The Lives of Others – German Movie Review


(Warning: Spoiler alert.)

This is my homework for screenwriting module, although, after last night’s viewing, I realise my lecturer also played the video partially to us before to illustrate the point on dramatic irony: when the reader has more information on what is taking place or what may develop in the story before the character or the characters. 

The movie starts in 1984 in Berlin with a Stasi (State Secret Police) interrogating a man and the recording of the interrogation is then used by Wiesler to teach the group of rookies as to why the man is lying despite being kept awake for forty hours. When a rookie remarked on the cruel method, Wiesler marks him, giving us the impression that he is indeed a cruel man.

A corrupt Minister Hempf is smitten with stage actress Christa but she spurns him, and he wants her playwright lover, Georg Drayman, arrested, although he is deemed clean. Wiesler is tasked to monitor him by planting bugs around the apartment, in order to find an excuse to arrest him. As Wiesler gets more involved with the lives of Drayman and Christa, and witness their love for each other and the loyalty of their artist friends for them, he can’t help but compare to his own pathetic life, friendless and alone, when he can’t even trust the colleagues at Stasi. He finds himself rooting for them in the harsh and cold socialist environment. So when there were many opportunities to arrest Drager, especially after the suicide of his good friend and director, Wieler tweaked the report to favour Drager, until the arrest of Christa for drugs consumption when she betrayed Drager to save her own life and career. Yet Weisler was there to save Darger again. The case against them closes when Christa gets killed in a car accident and Weisler is demoted to the post department for twenty years, for his failure with Drager. However, four years later, the Berlin Wall collapses and he’s free. On a chance meeting with the corrupt minister, Drager is shocked to learn that his house had been on the watched list. He learned who his saviour his. Two years later, his novel,  Weisler buys the book The Sonata for a Good Man by Drager, which is dedicated to him.

Good story aside, the method of telling it is also important:

  1. Exposition – The prisoner is made to repeat his statement for the audience despite the fact that he had already written a statement.
  2. There were many instances of dramatic irony in this story. Drager’s neighbour is warned by the Starsi to keep the secret that his house is bugged, and then Drager seeks her to help with a tie, and ask her, ‘You can keep a secret, right?’ to not let Christa knows he can’t knot a tie, not knowing that the neighbour is keeping a bigger secret from him.
  3. Drager’s friend’s remark: ‘It’s (Drager’s home) the only place in GDR where I can say anything I want.’ The audience knows the house is bugged.
  4. When Weisler buys the book in the last scene and the cashier asks him, ‘Shall I gift wrap it?’ and he answers, ‘No, it’s for me,’ meaning it literally.
  5. There were many suspenseful moments when the audience knows more than the characters – like the house being bugged, the typewriter’s hidden place (although we didn’t know initially that Christa did not reveal this in the first search by the Starsi.)
  6. There were many internal conflicts experienced by the characters – for Christa when she is arrested, for Weisler.
  7. The transformation of Weisler from who we initially thought is a cruel man focused to bring Drager down is dramatically change by the time the film ends.

So this movie is indeed a good story well told, as evident by its win in the 2006 Academy Award for the best foreign film.


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Poop! – A review



Talented playwright Chong Tze Chien who also directed the play.


I bought the book Four Plays by playwright Chong Tze Chien to prepare for a class presentation of one his play, Charged, a few weeks ago. Charged was poignant to read and better to watch, which I did, on a video recording of it at the Esplanade Library. Thus, I was delighted that as part of the Contemporary Classics Season by The Finger Players, a company owned by Chong, Poop! was staged last weekend at the Victoria Theatre.

I didn’t read Poop!, although it was one of the plays included in the book, and mistook it as a comedy. I mean, you can’t blame me right, with a title like that?

This play is a sob drama. My date that night, son Ivan, told me a woman was sobbing throughout.  I didn’t notice, so caught up in the drama that I could have been sobbing myself. Poop! is a clever theatrical play of clever lighting to nudge the audience to the focus on stage – a leaf that is flying, an NTUC plastic bag fluttering in the wind, a face without the body, likewise a hand or legs. To emphasize on this play of light, there is a short performance of Indonesian wayang kulit as the protagonist Emily imagine playing with her father.

