Friday, October 18, 2013

Watching Disney in Foreign Languages on Youtube

One of the things that I've always wanted to know is how English and Korean sound to people who don't speak them. It's one of those things that are infinitely fascinating because unless I get amnesia or something to lose my language capabilities, it's something that I can never know.

I think it was in my attempt to answer that question that I, sometime early in freshman year (or perhaps senior year of high school), discovered that there was a treasure trove of Disney musical sequences in foreign languages on Youtube. Ever since then, I've been listening to these things over and over again to the point where I used Youtube converter websites to download them as MP3s so I could listen to them on the go.

I'm not quite sure what makes them so captivating. I think the biggest thing is the pleasure you get from mixing something so familiar with something so indecipherable. If you sat there and listened to a conversation in, say, Turkish, it would be interesting but also frustratingly incomprehensible.

But put the same language in the magic carpet ride sequence from Aladdin, and whatever language is being sung, it becomes immediately understandable because we all know the lyrics and context. That also allows us (or least me) to enjoy the musicality of the language itself. Yeah, it's all foreign to me, but there's a big difference in the ways that Icelandic is impenetrable from Mandarin, and I can relax and try to appreciate those qualities.

It just makes me sad that out of all the languages in the world, I'll probably only end up knowing two of them.

Russian: Part of Your World Reprise from The Little Mermaid

Korean: God Bless The Outcasts from The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Arabic: Beauty and the Beast from Beauty and the Beast

French: Reflection from Mulan

Zulu: I Just Can't Wait To Be King from The Lion King

Portuguese: A Whole New World from Aladdin

Thai: Once Upon A Dream from The Sleeping Beauty

Italian: I Won't Say I'm In Love from Hercules

Hindi: Kiss the Girl from The Little Mermaid

Turkish: Colors of the Wind from Pocahontas

Icelandic: Part of Your World from The Little Mermaid

German: Go the Distance from Hercules

Japanese: Son of Man from Tarzan

Romanian: Something There from Beauty and the Beast

Swedish: One Jump Ahead Reprise from Aladdin

Cantonese: So This Is Love from Cinderella

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Houston Rockets look dangerously good in preseason

The NBA regular season kicks off in a couple of weeks, and it looks to be a fascinating season with tonnes of juicy storylines. Will the Dwight-loaded Rockets launch into the stratosphere of the Western Conference elite? Will the Heat have enough for a three-peat and cement their status as one of the greatest teams of all time? Can the Thunder cope with the temporary loss of Russell Westbrook, or will it become more apparent that the James Harden trade has been a disaster of mythic proportions? Will the Celtics' Nets' expensive attempt to win the 2008 2014 championship work?

This preseason, the Rockets have looked very good. In the last 2 games (which were played in the Philippines and Taiwan), they were able to pretty much dominate the Pacers. That was the team that pushed the Heat to their limit in last season's playoffs. And I know that preseason doesn't mean much, but remember how the Lakers sucked in preseason last year and it basically foreshadowed their upcoming season? At least we know that the Rockets will most likely not totally flop in similar fashion.

The game in Taiwan was, to borrow a phrase from U2 (or more accurately, the Romanian poet Paul Celan), Jeremy Lin's sort of homecoming. It was a massively anticipated and pressure-filled situation for him, and he delivered with an excellent stat sheet of 17 points, 4 assists, 3 steals, 2 rebounds and 1 BEASTLY block. He shot 6/8 from the field, including 3/4 from 3-point range, which is the kind of efficiency you want to see in a player who also has to share the ball with James Harden, Dwight Howard, and Chandler Parsons.

From what I saw in the game, Howard still hasn't been smoothly integrated into the offense yet. And there's still the question of what to do with Omer Asik, who deserves to be a starter on any team in the league (except for perhaps any team that has Dwight Howard or Roy Hibbert) but could make the Rockets ridiculously deep if he becomes cool with coming off the bench.

But still, if I were the Thunder or the Spurs, I'd be very anxious right now. The Thunder especially, since I would be directly responsible for spawning this monster.

