Gintama

gintama festival 2016

今天中午吃飯的時候,不小心點到銀魂2016晴天祭,結果回過神來已經把昼篇和夜篇都看完了 <-- 這人真的是在複習的節奏嗎

I'm revising my seiyuu-con roots LOL

The most amazing thing about the Gintama matsuris is the amount and quality of amazing afureco (live dubbing) by amazing seiyuus. I just used amazing 3 times in that sentence.

Both the noon and night sessions featured the Shogun Assassination Arc as its main story, which I skipped because I couldn't bear sitting through one of the saddest arcs in the whole series.

The night session used Saitou to voice the event opening...initially I LOL'ed at all the viewer comments going "OMG SUCH A NICE VOICE" until I became "OMG SUCH A NICE VOICE", then I googled and realised it was (of course) Sakurai Takahiro. GAH SUCH A NICE VOICE WHY YOU PLAY SOMEONE WHO DOESN'T SPEAK. Then I realised there's a lot of new characters that have amazing voices which I had skipped (I really can't bring myself to watch the 4th season because of the Shogun arc T-T) like Morikawa Toshiyuki and Hirano Aya (*__*) and Inoue Kazuhiko (!!!) and Namikawa Daisuke (OMGGG)

The confession series were hilarious, and it's always hilarious to hear droolworthy voices ruin themselves screeching as one would in Gintama. Though I don't like Sarutobi as a character, the voice actress is absolutely riveting the way she gets totally into her do-M and jealous character and cannonballs her way through the lines. It always amazes me how different and gravelly Chiba (Kondou) sounds compared to his usual smooth and genteel voice.

Nakai-ossan always has this inexplicable 反差萌 about him, like even though Hijikata is the oni-fukuchou, Nakai always acts more like Tosshi during live events and is a bit of a pushover XDDD Suzumura (Okita) has always been a fan-favourite and though it feels like he's speaking less in recent years, he's usually pretty easy-going and fun-natured, and the character he plays allows him to be coolly judgemental towards everyone else XDDD

Sugita (Gintoki) has the same 死魚眼 as the character he plays but he's a lot more unflappable - though he'll pop out with the weirdest stuff at the most inappropriate times to hilarious effect. Similarly Ishida (Katsura) is usually pretty quiet and hangs in the periphery but would occasionally pop out with some surprising retorts at the least expected times.

I can't tell if Yamazaki and Shinpachi's seiyuus are like a heightened version of themselves or just playing their parts, but they certainly do the whole 地味 and 吐槽 gig to a tee.

I have no feelings towards Kugimiya (Kagura) or the girl who plays Otsu...they seem pretty popular with fans but the whole cutesy thing doesn't really appeal to me. There's no 月咏 this time, which is a pity.

Now, in case anyone hasn't seen it, here's the live action Gintama main cast cameo-ing as their anime counterparts. Sorry Sugita...I still think Oguri has a better voice (even though he's trying to rough it up a bit here). Shinpachi's voice doesn't sound different at all, yappari the megane is the main point ne (whut). Actually Suda Masaki has grown on me a bit in the last couple of months, and I think he'd do a really good job with Shinpachi (not sure it's a compliment LOL).



Ayeee~~~~I just watched a trailer of Oguri Shun kicking ass in his new drama CRISIS. I don't know how I'm going to deal with seeing him as Gintoki...........

It's going to sooooooooo ruin my fond memories of gentlemanly Hanazawa Rui (HanaDan), cool Sano Izumi (HanaKimi), straight-man Takakura Sou (Tokyo Dogs), imposing Danno Tatsuya (Ouroboros) TT_____TT

At least, with a CV like that, I hope it'll be very hard for him to ruin Gintoki.

Also glanced at something with Yoshizawa Ryo in it - I think he'd make a good Okita. 顏值到位 XD <-- 這是重點嗎?


