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Enjoyable Things…

Here I am, waiting for the travel agent to get back to me about tickets to Australia, and I’m sitting her stuck at home, and since I wrote two and a half flash pieces yesterday, I’m feeling, well, not quite like working on fiction at this moment.

So I thought I’d post about some media things (books and movies) I’ve enjoyed lately, in reverse chronological order:

  1. Dil Se.., directed by Mani Ratnam and starring Shahrukh Khan, Shahrukh Khan, Manisha Koirala, and my unfathomably favorite Bollywood star, Preity Zinta. When I came back from India, I returned with a bunch of Bollywood film DVDs in my bag which my friend Ritu recommended to me. I’ve watched a few over the years, but strangely, I find myself having less and less ability to sit still long enough to get through these films. Something about the pacing, I guess, which is sad, because in general I really do enjoy them. It’s not the kind of thing people who know me would imagine I’d like, knowing how much I revile Broadway musicals. Maybe it’s because I can’t understand the words of the songs?

    Anyway, last night I decided to sit down and watch Dil Se.., and I really enjoyed it. Okay, I had to finish the movie in the morning. Watching a long movie is, really, something like reading a long book — sometimes I have to take breaks and come back to it. But the film itself blew me away. Terrorism and love, love with the wrong person — or maybe the right person at the wrong time, in the wrong circumstances.

    Personally, I thought Amar (Khan’s character) and Preety (Preity Zinta’s character) made a better couple, and occasionally I was creeped out by Amar’s obsessive love for Meghna (Manisha Koirala’s character). It seemed very much Romeo-and-Juliet to me, in the sense that a one of my favorite classmates in my Shakespeare class (a returning student, a mother with a few kids under her belt) put it — it was all hormones and without all the crazy surrounding circumstances, it would have fizzled out soon. I know I’m not supposed to think that, and I can — kind of — suspend my disbelief, but his stalkerish qualities did put me off a little.

    I did like his line at the beginning, when trying to woo Meghna:

    Can I do something for you? I mean, get you the moon or the stars? Conquer a fort? Cigarette? Oh, but no matches, sorry. Listen, you’re all alone. Can I get something for you?

    … and I really love that her response is:

    A hot cup of chai.

    Anyway, there’s still some melodrama in this film, but there’s a lot to recommend it. And the dance sequences, far from being a distraction, actually add a lot to the film. I found the first few especially wonderful; there’s one that’s mad with incongruity, the couple singing and dancing while bombs go off and soldiers chase them; and a later one, where the couple is finally really figuring out how they feel, and they’re dancing in all kinds of locales, which was very nicely carried off. But the one that really caught my attention was the first one, the dance on the rooftop of a train through the countryside between Delhi and Ladakh. It’s available on Google Video, albeit in somewhat low quality, here.

  2. The Last of Hanako by Ch’oi Yun, translated by Bruce and Ju-Chan Fulton. Well, I’ve been consistently pretty impressed with Jimoondang Publishing Company’s Portable Library of Korean Literature so far. This book, book 21 in the series, contains two tales: “The Last of Hanako” and “The Gray Snowman”. Ch’oi Yun is a female author, and it’s a breath of fresh air since a lot of the Korean lit I’ve read so far has been by male writers. Her stories very much focus on the status of women, and interestingly don’t focus on the Korean war or the national division — at least, these stories didn’t. “The Last of Hanako” was really surprising, since it takes place in Venice, though with flashbacks to Seoul; it seems to me this signals from the get-go that this is not going to be just more overtly political Korean lit, but instead is about the way women and men acting within the space of Korean culture, regardless of where they are, interact and think of one another. I don’t know if I misread the story but at the end, it seems to me to be an extremely biting criticism of the kinds of assumptions conservative (or even just average) men in this society make about women in this society. Also, it does some wonderful work with memory, something I’m paying more attention to these days since others have brought to my attention how much I focus on memory in my own writing. It’s told from the (fairly convincing) point of view of a man visiting a woman, and a long-ago “unfortunate incident”between them slowly unfolds, in such a clear and perfect way that I was taking mental notes on the slow reveal all the way along.

    “The Gray Snowman” is told from the point of view of a young woman, a rootless and disconnected student, living in Seoul during the seventies. She falls in with political-types, even though she isn’t truly political herself, and gets involved in publishing anti-government materials. It was a pretty interesting glimpse of, if not the real dissident underworld of the seventies, then at least a fairly interesting one thought up by Ch’oi. It’s also quite a sad, quiet little story.

  3. Air: Or Have Not Have by Geoff Ryman. This book was recommended to me by a few people, including I think Neile and Leslie at Clarion West and maybe (I’m not sure) by Maureen McHugh, but most memorably (as in, I actually remember her recommending it) by Nalo Hopkinson during our one-on-one conference at Clarion West this summer. Well, I really am glad I followed her advice and picked it up. It’s a great, engaging novel about a woman living in the last village in the world to go online.

    Well, actually, that’s just the starting point — it’s really about how normal people, and how visionaries, react to new technologies. Such as, say, having the internet in your head all of a sudden, via a new technology called “Air”. The protagonist, Mae, is a visionary, and she goes from being a kind of countryside fashion maven in an isolated Central Asian village to being both an online personality and a visionary leading the townsfolk, sometimes against their will and sometimes even against her own, to adapt to the future that’s coming like a flood, and going to change their world. The book has an extremely strong beginning — poignant enough to have you in tears for the first hundred pages or so — and then it gets even more interesting, and while the emotion doesn’t really go away, you get acclimatized to it, like high altitude, and you can focus on the complexities of village life, on how Mae seems able to resurrect a sane and livable life from the ashes of what used to be her life.

    I found the ending felt just a tiny bit rushed, and I’m not just saying so because I need something to complain about. There were a few loose ends that had dangled so long, and unraveled so far, that they ended up being tied up just a mite too quickly for me. But overall, I found the novel an amazing piece of work, respectable and certainly the kind of book that puts an author on my “Go on and read everything else he’s got out and watch for new stuff especially!” list.

What I’m reading now:

Maureen F. McHugh’s Necropolis, and my classmate Ian’s copy of Volume 2 of the Year’s Best Australian SF & Fantasy, 2005. I’ll be bringing them both to Australia, and hopefully bringing back with me one or two other volumes of Aussie SF, as well as Harlan Ellison’s Again, Dangerous Visions if I can get my hands on it in some used bookstore somewhere in Melbourne.

UPDATE: Links added for stuff available in Korea, and peoples’ sites. No links for stuff not gettable here, so you can feel my pain. Can you feel it? Come on, can you feel it?

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