Chinese Chess

When I was little, I told myself that my father and our nation’s president were alike: both were always busy, and both were barely at home. It might seem cruel to liken my father to someone I’ve never met, but, the fact is, for years, the only real impression I had of him was a mixed smell of cigarettes and alcohol. I knew next to nothing about him, especially his job. All I knew was that he owed large sums of money, and I only knew this because, whenever he came home, he’d ask my mother for cash. This practice, coupled with his drinking, led to me viewing him as a kind of dragon, a creature whose lust for gold is matched only by his addiction to alcohol. This saddened me, but hardened me as well. I decided that I didn’t want to be the daughter I saw in films, forever struggling to pay back the money her father borrowed. I resolved to study hard, and become the best student in class.
This wasn’t always easy. It led to me holding myself to standards I couldn’t necessarily meet. One time, back in fifth grade, when I learned that I didn’t do so well on a midterm exam, I began to cry, and was still bawling by the time I got home. My father was there, but I ignored him. Normally he would accept my silence, but not this day . He came to me, put his thick, strong arm around my back, and asked,
“What’s wrong?”
I raised my head and looked at him, but said nothing. I didn’t want to share my sadness. The silence lasted for one minute, and then he said,
“Would you like to play Chinese chess with me?”
I was dumbfounded.
“No, I don’t know how to play.”
He squatted beside me, brushed away my tears, and in his deep voice, seasoned by years of tobacco and wine, explained to me the rules of the game. I looked into his eyes and, for the first time, found comfort in them. As I sat before my father, and watched him put the pieces into their positions, I couldn’t help but notice how fast and precise he was. He was like a factory worker installing wheels on cars. He pointed to the piece called “General”, raised his head and looked at me to make sure that I was listening, and said,

“The general is very important. This game represents a battle between two armies, and the only way to win is to capture your opponent’s General. On the other hand, you should also do everything you can to protect your own General.”
I listened attentively as he introduced the functions of the other pieces. After ten minutes he said
“Let’s start. You move first.”
I reached forward, but then hesitated. I thought he would give me some advice.
My father understood this expectation, and smiled at me.
“Have a try! Move whatever you want.”
I moved the pawn, then glanced over at him, trying to figure out if I made the right decision.
He rubbed my head and encouraged me with a gentle voice.
“Be brave, Yuan Yuan.”
His touch caused a stream of warmth to surge into my heart. I felt strength coursing through me, and I moved my pieces without fear. However, my General was easily captured. This frustrated me, and my frustration only grew as, one by one, the rest of my pieces were taken. I felt like a gambler losing his fortune one dollar at a time, but, even so, I persisted. Finally, after playing five times, he called a break. He raised his voice again.
“The first step is to be brave; but now you need to think more. Have you noticed any patterns in my moves?’
I thought for a while and said,
“Your moves are based on your prediction of my moves. For example, while I move the Cannon to capture your pawns, I fail to notice that your rock is aiming at me.” A Cannon for a pawn is just as bad as trading a queen for a pawn in Western chess. He was satisfied, nodded his head and smiled,
“Let’s continue.”
This time I learned the lesson and responded more tactically. Before I moved a piece, I would think ahead. What would I gain by doing this? What would I lose? What would I have to sacrifice? Both of us were so absorbed in the game that we didn’t notice the passage of time. When, at last, we did stop, afternoon had become midnight. Before we went to sleep, my father told me with pride that he always won in Chinese chess games when he was a student at school. Sitting on his lap, I lowered my head to nuzzle my father’s short beard and listened to him.
“Remember, the most efficient and common opening is to move the Cannon to the central column and then bring forward the knight from the flank to guard it….”
That was probably the closest I ever got to my father. After that, I always played Chinese chess in my leisure time. I guess I was hoping that, one day, we play together again. Unfortunately, that day never came. He was so busy with his company that he had virtually no time to spare. Certainly this hurt, but as time passed , I grew to appreciate my father more, and I learned that the childish impression I once had of him was totally wrong. He had started his own company from nothing and earned millions even before I was born. Due to his work, he failed to be with me and watch me grow up. However, when I was suffocated by heavy workloads in high school, when I wanted to escape from challenges, and when I needed to make hard decisions, I would think of the time we played Chinese chess together. Doing this helped me realize that my father had always been there for me, somewhere deep in my memory.

