Friday Night at the Movies – Crazy Rich Asians

Given my earlier post, nobody should have been surprised that I went to go see Crazy Rich Asians at my first opportunity.

I love to go to the movies in Jerusalem on Friday nights. The timing has to be just right in order to get as few people in the theater as possible. If the movie screens over sunset, all the people who keep Shabbat won’t be there. The secular people who wouldn’t miss Shabbat dinner with their families are also at home; they’ll head out around 10pm for evening entertainment. So I check to find the movie that’s been playing for a while and is playing right at sunset. Result: Nearly private screening! Crazy Rich Asians just came out, so there was a “crowd” of about 40 people in a 300-seat theater.

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Friday night at the movies in Jerusalem, 9pm

Short review: Two thumbs up! Go see it! Here’s the trailer.

Long review: Below the trailer. Spoilers abound!

As an avid Korean drama fan (let’s not go so far as to say addict; I never binge watch, I marathon watch, so I feel I’ve accomplished something…), I was ready for this film. Or at least I thought I was. So many of the deeper nuances were lost on me. Plus, Asia is a big place. These Crazy Rich Asians aren’t Korean.

If you want to dip your toe into the K-drama (or Chinese drama or Taiwan drama) world, this movie is a good place to start. This is a 16 to 20 episode rom-com crushed into a 2-hour movie. And it has a lot of the tropes.

  • Independent girl – succeeds on her own merits
  • Semi-clueless boy – master of industry probably, but has been in his isolated world
  • Future mother-in-law hates the girl
  • Catty girls trying to tear down the independent girl
  • Birth secrets
  • Pointless shower scenes to provide “fan service” for the ladies
  • Everything is over the top
  • Independent girl wins and brings everyone up with her (We are all Independent Girl!)

The future mother-in-law is brilliantly played, but in comparison to K-dramas, this lady is a marshmallow. She has one great scene and then they have to move on. If she had taken a note from a K-drama mama, the viciousness and intrigues to get rid of this girl would have gone on for a few episodes (may I suggest Secret Garden or Boys over Flowers? Or in Chinese, Meteor Garden 2018). But this is also a Hollywood movie, we wouldn’t see as much of the deeper conflict between getting what you want (love) and family loyalty and honoring elders. Our clueless guy has spent too much time in New York and is ready to give up his family in a second (so he says).

A huge gutted fish in someone’s bed does send a message, even if you don’t write nasty comments using fish blood on the windows. Yeah, I’d have to say the catty girls tormenting our heroine were K-drama level.

Think of the most over-the-top wedding you’ve ever been too. Did they flood the church to create a mermaid-themed wedding with everything glittering and each person waving a lit flower while standing in what appears to be tall reeds? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Had it been another genre, flooding the wedding would have been the start of the tsunami plot line.

It was fun to watch and I enjoyed every minute. But I missed stuff.

At the beginning of the movie, we see our heroine playing cards. Her opponent has 2 pair. Even if you are not a poker player per se, you might have enough cultural knowledge to know that this is a good hand. At the end, we have a mahjong scene between our heroine and the future mother-in-law. The point isn’t the game, but the symbols in the game are obviously important to the scene. We understand that our heroine thinks really hard and lays down a tile that’s good for the future mother-in-law’s hand and it seems that m-i-l wins, but then our heroine shows her tiles. She gets up from the table and leaves with her own mom. Future mother-in-law is left at the table with an expression of acknowledgement? Respect? But what are the symbols within the game? Think how much more interesting the scene would be if you have cultural context. Luckily, my friend SHC is an excellent resource and sent me a great article all about that scene!

This morning I was scrolling through Instagram (the algorithm seems to think I have an interest in Asia, I wonder why that is?) and I found a letter that the director of Crazy Rich Asians wrote to Coldplay for use of their song. When I was watching the movie, I heard the song and enjoyed the fact that it was a cover sung in Mandarin. The song, of course, is “Yellow.” That’s nice, I thought. But I didn’t understand until I read the post this morning that: The. Song. Is. Called. “Yel-low.” Wow. I can be so dense sometimes.

Not a translation of “Yellow,” but lovely nonetheless

On my path to global citizenship, there is one thing I know for sure: I know nothing. But acknowledging it is a fine place to start.

