Parasite – Korean Movie Review


The local broadsheet papers The Straits Times gave this movie a five-star review. As a writer suffering from writer’s block, I needed some inspiration and decided I could learn something from Korean storytellers and movie makers, whom I feel have better plots than Hollywood nowadays.

Kim Ki Woo lives with his out of work parents and sister in a basement apartment, folding pizza box for a living. His friend, who is going away for overseas study, asks him to tutor a rich girl in English, despite him having no university qualification. Ki Woo is told that the girl’s mother, Mr Park, is simple-minded and would employ him since he comes highly recommended.

I thought the initial set up of the story was rather slow, as Ki Woo plots to bring his whole family into the employment of the Parks, by getting his sister Ki Jeong to pretend to be a famous art therapist for Park’s son. Then they set a trap to get the driver and housekeeper fired so that his parents Mr and Mrs Kim could replace them. They feel a sense of guilt but convince themselves they are worse off than the driver and housekeeper.

The climax of the movie starts when the Parks go on a birthday camping trip, leaving the vacant mansion to the Kims. While the Kims are drinking away, the old housekeeper, Moon Kwang, returns, claiming that she has left something behind. They follow her to the basement and discover that her husband has been living in the secret bunker, used for the rich to escape the war with North Korean or to hide from creditors, for four years. Moon Kwang in turns discovers that the Kims are a fraud. They start to fight and the ex-housekeeper and her husband are restrained in the bunker. Then the Park calls that they are returning in eight minutes, the camping canceled because of the rain. The suspense comes as the rest of the Kim family who are not supposed to be in the house at that time of the night scurry around trying to hide from the Parks. The Kims manage to pull through this but they have no plan B as to what to do with the housekeeper and her husband in the bunker. Then come the surprise birthday party the next day when all the disasters stuck.

The ending is surprisingly brutal for what I thought is a satirical film. But you watch it and decide. What bothers me throughout the show is the significance of the stone that Ki Woo clutches at the end, at first sent by his friend’s grandfather (whom I didn’t catch the relationship) which the Kims thought would bring them good fortune.

Tell me if you know the answer.

I like how the story incorporates little details, like the basement body odour of the Kims which the Parks find offensive, and which Mr Kim feels offended because Mr Park finds his smell offensive. Then there is Mr Park remarking about staff crossing the line, but one is never sure where the line is. Such details set the characters for the viewers.

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One – The Anthology, Edited by Robert Yeo


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Published in 2012 by Marshall Cavendish, I was given this book at a fair in SMU, a perfect reference to what publishers want for my own collection of short stories. Edited by Robert Yeo, this collection features prominent Singapore writers, Many of whom (those who are still alive) I had the honour of meeting. There were a few authors whom I’ve not heard of until I read this book and am delighted to have made their acquaintance now – Don Bosco for one. He was recently featured in an event in NLB’s Read Fest which I had missed seeing the notice just by a day. To me, his story in this collection epitomizes the Singapore short story, which many would be able to identify. I myself grew up with Vicky Chong at home, Cheng Yee in School, Zhuang Jingyi at RJC during the hanyupinying era in 1983.

Surprisingly, I enjoyed the story by late Minister S Rajaratnam, first published in 1964. There is a wide array of characters found in this anthology, ranging from a poor Filipina maid, to the angmoh Professor, and even one written from the POV a chicken (sorry didn’t enjoy that.)  Kirpal Singh, Gopal Baratham and Alfian Saat’s stories provide perspectives from our ethnic minority, otherwise, most stories have Chinese protagonists.

I confess I couldn’t understand the point in Arthur Yap’s story A Beginning and A Middle Without an Ending, despite reading it twice. (If you’ve read it, explain to me please.) I skipped Bard by Numbers by Jeffrey Lim. Just couldn’t get into the story after two pages.

Some of the stories are familiar’s and had been published elsewhere. Robert Yap’s story was taken from his memoir Route, which I believe it is the only CNF here.

I spotted a few errors in the editing, but not one as glaring as the one found here (second paragraph.) If only I have as sharped an eye for my own manuscript.

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If you enjoy local short stories, this is one anthology I recommend.

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Thai Chang Noi Tze char @Clementi Blk 328


To me, if you’ve a big family, it’s best give Thai food a miss in Singapore, as the portion is small and price expensive. However, in recent years, Thai tze char restaurants have sprouted out in my neighbourhood in Clementi which we found to be not only value for money, the serving portion is also enough to serve a table of ten.

Thai Chang Noi has two different menus to choose from – one local tze char menu and one Thai.

We ordered the basic to test – pineapple fried rice, Tomyum seafood soup and green curry. The pineapple fried rice was served in a nondescript plate instead of a pineapple. Topped with floss, there wasn’t anything exciting. The green curry chicken was creamy with chunks of boneless chicken and round baby eggplants, delicious over white rice. The tomyum was sweet with a tinge of tomatoe taste, and generous with seafood. I like this except the soup went cold quite fast without the traditional steamboat tomyum usually comes in.

Additional to samba kangkong ($10 for medium) and garlic baby kailan($10), we ordered a few in house speciality.