Emily’s father leaped to his death when she was five. Her grandmother tries to dispel the gloom in the family by being cheerful and making up stories to explain the father’s disappearance and to make up for the mother’s anguish. The family’s ordeal is made worse by Emily getting cancer, but Emily herself is unaffected and remains her cheerful self. She sees ghosts around, especially her late father when she’s sitting on the toilet bowl trying to poop. The father-daughter pair continues their relationship as she grows up fighting the cancer, then finally succumbs to it.

Kudos to the wonderful actors, the same original cast from 2009 production – Jean Ng as a very believable young Emily, Neo Swee Lin as Granny, Julius Foo as Daddy and Janice Koh as Mummy.

I can’t wait to watch more of Chong’s play.


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An Evening of Xinyao – 新谣之夜 Review


I’m a fan of Singapore Chinese Orchestra (SCO), having attended their concerts a few times, after first being introduced to them when I won a pair of concert tickets a few years ago. They’re innovative in their selection of repertoire as well as the arrangement of pieces, and Chinese orchestra music no longer is dated or just associated with Chinese funerals and street wayang. In fact, they are quite hip with the inclusion of western instruments like bass, piano, and drums, like last night, when xinyao (local Singapore compositions) was accompanied by SCO. But I must concede, I only went last night because I wanted to hear my favourite singing doctor Dr Alex Su and perhaps take a selfie with him. No such luck, although he did sing my favourite song, 故乡的老酒, disappointing though as he sang only one song whilst the rest went on for quite a few songs. I guess being a busy doctor meant he had no time to practise.

I was seated in the front row, the cheapest ticket which gave me such a close view of the singers I felt almost uncomfortable. I could see the beads of perspiration on conductor Yeh Tsung’s forehead as he swung his baton and tapped his feet. I love the selection of songs, a good representation of original xinyao hits, although the arrangement of the combination of the first few songs sounded a little weird and disjointed. I would have preferred the songs to be sung in their entirety. Pan Ying did my husband a favour by singing his favourite hit by her, 说时依旧. Jimmy Ye came out and caught my eye as we waved to each other. In a swanky long overcoat and a neck broach, he sang Tashi Delek. It was amusing watching Roy Li trying to rein in his mischief in the somber environment of a serious orchestra, and he finally uttered a dejected ‘let me go learn er hu first‘ when the second encore failed to get the conductor to return for another round, something he clearly yearned. The concert was just too short for him and for the xinyao fans present.

There’s a reason why the front row seats are cheap, as I discovered. I couldn’t see the back row of the orchestra, and I can’t hear exactly what instruments were playing, And because the speakers were directly overhead of us, the sound system was more analog than steareo.

Still, it was a thoroughly enjoyable night and I regret not getting more of my friends to attend. They would have enjoyed themselves too.

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The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki- Movie review


Thank you, Suomi Finland 100, for the tickets to watch my first Finnish film. Finland celebrates its 100th years’ independence on 6 December and this film festival is part of the celebration in Singapore. This film, released in August 2016, is set in August 1962, just before the home match which boxer Olli Maki is up against American world champion.

Olli Maki is set to compete in the lightweight category, and he has to get his weight to below 57kg. Two weeks to the match and he weighs 60+kg. He has just fallen in love, but his coach wants him to focus on the match instead of having ‘a chick hanging on him’, which does not look good to the public and to his sponsors.

Ollie wants to train in peace but is made to go through all the publicity promotion for the match, touted to be the biggest match in Finland, and the coach Elis, has spent all his money banking on Ollie to win. With such high expectation, Ollie loses confidence and his girl Raija whom he neglects.

He tries hard to lose weight, to the extent of almost fainting when fully clothed in the sauna and trying the bulimic method of induced self-vomit. We share his anxiety. How could he win if he is starving himself trying to lose weight?

The match on 17 August 1962 is meant to be the happiest day in his life. Would it be? Which kind of make me ponder about expectations and happiness.

This movie has all the Finnish ingredients – lakes, cigarettes, sauna and full male frontal nudity. I know because I’ve been to Finland and yes, I actually saw a naked Finnish man as he helpfully exited his sauna to point us to the right direction to the swimming pool, in all his naked glory, except the one who was self-conscious is the fully-clothed me. But I digress.

