive, often initiating a battle of wits. Instead of applause, one will often hear a chorus of “wah wahs” (واہ واہ), indicating admiration. With beautiful sounds and flowing rhythms, shayeri is an ancient and renowned form of art.

O Mir, he came to my grave after I’d died; My messiah thought of a medicine after I’d died.” – Mir Taqi Mir

It was in similar gatherings that Mir Taqi Mir proved his talents. He was a man who not only reinvigorated Urdu poetry in royal courts, but also made it accessible to the masses. He would often be found, as the movie also acknowledges, reciting poetry at the steps of the Jama Mosque ( جامع مسجد) in Delhi. Known for their rich imagery and simplicity, Mir’s works have stood the test of time. “Mah e Mir” addresses this timelessness of Mir’s works through the eyes of a contemporary poet named Jamal. To him, classical poetry is outdated and modern poetry is a “circus.” He is unimpressed by both, only believing himself to be a true poet. Yet, through the duration of the movie, Jamal is taken on a journey where he learns to not only appreciate Mir’s work but also embrace his mad passion. The discussions and battles fought with rich diction and complicated metaphors on screen turned the theater of VISAFF into a mushaira itself. In the audience, we witnessed some of the best Urdu poetry the language has produced. And that is exactly what events like VISAFF have the power to do.

The Poké Shop: Possibly the Best Fast Food in North America’s Most Asian City

This coming Friday marks the launch of the newest fast-food concept to emerge in Gastown, The Poké Shop, a cute and trendy restaurant that specializes in the much-adored Hawaiian dish poké. With a handful of Schema Magazine editors and writers, I had a chance to sample the simple yet cozy poké bar located on Water Street, across from the famous steam clock. The fare is a delicate mash-up (basically a well-balanced salad) of rice, fresh seafood (or meat), vegetables, and fruits.

While the menu does offer pre-designed poké bowl, Chef Brian Leung strongly recommends taking the adventurous route of building your very own custom dish. Chef Leung, a fifteen-year veteran in the food industry is best known as the mastermind behind popular local fast-casual chain, Teppan Kitchen.

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My very first Poké bowl. Gotta catch’em all!

I chose the following, using a very simple five-step process:

Base – Japonica White Rice and 12 Grain Organic Purple Rice
Proteins – Ahi Tuna (a must try!) and Wild Sockeye Salmon
Toppings – Macaroni Salad, Red Onion, Pickled Ginger, Red Radish, Beets, Pineapple, Mango, Pea Shoots, Carrots, Tomatoes, Cucumber, and Zuchhini
Sauces – Signature (a must try!) and BBQ Shoyu
Drink – Roasted Macadamia Milk Tea

The meal was both filling and delicious! Chef Leung believes the explosion of poké bars across Canada and the U.S. is driven by people who “are looking for healthy alternatives to standard fast food fare, but are seeking more excitement and choices than run-of-the-mill salad bars offer. We are offering our own twist on the build-your-own poke bowl concept that everyone can appreciate.” I agree!

Beyond simply the satisfaction that comes with eating good food among good company, I appreciated how I didn’t feel even the slightest bit uncomfortable from consuming a hearty amount of “fast-food”. It was comfort food without the regret. In fact, I actually felt pretty energized from all of the greens and the proteins I was taking in from just one serving.

The price of a poké bowl ranges between $12.95-$15.95 (CAD). With fresh ingredients that are not only delightfully seasoned, there is more variety than you could possibly try to manufacture on your own (without breaking the bank, of course).

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High-end proteins that are quick and good for the body.

Toppings include everything from macaroni salad, to pomegranate, to pea shoots and tobiko (fish roe). The selections are manifold and because of this anyone with any dietary restrictions can come and enjoy a meal without the common predicament of limited choice.

