Monthly Archives: May 2011

The Reef


I watched The Reef on a flight back from Australia last night. The Reef is a 2010 Australian film that tells the story of a group of five friends whose sailing boat capsizes off the coast of Queensland. Because their boat is sinking, four of them decide to swim to the nearest land, a mere 15 kilometres away! There are great white sharks in the water, and they will get stalked by them. This movie, based on a true story, belongs obviously to the horror genre, but I found it quite good. It is not gory, and the story is as much about friendship and courage than about the sharks and the water. What I liked about it is that it doesn’t fall into the trap of using the usual horror effects (dark filming, music and montage) to tell the story. It’s not too long either (1.5 hour), which I prefer. I’ve had a look since at the trailer and was pretty disappointed. The trailer is everything the movie is not: voyeur, gory, silly, cheap…

The film reminded me of another one in the same genre: Open Water, but I think The Reef is better.

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Chinese Characters, by Han Jiantang


I was a little disappointed with “Chinese Characters”, a book by Han Jiantang, who is Professor of Chinese at Tianjin Normal University. The book is full of information about Chinese characters, but unfortunately, it is a little hard to digest at times. The presentation and structure of the text could be improved and the English translation is not always the best. It’s a shame because I was really looking forward to reading it. Having said that, if you don’t mind spending a bit of time searching for what you are looking for, the book is full of interesting information.

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Filed under Books, China, Language, Non-fiction

The Girl in the Picture, by Denise Chong


The Girl in the Picture tells the true story of Kim Phuc, the nine year old Vietnamese girl who runs naked on a road after a Napalm attack on her village during the Vietnam War. This photo, taken by Nick Ut, is probably the most famous photo of the Vietnam War, one that had a great influence in making the public aware of the atrocities of the war, and in helping – in some way - to end it. This is a fascinating story, very sad at times, scary, depressing but also full of hope. Denise Chong has done a lot of research and she starts her book with a detailed story of the life of Kim’s family before the event. This in itself is very interesting and you learn a lot about the way of life of Vietnamese people in the country. Kim’s life will be changed by the attack forever: she will suffer from deep burns all over her body but will miraculously recover; she will be used against her will by the Vietnamese Government as propaganda material; she will travel a lot, ending up studying  in Cuba for several years before taking refuge in Canada where she currently resides; she now works as ambassador for peace at UNESCO. You will be touched by her story, but also by the plight of the Vietnamese people. Chong does a good job with detailed descriptions, clear explanations, and well-researched facts, making this book a very interesting read.

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Filed under Books, Non-fiction, Reading

The Next Three Days


The Next Three Days is a 2010 movie directed by Paul Haggis featuring Russell Crowe, Liam Neeson and Elizabeth Banks. The story goes like this: After his wife is wrongly imprisoned for life for having supposedly murdered her boss, John Brennan (Crowe) decides to help her to break out from the prison so that they can start a new life elsewhere with their son. The plot is weak, with a few holes, and the acting is not particularly good. You won’t get bored, as there is quite a bit of action, but it’s not a movie to remember for more than a few hours…

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My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult


I normally don’t read Jodi Picoult’s novels, as all they seem to be doing is dissect a dysfunctional family or individual, ad nauseam. I should add that she does it quite well, though, and has millions of fans. I was keen on reading My Sister’s Keeper, because it tackles a difficult topic, one that I am interested in, having worked for a few years for a rare disease patient organisation. My Sister’s Keeper tells the story of Anna, a thirteen year old who was conceived artificially by her parents to be used as a genetically compatible donor for her sister Kate, who suffers from a rare form of leukemia. This is tricky. There are moral issues here, on top of the medical and psychological ones. But Anna has had enough. She has undergone multiple surgeries for her sister and she decides to take her parents to court to obtain medical emancipation – and to refuse to donate a kidney to her sister, the latest invasive surgery she is asked to undergo. This makes for a very interesting and controversial topic and I commend Picoult for choosing it. Unfortunately… there are too many flaws in the book. First, from a literary point of view, characterisation is too flimsy: I found that all the characters speak with the same voice. There are even similar speech patterns used by different characters. This does not work. It’s even made worse by the fact that the story is told from many points of view – six at least – and I found myself confused more than once as to who was speaking. I had to go back to the chapter’s title to know whose point of view it was. It also makes for too many unnecessary flashbacks. But the worst sin for me was Anna’s voice, which is anything but a thirteen year old’s. Okay, she is a mature child, but still, she speaks as if she has been studying philosophy for fifty years. She is able to analyse what people say, think and do, and she comes up with smart, complex, literary statements that do not ring true. There are also too many one-liners followed by space, such as at the end of a paragraph or chapter. This works for a while, but you quickly become annoyed with it. As for the plot, it lets the reader down towards the end. We spend 400 pages analysing difficult issues and asking hard questions, trying to find an answer, when nothing is black or white, right or wrong. Instead of having the guts to choose one, Picoult takes the easy way out – and the reader is left with no answer, no choice, absolutely nothing… It’s an easy device,and it didn’t need to be like that. I don’t want to spoil the story for you so I will not say what it is about, but it is a shame that Picoult wasn’t brave enough to just go with one choice or two – however imperfect - instead of fleeing the issue. Subplots are also miraculously solved and secondary characters are taken care of in the most improbable way… and as a consequence the novel loses its credibility at the very end. Such a shame…

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Besta MT-7000, Chinese-English electronic dictionary and e-tutor


