‘Pushing hands’ refers to an exercise in tai chi chuan, where lightly touching each other, two practitioners learn to yield to and redirect a shared flow of energy. Standardized by the Chinese government in the form of sports tournaments, ‘pushing hands’ is neither sport nor martial art, more reasonably it can be said to be the building block of tai chi chuan, in essence a Chinese form of boxing that uses Taoist principles of inter-connected balance of opposites, soft beats hard, emptiness in form.
Nearly impossible to make sense of it in film, as is meditation and other internal Eastern arts, because simply showing it, or worse in the light of mystical ability, obscures what it really is about. Ang Lee however tries in his first film, with mixed results.
Modeled to the story of an aging tai chi master who comes to America to stay with his son’s family, there is what you’d expect from such a film; contrasts between two opposite ways of life, tradition versus modernity, love versus duty.
All that is pretty ordinary, and some obvious drama and questionable acting brings it further down. To be fair, for a low-budget student film, Lee shows considerable talent with a camera. All told, I’d rather celebrate his success story than Tarantino’s. But let’s see something more interesting from the Chinese perspective.
The overall point, is finding a still spot in imbalanced life that is constantly in motion, this is the old master’s quest for a home and new life in a new country, somewhere to grow roots. This is the tao of balancing in the flow.
Life back in China isn’t presented as ideal, we find that the old man has been persecuted all his life, and that his taichi and calligraphy is the still spot he cultivates, his center in a moving universe of suffering. See how a phone ringing startles him from meditation, that is life that goes on.
In line with tai chi principles, all this means ‘hard’ in several moments of real life conflict, versus ‘soft’ in inwards reflection. There is a love interest in Mrs. Chen (soft, as feminine yin to his yang) who’s in a similar situation as the old man, and much gentle pushing and yielding to be close to her.
So how beautiful, if we could have the film as cinematic ‘pushing hands’ between lonely souls? And carry the flow from heavy drama to soft inner life, to what these people do to cool and express their ardor, she in her cooking, he in his calligraphy. Kar Wai makes it work, not quite so here.
Why is that? There’s a scene of the old man watching videotapes of old Chinese kung fu movies, ridiculous from his perspective. The film is meant to offer next to other things a realistic depiction of his arts, fighting or otherwise, tied to realistic human connection as both soft.
But there are scenes like with the fat boy or in the restaurant, that in the end are as ridiculous as in those movies, suddenly jerking us to fiction, obscuring what is vital in his art; and mirroring that, there’s a sense of inflated drama in emotional moments. But Lee is too talented for us to be able to easily discard the whole work.
The Western perspective, introduced later in the film by the son, is that his father’s internal arts may be his way of shutting off the outside world, keeping from being touched perhaps related to the tragic loss of his wife. All through the film, we see that he likes Mrs. Chen but is reluctant to be close to her.
Now watch again the last scene where he teaches tai chi in the Chinese community center, now the ‘hero of Chinatown’. Watch how we first see him doing the motions, and then with a soft flow of the camera materializes behind him as though out of thin air, an entire class of students. And who enters as if by chance? Mrs. Chen.
Now ‘soft’ is what we see of his heart, ‘hard’ what we imagine as taking place in his head.
See how lightly the real and unreal touch, how smooth the parallel flow.
So you can afford to miss the rest but not this last moment, it’s expertly done and too delicious to ignore.
This is meant to offer a soft contrast as flow, between external life with people (family members gathered for Thanksgiving) anxiously pulled in disparate orbits, and the inner life of unfathomable urges and emotion that gives rise to the first—appearances versus true self, rooted in relationships and attempting connection.
Set in 1970’s America with Nixon lying on TV, the broader commentary is that the world is organized on deceit, misplaced faith. There is contextual talk of people as intertwined molecules, of inner life as inverted space where the invisible becomes visible.
So here’s the cinematic gambit, how to make visible a part of that inner life? It’s what every filmmaker worth anything has puzzled about in his work, in-sight into human soul, no small challenge for Lee, though the film may otherwise seem typical.
