Spring Fever is a 2009 film by Ye Lou; it is a Hong Kong-French coproduction. It was presented to the Cannes Festival of the same year and won the prize for best scenario. To be honest, I wonder if it won the prize more because it tackles a touchy subject (homosexuality in China) than for the film itself. I found it slow, boring, and a tad too long. And the lack of dialogue makes it painful. The story is simple: two men, one of them married, going with each other and slightly confused. A number of characters revolve around them, but I quickly lost track of who was who. Disappointing.
Category Archives: China
The Tiger, by John Vaillant had been on my list of books to read for a while, but because of travel and work, I hadn’t got to it yet. I have now read it. It didn’t take me very long, which is a good sign. This is non-fiction, but Vaillant is fairly good at creating an interesting narrative out of a true story. In Far East Russia, an Amur (Siberian) tiger has been shot at and wounded by a logger and poacher. The tiger stalks him, kills him and eats him. This sends the Primorye region into turmoil, because in spite of the bitter cold, its inhabitants have to go into the Taiga to make a living. There are a number of tigers living there, but they normally don’t attack people. This tiger, however, proved it can be different. Because he was wounded (and indeed many times) he found it hard to hunt, and was starving as a result. After killing and eating his first man, he turned to others and killed a second person from the same village as the first one. This is not new – many similar stories have happened and still happen in India. A search mission was instigated, and the tiger killed. This is all that happens in the book (and not just quite enough for my liking), but Vaillant excels at describing the region, its people, and their drastic living conditions. He also distils very interesting information about Amur tigers, which is why I found the book fascinating. Having said that, after reading the story you don’t really want to go there – if you forget about the beauty of the Taiga, the living conditions and the poverty of the people are just staggering. I have always been fascinated by this part of the world and this is one of the reasons why I picked up this book. I’m less sure now, but come to think of it, I’d still go at the drop of a hat. I know the other side of the border, Chinese Manchuria, and as too often happens in China, not much of the original natural environment remains (and forget about tigers or any kind of animal!). Russia is a different story. Vaillant’s descriptions of the living conditions and unemployment remind me of a few stays I had to make in Moscow in the years 1989-1990. These were tough times, and I do not have great memories of the place. I just couldn’t find anything decent to eat or drink. Quite an experience, but not one I was looking forward to at the time. I understand things are different today. If you are interested in discovering Far East Russia (North West of Vladivostok) and want to know more about the fascinating Amur tiger, then this book is for you. Amur tigers (like most tigers) are heavily poached and their numbers are ever decreasing – this is partly due to the interest and beliefs of the Chinese in regard to the potency of Tiger organs, meat, paws, claws etc. They are ready to pay a fortune for them. This is bad news for the tiger, just as shark fin soup is bad news for sharks. I won’t delve more into the lack of environment protection in China – we’re all aware of it – but as far as tigers are concerned, The Tiger is a great book.
Here’s a link where Vaillant talks about his book:
I have decided that contemporary French and Chinese movies have quite a bit in common. This includes people smoking all the time and yelling at each other every five minutes or so. There’s also a fair amount of drinking going on at times. I’ve just watched The Equation of Love and Death, a 2008 Chinese movie directed by Cao Baoping. In the film, the main character Li Mi, who is searching for her boyfriend who left her suddenly four years earlier, smokes and screams more than she breathes. Okay, this is a little exaggerated. And her life is not easy. She works as a taxi driver, showing every passenger a photo of her ex and asking them if they have seen him. A suicide will trigger a series of events, all interlinked, and leading her to her ex. Three stories are the backbone of the movie: Li Mi’s search for her boyfriend, the fate of two drug traffickers, and Li Mi’s boyfriend’s erratic behaviour. Gradually each story will run into each other, creating a web of connections and complexities. Life in Chinese cities is well pictured. This movie falls into the thriller/suspense category, and it’s quite okay. A bit grim, but Chinese movies are often like that, I think. I wish Li Mi would smoke and scream a little less, but I forgive her. Now, has anyone seen this movie and know where it was filmed? I got excited more than once because I seemed to recognise my beloved Kunming, in particular the pedestrian bridge at the crossing of Dong Feng Dong Lu (区东风东路) and Bai Ta Lu (白塔路). Can anyone confirm that?
I’m adding the trailer to this banter. Unfortunately it’s in Chinese and there are no subtitles, but you’ll see what I mean about the yelling!
