The contrarian “xia” Nie Yinnian: to kill or not to kill

The midday sun beats down unforgivingly. It’s noon by the way the shadow eats away at the two horses, swallowing them whole and making them appear gaunt and two-legged. The harsh light bleaches the world into blinding whiteness: only two colors remain, white and black. The starkness mirrors the two women who now appeared onscreen, one is wearing white and the other black. The woman in white hands the woman in black a dagger and instructs her to kill a man.

Cut to a team of riders. The woman in black watches the leader silently through the trees. Then, without warning, she runs out and in one swift motion slits his throat. No blood spills onscreen, but seconds later, the man topples off his horse.

This is “The Assassin” (《刺客聶隱娘》.

“The Assassin” (2015) is a film about a young woman who confronts the question “To be or not to be.” Should she fulfill her fate as an assassin and kill her cousin/childhood love? (image credit: “The Assassin”/Web)

“The Assassin,” which won the 2015 Cannes Film Festival “Best Director” Award, is the long-awaited film from Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien following Hou’s 2007 collaboration with French actress Juliette Binoche in remaking “Le Voyage Du Ballon Rouge” (“The Flight of the Red Balloon”).

The story takes place in 9th century China of Tang Dynasty and revolves around Nie Yinniang (聶隱娘/played by Taiwanese actress Shu Qi). Yinniang is the daughter of a general. Taken away at a tender age, she was raised as an assassin. Now, having grown and perfected the art of combat, she was returned to her birthplace with the assignment to kill the governor, Tian Ji’an (played by Taiwanese actor Chang Chen) who was once her betrothed.

But in opposition to what is expected with a film where the protagonist is a kick-ass swordswoman — elaborate fight scenes, kick-ass martial art moves, “The Assassin” is predominantly silent and static. The finished product is Hou’s contrarian interpretation of the film genre wuxia (武俠).

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The “Force” is strong come December 16

Even an Atlantic Ocean apart, the Force is undeniably strong. On the cover of British GQ and British Elle that I had picked up while stopping at Gatwick Airport located in Central London, who but Harrison Ford (aka Han Solo) and Lupita Nyong’o (aka Maz, CGI-animated alien character) grace the cover, respectively.

Image Credit: British GQ/British Elle Jan 2016

Image Credit: British GQ/British Elle Jan 2016

“Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” premiered in Los Angeles today, and will proceed to proliferate the Force to New York (Dec. 17) and London (Dec. 19). With ardent fans’ help, the franchise’s legacy stretches across race and generations. In New York City, several Star Wars-themed events can be expected, including a costume party at the Ace Bar (531 East Fifth Street) and the Bi-coastal (and also Orlando) lightsaber battle that is reported to become the largest in the world. But for those of us covering financial news, we are watching another Force: the U.S. Federal Reserve interest rate hike! Continue reading

Paradox: Yes, I did not

Paradox is a literary device that surprises/delights the reader or makes the reader think over an idea in an innovative way by putting two seemingly self-contradictory ideas together.

Here’s a real-life paradox, replayed. I was walking home one night when I overheard a conversation between a boy and a girl. This is likely their first date, you know, those awkward I-am-getting-to-know-you questions and overly enthusiastic responses.

“Are you a working journalist?” the girl asked.
“No, I am a master student studying 20th century American literature,” he replied.
“That’s awesome!” she exclaimed.

Translation: “Hi, I am a master student studying 20th century American literature and I have no job prospect whatsoever!” I doubt the awesomeness.

I slowed my pace. Walking roughly two steps to the right and three steps ahead of them. I was careful not to be in their immediate peripheral vision but also close enough so I could continue my eavesdropping.

The boy attempted to explain to the girl his area of study, which consists primarily of short stories. He asked, “Do you know of a famous short story that came out last year called ‘Redeployment’? Have you read it?”

She cried:

Yes I did not read it!

First date…(image credit: Web/http://news.com.au)

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American obsessed: “Those lovely, lovely Irish sheep!”

Traveling to Ireland for the first time, what impressed me the most was neither North Antrim Coast nor the amount of Guinness Dublin-ers consume, but Irish sheep. Yes, you heard me correctly, I said sheep. Along my train ride: from Dublin to Belfast, from Belfast to Dublin to Galway, whenever I saw them, I would gesture excitedly, grab my friend’s arm and cry, “Look, sheep!”

My British friend gaped in awe and said, “Do you not have sheep in America? You know outside London we have sheep, just like these right?”

Alas, how do I explain my conviction that Irish sheep — set against blue sky and green grass — are somehow extra fluffy, and most likely extra special. Thank goodness my obsession is not alone. I was able to dig up an article from Boston Irish Reporter, titled “Hello sheep lovers: Ireland is the place for ewe” to prove my sanity.

Blue sky, green pasture, and fluffy, cloud-white Irish sheep! (image credit: www.premier1supplies.com)

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Is my $4 ice coffee still amazing if it can be packaged into a milk carton?