PS: I loved how the bit where the actor for Itou was reminiscing about his recording days, and he said, "When I got the part I didn't know anything about Gintama, and when I recorded the first episode I thought, wow, this is actually really touching. When I said this aloud, all the cast members were like, 'No, no, no, this is not normal, normally it's about pee and poop and nothing much happening.'" All the cast members immediately start nodding XDDD

PPS: Also the number of tweets saying "Thank you Gintama, you have acclimatised me to dirty jokes." to the point the cast members were like, "Are dirty jokes the only thing people remember about this show?" LOL
Jdrama

defendant

"Pigoin", or "the defendant".

I should be studying for exams and obviously I'm here posting about K-dramas...

The Defendant is one of those shining examples of Korean script-writing that in part explains why, while Japanese dramas in general is in a decline, the new Korean dramas continually break records in ratings and audience response.

That is not to say that it's without flaw (though I haven't watched the whole thing yet), because if you take a step back, some parts of it isn't really consistent with what a character might do. For example, Park Jung-woo choosing to avoid authorities instead of trying to enlist the help of either his colleagues (though understandably he may not trust all of them) or his family, despite being previously a law enforcer himself. Or the odd choices by Cha Min-Ho to kill or not kill people - especially his "wife" when she "betrayed" him multiple times.

The script does something that both Japanese and Korean dramas are good at - the exploration of human nature, of the effect society (especially in a much more conformative society as would exist in Asia compared to the western world) has on the actions of an individual, and the drivers behind a crime and a kind act.

What it adds to that, and is something that recent good Korean dramas have been able to achieve that Japanese dramas struggle with, is the wholeness of a story. Japanese dramas have been very good at suspense and crime procedurals, but they have very rarely done a good job with a story arc that is paced across the entire series. They also have this inexplicable penchant for explaining away plot points with some mind-boggling conspiracy that feels more like a badly written hyperbole.

Pigoin is about a well-respected prosecutor who (conveniently - Korean drama staple #1) is struck by amnesia, and can't remember exactly why or how he came to be on death row for the murder of his own wife and young daughter. What unravels as he slowly regains pieces of his memories is an intriguingly complex web of ruthless petty vengeance, jealousy, greed, personal ambition, loyalty, obligation, integrity and love.

If Descendants of the Sun painted soldiers and doctors in a romantically unblemished light, Pigoin comes across as an ode to the faithful barristers and prosecutors who respect and uphold the moral demands of their jobs. It also reminds us that the world, especially where the law is entangled, is grey: that while most criminals are not framed like Park, many despite their crimes usually has some goodness in them.

It's nice to see the despicable factory owner in Descendants of the Sun get somewhat of a good part this time - though he starts out a gangster angry at the main character for putting him in jail, he eventually becomes an ally and then a friend.

But let me get to exactly why this post came to be. Kim Minseok - the cute little spark in Descendants of the Sun, the runaway thief who became everyone's little brother. Despite staying in side parts, his roles are getting meatier and meatier, last year playing a neurosurgical intern diagnosed with brain cancer (of course - it's amazing how many hospital staff get sick in the correct specialty in medical dramas). This role is his best yet.

***** SPOILER ALERT *******

He is an accomplice in the murders, but after he kidnaps Park's daughter he finds he couldn't bring himself to murder her. He was rorted into this because the bad guys promised they would pay for his ill sister's operation, but his sister died in the operation anyway. Struck by guilt, he then spends 10 episode looking after Park's daughter and hiding from the bad guys, who have told him that if he dares to go to the police then they are able to pin Park's wife's death on him. He was forced to turn himself in later on and had hoped to provide the evidence to convict the man who instructed him to abduct Park's daughter, but ends up being killed for it.

This is one of those roles that can really make an actor, and Kim is helped along by his baby face that makes him look more like the kid's older brother than (almost) 20 years her senior.
The interactions between him and the girl are some of the sweetest things on TV and is in fact cuter than the father-daughter interaction (I'm guessing Shin Rina spends a lot more time on/off screen with Kim Minseok than she does with Ji Sung, and the level of comfort shows because of her young age).

His character stands as the symbol (one of many in this series) of what a single selfish action can bring and what a singular kind thought can achieve. And (I can't seem to emphasise this enough XDD) his baby face really helps his case as the young and immature kid who made the wrong choice in life, and throughout the series grows enough to accept retribution for his wrongdoings.