Au Revoir Taipei is a 2010 film directed by Arvin Chen. As the title suggests, it takes place in Taipei! Kai (Jack Yao) has been dumped by Faye, his ex-girlfriend who’s moved to Paris. Kai has no money but intends on joining her in Paris to try to fix their relationship. He gets involved with a customer of his parents’ dumpling restaurant, Brother Bao (Frankie Gao) who agrees to lend him the money to fly to Paris if he agrees to take with him a package, the content of which has to remain secret. But Bao’s nephew has something else in mind. In the space of a single night, Kai finds himself chased by a group of thugs who are after the package which has just been delivered to him. Susie, a girl he met in a bookstore (Amber Kuo) while learning to speak French in his spare time, is his reluctant compadre in this wild chase. Will Kai go to Paris? Will he be arrested by the police? Au Revoir Taipei is a love story, simple, discreet, sweet but effective in the end. It verges on boring at times, but a range of weird and quirky characters make it really interesting and even fun. I particularly loved the way the film was shot. Very dark (remember, it happens at night), re-creating the atmosphere that is so typical of Taipei: hidden, calm, almost dull. I love the scenes in the bookstore. Nowhere else in the world are the bookstores like those from Taipei: the layout, the shelves, the book colours, all are unique to Taiwan. And Taipei has so many bookstores! You also get a glimpse of the night markets, with their food stalls and strolling visitors. Night markets are another great feature of Taiwan. The actors speak Mandarin with a Taiwanese accent, of course, which I found difficult to understand at times (It was captioned, thank God). It reminded me that one of the greatest difficulties in learning Mandarin for me was that no one in China speaks the same way. Most people are bilingual, they speak their own dialect as well as Mandarin, but often their Mandarin is so heavily accented that it sounds like a foreign language. Not easy for the non-Chinese! Oh, I forgot to mention that the music of the film is great, really.
I was in Chengdu last weekend. First time in Sichuan. Chengdu is the capital of Sichuan and boasts 10 million inhabitants (14 million for the municipality)., a very important city of Western China. People speak Sichuanese, a dialect of Mandarin, and I found it really hard to understand it. The pronunciation in particular is not easy – and to be honest, they found it hard to understand me too at times! We had a wonderful time and were lucky to get perfect weather on the first day (the city has a reputation for rain). We went to visit the Panda Research and Breeding Centre, unique in the world. They breed pandas there and do amazingly well. You should visit the centre from July to December, which is the time pandas are born. Incredibly they are only a few centimetres long at birth. We were lucky to see a dozen or so three-week old pandas, sleeping happily in incubators. What a sight! They are gorgeous things, so cute we wanted to take one home! The whole park is stunning. Be warned, it’s better to visit early in the morning when the pandas are active.
We also went to visit Leshan’s Giant Buddha, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996, a two-hour drive from Chengdu. As it was Mid-Autumn Festival, the place was swarming with Chinese tourists and we had to queue for one and a half hours to get to the buddha, but it was worth the wait. In the past you used to be able to climb up on the left hand side, but now you go down on that side and walk back up on the other side. The buddha is 71 metre high and was built in the Tang Dynasty (618–907AD). Luckily, it was not damaged by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
There is an old Chinese saying that every Chinese person knows: “上有天堂, 下有苏杭”. This means “Above there is Heaven, below there is Suhang (Suzhou and Hangzhou).” (my translation). In other words, Suzhou and Hangzhou are heaven on earth. Um… I’m not so sure. Suzhou lies west of Shanghai, about 45 minutes by train, and it has been called “The Venice of the East”. Let’s be honest, it just doesn’t compare, even if it is an attractive place. Lots of canals, water, and old houses. But the Venetian atmosphere and magic isn’t there. As for Hangzhou, where I have just spent two weeks, it has become one of the most expensive places in China in terms of real estate. This is due to the presence of its West Lake (Xi Hu - 西湖), which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO only a few weeks ago. I’m not sure why. The lake is pretty, but not that amazing. Lots of lotus flowers. And lots of cars. Too many, in fact. There is a road that goes around the lake and which, to me, destroys the atmosphere. If you want to walk around the lake, you have to do so next to the road, which is very unpleasant. There are wooden boardwalks, but they are insufficient and crowded. The western side of the lake is more interesting, with small villages, tea culture and (somewhat) less cars. A more interesting place in Hangzhou, however, is the wetlands (Xi Xi Shi Di – 西溪国家湿地公园). They are in the middle of the city, and beautifully preserved: a maze of lakes and swampy areas, with meandering footpaths between them. You can also take a barge trip. Lots of birds and animals, and a world away from busy Hangzhou…
I hadn’t been to Shanghai in four years and was stunned by how much it has developed in so little time. We all know that China’s speed of development is staggering, but to see it with your own eyes is something else entirely. I have read that 30% of the world’s cranes can be found in Shanghai at the moment. I do not know if it is true, but it is certainly an indication of Shanghai’s dynamism. I found the streets much cleaner than they were last time, the city better organised, and some areas even quite pretty. The World Expo probably had a lot to do with it. Shanghai is a great city to visit for a day, a weekend or a week. Pudong and its futuristic buildings, the colonial Bund, the old city, the new suburbs, the French Concession or the markets, it’s all there for you to enjoy. My favourite restaurant is M on the Bund, as in Michelle, the Australian owner. A little pricey for Shanghai, but such a beautiful setting and such good food!