There are three connected story lines to that effect, each one culminating in a ritual of seduction as betrayal. Each storyline, climaxes with a loved one drifting out of consciousness in some way (drunk husband, Libbets, the son).
This only emphasizes what we’ve been seeing for the whole film, people drifting apart heedless of one another. It all plays in the latter stages against the backdrop of a coming ice storm, it can’t be helped, there’s some inevitable unhappiness ahead of us.
The overall point? In each case, as loved ones momentarily or not go out of life, those left behind are suddenly surrounded with that negative space of absence, and in that space pour their inner self and effect human connection.
It may all seem a little cloying in the finale. But the best part is getting there, the protracted sequence with cross-cutting between the three stories of betrayed seduction. So how to make visible what in life eludes us, the fabric of feelings as cinematic fabric?
This was very likely Lee’s interest in the project, as well as more broadly the idea of dislocation.
I was happy to see a cinematic solution that was nowhere in multithreaded films like Crash or Cloud Atlas. The idea seems to be, show each new scene from a point on, as extension, as in-sight or meditation on previous ones, as though a single soul is dreaming.
So this is nice. The film is the empty space, as we think dull, day-to- day life to be. The characters as molecules drifting in the air, often apart. The loss of consciousness not simply as loss, but as meaningful awakening to that empty space where we, as molecules, do not aimlessly drift, but by virtue of being there, hold each other into place giving shape to life.
Lee as usual has compromised, enough to deliver a movie with some broad appeal. The overall wrap is a bit too fabricated for my taste. But see how gentle are the contrasts between hard sorrow and soft inner life, where the very similar Melancholia eats at you, this soothes. It’s all here natural to Lee, who as a Chinese knows this stuff in meditation and tai chi.
Unrequited passions, haunted minds.. Bronte’s story is stark, stark, stsark.
Famously, this portrays for the first time the whole of the story in the book, it is captivating and moves fast, and Fiennes deserves superlatives as the diabolical Heathcliff, menacing but with the eyes of a wounded animal.
I would overall do this a bit different. I would have more of nature and the weather. I would make more of the abrupt advances in the story, like Heathcliff’s mysterious reinvention as a man of means, the spying into the Lindon home and dog accident that changes Cathy, the mirrored deaths, the identity of the returning son.
But in spite of some novelistic dialogue, the film gets the main portion right. That is the love story with love that was not consummated, not allowed to because they were from different worlds, because even though they connect in a deep way, the rules of the game say otherwise. Different times, but you can assume that it used to be so at Bronte’s time, as it was later in Tolstoy’s.
So they part, but they have grown roots so deep in each other, they cannot be parted, and distance only tears at them, distorts who they are, the distortion as memory. In the prisonworld Heathcliff creates in the end as punishing demigod of sorts, without which the story is incomplete, we can see the stark reflection of both the broader unjust world responsible for Heathcliff, and his private hell of vengeful recurring thoughts, both that stifle the soul.
All that is good enough in the film.
We get to puzzle about the name of Heathcliffe’s adopted son being inscribed in a stone epigraph, on the door of a manor that was built centuries ago. I love Bronte for just this small detail.
What hasn’t been very satisfactorily preserved, is how we arrive at the story. The character who it is being narrated to, arrives at the manor, pores over books and images of Catherine, is captivated enough to dream of her, which leads to the housemaid’s narration of the events. Instead of a dream, the visitor here sees Catherine’s ghost, which sets a supernatural tone that is too obvious.
Too obvious because though even Bronte suggested ghosts, her main narrative gambit was layered dreaming, the notion that the hidden life of images and urges shapes the narrator’s choosing of the story he tells about himself and things, some of which we externalize as destiny or demons, which is what we all do each time we remember, we dream of a story around a fictitious self.