 

This story was written by Pansy Yue, and edited by Nathan Liu.

Remember Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

And I love to laugh. Seriously! There’s nothing that I love more in the whole wide world. I love the goofy little grin that spreads across my face when I chuckle. I love the pain that boils up in my abdomen when I’ve been laughing for too long. I love feeling happy, and I love making others feel happy too.

And yet, even I, a person who fully enjoys the lighter side of life, acknowledge that there are times when the laughter must stop, and serious issues must be addressed. One such issue is the Nanking Massacre, or Rape of Nanking, a tragedy that many of us here in the West either don’t know, or simply don’t care about.

For those of you who have never heard of it, the Nanking Massacre was a period of mass killing and systematic rape that took place over the course of six weeks in the winter of 1937. It began when the Imperial Japanese Army occupied what was then the capital of China, Nanking. The Chinese government and military had fled by the time the Japanese entered the city, and so, the Imperial soldiers, recognizing that there was absolutely no one to stop them, did whatever they pleased. This included, but was not limited to, decapitating dozens of unarmed civilians as part of a contest to see who could kill the most people at once, burying men, women and children alive, raping and executing girls as young as 8 and women as old as 70, and even forcing certain family members to commit incest with one another for the soldiers own amusement. What they did was not only morally reprehensible, it was also illegal, according to the Geneva Convention. What they did, to put it bluntly, was evil. And I think I speak for everyone when I say that evil, wherever and however it is done, must be punished.

And yet, this evil was not, and still has not, been punished. That is the great tragedy of this affair. To this day, the Japanese government has refused to apologize for the atrocity. No reparations have been paid to the survivors of the massacre. In fact, the current Mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto, has gone on record and stated that the sexual violence perpetrated by the Japanese soldiers was “necessary,” as it provided them with “rest.” And as if all this wasn’t outrageous enough, many Japanese schools have even omitted the event from their history courses, in the hopes that subsequent generations will never know it happened.

THIS OUTRAGE CANNOT CONTINUE! AWARENESS OF THE MASSACRE MUST BE RAISED! Imagine how furious you’d be if the German government tried to deny its Nazi past by claiming that the Holocaust had never happened, and refusing to pay reparations to survivors. DON’T BE HYPOCRITES! SHARE WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED HERE TODAY! DONATE TO “RAISE AWARENESS FOR NANKING MASSACRE” (the link is at the bottom of the page). These funds will go straight to the Nanking Massacre Memorial Museum, where they will be used to educate people about this great tragedy. DEMAND THAT THE TOPIC BE TAUGHT AT YOUR HIGH SCHOOL! WRITE TO THE REPRESENTATIVES OF THE JAPANESE EMBASSY! DO SOMETHING TO HONOR THE 300,000 WHO LOST THEIR LIVES, AND TO ALL THOSE WHO STILL LIVE WITHOUT CLOSURE!

http://www.gofundme.com/nanking

Wild Tales (Relatos Salvajes)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

And I really don’t know what to say about today’s picture. I mean, from a structural standpoint, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s cinematography is superb, it’s dialogue is all right, and it’s acting is certainly serviceable. On top of this, it’s made nearly ten times its $3 million budget, and it’s been praised by nearly every critic whose seen it. Hell, it was even nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars! And yet, despite all this, there’s still something deeply unsettling about Wild Tales, or as it’s known in the original Spanish, Relatos Salvajes.

For those of you who don’t know, this Argentine Black Comedy is an anthology of five unrelated stories, all of which center around the theme of revenge. Each of these vignettes is extremely violent, and each, as you might expect, is highly unpleasant. In one, for instance, a man’s car gets towed, and so, in order to get back at the towing company for forcing him to miss his daughter’s birthday, he blows up the building. In another, two men are driving on the road, one of them flips the other the bird, and then that man urinates and defecates on the first man’s car. And, well, it really only gets worse from there on in.