Beyond the novelty of trying a new dish I had never heard of before, I also learned that the poké bowl has some metaphorical significance. Perhaps speaking to our aspirations of pluralism on the west coast. The poké bowl offers an alternative to the analogy of the “melting pot”, used to describe a slow but sure assimilation of cultures and different ways of life into the mainstream. At a time when we really are reflecting on who we are as a cosmopolitan city, this stretch of the multicultural meaning undergirding the makeup of a poké bowl is totally justifiable.

Of course, the dish may not always be appreciated in this manner. But hey, it sure does provide a new way of looking for meaning in the convenience-driven food we consume in terms of your health and in terms of your psyche.

The Poké Shop officially launches November 18, 2016 and is located at 306 Water St., in Gastown (Vancouver, BC). Find their menu and directions at thepokeshop.ca

 

Watching Mixed Match: How a twerking stranger gave me courage

A tall, radiant young woman stands in a doorway, swaying. She looks a little drunk. Far from it.

Her name is Alexandria Taylor and she’s the bone marrow donor featured in a documentary called Mixed Match, about the challenging process of finding donor matches for multi-ethnic patients. 

The doorway she’s standing in leads out to a brightly-lit hallway at City of Hope hospital. Two hours ago, a surgeon remove some of Taylor’s bone marrow, which will be sent to a 14-year-old blood cancer patient she’s never met.

Hunkered down in the back row of the theatre, I cringe at the thought of how much pain Taylor must be in. A significant chunk of my life has been spent in hospitals and clinics. Before I was out of my twenties, I’d been rocked by infantile anorexia, severe asthma, ulcers, anaphylactic shock, hives, autoimmune disease, rosacea, vestibulodynia and debilitating anxiety attacks (can’t imagine why). 

At one point, I had a tooth growing from the middle of the roof of my mouth. After the dentist confiscated my badge of freakishness, my dad gave me a little rubber stamp of a dalmatian puppy holding a heart with the words “You’re Special” emblazoned across it. It was the first of many consolation prizes.

Everything from maple syrup to penicillin has landed me in the ER.

My immune system is the medical equivalent of bringing a pellet gun to a rocket launcher fight and putting my own damn eye out, then running blindly into the other guy’s line of fire screaming, “Aim for centre mass!”.

Credit: viff.org
Credit: viff.org

So when my editor at Schema magazine asked me to watch Mixed Match, I froze.

My first thought was: That doc is just going to make me feel shitty about being unwilling to donate. 

I’m a big believer in donating body bits. I’ve shaved my head to make wigs for cancer patients, breathed through my fear of needles at the blood clinic and registered as an organ donor. 

Bone marrow donation is different, though. From what I’ve heard, the extraction process is immensely painful. And what about the risks associated with anaesthesia? Sure, anaphylaxis, hypoxic brain damage and death are extremely rare, but: I’m special, remember? 

Somehow, my editor talked me through my panic and now I’m sitting in the back row of the Rio Theatre watching Alexandria Taylor smile graciously through what I assume is an incredible amount of pain.

The medical staff are asking her to return to bed and avoid strenuous activity.
“So I probably shouldn’t be twerking or anything?” she asks.
The doctor laughs nervously. “Not really.”
Taylor starts twerking.
It’s in slow-mo, but it’s definitely happening. 

Something else is happening too. While Taylor and her entourage burst into giggles, the knot in my gut untangles itself and I start laughing too. This woman just looked one of my biggest fears square in the face and, instead of curling up into a weeping ball of sweat and terror, she’s popping her booty like a champ. I tell myself that she’s a special case, that most donors probably don’t have such a positive experience. 

That’s when I realize that ‘special’ doesn’t have to mean a lifetime membership to the Murphy’s Law Club. 

I meet Taylor (who’s married now and goes by Hernandez) at the afterparty and give her my free drink ticket, partly because I don’t drink, but mostly because the five-minute walk from the theatre to the bar wasn’t long enough for me to choreograph an interpretive dance sequence illustrating the profound effect she’s had on me. 