The story is riveting. Chief Whip of the Conservative Party gets the short stick in the new government (it is the first elections after a decode of Thatcher), and so resolves to destroy his Prime Minister and elect himself in the position. The acting is top notch. Ian Richardson as Francis Urquhart whips up a frenzy of Shakespearian machination: Iago in the scenes where he advises the PM, Macbeth at home with his conspiring wife, Richard III in the halls and secret meetings.
It is overall a joy to watch.
So, I would recommend it without reservation to anyone interested in a great piece of narrative. The satire is sharp, even though the plot is sometimes too convenient to really buy. But I have to qualify this with a personal observation; I am interested, above all, in films that set aside contemplative space for the viewer. Film is the ideal medium, because the camera can sketch that empty space in the gaps of story, whereas theatre has to rely on the spoken word to sculpt images, at least the British tradition inherited from Shakespeare.
And that is what we have here, great theatre that just happened to be filmed.
Imagine this: the same story (as a primary text, it is superb), but the narrator is truly untrustworthy and fabricates Nabokov-like parts or all of the environment. In the film, Urquhart as the narrator manipulates everything except our gaze.
So we go from one malicious ploy to the next, Urquhart confides in the camera in the first person, winks, hums, invents, seduces, a wry devil, but none of it is abstract enough to allow us to lose control of reality and co-conspire in the fabrication of missing bits.
In this mode, we (the viewer) would be Urquhart’s nemesis in the hunt for power over the story, a role which in the film is set aside for the young journalist—Urquhart’s Lolita Haze. My guess is the writer wanted to write this in the Nabokov vein, but missed the main stratagem.
I salivate at the opportunities. In the meantime, you will see this and write one of the best movies ever.
Apparently, the same male crowd who openly cheers as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid rob trains and banks, repeatedly dodge the law, and go out in a final blaze of heroic movie glory, have somehow taken umbrage at this as feminist propaganda. We really are a bunch of blowhards sometimes.
Yes, some scenes are corny as hell. Yes, the stereotypes do not flatter anyone, or the sometimes juvenile jaded air.
On the other hand, this is fun. It is Scott’s best directed after Alien. You will know it as about two human beings who in their desperate, goofy, misguided journey to ‘awakening’, create their own wish-fulfilling space, the draught of desert air that takes them over the edge.
Scott has taken measures to ensure we do not read the film as taking place in the wounded imagination of Louise (the photograph glimpsed before the plunge), but we know better.
I like to think of this as helter skelter a mix of things happening and subjective impressions of a gonzo narrator. Note to that effect, the two most widely used cameras on the journey, bird’s eye horizon and mounted on the hood of the car.
Film noir bent through the angry desert mirage of Alfredo Garcia/Vanishing Point. Good stuff.
I think I am well versed in Buddhism to say that, contrary to the majority opinion, this is a superficial smattering of a wonderful practice. I don’t know whose fault it is, certainly Scorsese’s though he is an outsider so that is sort of to be expected. I suspect the Dalai Lama’s circle were fine with a superficially romantic portrayal, so long as it generates awareness for their just cause.
Why do I say this?
The main narrative device that gives this any sort of shape (otherwise it is one long picture-pretty rambling), is the DL meditating in exile, possibly at that balcony at the Indian border, possibly at a much later time. This would be in line with the recurring motifs of prescient visions and the spyglass (looking from a distance) which is first introduced right after the screening of a silent film (the association is with memory, illusions and time gone - all things to purify the mind from in meditation).
This would somewhat excuse the fragmentary nature of the narrative and quaint focus of it on young boy versus evil empire of millions, since it was all experienced from his end. Somewhat. It is still absolutely tepid as a historic film if we switch to the ‘objective’ pov. Now, this last segment of the crossing to India is accompanied by the one powerful visual meditation in the film, it is not mentioned but what you see is the Kalachakra initiation with the Great Sand Mandala being constructed and brushed away, a powerful and sacred occasion.
Get it? This is it, this one moment. The DL is heartbroken and his courage waning, and lost in meditation, he finds peace in reminding himself of the transience of all things, which is what the ritual represents and a core Buddhist precept, the cosmos being washed away back into river-sand. The entire rest of the film is a pageant; oracles hiss, rituals go on, dances, ornate ceremonies, hushed whispers of banality.