In the meantime, go see Crazy Rich Asians and watch a few K-dramas while you’re at it.

Hamlet in the Park

It all started with Richard III for me. I was mesmerized. My expectations for the show weren’t very high because it’s English-language theater in Jerusalem. It’s not like we have Broadway-caliber actors living here with nothing to do in August. But then there he was. It was as if there was a light shining on King Richard and nobody else in the play mattered.

I think the vernacular here is: Squee! Fangirling!

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Anyway, I haven’t seen that guy in any other play, but I think I’ve seen him around town and there’s a part of me that wants to point and scream “Richard III!!!” Thankfully, I’m able to stop myself in time.

So every August, I go back to the park to see whatever Shakespeare play is on hoping for the same experience.

Sometimes it’s a hit. Sometimes it’s a miss. This year Hamlet was a hit (I mean, it’s no Richard III, but it was good).

It’s a uniquely Jerusalem experience, I think. The majority of the audience tends to be religious Anglos (by which I mean any variety of English-speaker). Lots of kippas, lots of covered hair, many children, lots of older people. But you also get teens (of many language groups) looking for free entertainment.* Sometimes the audience is great; sometimes the audience leaves a lot to be desired.

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I sat down first, but this lady decided that she needed to be closer and block my view.

On the plus side, we get up and move around the park, so at the next stop, you know already who to avoid.

I have to admire the guy playing Hamlet. It’s beyond theater-in-the-round; he has to act unselfconsciously crazy in the middle of the audience.

IMG_20180816_181521    IMG_20180816_182737The featured players are always a lot of fun!

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This year, I got a very good performance and a good audience (mostly), and I finished up the evening at my favorite restaurant.

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*Free, with a suggested donation. I always buy a T-shirt because I like to support community theater.  http://theaterintherough.co.il/

 

Global Citizen

Lots of things have been happening in Israel and around the world, but to be honest, the only thing I paid attention to this week was my Chinese drama.

Meteor Garden 2018

I’ve been in the Korean drama world for about 4 years and I dabble in Taiwanese dramas. Once in a long while, if the Korean drama netizens are talking about a Chinese drama, I’ll watch that. But the whole drama world went bananas for this remake (I’ve seen fan sites in English, Chinese, Russian, Thai, and Spanish). The source material is a 1992 manga (serialized graphic novel) from Japan and several remakes have been done, most famously in Taiwan and Korea. This is the kind of drama that launches careers.

manga styleMe as a manga character

Living in Israel, I feel much more like a citizen of the world than I did in the US. But I started to wonder if that was really true. I’m an immigrant, my mom is an immigrant, a majority of the family friends when I was growing up are immigrants (from China, Croatia, UK, Brazil, Argentina, Russia, just off the top of my head) or are at least well-traveled.

I remembered that one of my favorite childhood shows was Star Blazers. At the time, I didn’t know that it was originally a Japanese cartoon that had been dubbed. I was riveted every day and I just thought the long, lean, big-eyed, beautiful people were just part of the style of the cartoon and didn’t think much of the fact that it didn’t look like Super Friends or Scooby Doo.

Star Blazers intro – “Our Star Blazers!”

Long before I moved to Israel, I was aware of Asia; over the years, I’ve had an interest in Tai Chi, Thai food, and Chinese medicine. So when my Greek friend in Israel introduced me to Korean dramas, the cultural anthropologist that I secretly wanted to be took over and my interest in drama spilled into trying to understand the mysteries of Asian culture.

Is it because I live in Israel, hear multiple languages in the street and meet people of different ethnic backgrounds, and feel like I am at the crossroads of civilizations between Europe and Asia that I have recently found myself drawn to explore more and more about Asia?

Or would my love of subtitled movies, natural cultural curiosity, and the easy internet access to subtitled dramas have led me down this road eventually even if I lived in the US?

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A different view of the world

I think it’s because I live in Israel. This is a small country with many immigrants and a citizenry that values traveling and seeing the world. In Israel, my American-ness makes me foreign, and somehow more of a global citizen. In the US, I was foreign, but spent so much time and effort in being American, I didn’t value my foreignness and so by default rejected global citizenry. All the potential was there, but it was only in Israel where I could be myself – a person in the cultural margins – that I could plant my roots and grow in different cultural directions.