“You do so much good,” I tell her, when it’s time to leave. 
“You will too,” she says. “I believe that.” 

Two days later, when I’m swabbing the inside of my cheek to send my DNA off to the OneMatch bone marrow registry, I believe it too.

Diggin' deep for some juicy DNA
Diggin’ deep for some juicy DNA

Join the Canadian bone marrow registry
Join the American bone marrow registry.
Find out more about Mixed Match and the Mixed Marrow organization that inspired the movie.

VIFF 2016 | Knife in the Clear Water

Knife in the Clear Water
Dir: Wang Xuebo | Gateway | Dragons & Tigers | China | 2016 | 95 mins

Subtle, meditative and hauntingly beautiful, Knife in the Clear Water is about an elderly Chinese Muslim farmer mourning the loss of his spouse. Forty days after his wife’s passing, Ma Zishan (Yang Shengcang) is obligated to invite the entire village to an Arba’een (memorial) feast, according to tradition. His son (Yang Shengcang, different actor) begs Ma senior for permission to “honour mother” by sacrificing the family’s one and only cow in order to feed the large number of guests expected at the service. Ma is reluctant to do so, though, as he sees in the old loyal beast partly a reflection of his aging self and partly an echo of his faithful partner. However, as if it had already seen the butcher’s knife being sharpened in clear water, the old bull stops eating and drinking, and Ma begins to wonder if his cow had some prior foreknowledge of its destiny.

In this pensive debut, director Wang Xuebo’s lends us a window into the lives of the Hui people, a Chinese-speaking Muslim group. Set in the arid, wind-swept hills China’s northwest Ningxia province, the film offers a down-to-earth depiction of life in rural China. There is no running water or electricity, and the farming community scrapes by growing potatoes, herding sheep, and gathering alfalfa for their livestock. Yet woven into this simple, rugged, and often destitute existence, is the beautiful spirituality of Islamic ritual that informs every part of Hui reality. Ceremonies of prayer, ablution, and meditation infuse meaning into every occasion — from the slaughtering of livestock to the blessing of a newborn child. The absence of any scripted musical soundtrack at all in the film is remedied by the chorus of daily chants and spontaneous prayers that meld with natural bird song and wind chime to form one slightly disjunct, yet strangely hypnotic, polyphonic tapestry of sound.

Knife in the Clear Water is slim on dialogue, and, at times, viewers may find the slow-panning landscapes a little too reflective. But those who persevere past the lack of scripted audio and familiar Hollywood action will discover a cinematographic treasure trove of artfully planned vignettes. Time and time again, Wang plays with his audience’s sense of foreground and background — during one night scene, old man Ma shuffles past a window of his house after feeding the cow and continues off the movie screen, only to reappear moments later inside the house. We glimpse him through the window frame, illuminated by the dusty light of a single kerosene lamp. Wang’s chiaroscuro use of lighting too is exquisite. The tango of candlelight and shadow on the grooved face of the Muslim farmer as he reads the Qur’an before bedtime is reminiscent of Rembrandt’s famous portraits.

Simple yet significant, magical yet unexoticized, Knife in the Clear Water is a film that renders the earthy enchanting and the spiritual almost tangible.

VIFF 2016 | Mrs.

Mrs.
Dir: Adolfo Alix Jr. | Gateway | Dragons & Tigers | Philippines | 2016 | 80 mins
Showtimes:
Oct. 12, 1:30 pm | Vancity Theatre

At the beginning of the film, Mrs., 70-year-old Virginia (portrayed by veteran actress, Elizabeth Oropeso) seems the very epitome of unflappable strength, compassion, and wisdom. For much of the film, director Adolfo Alix Jr focuses on the small and seemingly inconsequential moments and details in Virginia’s life. The life of an elderly woman may not be particularly exciting, but many scenes are devoted to Virginia’s phone calls and visits with her two daughters. The relationship that receives the most attention is Virginia’s exasperated, yet loving relationship with her long-time live-in maid, Delia (Lotlot de Leon), who is pregnant but hoping to get married soon. Alix Jr. makes use of natural light and sound (including the ever-persistent noise of crowing roosters) to emphasize the ordinary and day-to-dayness of Virginia’s life.