Scorsese mistakes here the theater of appearances (the religion) for the essence. He films the ritual as the thing-in-itself, as spectacle, instead of as the space that allows you to cultivate a compassionate mind.
The postcard instead of the real spiritual landscape.
How rich this would be if, for instance, we had contrasts between flows of remembered ordinary life and abstractions in three- and twodimensional space in the dances and mandala, and all of that understood as one image -empty- brushed away as the mind heals itself. I am in awe of the possibilities!
No dice. Scorsese films operatic platitudes.
Skip this folks. Go straight for Why Did Bodhidharma Left for the East? or even Herzog’s Buddhist doc, which he also filmed around the Kalachakra. Blowup, if you want deep essaying on the roots of suffering.
I admit I like this quite a bit, having seen it four times now. I think to get into this, it helps to have some appreciation for dissonance, for music not quite melodious. Cogs in a machine that you are not quite sure what they do. This one works, just not every part in congruity with the others - that would be Cameron’s way of doing things, this is closer to the original despite the radical shift in tone.
This was first and foremost intended as a parody in the operatic manner, an exaggerated cartoon, you can see that in the opening scene (special edition) with the bug being spat out on a windshield. It is very clearly a staged product, any allusions to organic development long gone. Ripley is manufactured for the purposes of the mission, the opening shot in essence is of her character being unveiled as the protagonist of this operatic show. The aliens are constructed from her. The situation where they will breed is similarly staged, victims carted in.
Someone like say Verhoeven could pull this off clean through, Starship Troopers-style, gleeful, sardonic, tongue-in-cheek from beginning to end. The dissonance here is between writer, filmmaker, and lead actor, each one pulling in a different direction.
Whedon wrote a black comedy of sorts. He satirizes action heroics, masculinity, leadership (Perez and Vriess are the first to go), the military is not only inept (compared to Cameron’s marines), but basically involved in shady , unethical business. He wrote what he thought would be a few memorable one-liners, to be delivered with a wink to the audience. The first part until roughly the alien breakout is closer to his idea of the film.
Enter Jeunet. He wants to do the best blockbuster money can buy, a new gamble this, the most exciting and intense firecracker toy, one of those ‘big’ Hollywood films that we all enthused about as teenagers and you’d have to be a joyless macaroon to say no to. He has studied a lot of Spielberg and Cameron and, daresay, meets them in equal terms. He bends Whedon’s vision to his, and because he hardly spoke any English at the time, he directs actors in a perfunctory manner - some of them areonboard with Whedon’s idea, others not.
And you have, quite apart from the other two, Sigourney Weaver who always felt an emotional attachment to Ripley, and who is by this point as much a shaping force as everyone else. Amidst competing visions, she insists on a heavy emotional center, which just so happens (as it did in Aliens) to emphasize a damaged personality, nightmares, schizoid tensions between motherhood and her more conventional action/hero role.
So, when this spins, it spins in three directions at once. I think it is a great joy to be able as a viewer to accommodate all three visions, you will have a helluva time I guarantee. It is never boring. It has vision, crucially damaged. It aims to both please and unsettle.
You will never more clearly see this rip-roaring dissonance in the Newborn being sucked out through a tiny aperture, sent out guts flying into space.
The scene is at once meant to be hilarious, gruesome, and, as you shift to Ripley’s point-of-view, emotionally devastating. The scene is so appalling because it IS those three things at once, and they are simply not emotions that as humans we can easily juggle.
Jeunet was brilliantly inspired in moving the aliens underwater, this scene was a long time coming.
Taijichuan (more commonly known as tai chi) is a wonderful thing, I try to practice most mornings. I count myself fortunate that I was exposed to it through my experience with meditation, because deep down it is the same means of absorption. It can be a viable fighting art, though if your ass is on the line and you need quick fighting skills, you better join your nearest boxing or muay thai school.