My deep roots are in the US and Israel, I have cultural sprouts in Russia and Ukraine, and I’m growing branches in Korea, Taiwan, China, and Hong Kong. Yes, I’m a global citizen indeed.

But is it good for Israel?

I’m not a fan of Sacha Baron Cohen. I never saw his movies and I never watched the shows. All I really know about him is based on video clips I’ve seen here and there.

The problem is that I like the **idea** of Sacha Baron Cohen. I like the fact that he holds up a funhouse mirror to society and calls out hypocrisy and shows a certain group of people that their beliefs taken to absurd conclusions are very likely based on false foundations.

It’s meant to be funny (granted, sometimes it is), but it’s more often uncomfortable, rude, upsetting, horrible, and ultimately sad (I’m thinking of Borat in a bar in Texas getting everyone to join him in singing “Throw the Jews Down the Well.”)

So now we’ve got Baron Cohen’s new show on Showtime – we get clips in Israel – featuring the Israeliest Israeli Erran Morad. This is from an Associated Press article.

“The reaction has mostly been astonishment about the accuracy of the portrayal. He really got some of our traits down,” Einav Schiff, a[n Israeli] TV critic, said with a chuckle.

“Everyone here knows an ‘Erran Morad’ but I haven’t recognized any outrage or embarrassment about the character. It’s mostly been ridicule for these Americans who have fallen for him,” Schiff added.

I’m Israeli enough to appreciate the spot-on portrayal (it’s quite good), but I’m American enough to be dumbstruck by the words coming out of his mouth and shocked that US politicians are not catching on.

I’m stunned that anyone would believe that Israel has a “Kinderguardians” program that advocates arming kids starting at the age of 4.

Now read that again. I’ll wait.

Do you for even a second believe that it’s a good idea to put weapons into the hands of a 4-year-old? And would you endorse a program that advocates arming children? I think the clear answer – even if you admire Israel and even if you are proponent of gun rights – is a resounding NO.

Now let’s say you don’t care one way or the other about Israel or gun rights. Let’s leave it as a wild card if you know of Sacha Baron Cohen and let’s let Youtube make suggestions based on your previous viewings. You like funny stuff, so the video clip comes up.

So you see this guy (definitely foreign, so probably, as he says, Israeli) saying all kinds of absurd stuff with a straight face and he’s believed by legitimate congressmen and leaders. So you’re left with this impression of a bad-ass, crazy Israeli who advocates guns for toddlers. And since you also know that the Israeli Mossad is the top intelligence agency in the world and the Israeli army is one of the best, maybe Israel really does have a Kinderguardians program.

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This show is probably not good for America, but I’m not convinced that it’s going to do a lot of good for Israel either.

(Prepare barf bags if you have a sensitive stomach. You’ve been warned.)

On hiatus until August 4

on hiatus

I’m taking a break from blogging for a little while. I wish that I was going on a long driving trip as suggested by the image above, but the truth is that I’m really busy and I need to take some time to get back into balance.

Looking forward to meeting you again in August!

Bus

Since I moved to a new neighborhood, I’ve been taking the bus more often instead of walking. It’s unfortunately very convenient when I’m late, hot, tired, or feeling just plain lazy.

Sometimes I feel the crush of humanity and I regret getting on the bus, so I get off to walk because it’s just too crowded, uncomfortable, hot, and weird.

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Sometimes everyone has their own double seat and we can all comfortably ignore each other.

Sometimes it’s entertaining to just people-watch.

One guy was standing in the area reserved for wheelchairs. In Israel, you are more likely to see moms with their strollers using the space. A stroller was parked practically on his feet and he still didn’t move. Not until the mom very loudly said, “EXCUSE ME!” “Oh, sorry, sorry…I didn’t see you,” he muttered as he shuffled away focused on his phone.

Teenagers are plugged into their music (I’m guessing; they aren’t bobbing their heads or dancing to the beat of an unheard drummer).

Perfectly made-up Barbie-doll Russian women are softly talking business on their hands-free Bluetooth devices, covering their mouths so that you can’t hear them.