Soon enough, however, these everyday details accumulate towards a creeping atmosphere of dread, horror, and absurdism. Little details are casually tossed around, such as the fact that the ancestral house (which Virginia refuses to leave) rests on an earthquake fault line, one of Virginia’s daughters belongs to a cult which worships an entity called “Mrs.” and Virginia has been receiving mysterious phone calls about her son, Sonny Boy, who has been missing for years. As Virginia, Elizabeth Oropesa is the emotional anchor and numerous close ups of her face allow her to convey myriad emotions of anger, confusion, annoyance and joy. Her performance in the film deservedly won her the Best Actress Award at the Sinag Maynila Independent Film Festival Best Actress.

Mrs. is not a film meant for those who want resolution or even a discernible plot. Instead, this film serves as more of a slow-moving character profile of a woman in crisis. Come for the nuanced and emotive performances but expect to be disturbed and a little flabbergasted when you reach the end of the film.

VIFF 2016 | Ten Years

Ten Years
Dir: Kwok Zune, Wong Fei-pang, Jevons Au, Chow Kwun-wai, Ng Ka-leung | Gateway | Dragons & Tigers | Hong Kong | 2015 | 103 mins
Showtimes:
October 10  4:15 pm | International Village 10
October 12  9:15 pm | Vancouver Playhouse

One of the highlights of watching a dystopian film is often the feeling of escapism. The feeling of “thank goodness we don’t live in that world.” But that feeling doesn’t ring true as you watch Ten Years.

The beauty and impact of Ten Years lies in its frightening proximity to present reality in Hong Kong. The five vignettes present five different stories depicting anxiety over the loss of Hong Kong’s culture, language and way of life.

How subversive is the film? So subversive, that despite doing incredibly well in the box office (even beating Star Wars: The Force Awakens), it was pulled from the cinema within eight weeks. So controversial, that the Chinese government refused to air the Hong Kong film awards in which the film won in the Best Film category.

In “Extra,” two low level triad members are hired to stage a shooting of two politicians to help the government bring in an authoritarian “National Security Law”. The vignette, shot in black and white, is a reference to the allegations that gangsters infiltrated the 2014 Umbrella Movement to incite violence and to undermine the pro-democracy movement.

“Season of the End” shows a couple searching among ruins to preserve whatever they can of local culture. Their efforts to preserve anything and everything eventually go too far.

Self-Immolator” is a mockumentary that depicts protesters so desperate in their quest for Hong Kong’s right for self-sovereignty, that they are willing to die for the cause. One dies from a hunger strike and another lights herself on fire in front of the United Kingdom’s embassy. One wonders if the deaths are admirable or in vain.

In “Dialect,” a cab driver struggles to earn a living as the government continues to limit and reduce the traffic areas that non-Mandarin speaking cab drivers can serve. His wife admonishes him for continuing to speak to his child in Cantonese. This story most closely reflects the reality in Hong Kong, as there is increasing emphasis on Mandarin at the expense of Cantonese among local schools.

Finally, “Local Egg” shows children trained to be young guards in uniform to rat on local businesses that dare to carry products that hint at dissident thinking. Even the sign “local eggs” is considered to be taboo. The vignette is heavily reminiscent of the real history of youth “red guards” used in the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the 1960s to attack old customs, culture, habits and ideas.

Producer Andrew Choi was in attendance at the film’s Canadian premiere on Saturday, October 8. He said the five directors wanted to be honest to themselves, to show the very possible future of Hong Kong.

Although the vignettes depict a bleak picture, Choi said that all of the directors believe it is not too late. Thus, Ten Years is a call to action, not only to Hong Kongers but to anyone who cares about upholding the cornerstones of democracy such as freedom of speech and freedom of the press, as well as preserving a language and culture that is under threat.