I have finally received my Besta MT-7000! It took me a few weeks to find it. I tried to order it from China and Singapore, but the stocks of the sites that offered it were wrong and after a few unsuccessful attempts I was back to square one. I ended up ordering it on Amazon. The Besta MT-7000 is the best electronic Chinese-English dictionary on the market (This is strictly my point of view.). And it’s not very expensive. I should start by saying that it is much more than an electronic dictionary, as it features lessons ranging from characters to pronunciation, daily and business conversations, and a list of tools from a diary to a calculator, games etc. I love the fact that you can either use a keyboard or write directly on the digital screen with a small pen to look for a word or a character. You can even write sentences and the Besta will translate them for you! I have been playing with it non-stop since it arrived, and I am taking it with me on my business trip to Sydney next week. It replaces many books that I have been schlepping around for a few months. Being small, you can carry it in your pocket and use it whenever the need arises. I highly recommend it to anyone learning (Mandarin) Chinese.

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Rabbit Hole


I first saw Rabbit Hole as the famous play by David Lindsay-Abaire, which won the 2007 Pullitzer Prize for Drama. In fact I saw the Australian premiere in Sydney at the Ensemble Theatre a few years back. It’s a great play, sad and funny at the same time, and tackling a difficult subject, the grieving process of a couple who have lost their only son, run over by a car in front of their house. Lindsay-Abaire’s writing is subtle, yet powerful, and never in-your-face. I loved it.

I have just now watched the 2010 movie version of the play, directed by John Cameron Mitchell, and with Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart in the main roles. It is good as well – Kidman does a great job I find – but it lacks some of the good (read: funny) moments of the play, which lightened the atmosphere. Those moments are essentially those where Becca’s (Kidman’s) sister appears – I adored her character. The play and the movie are different, and having seen the play first did not make the movie any better or worse. It’s just two sides of the same story. And a good one.

Movie trailer:

And a video about the Australian premiere at the Ensemble Theatre:

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Filed under Arts, Movies, Theatre

COCORICO


I’ve been meaning to write a few words about COCORICO, a show that I went to see a few weeks ago, and which was part of Le French May Arts Festival here in Hong Kong. It is a duet made of two Frenchmen, Patrice Thibaud, a hilarious physical comedian, and Philippe Leygnac, an amazing musician. The show is in mime and with music. I hadn’t laughed that much in a long time. Thibaud is an expert at making you understand a situation with only a few gestures, and at making you scream with laughter at the same time. As for Leygnac, he is a genius – just visualise him playing the piano while his compadre keeps pushing the piano left, right and back, and you will understand what I mean. The show can be seen by people of all ages – in fact, children should rush to see it, I can guarantee you they will love it as much as adults do. Judging by the number of encore and the duration of the applause at the end, the audience lapped it up. The show is made of a series of tableaux, all linked by one element. It lasts about an hour and a half. I still haven’t got over the surprise created by Leygnac jumping out of a suitcase that had been standing at my feet for a few minutes. Ten stars!

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Filed under Arts, Hong Kong, Music, Theatre

Magical Halong Bay


I grabbed the opportunity that I was in Hanoi (Vietnam) last week to visit Halong Bay, a place that was high on my list of travels to do… and I wasn’t disappointed. Most people see the bay in fog, which seems to be the average weather there, but we were lucky enough to see it under various lights. The first day was indeed foggy, which created a magical atmosphere. The sun came out the second day, and we jumped into the turquoise waters to spend hours swimming, canoeing and snorkelling (It seems to be a rare enough  occurrence, so we were ecstatic). On our third, and last, day, it rained a little and our junk even had to shelter behind a small island to avoid a gale! Our cruise was fabulous, and with only ten people on board, we felt privileged. Most people seem to choose a two-day cruise that includes the visit of the famous caves, but we found that three days gave us the possibility to swim and canoe at length in areas that are far from any tourists, so I would advise anyone to choose this option. The second day was definitely the highlight of our trip.

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Derek Clendening: The Between Years


Hi Derek, could you please describe yourself in five words?

Dork who writes every day.

What can you tell us about The Between Years?

The book focuses on Randy Fuller who has separated from his wife because the grief of losing their 6 month old baby boy Kenny is too great. Basically, Randy wants to have another child right away and Carol isn’t ready. Therefore Randy moves into his ancestral home, a Victorian house along the Niagara River. While there, he sees the ghost of his son at age four one night, then age eight, twelve and eighteen on the succeeding nights. He realizes that Kenny is growing up rapidly in the walls, which forces Randy to face realities of parenthood that he had never considered.

It’s an emotionally charged book that has no good guys or bad guys. The characters are people who are presented in all their frailty and imperfections. I leave it to the reader’s best judgment as to who is right and wrong in this book.

Who’s your favourite author?

I have several: Stephen King, Rio Youers, John Langan and Richard B Wright.

Do you have tips for budding writers?

Sure. My advice is to write (and read) every day. Writers get asked that all the time and they will always give some variation of that answer, but it’s the truth. Here’s why: writers need discipline and they must hone their skills. You can’t take shortcuts. Also, novels—or projects of any length, really—cannot be finished if they’re not being paid proper attention. A writer must strap themselves into their chair and write constantly. We all lead busy lives but serious writers will always find a way to write every day.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m finishing a zombie novel, tentatively titled The Breeding. I’m also outlining a sequel to The Vampire Way, my young adult novel.

Where can we find you online?

Why right here, my good man: http://thehorrorofderekclendening.blogspot.com/

Thanks, Derek!

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