The mango prawns ($30 large), large prawns coated with crispy batter is a favourite with the children. The sour mango sauce tastes more like lemon but the tart cuts the deep fried oiliness.

The BBQ squid ($20 medium) is surprisingly good on its own or dipped in the sour chili dip.

The garlic chichen is also different from the usual chicken dishes we order, especially if you like cooked garlics.

The burnt bee hoon is not burnt but filled with wok hei rarely found in bee hoon. The ingredients are generous and I highly recommend it, although I must confess i like all kinds of bee hoon.

The bill at the end of our meal is $135. The average cost per dish is $12. I had a hard time trying to figure out because the bill doesn’t state much details.

We went at 6.30pm and still managed to get a big table. That’s a big plus for us and we’ll be back.

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Dubliners by James Joyce


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Ireland was still fresh in my heart when I saw an invitation to the Bloomsday Book Club hosted at the residence of the Ambassador of Ireland. The book to read was Dubliners by James Joyce. I’ve never read James Joyce, not that I’ve not attempted. I have a copy of A Portrait of an Artist and couldn’t go beyond the first chapter, so I thought perhaps the audiobook would be more digestible. I listened to it in the car (instead of in bed) but the story couldn’t hold my attention. The reader was just droning on in the background as I drove (perhaps it’s my fault and that’s why I’ve signed up for a Mindfulness Reading talk this weekend.) Then I saw a TED clip on why everyone should read Ulysses (https://youtu.be/X7FobPxu27M) and so I bought the book. How difficult can the book be right? It’s just about a day in the life of some individuals. Again I gave up, but I will go back when the time is right. I always believe that one must find the right time and mood for any book. And I was proven right when Dubliners came along – a collection of fifteen short stories by the Joyce.

Anyone who is attempting to read James Joyce should start with this book. This centennial edition includes an introduction to the book and Joyce. Also included are a long list of appendix to places and Irish phrases, which I diligently referred to in the beginning but gave up as it got too tedious later.

I can’t say I enjoy the stories, perhaps except for a few, like Araby, about a boy who wanted to buy a gift from a fair for his object of affection but lacks the money. ‘Every morning I lay on the floor in the front window watching her door…When she came out on the doorstep, my heart leaped.’ It reminded of my own teenage years.

Eveline, another story I can empathize with, is about a girl who wants to escape the drudgery of her life, and is given a chance to escape to another world by a love interest, except the reader will never know if she went on the boat. I thought she didn’t, but some in the book club discussion think she did. 

The central theme of these short stories is paralysis (I wouldn’t know if this was not pointed out to me) but on hindsight, many of the characters are paralyzed and did not achieve what they set up to do. In fact, much of the stories have no endings, just hanging on a tread.

Some of his proses are really lyrical and difficult to imagine was written a young man of early twenties. Like in Araby: ‘ ..my body was like a harp and her words and gestures were like fingers running upon the wires.’

His play of words is clever too, as in how he uses the word cross in a passage in The Dead: to cross in a dance while neighbours listen on to the cross-examination between the dancers, and then a beautiful crossing from Glasgow to Dublin.

My heart skips as I read about familiar places, like Galway for one.

I wonder though, why he is so revered. Yet unlike me, the book club seems to like his stories and prose, which perhaps proves I am a shallow reader and the lack of a literature background.

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With James Joyce in Dublin

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Father’s Day


The phone rang at 7am this morning. My house phone rarely rings, and never this early so I gathered the call was an emergency. My Father-in-law (FIL) had trouble urinating and so my husband, Mike, had to rush down to the other end of the island to take him to the A&E, the umpteen times this had happened. Thank goodness this was again proved to be a false alarm. He just didn’t drink enough water.

My FIL calls my husband every morning, to complain of his pain and discomfort, which to Mike’s credit, he listens and advises with much patience. I too listen in, with admiration sometimes, as Mike was never close to his father and had rarely any conversation with him when he was younger. Every phone call back home was to speak to his mother, even if Dad happened to answer the phone, it was, can I speak to Mom. Perhaps because of this, he tries to bond better with his sons, even if he was mostly an absentee father in their younger days. I was the 24/7 mother who taught them to cycle, signed them up for the extra curriculum activities, and trained them for their 2.4 km runs, nagged them to practise piano and went to learn model drawing for Maths in order to tutor them. I was the disciplinarian, as well as had the awkward task to teach them about the birds and the bees as the father thought sexuality education was the school’s responsibility. There were many occasions when he asked about his sons when they were present and I had to remind him to talk to them directly, instead of through me. I chastised him for not knowing his sons, who their best friends were, their favourite authors or favourite food.

Now that he is retired, I am glad to see him making an effort to bond with them, although I feel my sons are taking advantage of him. He has become their chauffeur, ferrying them home from soccer or driving them back to camp. My sons would say I do the same but I am in a different class from them. He is their first aider, dressing their wounds or massaging their sore muscles. I wondered aloud once to my husband if he conversed with his sons in the car and the answer then was no. I wonder if they do now but I doubt so. The sons would most probably be on the phone.