No, it’s old news. Blue Bottle, having successfully raised $25.75 million in venture capital January, 2014, launched Blue Bottle New Orleans Iced Coffee – purchasable in blue and white half-pints milk carton, that summer. I was aware of the launch. Not only had I read about the initiative in several business publications, I also chatted with a couple Lower East Side-based baristas who informed me that Blue Bottle was no longer true, in the pure specialty coffee sort of way, to those in the coffee community.

I didn’t care then because I had plenty of accessible and equally delicious cafes to choose from. It wasn’t until I grabbed my first New York Blue Bottle on Monday, that I noticed how deeply affected I was by the milk, I mean, coffee cartons.

Artisanal coffee, when mass produced like Blue Bottle New Orleans Iced Coffee, can still uphold its integrity? (image credit: http://fastcompany.net)

Artisanal/specialty coffee charges a higher price than, say Dunkin’ Donut brew, because more attention was paid to producing that perfect sip. From selecting special coffee beans, to paying special attention to roasting and brewing, and of course, making that cup specially for you, specialty coffee is special in a big way. And consumers, like myself, willingly fork over $4, $5 for cold brew and $6+ for latte in exchange. Continue reading

Breaking Bread, when it’s that good get two

The humble baguette, in its most basic form, requires no more than flour, yeast, salt and water. It’s very white, and very French. But despite the simplicity, a good loaf of baguette is not easy to find.

What makes a good loaf?

The juxtaposition of the perfect crunchy exterior and soft interior complete with large irregular air holes. The crust is rich, dark golden, which indicates the robust caramelized flavor. Additionally, the crust is crunchy yet breakable by hand and the texture moist, slightly chewy and nutty in favor. Like ordering spaghetti bolognese at Italian restaurants, whenever I want to test the quality of a new bakery, I start with baguettes. And yesterday after a visit to the Union Square Green Market, I returned home a happy camper carrying a variety of young kales and two loafs of baguette from Bread Bakery.

Bread Bakery baguette, 2 for $6 (image credit: www.nyhabit.com)

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To hurt, to break: the heart beats on

Feeling unsure, the girl thought the best thing was to put her heart in a safe place.
Just for the time being.
So she put it in a bottle and hung it around her neck.
And that seemed to fix things … at first.

The girl thought the best thing was to put her heart in a safe place, for the time being. (image credit: Oliver Jeffers/The Heart and the Bottle)

The girl thought the best thing was to put her heart in a safe place, for the time being. (image credit: Oliver Jeffers/The Heart and the Bottle)

The above passage is from The Heart and the Bottle, written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. The picture book, which looks into how to make sense of death and loss, is now available in iTunes to buy and download as apps. The version is read by actress Helena Bonham Carter.

In the story, the girl, after losing her father. decided to protect her heart from hurting by putting it in a bottle around her neck. Of course, the problem with safeguarding her heart was that the girl no longer resembled her old exuberant, full-off-curiosity self. No more thinking about the stars or “the wonders of the sea,” she feels no pain, but also no happiness.

(Read previous post: “Ice Kachang Puppy Love”)

"She forgot about the stars… and stopped taking notice of the sea. She was no longer filled with all the curiosities of the world and didn’t take much notice of anything…" (image credit: Oliver Jeffers/The Heart and the Bottle)

“She forgot about the stars… and stopped taking notice of the sea.
She was no longer filled with all the curiosities of the world and didn’t take much notice of anything…” (image credit: Oliver Jeffers/The Heart and the Bottle)

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Tasting love: “Ice Kacang Puppy Love”

When it comes to the best one plus one, Baba Nyona, the mix of Chinese and Malaysian culture, cuisine is a hard one to beat. In addition to an impressive long list of Mee (see previous post), there are also an array of delicate, colorful sweet rice cakes “Kuih” for dessert.

Traditional "Kuih" (image credit: Hotel Armada/kuali.com)

Traditional “Kuih” (image credit: Hotel Armada/kuali.com)

Kuih(粿)came from the Chinese, but the Nyona version utilizes local ingredients such as coconut milk and pandan leaves. A herbaceous tropical plant with long green leaves commonly found throughout Southeast Asia, pandan leaves lend a unique taste and aroma to the foods. And when used in cakes and desserts, padan paste turns the sweets vivid green.

Malaysian sweet, seri muka (image credit: rasamalaysia.com)

From layered pink-and-white Kuih Lapis to dual-layered Seri Muka (padan  custard on top, steamed glutinous rice on the bottom) to tube-shaped Kuih Ketayap (pandan crepe wrapped around dark brown coconut filling), these chewy, bite-sized snacks will make you think twice about dismissing glutinous rice.

Another must-try include Cendol, a drinkable, soup-like dessert that soaks green jelly noodles (the “green” comes from pandan leaves) in coconut milk and palm sugar.

But all in all, my ultimate favorite is red bean shaved ice. Known as Ice/Ais Kachang in Penang, and ABC (Ais Batu Campur or mixed ice) in the remaining Malaysia. Simply put, it is shaved ice topped with brown sugar syrup, red beans, various types of jelly and other dressings like ice cream or corn kernels.

My fondness for Ice Kachang derives not from taste (because frankly, this version pales in comparison to Taiwanese-style shaved ice), but sentimentality for the 2010 romantic comedy “Ice Kachang Puppy Love” (《初戀紅豆冰》).

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