Huang Shan (黄山 in Chinese) is not easy to reach, but well worth the effort. Picture Avatar (the movie). Do you remember Jake Sully riding a dragon and flying among clouds in Pandora, over high peaks where little bits of vegetation clung precariously to vertical cliffs? This is what Huang Shan looks like, so if you want to feel like Jake Sully in Avatar, this is the place to go. Trust me. Okay, there are a few differences. First Huang Shan is not in another galaxy, but in China, in the Anhui Province, south-west of Shanghai. To get there, you need to reach Hangzhou (45 minutes fast train from Shanghai, although with recent train accidents in China, you may want to reconsider this option), then make your way to the West Bus Station. From there it’s still a three hour bus ride to Huang Shan City/Tunxi, the departure point for this fabulous place. There is actually an airport in Huang Shan, but it is tiny and only services a few domestic flights at certain times of the year. Once in Tunxi, you need to reach Tangkou (by bus or taxi), from which a local minibus service takes you to the bottom of the mountain. For the less adventurer, and 99.9% of Chinese tourists, there is a cable car up the mountain. If you want to do this, avoid weekends and Chinese holidays, or you’ll have to wait for two hours to get on. There are two other cable cars at separate entry points. A fourth is under construction. We did hike up, and it was great…. not many people around, and you have time to enjoy the scenery. Beware, it’s only steps though, which can be hard on your legs when you climb up to 1,800 metres. Most people prefer to take the cable car up and walk down. I would advise you to do the opposite and you’ll avoid the masses. The cliffs are amazing and you often find yourself walking over a narrow ledge overlooking a bottomless gorge… Phew! What makes the area special are the clouds, which envelop the mountain and keep changing pattern all the time. It’s truly magic. The other feature of interest is the pines that grow there, the Huangshan pine (Pinus huangshanensis). I can’t help wondering where they find enough substance to survive. I am sure you have seen old Chinese drawings of peaks with pine trees holding onto them – this is Huang Shan. I’ve been told that winter is a great time to go, with snow and ice offering a wonderful contrast to the valley below, but I’d be worried about the cold. There are four hotels or so at the top, most of them pretty good, and staying overnight gives you the opportunity to enjoy the place without masses of tourists. It is very special. You can enjoy the sunset and sunrise, and get up early to walk on narrow ledges overlooking an ocean of clouds, with just the sound of birds and cicadas (very loud ones) filling the air. You’ll come back changed forever. Did I mention that Huang Shan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site? It is.
China is plunged into strife with warlords fighting against each other to expand their power. One of them is Hao Jie, extremely succesful, dangerous and obnoxious. He despises everyone, including the Shaolin masters who live in a nearby temple. He even goes as far as killing one of his enemies on their grounds. However, Hao soon finds himself compelled to take refuge it the very same monastery, a rival having killed his family and wanting him dead. This is a revelation for Ho, who finds a new meaning in life. As civil unrest spreads and people increasingly suffer, the monks, under Ho’s impetus, decide to take action.
Chinese movies can be hit and miss, especially for Westerners, but this one is definitely a hit. The story is good, and for those who don’t like kung fu, there is not much of it – in fact, it really serves the story. The plot is made even more interesting by the numerous sub-plots: Ho’s love for his wife and child, and what happens to them; the enmity between Ho and his rival, a former subaltern; the meaning of live that Ho discovers in the temple; and the life of the poor and the peasants in those turbulent times. The story is complex, yet driven and simple to grasp. Images are beautiful, music is perfect. And as for the acting, no problem there. This is definitely one that I will be watching again in the near future. Don’t hesitate to do the same.