Taiji takes a long time to master, it’s something you do for life, something you cultivate. It is not about drawing beautiful forms as you see in images of elderly people practicing in parks, though that is the version promoted by Chinese officials. Its essence is meditation in form, it is actually embodying stillness in motion, transience in yielding to force and moving with it, core Buddhist principles those.
This film about it is a superb introduction. I’m not talking strictly about the story or the fighting itself, though the story is rousing and Jet Li is an artist at what he does. The story is of how the Shaolin monk Shanfeng according to legend came to originate taiji. When you see this, it helps to know that Sanfeng was most likely a fictional person invented for political reasons. And some of the wire-work is noticeably obvious, which only abets the air of artistic license and fictional disguise.
No matter. In fact, I think a lot of the appeal of this is the contrast between superficial fabrications and deep truths, the contrast being strangely affirmative because both are modeled in the same way. It flows, hard to soft and back again.
‘Hard’ - young Shanfeng adhering to the teachings and being pure of heart doesn’t cut it, his friend -turned rival- beats him, loved ones perish. The world is cruel, you don’t meet force with force.
‘Soft’ - sudden enlightenment in the mountains, madness and gibberish as meditation, coupled with a series of visual meditation in the exercise doll centered low, spinning ball and transference by wave, all of which are also keen in-sights into taiji structure.
And ‘hard’ again in the rousing finale where he defeats hordes of opponents - nevermind the far-fetched fiction, look for the noticeable transition in Jet Li from previous kung fu into now fluid motions, circular evasion and low stances.
It works much better for me than Once Upon in China or the later Crouching Tiger, where again you will see Michelle Yeoh and a lot of taiji. The outer circle is what each of the two Shaolin boys chooses as his personal fate expressed through the action plot, and this is decided by the inner ‘small’ circle of cultivating the mind, and the change reflected in the change of dance in the movements of the body. Nice.
I think this is both troubling as a film and revealing of Chinese character. As a standalone, it is I suppose fairly enjoyable, the cinematography is nice, the story long but intimate in spots, the fights some of them amazing. But, this is not just a standalone, it has a rich context - the protagonist is a popular folk hero, the times of foreign oppression and inept administration it depicts were real and left punishing scars in the Chinese soul.
Something else bothers though. As a student of the Chinese model, I encounter this elsewhere, I believe it does a lot of bad, and turns away as many people as it brings in. What they Chinese do usually has both hard and soft aspects, Confucius and Tao would be on opposite ends of this, kung fu and meditation. When Western people are exposed to it, say with a film like this, unwittingly we register it as one picture. It endears, it’s a scented romance.
What isn’t so easy to appreciate though is that to get that single harmonious picture the Chinese obsessively flatten their multifaceted experience, this is evident in the continuous reinvention, passionately undertaken, of both their political and martial arts narratives, and of course their penchant for opera. Naturally, corners have to be cut in the name of a tidy narrative.
And this carries over in (cinematically) packaging these things in ways that eliminate subtler levels in what they do. Because the harmonizing effort is forcible, it can’t help but take out of these things their soft wind, which is their real power in both the Taoist and creative sense. If you accept as I do that wisdom is tolerance and capacity for cognitive dissonance, this artificial harmony wherever encountered dumbs us down.
In the film, you have the good sifu vs evil sifu, the good-natured but bumbling disciples, the evil street gang, the cruel army bureaucrat and foreign officials - all of them ‘hard’ stereotypes from the Boxer era, acted in a hard (external) manner.
And it is not enough to have evolved some pretty complex martial arts, they have to be presented as quasi-magical powers. This makes for outwardly impressive choreography, but it’s a short-term effect - the law of diminishing returns makes sure.
These are not as unconnected as it may seem, boxing and characterization. You box the way you are inside, this is simple enough, there isn’t a more clear explication of karma (karma meaning ‘action’). I believe the point at some stage was to contrast soft ‘chi’ based awareness in the Jet Li character with hard ‘iron body’ kung fu in the rival master as the difference in karmas they set in motion. This has been jettisoned in favor of more or less the same kung fu.