VIFF 2016 | Beautiful 2016

Beautiful 2016 | Meihao Heyi 2016
Dir: Jia Zhangke, Stanley Kwan, Nakata Hideo, Alec Su | Gateway | Dragons & Tigers | Hong Kong/China | 2016 | 96 mins
Showtimes:
Oct. 8, 8:30 pm | International Village 8
Oct 12, 4:00 pm | International Village 9

Beautiful 2016 is a curation of four short films, coming from the annual commission of prominent Asian directors by the Hong Kong International Film Festival. This year’s culmination is wonderful journey of visual storytelling taking audiences through Japan, Mainland China and Hong Kong. Despite four very distinct chapters, they share a rich exploration of the human spirit. What is wonderful about this selection is that short films are generally the format of new filmmakers. In the film industry, shorts are an emerging filmmaker’s calling card, and in not being driven by commercial aspirations, can showcase a filmmakers true creative potential. In giving this kind of creative freedom to some established filmmakers, the storytelling reveals the effectiveness of the short form to deliver a story quickly but profoundly, much in the same way fables can still deliver deep insight and compete against many (feature length) novels. Each of the stories offers a slightly different pacing and visual approach, and together are a reminder of what international film festivals are best at: taking our imaginations through a journey across geographies, cultures and languages — as well as into our inner spirit.

Surprisingly, three of the four shorts are stories of women who are confronted with some kind of disruption that forces them to confront their identity. As viewers, we share in their personal exploration of grief and resilience. The last short, is classic Asian form of storytelling, wherein a comedy about our own shortcomings and human tenacity is shrouded in the circumstances of tragedy.

Somewhere in Kamakura

This short is a surprisingly heart-warming story by one of world’s most renown directors of Japanese-horror, Nakata Hideo (director of Ring and Ring 2). The tale stars Kagawa Kyoko, a Japanese cinematic icon often associated with the golden era of Japanese cinema. Kagawa receives a letter from a first love, written and sent many years ago. Unable to journey into her past alone, a friendship grows with her caregiver, who feels bound to help Kagawa find closure. Using minimal dialogue, Nakata offers a profound commentary for the need, challenges and possibility of inter-generational connection.

Dama Wang Who Lives on Happiness Avenue
The second short is the directorial debut of Taiwanese musician-turned-filmmaker Alec Su. Su’s short documentary offers a picture of feminimity in China that Is insightful and endearing, and in being a stark contrast to the stereotype of rich housewive, challenges what we might actually know about life in Mainland China. The short doc portrays Dama Wang’s place in her community, and as an owner of a hair salon who spends as much time as possible participating in plaza dancing (think square dancing to various Chinese songs), while also giving viewers a touching picture of her ongoing struggle with her status as a widow. Although far from the experience of most newer immigrants in Vancouver, there is an underhanded parallel to marital separation experienced by Chinese women worldwide.
One Day in Our Lives of…
A nostalgia-packed short film by Stanley Kwan, who surprises audiences with the return of Hong Kong film icon, Cecelia Yip, who been in longtime retirement. Yip plays the stereotype of the HK-pop star diva, while making reference to an Anita Mui classic song (also the theme song of Wong Kar Wai’s Days of Being Wild (1990). Similar to the previous shorts is the portrayal of an established and experienced woman who is forced to confront the emotional loss of a former identity, the tribulation of hiding true feelings, while also capturing a self-determination to keep moving forward.
The Hedonists
Jia Zhangke’s is a laugh-out-loud dark comedy that showcases the internationally acclaimed filmmaker’s ability to portray the harsh impact of a dramatically changing China on the everyday life of ordinary people. Filmed in Jia’s hometown, Fenyang, Shanxi, The Hedonists follows the misadventures of three suddenly unemployed Shanxi coalminers as they attempt to secure employmen in the new Chinese economy.