I wonder if my sons appreciate their father, who never complains when he receives rejections to his request to help mow the grass or any other chores. My sons rarely hear any complaints from him, probably because I have more than compensated for both of us, screaming at the boys for poor grades, unmade beds, teachers’ complaints, and then screaming at my husband for not doing his part in disciplining them. I am still doing it but less often.

We don’t celebrate Father’s Day, and I think we don’t need a day to do that if we are already doing our part for our parents. But it’s good to ponder this relationship. Would they entertain their father’s daily phone calls too in future like how Mike is doing now for his father?

If only my sons know how lucky they are to have such a caring and obliging father, one I was deprived of but strangely never missed. Or do I?

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AR tricks @ Trick Eye Museum Singapore


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I was invited last week to a preview of the recently revamped Trickeye Museum located at Sentosa. Just in case you don’t know what that is, Trick Eye Museum, as the name suggests, is a museum where 2D paintings on walls and floors are made to look 3D through a technique known as Trompe l’oeil. Visitors become part of the exhibits when photographed.

As a social media junkie, which photographs and videos play a big part in my life, I had enjoyed myself when I was last there four years ago. I had a fun time playing pretense, acting out stunts and doing acrobats, which appeared magically realistic on photos.  Read all about my first visit here (https://vickychong.wordpress.com/2015/11/04/getting-tricked-is-fun-trick-eye-museum-rws/)

I was excited to explore the new Augmented Reality (AR) feature using the in-house exclusive ART (XR Museum) apps. The apps has to be downloaded using the WIFI provided in the museum. Sharon Loh, the Brand Manager at the museum, did a quick demonstration using my Huawei Mate 10. Through the apps, the static scenes before me came alive as if I was in a movie. Rain, snow, crows cawing, virtual dancers with background music burst out in technicolor. Unfortunately, we were told not all phones are compatible with the apps yet. With my Huawei Mate 10, the apps closed as soon as I tried to record a video. I was left with the option of only still photography. That, however, did not mar my enjoyment as you can see from the photos.

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Sharon explained that the museum hosted a team of 7 master artists from Korea in April, who gave the exhibits a fresh coat of paint (imagine the wear and tear from all the climbing and touching by thousands of visitors) and hand-painted a few other new ones.

Photo resolution taken through the apps are lower than the phone camera, which is fine for social media although I fear the video quality would be worse once uploaded. One annoying feature of the apps is that if a few photos are taken, only one – the one last taken – can be reviewed immediately at the app function, which means one has to close the app and go into the photo gallery to view the others, and then return to relaunch the apps. Too much trouble.

I was there on a weekday when the crowd was considerably thin, until a school group came and boys were running and climbing right in front of my camera. Imagine videoing that. Quite irritating right? A bigger crowd would definitely affect my visit if no proper etiquette is observed by the visitors.

Otherwise, do visit the museum and lost yourself in a fantasy world. I did for two hours.

 

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Circle of Friends -Maeve Binchy


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Reading this book is like travelling to Ireland all over again, as familiar place names other than Dublin like Aran Island, Kerry, Killaney pop up, although it might not necessarily be referring to the place, like when used in an expression to describe big boobs (as I assume) – a pair of Killarneys.

This is a coming of age story set in 1958 about a group of first-year university undergraduates in Dublin, but especially the long term friendship between two girls, Benny and Eve, from a small village called Knockglen. Benny is the only daughter of a tailor and his wife who are loving yet protective. Eve is an orphan adopted into a convent. Estranged from her rich English grandfather for her parents’ marriage, she hates the Westlands family for disowning her, yet, she fights her way into the family to get her cousin to pay for her university.

At the university, the two girls become good friends with a group of fashionable Dublin students, including Nan and Jack, the golden girl and boy of the university, popular for their good looks and good-natured friendliness. Unknown to many, Nan comes from a low-class family with an alcoholic father who abuses his wife. She harbours an ambition to snag a rich upper-class husband, even to the extend of betraying her friends.

To Benny’s own amazement, Jack falls for her, a big sized country girl. He wants to sleep with her but her strict upbringing as well as that her parents expect her back at Knockglen every evening after school means she has to miss the Dublin nightlife enjoyed by her peers.

This book reminds me of 1970s popular Chinese melodramatic/romantic QiongYao 琼瑶movies starring the two Lins actresses 林青霞/林凤娇 with actors Chin Han and Charlie Chin, usually as undergraduates in love.

Like other Maeve Binchy’s books who doesn’t neglect the co-stars, the book also includes stories of many other small side characters, chiefly from Knockglen, which gives us a perspective of how a small quiet village transforms into a buzzing one with the arrivals of outsiders and immigrants, welcomed by some but to the indignance of others. Everyone knows each other in the village and gossips spread, but there are sensible many who do not indulge in them and are known to be trusting and loyal.

This is a long novel, rare by this author, whose books mostly comprise short tales of individual characters bonded by a common link. I found this book thoroughly enjoyable for its drama and the author’s accurate grasp in describing characters and personality. There are instances though of an abrupt change in POV but I didn’t find these disruptive, as most had clear paragraphs separated by extra spaces. (The editor in me pops up sometimes while reading to note this.)

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