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Nasi Lemak Pantun

Pantun is a Malay poetry form from South East Asia, which has interlocking lines in the stanzas. I just studied this and am really enjoying experimenting with it. Here’s one I just wrote about Nasi Lemak (rice coconut= coconut rice, a common dish in SEA).

Nasi Lemak Pantun

How disappointed I am in you,
Selera Rasa Nasi Lemak.
I queued for an hour,
as you claim you are the best.

Selera Rasa Nasi Lemak,
your begedil was burnt.
As you claim you are the best,
how could you even served me that.

Your begadil was burnt,
the chicken wing was no better.
How could you even served me that, 
and you did not put in enough sambal.

The chicken wing was no better,
the rice was too little,
and you did not put in enough sambal,
to think I paid five-forty.

The rice was too little,
I queued for an hour,
to think I paid five-forty.
How disappointed I am in you.
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Love Poems – class activity

Last week in class, we were given 15 minutes to write a love poem without rhyme, meter or any formal constraint and I came up with two (although now that I am aware, writing without formal constraint takes getting used to.) This is just for my collection.

Love Insomnia

A day without seeing you

is to be awake in the Arctic

during the winter solstice

awaiting the break of an elusive dawn.

Bumpy Landing

Love was us in a hot air balloon,

floating on tangerine clouds across Cappadocia,

bubbly light and high on champagne

Until we were shaken up by a bumpy landing.


Then we were told to write four-line tetrameter love poem in the form of a Ruba’i rhyme scheme.

What I want to hear 

Tenderly whisper in my ears,

the cherished words I yearn to hear.

How your heart burst with love for me,

and forever you want me near.

Immortal Love

He holds my body against him,

our eyes lock, our gazes are grim.

I smile and take my last deep breath.

His face fading as light grows dim.


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Hateship, friendship, courtship, loveship, marriage by Alice Munro


I must thank my lecturer Darryl for introducing to me the Canadian author, winner of the Nobel prize in literature 2013. I am not exactly a fan of short stories, preferring the company of long fiction to simmer into the story. However, I kept hearing the name Alice Munro from Darryl, I thought I should check her out after an excerpt of her story appeared in The New Yorker – and I was hooked. I love her prose, the intimate description she brings out of a seemingly mundane situation. All I wanted to do while reading is to soak into that sentence or paragraph and ruminate over and over again, as if I was the one experiencing the feeling of the character. Or perhaps I was, so immersed into that shared experience – not the story – that I felt she was describing me in another situation. In Post and Beans, Lorna was worried her sister Queenie would attempt suicide in her absence. ‘When they entered Stanley Park it occurred to her to pray. This was shameless – the opportune praying of a nonbeliever. ‘ This was I in the temples in Bhutan in June, feeling like a hypocrite while praying for my ill uncle, who passed away a few weeks after.

There are nine short diversified stories in the book, all of which are memorable but what struck me most about many of these stories is the common theme of falling in love outside of a long, tired marriage. In The Bear Came Over a Mountain, she writes ‘ Married women started going back to school. Not with the idea of qualifying for a better job or for any job but simply to give themselves something more interesting to think about than their usual housework and hobbies. To enrich their lives. And perhaps it followed naturally that the men who taught them these things would become part of the enrichment, that these men would seem to these women more mysterious and desirable than the men they still cooked for and slept with.’ How true when I think about I and other middle-aged women in my yoga studio flirting playfully with the young handsome instructors.

The stories in books are honest and touching and I wish I could write like her – with clear articulation to show and never tell. ‘A tremour of nerves there, an affected nonchalance, a hurry to get through and a reluctance to let go.’

Incidentally, Hateship, friendship, courtship, loveship, marriage – was a game I used to play, except we used the shorter version of Friendship, Courtship, Hatred, Love – a game where I would write down my name and the name of the boy I had a crushed on, to predict if he shared the same feeling as I did, by first crossing out the common alphabets we shared, and then reciting Friendship, Courtship, Hated, Love to the remaining alphabets to see where it ended for each name. Amazingly, I googled the game and there are online versions to calculate the prediction in seconds, taking away the anticipation of doing it yourself.

If you would like a good literary fiction to warm your heart, read Alice Munro. I’m glad to discover a favourite new writer after the passing of  Maeve Binchy, and having consumed all the books of Ann Patchett.

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