I suppose the intention with this film was to take regular situations that bother most people, and then blow them out of proportion for comedic effect, which, to be fair, does make sense on a certain level. If you’re audience can relate to the circumstances you’re presenting to them–if they’ve gotten angry at the tow truck company for taking their car, or any of the other scenarios explored in this film–they’re far more likely to react positively when you show your characters taking revenge on the people who have wronged them. But, I don’t know, I personally found these vignettes to be far too gruesome and mean-spirited, and not at all cathartic. I mean, it’s bad enough having to watch two guys get into an argument over a parking spot in real life. No one really wants, or needs, to see them kill each other for it on screen. That, in my opinion, is taking it too far, which, coincidentally, is pretty much what this entire film does–take things too far! It takes its anger too far. It takes its violence too far. It even, in some cases, takes its jokes too far–did we really need to see a guy shit and piss on another person’s automobile? I can understand why some people might be drawn to this type of film–it gives them an opportunity to live out the fantasies they have about getting back at certain people–but I personally found its bloodshed and crass humor to be far too exaggerated and extreme.

And that, loved ones, is why I think this film is worthy of a mere 6 out of 10. There’s nothing wrong with it from a pure filmmaking perspective, but, yeah, it’s far too unpleasant for me. If you’ve seen it, and disagree, please, let me know what you think in the comment section below.

Thanks, and have a nice day!

What Makes Or Breaks A Copycat Movie

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

 

Today I’d like to talk to you all about a little something called “Copycat Movies.” These are films that are released around the same time, and that have extremely similar plots and/or premises. Some examples of this kind of cinema would be Deep Impact and Armageddon–both came out in 1998 , and were about giant asteroids smashing into the Earth–Babe and Gordy–both came out in 1995, and told the stories of talking pigs–and most recently, White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen–both were released in 2013, and explored what would happen if a group of terrorist took over the White House.

 

Now, in nearly every instance of copycat films, one picture ends up being more critically and/or financially successful than the other. With Babe and Gordy, for instance, one ended up taking home an Oscar and spawning a sequel, while the other, after flopping with critics and bombing at the box office, was quickly forgotten by the movie-going community. (Gee, I wonder which one was which). Anyway, since these copycat films are virtually identical, I can’t help but ask why one always does better than the other. To find out, I’ve decided to compare two of them–White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen.

 

As I stated earlier, both these films deal with the White House getting taken over by terrorists. Both are violent, and both are far from what you might call sophisticated or profound. Even so, both movies were very financially successful at the time of their release, with Olympus Has Fallen even getting a sequel, London Has Fallen, which will come out this October. However, as with every instance of copycat cinema, one of these films did end up doing better with critics and audiences. Which one, you ask? Well, with Olympus Has Fallen getting a sequel and all, you might be tempted to think that that was the more successful of the two. In reality, White House Down made more money and did slightly better with critics. Whereas Olympus Has Fallen only grossed $161 million when it came out, White House Down grossed over $200 million. Similarly, while Olympus Has Fallen got mixed to negative reviews from critics, currently holding a mere 48% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, White House Down just got mixed reviews, with its current approval rating standing at 51%. Why, though? What accounts for one brainless action flicks slightly higher level of success?

 