An Israeli man with a white knitted kippa covering his graying hair is shouting on his phone that there is no way, no how, no conceivable possibility that he would ever agree, and he’s willing to say that to whomever’s face any time, any day. “Mo-o-om, I’m telling you, you tell him I said so!”

Four religious Australian teens are talking about getting high (in English, as if no one else understands them).

There are moments when we are all in it together.

The bus driver slams on his brakes nearly rear-ending someone. All the passengers, many of us standing, are hanging on for dear life hoping not to fly through the windows. We all nervously laugh together and mumble our agreement when a few people voice their criticisms.

At the top of the hour, the bus driver turns up the radio really loudly so that everyone can hear the news.

One bus driver seemed to have forgotten the bus route. The first time he nearly took a wrong turn, he was startled in time when half the bus yelled, “DRIVER!” After most of the bus passengers yelled “DRIVER!” again to avoid the second wrong turn, he actually had to back up to take the correct turn. Cue the mumbling among ourselves about what the heck is wrong with this guy and we need to get off this crazy bus asap.

Once in a while, something nice happens.

My friend was visiting from Costa Rica and texted me that she was on the bus on the way to my house. My plan was to get home before her, so I flew out of the office to catch the next bus home.

As I clambered onto the bus to pay my fare, I looked down the center aisle to see if my friend was on this bus. I heard someone call my name and from among the sea of faces on the crowded bus, there she was!

We haven’t seen each other in 17 years, but we recognized each other immediately. And in that moment, it was as if no time had passed.

And to paraphrase Confucius: Is it not a pleasure to meet friends from afar, even if it’s on a bus?

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The Right Side of History

When I was a kid, the world was simple. When the United States elected the president, he was not only the “Commander in Chief,” but also the “Leader of the Free World.”

The “Free World” was the West. We were against the East. Asia and the whole southern hemisphere didn’t matter.

(I know it was never so simple, but bear with me here.)

The Berlin Wall crumbled. The Soviet Union broke into pieces. Suddenly there were over a billion people in China. The map realigned itself and we were going to be the humans of Earth just like in Star Trek!

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Oh, wait. That’s not what happened.

Fast forward to this week. The “Leader of the Free World” had a contentious, undiplomatic, and ugly meeting with the democracies of the world. I think it’s safe to say that the Free World would prefer a different “leader.”

[I don’t want to get into trouble for using the picture, but you know which one I mean.]

It is certainly a good thing to try to negotiate with enemies, bridge differences, and be open to global cooperation. Meeting with the leader of North Korea deserves some recognition; and I think Dennis Rodman deserves some credit for that. At the same time, one wonders about the location of the meeting. Singapore is a country known for somewhat absurd and stringent laws (high fines for selling gum, littering, spitting, jaywalking, singing obscene songs in public, forgetting to flush a public toilet, etc.) and still uses caning as a punishment.

Watching Korean dramas led me to research more about the Korean peninsula, Korean culture, and eventually to read more about North Korea. The short version: Based on testimonies of people who have escaped from North Korea, the book 1984 by George Orwell or any movie portraying a dystopian future is a pleasure trip compared to the reality in North Korea today. Trump (ignorantly) said in an interview that North Koreans love Kim Jung-Un with fervor. Um, yeah, they go to forced labor camps and die if they don’t. That’s what brainwashing looks like. That comment was just the tip of the iceberg of his inane and uninformed observations.

Trump seems to be the only one who wants to embrace Russia too. I’ll let the Mueller investigation play out on that one.

I’m not a geopolitical expert and I’ve wildly oversimplified these complex situations. But the point I want to make is: How does Israel fit into this new map?

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Where is our moral compass?

American-Israelis think Trump is good for Israel. Evangelical Christians also think Trump is good for Israel. Objectively, it’s a good thing for Israel to have the US recognize Jerusalem as the capital and for the embassy to officially move to Jerusalem. We have the clear backing of the United States on the international stage.

After this week, I’m not sure what that means. It’s not like the “Leader of the Free World” did these things. Israel has hitched itself to a man who admires Russia and North Korea and is distancing himself from democracies.

We’re supposed to be a light unto the nations. I hope we end up on the right side of history.

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