A book club I belong to is reading Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising Sequence next. We spent the last six months reading The Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner and so, having immersed ourselves in the world of Attolian politics, diplomacy and intrigue, we will now be entering a world of Celtic magic and mythology and lingering there a while.
Interview: Tutu Dutta
Tutu Dutta retells Malaysian folktales and also creates original stories based on the myths and legends of the region and beyond. Her latest book is The Blood Prince of Langkasuka (Penguin Random House SEA), inspired by the Malaysian legend of the fanged king of the Bujang Valley. The following Q&A was done over email. For more of Tutu, visit her blog Betel, Banyan, Basil & Bamboo.Read More »
Director: Kim Cho-hee
Released in 2020.
This was a great choice because I nearly picked a Hong Sang-soo film instead and we all know how cheerful those are! Seriously though, I love Hong’s films but I guess I needed something a little more positive.
Nevertheless, Lucky Chan-sil isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It explores the difficulties Korean women face because of sexist societal expectations that prioritise marriage and childbearing over career. These expectations are internalised and this makes for an added sense of failure when 40-year-old film producer Chan-sil (Kim Mal-geum) finds herself suddenly jobless, single and childless following the death of the director she’s worked with for years. Has she thrown away the best years of her life for nothing? Should she have chosen marriage over a career?
Depressed and lonely, Chan-sil attempts to find new meaning in life and in herself. It’s actually what you’d expect of a Hong Sang-soo film, but without his requisite sleazy, sexist male characters.
Although I could feel Chan-sil’s despair, I wasn’t bogged down by it; nor was my sympathy for her complicated by anger at some selfish man treating her like dirt, and the frustration of witnessing her allow him to.
Instead, there are friends, old and new, realistically imperfect and frequently disappointing, but ultimately proving to be the key to surviving life’s trials and realising one’s worth.
My favourite character: the underwear-clad ghost of Leslie Cheung (played with perfect comic timing by Kim Jong-nim). He may truly be a ghost, or he may be a figment of Chan-sil’s imagination — a neat way of showing that what she ultimately needs is simply to forgive and accept herself.
Overview: Mr Low and the Magic of Borneo by Dee Char
I enjoyed reading this tale set in Borneo, specifically the foothills of Mount Kinabalu. The focus is on an indigenous (the Kadazan-Dusun) community and the story is told from the perspective of a young Dusun girl called Bibi. It is 1851 and changes are coming to Borneo, with strangers threatening to disrupt the old ways of life.
Like me, you may be surprised to discover who ‘Mr Low’ refers to! I certainly didn’t expect it, but I enjoyed the way the author works this character into the tale.
I also like how the story provides a window into Kadazan-Dusun cultural and spiritual practices and beliefs. As the author is part Kadazan-Dusun, it is fitting that she has chosen to preserve these details by weaving them into an engaging story that will appeal to readers of all ages.
Book Review: Iban Woman
This review first appeared in Goodreads on 24th November, 2020.
As is always the case with books by Golda Mowe, I like how Iban culture and customs, beliefs and superstitions are described in a straightforward, matter-of-fact manner, without exotification.
The details Mowe provides of weaving, hunting, building and other aspects of Iban life, including ritual practices, are riveting to me. Some readers would probably prefer more action than description, but that’s personal preference. I was rather relieved that the battle scenes were brief. When Ratai harvests her first head, I felt pity for the victim because Ratai observes he’s a young boy. I feel this was an interesting way to remind the reader that Ratai is aware of herself and hasn’t been swept away by the excitement of the moment. However, although she feels compassion, her priorities (the well being of her people as well as her pride as a warrior) don’t allow her to give in to it.
Another thing I found interesting was the slave whose life was spared during the battle and his eventual fate. This plot strand raises questions that I must present to the author. So very interesting.
On the whole, I love the way the story unfolded and the intense exploration of Ratai’s struggles to balance her femininity, what was expected of her as an Iban woman and her natural inclinations and talents.