Well, part of it could have to do with audience expectation. See, when filmmakers reach a certain level of success, they start branding products with their names. The hope is that, in so doing, they’ll bring in an already-established audience, and thus make at least a minimum amount of money. In many cases, this actually works. Phrases like “a film by Martin Scorsese” or “from Steven Spielberg” almost always get throngs of people into theaters. In other cases, as with the notorious M Night Shyamalan, a director’s name can actually work against a movie. Either way, when a filmmaker’s been around for long enough, people come to know what to expect from him or her, and they thus respond accordingly. It’s perfectly possible that this had something to do with White House Down’s slightly higher level of success than Olympus Has Fallen. The directors of both these films–Roland Emmerich and Antoine Fuqua–have been working in the entertainment industry for a long time now, and both have very loyal fan bases. However, the director of White House Down, Roland Emmerich, tends, overall, to make movies that are slightly more appealing to the general public. Why, you ask, are they more appealing? Well, for starters, they’re a lot of fun. Emmerich is known for making these very grand, very spectacular disaster films, like Independence Day, 2012, and The Day After Tomorrow. These movies are never profound, or critically acclaimed, but they are highly enjoyable. They’ve got some great explosions, and some genuinely funny moments in them. Lines like “Welcome to Earth,” and “Hello boys! I’m back!” from Independence Day are just a few of the iconic moments he’s helped bring to the big screen. In addition to this, Emmerich is very much an advocate for a lot of good causes in his movies. He’s openly gay, and he tends to include gay characters in his films. He’s a former smoker who wants to discourage people from acquiring the habit, and oftentimes in his movies he shows individuals trying to quit. In addition to this, he’s also someone hugely invested in spreading the word about Climate Change, and his film The Day After Tomorrow is literally all about that. In short, he makes fun movies, but fun movies that aren’t offensive, and that have some good messages in them. Basically, his name is a brand that audiences can trust. This is as opposed to Antoine Fuqua, director of Olympus Has Fallen. His name carries a slightly different connotation. See, Fuqua is famous for making the crime-thriller Training Day, and, well, nothing else. Yes, he’s directed other films–The Equalizer, Brooklyn’s Finest, King Arthur–but they were all either critically panned or didn’t make much money. So, when the tagline for your movie is “from a guy who made one good thing 15 years ago, and nothing good since,” it’s not exactly like you’re going to draw throngs of people into the theaters. On top of this, anyone who’s seen Fuqua’s films knows that they tend to be EXTREMELY violent. And not in an over-the-top, cartoonish, Quentin Tarantino-type way. Oh no! His movies are violent in a very gritty, very visceral sense. In his latest film,The Equalizer, for instance, there’s one sequence towards the end where the main character lures a group of Russian gangsters to a Home Depot and then, one by one, dismembers and disembowels them using all the tools at his disposal. Yikes! I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like the type of thing I’d want to go see on a first date. But, alas, I’m getting sidetracked. My point here is that, if you’re a filmmaker whose got a reputation like Antoine Fuqua, and you brand a picture with your name, you can’t really expect to get that many people into theaters to see it. And perhaps this is what caused Fuqua’s movie, Olympus Has Fallen, to do slightly worse than its doppelgänger, White House Down.

 

Another factor that could have contributed to White House Down‘s slightly higher level of success is the cast. There are plenty of movies out there that were really only successful because they had hot stars in them, and I believe that this is what happened with these two films. White House Down had two A-list actors in it–Channing Tatum and Jamie Foxx–and Olympus Has Fallen had Gerard Butler. Yeah. Enough Said. Now, don’t get me wrong, Gerard Butler has been in good films–300, How To Train Your Dragon–but these movies are more the exception than the rule of his career. Most of his other projects–Movie 43, The Bounty Hunter, Machine Gun Preacher–have either tanked at the box office or been panned by critics. Foxx and Tatum, by contrast, have had several recent hits–Django Unchained and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 for Foxx, and Foxcatcher, 21 Jump Street, and Magic Mike for Tatum. Basically, audiences have come to expect a slightly higher level of quality from these men’s films, and, thus, they tend to go see them more often. The fact that White House Down had both of them together could, very well, have been part of the reason why the movie was so successful.

 