In fact, if anything, his character has a more complete character development arc than anyone else in the series. The main characters have had a lot happen to them, but they've pretty much stayed consistently themselves, with their fixed world views, from beginning to end.

His is only one character in the throng of interesting character motivations - take Park's friend, who turns from upright prosecutor to protecting his selfish interests; or Cha's wife, who initially stays silent but surrenders to her moral misgivings at a crucial moment. It's a fascinating web of humans being driven by their flawed or virtuous humanness, the flaws that put the noose neatly around Park's neck, or the kindness that slowly weathered away until those traditional heroic virtues - kindness and justice - won the day.

It is a good script, if flawed and slow at times, and it is the type of script that explains (above and beyond the pretty faces that adorn it) the good ratings that accompany a drama of this calibre.

It is the contrast that you see with a terrible script like A Life ~ Itoshiki Hito that explains why Japanese dramas are struggling to obtain ratings above 15% these days despite being stuffed full of well-known names.

Japanese literature and film have traditionally been great at its incisive comments on the human condition, and it's getting more and more technically mature at doing police procedurals, but the formula is getting tired. I'm waiting for the day where it can put together something that fits together as well as Pigoin does - and it has the luxury of doing this in only 12 episodes instead of dragging it out over 18 (for Pigoin, sadly a victim of its own popularity).

Like in the heyday of Hanazawa Naoki, I think we would see something that's more deserving of a high rating than the brain-numbingly silly Doctor X.
Squeak?

fantastic beasts and where to find them

Maybe it's my stuffed nose or my week of sleep deprivation, but it was quite possibly the most unexciting 2 hours of entertainment I've sat through in the last year.

I've been fond of Eddie Redmayne since Les Miserables and the rather stunning (?mouth-gaping) The Danish Girl, but he managed to hit the awkward and anti-social Newt on the nail...because he's just as forgettable and charmless.

The two women are equally forgettable yet also manage to be grating in addition. The main girl (whose name I swiftly banished out of my short term memory as soon as I finished watching, might have been Louise or Tina or something) must be one of the most annoyingly useless female inspectors in a major role to grace the big screen.

The only one who had any real charm was the Muggle. The fantastic beasts and the fantastical world in question took too long to appear. Newt's suitcase reveal should have happened at least 30 minutes earlier, and not after a 1 hour trawl through an exposition-heavy introduction.

Because of how long the movie was, it hadn't been clear from the outset that the orphans were going to be a major plot point, I failed to develop any sympathy for the kids, who managed more creepiness than innocence.

Without wishing to waste any more words on this movie, it was a decent optical spectacle but the fantasy came too late and the emotional core was curiously absent. And there's Johnny Depp being Johnny Depp...
Gakuen Alice

cast iron pots

You know you're getting on in age when the purchase of an expensive pot makes you happy.

The fact that I'm posting about this is in tribute to every student's favourite pastime...procrastination.

Myer was having a 50% off if you purchase 2 items sale last weekend (which is also on this weekend), and since I've been wanting a smaller pot than my 24cm Le Creuset casserole for ages, I made the snap purchase ($150 instead of the RRP$300). The second item was an unexciting Maxwell & Williams ceramic pot which will probably barely get used.

But! I now have a 18cm Staub cocotte! It's so cute! Even if it's a rather monochromatic shade of grey. It's just the right size for 1.5 person's worth of soup noodles, or 2 person's worth of soup! And probably just a bit on the small side when I tried making the Vietnamese tomato beef stew (Bo Kho).

And now I'm eyeing a 20cm pot +/- a 22cm pot..................................

Who would have thought that pots could be a sinkhole of doom?