Highlights from the Taiwan game... LeBronesque chasedown block on Danny Granger
at 1:15

Friday, October 11, 2013

Rising Korean stars in MMA

I'm not a huge MMA junkie, but as a sports fan in general, I try to keep up with the latest goings on. I sort of know who the likes of Anderson Silva and Jon Jones are, for example, but I couldn't tell you about the finer points of grappling vs. striking. I've also never been in a fight in my life, unless you count a shoving match with a fat guy in a bar as a fight.

But still, it's always exciting to see Korean athletes do well in a sport, and right now, there are 3 notable Korean rising stars in the UFC. What's all the more amazing is that these fighters are all native Koreans, which just adds to all the obstacles that your typical UFC fighter has to overcome.

Remember that Simpsons episode in which Homer becomes a boxer, and his first fights are with homeless guys who are fighting for their dinners? That doesn't seem too far off from your average UFC fighter's situation as they have to pay for their own training, coaches, housing, flight, etc. And even the pay for fighting is paltry, though fighters will still jump at the chance in the hopes of winning and securing a shot at a title and greater rewards.

"Your boy looks a little soft, Moe." - Lucius Sweet

Because of this, Asian fighters from overseas are at a big disadvantage because of all the added costs (travel, lodging, translators, etc.):

So it's quite remarkable to see them succeed despite all these added burdens.

Chan Sung Jung, aka the Korean Zombie

Age: 26
Height: 5'7"
Weight: 145 lbs.
Record: 13-4
Most Recent Result: Loss to Jose Aldo (Featherweight title fight)
Most Famous For: Being able to take punches like no other (hence his nickname), seemingly reckless brawling style, submissions

Korean Zombie KO's Mark Hominick in 7 seconds, tying the UFC record for fastest
knockout ever

Korean Zombie wins via a "Twister" submission, the first in UFC history

Kim Dong Hyun, aka Stun Gun

Age: 31
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 175 lbs.
Record: 18-2-1 (1)
Most Recent Result: Win over Erick Silva
Most Famous For: Tenacious grappling style

Stun Gun knocks out Erick Silva in the 2nd round with a brutal shot

Lim Hyun Gyu

Age: 28
Height: 6'2"
Weight: 170 lbs.
Record: 12-3-1
Most Recent Result: Win over Pascal Krauss
Most Famous For: Knock-out power

Lim Gyu Hyun knocks out Pascal Krauss with an inhumane knee to the face

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Snowpiercer Paradox, Part 1: If Korean Audiences Can Accept A White Protagonist, Then Why Can't Americans Accept An Asian One?

I've been anticipating Gravity for a while, and now it's been released to swooning reviews that compare it to 2001: A Space Oddysey. Can't wait to go see it in IMAX. But thinking of this movie reminded me of the other critical super mega smash of the year, Snowpiercer, which of course we won't be able to see until god knows when and in what mutilated condition thanks to Harvey Weinstein.

And this got me thinking...

Snowpiercer is an awesome Korean movie that has broken box office records in Korea, in addition to getting rave reviews from critics all around the world. The interesting thing is that while it's a Korean-made film, the hero is Chris Evans and most of the cast (Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Ed Harris, Jamie Bell, and Alison Pill) is White, while Octavia Spencer is Black. There are only 2 significant Korean actors: Song Kang Ho and Ah Sung Ko. And still, Koreans came out in droves to see this movie.

Tilda Swinton too wants to give Harvey Weinstein a big "Fuck you!" for wanting to cut 20 minutes from the
American version of Snowpiercer

Yet the reverse would never happen in America, or at least, it'd never be allowed to happen in America. In countries such as Korea, China, India, Nigeria, and Brazil, movies starring White people regularly set box office records and people of those countries have no problem watching foreign-looking actors such as Matt Damon or Brad Pitt star in movies about cultures they're not entirely familiar with in a language that they may not fully understand.

Let's take a look at the American all-time box office, shall we? I took a glance, and I had to go down all the way to #43 to find a movie that starred a non-White person, and that depends entirely on how you choose to classify the notoriously racially ambiguous Vin Diesel (the movie is Fast and Furious 6, by the way).