Because there isn’t any contrast with cultivating internal dimensions, Li’s character comes across as simply a pillar of stoic grace - the ‘hard’ stereotype of the kind sage, a really troubling character, troubling because you can tell this is the reinvented version of myth.
So hard politics, hard acting (mirrored in the opera stage and two ‘fake’ actors), hard martial arts in the service of mythmaking. Is there anything soft here? The woman. She has come back from the West, straddles both worlds. She has come back with a camera, which she uses to snap pictures.
Her eye is ‘soft’, stills motion, caresses the shadow of the one she loves. Too bad they didn’t make more room for this, using it to cultivate dissonance, reflection, innate capacities for clarity and beauty.
The music is marvellous though. And the camera glides as though on wires of its own.
This was a childhood favorite. But revisiting now, oh boy. Here’s a quick film school:
In the late 70’s, two young guys on different sides of the pond are so awestruck by Star Wars, they decide they want to be a part of movie-making. One quits his day-job as a truck-driver and drifts to Roger Corman’s factory, at the time busy reassembling Star Wars clones. The other enrolls in a Munich film school. Several years later, they both debut the same year with sci-fi films. One guy churns out a glorified film student thesis that is by all admission clunky and daft, the other guy comes out with the fully-formed vision of The Terminator.
So why the world of difference? Why such divergent paths that Emmerich ends in the position of debuting in the American market with a Terminator knockoff?
The script is not significantly better or worse than Cameron’s Terminator, both are simple rehashes. The budget could not have been significantly different. He’s got about the same marquee value as Cameron did then.
Simple. Before Cameron could be in charge of vision, he had done an awesome lot of grunt work in Corman’s assembly line. He had puzzled about the mechanics of spare parts. By the time he debuts with The Terminator, he knows it’s the effective (not necessarily clever) deployment of machinery to build a world what carries the viewer into a story, everything else including the story being incidental cogs. That was even more clearly sketched in his Aliens: get in there and get the job done.
Emmerich thinks in terms of concept, he probably had it drilled into his head in his film school years that you build from a story-idea. He simply seems to consider a coherent world something that happens by itself, because you write a story and add effects, instead of something you weave BEFORE the main effects.
Like the second Terminator, you have a contemporary world and governing laws, a TV crew freely reports on terrorism, there is conventional police, etc, but genetic technology from the future. You have human-machine and evil machine. The problem is it doesn’t jive at all.
Here’s a possible clue why. In Aliens, the portrayal of special ops as rowdy and unstable couldn’t be further from the truth, nevertheless it registered as cartoon reality: Vietnam in the future.
This one starts from a similar background in Vietnam and unhinged soldiering, and goes on to portray ‘modern’ troops as mindless , conditioned droids. Those were the Gulf War years, with public military support at an all time high after decades. Subversive? No, because it is stressed the Pentagon has no knowledge of the super-secret military program, but more pertinently: the unreality of even the ‘real’ Vietnam scenes whitewashes the possibility for metaphor.
You end up with technology of a hypothetical cost in the hundreds of billions at the hands of an obsessed colonel. The driven journalist simply walks in the secret military complex. And on the other hand you have these ersatz ruminations on being human. Daft.
It’s not because it’s not subversive, Aliens isn’t; it’s the nagging notion it has been tampered with, tampered to not be offensive. You know you are watching only the parts a committee thought comfortable for you to watch. You know there is more to it than what’s on the screen; a more complex world.
And as self-effacing parody, Van Damme and Lundgren simply cannot pull it off (which is why they never became the next Arnie). They’re both squares.
No, no, no. This is loud and dumb, but you can probably tell as much by the filmmaker involved. My objection is for the fact that David Peoples (a talented man) penned the script, and worse, actually came out to say this takes place in the same world as Bladerunner, this formulaic sci-fi about a ruthless army machine that tramples innocence. And I saw this after a night of deep and scary immersion in the original Alien world which in several Dune-related ways led to Bladerunner, and that dystopian future convinced as something used by people and with its own organic damage.
