Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Old School HK Film: God of Gamblers.

Old school HK movies played a major part in my childhood.

To talk about old school HK movies, I need to start from God of Gamblers. For the Chinese it was pretty much the biggest cinematic influence during the 80s. 

It also shows how addicted the Chinese were(are) to gambling, to be able to make a movie based on that. I don't think I'm exaggarating when I say his character was the equivalent to the Chinese Superman. The character, Ko, didn't really show any pragmatic gambling skills in the movie. To be the best gambler in the world, you have to be also good at guns, martial arts, looking stylish, and perform magic. In actual fact, the title should be 'God of Scammers'.

Looking back the movie was shot under terrible budget, lighting ... terrible everything. What saved it (or the whole industry back then) was merely Chow Yun Fat's star power.
Although seeing Andy Lau as the young idiotic sidekick is always refreshing.

Everything aside, the opening was still powerful to me because it was so unorthodox. I'm not sure if it was intentional, old movies tend to open with the title and credits, but with GoG there's a prologue: an obscure casino in San Francisco realized Ko was winning a lot money. The manager went down and put a cap on his chips and we see Ko leaving the casino, setting an introduction to be the 'God of Gamblers'. 

Then cut to Tokyo, Ko's wife was blogging with her voice recorder about their life while he sips tea. (The recorder was a major prop for later story development and even modern HK movies aren't that well thought out.) The assistant came in and simply said 'we're ready.'

Intense zoom into Ko's face. Cue dramatic music, and suddenly we see this camcorder quality video of Ko and his wife getting through a rampage of Japanese reporters to establish that this guy is not any big shot, but THE big shot. The fact that the director didn't give a shit and ran the credits on top of the scene just gave more impact to the scene. 

(The assistant preventing the reporters to take photos was also a nice touch. It resonates with the prologue which the casino manager said 'he hates taking pictures'. I know, details.)

So the first scene establishes the mystery, second scene validates his identity, then straight into battling a Yakuza boss. 

I may be thinking about it too much. But take a look. Even if you disagree, take it as an absurd journey into HK classic film cinema. It's still better than modern HK cinema.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Pick of the week.

Maybe we can't attend the awesome lessons at the School of Life in London, but they've got their own books published now. I bought How to Stay Sane and How to Worry Less about Money and have finished the latter.

John Armstrong wrote a lot about 'flourishing' instead of 'happiness', as sometimes it is not necessarily a pleasant experience even though you're flourishing as a person. Money is essential to help us flourish.

Also, money worries is different from money trouble. It is easy to use the lack of money as an easy excuse for our worries. (We think our children will be unhappy without wealth, but what we're really worried about is their ability to take responsibility.)

Speaking about money, I'm also reading Peter Schiff's new book - The Real Crash: America's Coming Bankruptcy. Pretty scary stuff as I can see no way how the US of A can avoid a depression. Somehow they'll find an excuse to start a nuclear war I'm pretty sure.

Biggest news on design front has to be the rebrand (or the un-brand) of University of the Arts. Best design firm in the world + best client in the world = safest design ever is the common sensus. I personally think it's a typical case of 'death by client'.

Watched Mondovino last week. It is the wine version of Food Inc. (to be fair Food Inc came out much later). The documentary explores how Mondavi, the American wine empire is trying to unify and commercialised wine. On one hand they have the wine consultant Michel Rolland, who insists that great wine can be made anywhere simply by micro-oxygenating the barrels (disregarding the authority of the terrier), and on the other Robert Parker, the wine critic who breaks and makes a wine brand by his nose (which is insured by several millions). So Mondavi buys vineyards around the world, hires Rolland to brew the wine in a certain way which Parker endorses, and there you have the evil wine trifecta.

Stay tuned.

Monday, June 11, 2012


Before I talk about Beatrix, I have to explain omakase.
The word omakase means "up to you" to Japanese.
It's what sophisticated customers say to the chef when they sit in front of the sushi bar: an invitation to present what he thinks are the best ingredients of the day(and also to show off his skills).