The inter-weaving of Iban folk beliefs and dreams of gods and goddesses with life, and the way the supernatural aspects of the story manifest themselves in the characters’ real-life is quite beautiful, and presented so naturally that there is no question of not accepting the part played by the divine in the affairs of humans.
This is definitely my favourite of the Iban Trilogy. However, as much as I love the happy ending, I wish to know more about Ratai’s life and hope Mowe will write another book in this series.
Book Review: Fairy Con and Encounters: Modern Folktales from Sibu
ENCOUNTERS: MODERN FOLKTALES FROM SIBU
By Golda Mowe
Publisher: Goose Books
Golda Mowe is one of my favourite Malaysian writers. She is Iban and her stories are rooted in Iban life, customs and folklore.
Mowe recently self-published two books — Encounters: Modern Folktales from Sibu, comprising ten stories; and a novella called Fairy Con.
I have to admit that the books’ covers made me think that they were both written for children. I wouldn’t say they shouldn’t be read by kids, but, fair warning, Fairy Con does feature a grisly murder and some very light sexual innuendo, so some may be leery about introducing it to primary school-age readers. As for, Encounters, the stories in this collection also contain some details that may be deemed unsuitable for children, but I don’t think there’s anything that voracious readers of ten and older can’t handle.
Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors
Director: Hong Sang-soo
Released in 2000.
Similar to the director’s Right Now, Wrong Then, two versions of the story are told, with details changed and/or added in the second version. Neither version throws much light on any of the characters. One man is cheating on his wife; the other is a two-timing bachelor whose initial interest in the female protagonist increases when he discovers that she’s a virgin 🙄 The female MC is the hardest to figure out. She appears merely inexperienced at first, but is subsequently revealed to be somewhat manipulative. Things at home aren’t exactly straightforward either — she seems to have an unconventional (to say the least) relationship with her brother, but her feelings about this are unclear. There are a few borderline rape scenes, but the men are (thankfully) weak pathetic fools who back off before things go too far. Still, it’s not comfortable to watch.
Hill of Freedom
Director: Hong Sang-soo
Released in 2014.
I watched two Hong Sang-soo films today. Both seem to stress that men can be utter shits and not much to look at, yet still find women to love them. The men in the two films are various kinds of yuck. Sorry, but I can’t find a better word to represent the way the male characters suck, hah. The main character in ‘Hill of Freedom’ might be said to be the best of the rotten bunch, but he too turns out to be a miserable weakling. As for the women, they are mostly a pathetic, desperate lot. The writer/director’s films tend to show people at their worst and I can’t stop watching them. Perhaps the utter awfulness of his characters reassures me that I am not alone in having to endure piece of shit humans, that there are just too many of them and so, impossible to avoid, and that I am not the only piece of shit in this world. We are a universal condition.
Director: Koreeda Hirokazu
Released in 2019.
Another excellent film written and directed by Koreeda Hirokazu. It explores the relationship between a mother and daughter, and the space between memory and truth. Juliette Binoche and Catherine Deneuve are wonderful, and so was Ethan Hawke (whom I usually want to smack).
Director: Koreeda Hirokazu
Released in 1999.
In this film, set in a station between life and the afterlife, the dead are given one memory to take with them, the only one they’ll be allowed for all eternity. Which one would you choose?
In the film, the dead are given two days to decide. The admin workers at the station interview the newly deceased about their life, and then design, stage and film the chosen memories. The films are viewed and the dead depart for the hereafter, each with their memory. Nothing else will be recalled.
Frankly, it sounds ghastly, although perhaps it won’t just be about the endless viewing of one short film clip, but more like a permanent feeling of bliss. I won’t reveal more because of spoilers, but I love how the film explores the different ways people come to terms with their lives and how death allows for perspective. There’s much to think about — and I’m sure the film will reveal something new each time it’s viewed (I’m definitely planning on re-watching it). By the way, this is the third film in which Soseki’s Japanese interpretation of ‘I love you’ is referenced, and it doesn’t ever get old, does it?