This is plain goofy, the entire logic behind it.
And I have to wonder about Kurt Russell, who apparently brought real commitment to this role - probably trusting that Peoples had written something that would merit the months of rigorous exercise. His character is the age-old ‘silent badass’, but PW Anderson can muster none of the wonderful self-awareness of Carpenter’s two Escape films that would make this character stand out as the product of the most sincere fiction.
Everything about him in this world of planet-dumps and genetically-engineered super-soldiers is so self-serious, you will probably howl with laughter.
It ends with him holding a child and pointing out to a galaxy far, far away. Simply no. Stick with Escape to LA, ridiculous and knows it. Even Judge Dredd will do.
Trinh T. Minh-ha is a Vietnamese-born filmmaker, writer, and theorist. I am introducing her here for my own benefit. She has done among other things extensive study in music and ethnology and is currently a professor of women’s studies at Berkeley. Her primary interests seem to be in the fields of feminism, ethnosociology and the shaping of cultural narrative, as well as probing into matters of presentation and cinematic discourse. She has filmed sparsely through the years and this is the first I see.
I come to it, because it is about China from the premise of storytelling and in particular layered narrative. And together with Chinese influence in Japan, this Eastern model is right now the most challenging and erudite we have and one I have been trying to understand. There is still a lot to be gleaned, even more that has been obfuscated by sloppy interpretation (by way of Western analogies) that has to be set straight.
My advice is that in everything you encounter, every person, you have to appreciate even morsels of something meaningful. Everything has potential to enlighten, but there is simply no time in one life to waste passion in knowing mere corners of a hundred things. You have to discover and nourish your own center. And why report out of intellectual - touristy - obligation on what she has to say about gender and national politics, when I am simply not, and could never be, in the position to deeply and passionately engage her on the subject.
And when we both share other passions. My own is with Chinese and Chinese-Buddhist narrative, what I see as a unique confluence that goes back centuries: you had deep - philosophical - curiosity to know the world, but instead of dryly filling tomes about it as ‘thinkers’ did in the West, you had compact , layered expression in form.
And that is why a centuries-old model deserves to be studied. It was not abstract wisdom, but something you may cultivate in life, closer to applied science than Western understanding of religion. At its heart it was meditation, meditation without the cloudy cultural wrap: that was when you stopped theorizing about it, and actually sat down to observe with your own senses the center of emptiness in you and things. The few rules - including moral ones - about it should be perceived not as doctrine, but as guidelines that were discovered to assist practice - like it’s simply good sense for an athlete to eat a certain way.
And I cannot stress enough that it was an actual practice, something you did, and could carry on doing with open eyes.
Translated in form, you had Du Fu’s poetry in short brush-strokes. You had the great Zen poet-calligraphers and landscape painters, all those gardeners of the soul. The Tao Te-Ching. The Japanese took it further, but it was first amalgamated here.
The point was not logic and representation.
It was pen-strokes that captured the essence of being one with ink as it writes itself.
Trinh laments what she sees as the destructive influence of Confucius and - naturally - Mao, and I lament with her, touristy as I can. That is when forced harmony took precedence over seeing with one’s own eyes.
(And it should be mentioned here, that Chinese bloggers behind the Great Firewall, covertly speak of websites forcibly closed by the government as having been ‘harmonized’).
And Trinh strives for the opposite of that: not documentary truth of the complex Chinese narrative, but one of many possible roadmaps, call it an essay if you will, a guessing game, an asymmetry, a dragon sketch that each time flows a different way. She has not solved cinematic presentation of this in a satisfying - calligraphic - manner, which should be revolutionary when it is, but she tried.
We are the foreigner entrusted with these passing flows of life and thought. Our short stay ensures discretion.
Better yet, we are the hole in that Wong Kar Wai film where secrets are whispered into.