Now, Beatrix is a tiny little cafe in North Melbourne.
Every Wednesday the owner uploads a picture of their weekly special on their facebook page, and that's it: one special ciabatta a day.
Sometimes it's Sydney Road, a ciabatta with pumpkin falafel. Other days it's Rocky, a prosciutto and ham inspired sandwich. Perhaps she's got a nice rack of lamb shoulder for the week, hence she made Sampson with a killer coleslaw. If you're lucky you get their own rendition of the Vietnamese Bahnmi - coconut infused chicken with shredded carrot and cucumber. My favourite is the Wanda - smoked ocean trout with steamed potato and roasted tomato with beans on olive mayo with egg. Actually, no, my favourite is Fryday - crumbed flathead with paprika served with almond skordalia. I went there 3 days out of 3 when it was offered.

Apparently their cakes are awesome too. I'm really not a cake person, but the first time I saw their lemon chiffon cake I had to order it because it took me back to my childhood. While researching for this post, I realized food bloggers actually rave more about their cakes than the ciabattas. I beg to differ for obvious reasons. 
I hate it when celebrity chefs are asked about their success, they say something like 'oh I just source the best quality ingredient I can find'. (It's like a photographer saying 'my secret is the most expensive camera') That's not what professional chefs do, that's what mothers do. It's total bullshit. But that, in a nutshell, is what Beatrix is all about.
It isn't exactly omakase, but the confidence is there. It is not easy to pull this off. You have one seating with the customers to make the impression that the quality is consistent. I enjoyed the chicken sandwich today, and I trust that the pulled pork sandwich tomorrow will be equally awesome. It's like going home to mum. You do not question the tender loving care she puts in your food. 

One time I found a hair in my sandwich, and I contemplated letting it slide.
Now that's brand loyalty.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Decanting is a word.

So, a young sales rep for a Japanese beer company found out that his famous wine-critic father has passed away. To gain his father's priceless collection of wine and inheritance, he has to compete against his adopted brother, a genius wine connoisseur by solving a 12-part puzzle.

Sounds like a crazy Japanese manga plot? Absolutely.

But this is also the one of the most influential wine books in Asia. 

In fact the writer-artist duo Shin and Yuko Kibayashi (same folks who brought you KindaIchi's case files and GetBackers) are placed number 50 in the 2009 "The Power List" ranking, being cited as "arguably the most influential wine publication for the past 20 years." Spend some time on Google and you can see why: TDoG influences up to 30% of wine sales in Japan, Korea, and China. 

At first glance, I am absolutely amazed by how knowledgeable(and loaded) the artists are, to be able to construct a plot simply around wine tasting. We follow the protagonist (wine beginner but gifted sense of smell due to his father's training since young) as he learns the basics through adventures such as reuniting long lost couples, settling a bet with his Italian-wine fanatic boss, helping a French chef deciding on the right Chablis to go with his oysters, and (my favourite so far)tracking an unknown wine for a woman to help her recover from amnesia. 

Up to a certain point, I begin to wonder if they were simply drinking LSD: taste becomes sensation, and sensation becomes memories, and suddenly the main characters are in Bali, a masquerade ball, food market in France, a Queens rock concert... you get the idea. 

With absurd plot lines comes absurd story building mechanism. 

And I don't agree with the Japanese stereotypes at all. For one the wines are heavily biased towards French. Not to mention all the wine experts are slim, tall, stylish, and white. (In real Japan, they're all English teachers.) Good guys are always poor with powerful friend; bad guy drinks alone in his giant mansion. The plot gets really tiring as well: there are only so many melodramatic way to pour wine. (Think Iron Chef but only limited to wine.)

Having said that, I cannot deny that the more I read the more I long for a glass of red wine. Perhaps this is the power of repetition. This is by far the most interesting way for me to learn about such a dry subject. Not to mention my respect to the Japanese manga market to allows this genre to exists in the first place. 

I'm reading the Chinese version. But volume 1 of the English version is out now. You can check out some samples here for more LSD actions.  I wonder if this would drive more sales in the Western world.