On the bright side, American audiences show a surprising high level of empathy and tolerance for bipedal blue cats (Avatar), anthropomorphic playthings (Toy Story 3), hairy-footed halflings (The Lord of the Rings franchise), animated lions (The Lion King), bugle-eared green ogres (Shrek), and waddling bug-eyed aliens (E.T.).

So great news, struggling minority actors! Though the timetable on your acceptance as protagonists may take a while, perhaps you can be reincarnated as a cartoon animal or a Martian, and thereby be instantly accepted by American audiences as being worthy of empathy because you're not so strange and foreign as an African American or an Asian American.

Pretty sad that this is Hollywood's most successful movie with a protagonist of African descent

But it's one thing to be totally ignored. It's another to be selectively ignored in the process of cultural re-appropriation. This happens a lot in Hollywood with regards to Asian culture. The message I get from them is that Asian culture is awesome! Our food is great, our history is fascinating, our architecture is inspiring, our myths are cool, and our philosophies are enlightened.

But our people? Meh. Asia is great, except for its people. Especially the men, since the women can be beautifully exotic in a way and fulfill a pre-feminist void that's existed in the West ever since the pesky 1960s and Hillary Clinton rolled along.

Don't believe me? Just look at this summer alone. Two movies were either greatly inspired by or took place in Asia: Pacific Rim and The Wolverine. The former was clearly based on Japanese manga like Mobile Suit Gundam Wing, and even its title pays tribute to the region from where it drew its ideas. And the latter mostly takes place in Japan and has a number of Japanese supporting characters. But are the movies centered around Asian characters? Nope. Pacific Rim has Rinko Kikuchi in a supporting role, and The Wolverine has some Japanese characters that orbit around Hugh Jackman's heroism. Unsurprisingly, the two highest billed Asian actors are both female.

Jeff Yang of the Wall Street Journal summed the movie up pretty well in a Facebook post:

Fantastical cultural self-insertion isn't inherently wrong. If there were a Korean movie that involved a time-travelling Korean dude who landed in King Richard's court, helped prevent the Crusades, and got engaged to an earl's daughter, then that's the stuff that cinematic imagination is made of. After all, aren't movies supposed to depict the unlikely or the impossible?

The problem with Hollywood is that it happens ALL. THE. TIME. Here are some recent examples of movies in which Asian characters were replaced with White ones.

Cloud Atlas (2012)
The King of Fighters (2010)
The Last Airbender (2010)
Dragonball: Evolution (2009)
21 (2008)

Yellowface in "Cloud Atlas". Yeah, I know.

B-b-b-but.. It's about box office draw! Well, argument won, I guess. Jim Sturgess, Justin Chatwin, Jackson Rathbone, Sean Faris, and Jim Sturgess again (seriously, what's up with this guy?)... Can't argue with that kind of megawatt, household name, Q-rating-busting starpower.

And then there are the other types of cases in which a largely Asian story and setting is used to tell the far more important tale of the one White dude in the midst of it all. I'm looking at you, The Last Samurai. The ridiculousness of this movie has been well-documented, perhaps immortalized by Paul Mooney's little skit, but let me rehash your memory: American Civil War drunkard Tom Cruise goes to Japan, kills a master samurai which makes his widow fall in love with him for some reason (Seduction 101, fellas: Murdering a woman's spouse is like writing her 20 sonnets), becomes 2nd best samurai in Japan in a matter of weeks/months, and becomes lone survivor of an epic slaughter so that he can teach the Japanese on how to really be Japanese.

Then there's the gem, Come See The Paradise, which was made in 1990 and is the only major movie about the Japanese Internment. Naturally, such a traumatic, seismic, and under-explored event in Asian American history is the perfect opportunity to tell the love story between some White dude and Tamlyn Tomita.

But the most hilarious example has to be the Canadian production, Iron Road (2008). It manages to take the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway, perhaps one of the biggest sausagefests in history, and somehow make it all about yet another love story between a White dude and an Asian woman.

Feel the romance

Sensing a pattern here?

And in case you think that this is all part of the shameful past that's been relegated to the dustbin ever since the "post-racial" Obama era, let's take a look ahead. Smell that? It's the waft of more Hollywood bullshit. But that's going to be in Part 2.