But perhaps the greatest reason why White House Down did better than Olympus Has Fallen is the way it told its story. As I stated earlier, both these films deal with the White House getting taken over by terrorists. However, the tone, themes and execution of these two movies could not be more dissimilar. Olympus Has Fallen is basically just a Die Hard movie. A group of North Korean terrorists take the building by force, and then Gerard Butler, a former secret service agent, kills them off–one by one–and saves the President. It’s very violent, and very jingoistic. For those of you who don’t know what that last term means, jingoism refers to a kind of extreme patriotism that takes the form of aggressive foreign policy. Jingoism advocates the use of force, or the threat thereof, to protect what a country perceives to be its national interests. Basically, it’s the perfect way to describe the climate in the US immediately following 9/11. This, of course, is a somewhat controversial stance to take in your movie these days. After all, the Cold War is over, and the fear of terrorism is considerably less than what it was in the early 2000s. Nowadays, most Americans don’t want to see a movie that paints the rest of the world as evil and dangerous, and makes them look like absolute angels. Movies that do this–American Sniper, Red Dawn–are oftentimes written off as little more than Fascist propaganda. And in many cases, the fact that the villains in these films are usually ethnically or racially different from the White heroes elicits accusations of xenophobia and racism. So, yeah, when you make a right-wing, pro-American action movie like Olympus Has Fallen, you’re bound to turn some people away. If, on the other hand, you make a more light-hearted buddy action comedy that’s critical of American militarism, like White House Down, you might stand a chance of winning over audiences. See, whereas Olympus Has Fallen is about a single, brave American man killing off a horde of foreigners to save the president, White House Down tells the story of the Commander in Chief (Jame Foxx) teaming up with a wannabe secret service agent (Channing Tatum) to take down the former head of the Presidential detail (James Woods) who’s gone rogue. Both of the heroes are rather bumbling, so there’s a lot more room for humor in this film, and the villain is an American who wants to launch a nuclear strike against Iran, so there’s also space for a critical look at American xenophobia and militarism as well. Basically, this movie’s tone, characters, and humor are more approachable to the general public, and this is likely why it did better than its mirror image, Olympus Has Fallen.

 

So, just to recap, audience expectation, cast, and most importantly, the manner in which it told its story, are three possible reasons why White House Down did better than its carbon copy, Olympus Has Fallen, and could also account for why, in nearly every instance of copycat cinema, one film does better than the other. These are, of course, not the only factors that can play a part in the success of such pictures, and if you all would like to point them out to me, or disagree with the claims I’ve made here, by all means, do so! I’d love to hear them!

 

I hope you all are enjoying your summers, and have a great day!

 

 

Mad Max: Fury Road

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

Today I’d like to talk to you about Mad Max: Fury Road, or as it should be known, “car crashes and explosions in the desert.” Oh yes! This dystopian action flick is very, very…loud. And not just in terms of noise. Sure, there are plenty of exploding vehicles, shouting extras, and revving engines to burst your ear drums, but the costumes, sets, and extreme action sequences will also do a good job of knocking out the rest of your senses. There is absolutely nothing subtle about this picture. Everything–from the countless extras slathered in body paint, to the cars and trucks covered with spikes and skulls, to the sets that look like the love-child of TIm Burton and HR Giger–is over the top. The only exception to this might be the acting, which, in spite of everything else, is surprisingly subdued. Basically, if you were to make a movie out of the word “exaggerated,” you’d probably get something that looks like Mad Max: Fury Road.

Now, does this mean that Mad Max is a bad film? Not necessarily. Yes, it offers nothing in the way of plot or character–the protagonist, Max, has a total of five lines, and the story, if you can call it that, boils down to a group of concubines trying to escape an evil overlord. But it’s not offensive, and by god, its visuals are truly something to behold. The stunt work, the action sequences, and the stylized sets are nothing short of magnificent. If you can imagine what the Transformers movies would be like if they didn’t have so many crass jokes, racist stereotypes, and gratuitous shots of women’s bodies, then you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect with this film. It’s silly, but not stupid. It’s completely brainless, but it doesn’t insult your intelligence. It’s a throwback to the early days of filmmaking, when directors like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg could blow our minds with great, ostentatious spectacles. It’s a wild ride, and one that even I, a person fully aware of it’s weak narrative and characters, was able to enjoy.

And that, loved ones, is why I have decided to give Mad Max: Fury Road a 7 out of 10. By no means perfect, this movie is a great summer blockbuster, and a sure-fire way to get the adrenalin pumping. Don’t hesitate to give it a look.

Newsflash: Adding New Page To Blog!

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

And Happy Summer To You All!

Those of you who follow me know by now that my all-time goal is to work as a screenwriter, and that if one wishes to improve one’s screenwriting abilities, one must read and study the works of others. To this end, I have decided to add a new page to my blog, wherein I shall only review screenplays. They will be from every genre, every decade, and every country. And unlike my film reviews and analyses, where I’m the one who decides what gets written about, the works I cover here will be reviewed on a strictly fan request basis. That’s right! Whatever script you all would like me to read, I’ll read, and let you know what I think of it.

So, friends, fans, fellow writers, don’t hesitate! Leave a reply, and I’ll get right to it!