Random gems of research
- Le Creuset has the widest range of colours and Staub a particularly limited range in Australia. Both brands have some specialty pots (tomato and pumpkin). Le Creuset in particular has some nice Asia-only colours and styles.
- Both Le Creuset and Staub import smaller pots only to Asian countries. For example, you'll find east Asian outlets all selling 14, 16, 18 and 20cm pots. I am yet to find an Australian outlet that sells a Staub 20cm, or a Le Creuset in anything smaller than 20cm (i.e. 14-18). In the same vein, maybe because Asian wives go for the whole cutesy thing, you get the brighter colours and the girly flower-shaped or heart-shaped pots...only in Asia. Sigh.
- What exactly qualifies as Australian cuisine anyway? How come we only get the boring round/oval casseroles? Le Creuset has some nice pot shapes overseas, including the popular-in-east-Asia Marmite/Chef's pan style, which has a sloped bottom to make stirfrying a bit more amenable while also being a versatile soup saucepan; and the American website also has a "Balti dish" for Indian cuisine.
- Staub is heavier than Le Creuset, though with my 24cm pot you probably won't care about the difference (your wrists get sore pretty quickly!) The 18cm is just the right sort of heft, a bit heavier than my Scanpan saucepan which has a pretty heavy base and long heavy handles. The only visible benefit is that - what they say is true - Staub is less likely to spill over on simmering. I need to recheck this with Le Creuset as I have had experiences of it spilling over and also of it not spilling when I expect it to. However, I was very impressed while making the Bo Kho that I had the Staub pot filled to the brim and it didn't spill despite it being on a higher setting than what my stainless steel saucepan can tolerate without spilling.
- Does it retain flavour better? Possibly. Previously I've always needed to add sugar to balance the sourness in the tomatos, but this time it was fine just with the sweetness it apparently extracted from the carrots and turnip. I don't know if that's the pot or the turnip, though XD
- The black enamel of Staub needs a bit of seasoning to start with, but the white enamel of Le Creuset has a problem with staining, so they both need to be looked after.
- As with all enamelled cast iron pots, the caring instructions is extensive - slow and patient seems to be the buzz here, from the cooking to the cleaning.
- Sizes: everyone is different, but a 14cm is probably just enough for a child's meal. 16cm would be okay for a one person portion of noodles (but will be a bit cramped trying to cook). 18cm would be for 1-3 people. The 24cm I rarely use because of how heavy it is and how rare that I need to stew something that big. Might be about right for a whole chicken, or about 4-5 person's worth of congee.

So what am I looking forward to now? Well, either a 20cm (more practical) or a 22cm (more accessible). There's also a Japanese brand called Vermicular that has apparently been doing the rounds in Asia and is very well-reviewed. It has some nice pearly pastels that appeal to the Asian palate, and some nice design quirks courtesy of Japanese attention to detail. Price-wise it is actually more expensive than the French traditional factories, and as a new brand it remains to be seen whether the quality will hold up (although these days artisan stuff "Made in Japan" is a pretty solid brand in itself).

I need to recheck to see if the difference between spillage is true for Le Creuset vs Staub...I've been wanting a 20cm Le Creuset (the colours!) but will definitely get a Staub if the spillage is a real problem since oven-cooking is pretty low on my priorities and it's mainly stovetop simmering that I need to do.

I've also been lemming some cute Le Creuset ramekins...might stimulate my itch to make cakes again...
Reflective

the lonely and great god ~ goblin

From the director and scriptwriter who brought you the phenomenon Descendants of the Sun, comes another phenomenon, The Lonely and Great God ~ Goblin.

900 years ago, a general returned victorious from war, only to be accused of treason by his king and killed. As he lay dying, his own blood dripping from his sword, awoken by the prayers of the people he had protected, he turned into a "goblin". His immortality is a curse, a punishment to bear for the thousands of lives he had killed with his sword. The only one who can release him from this curse is "the goblin's wife", someone who can see the invisible sword in his chest and pull it out. 900 years later...he saves the life of a pregnant mother who was meant to die in a hit-and-run accident. A child who should not have been born comes into this world and grows up, able to see supernatural beings...and the sword.


If this was a *cough* novella, it would be encapsulated with 大叔年上x陽光少女,副CP重生

And I think therein lies its problem, for me.

A large age gap is a bit of a landmine for me, even more so if the younger character starts off in high school. I mean technically it shouldn't matter, right, because we've had Twilight tell the world that it's okay for centuries old vampires to hover outside (or inside?) the bedroom of a 16 year old girl. Fortunately the ahjussi is the more passive one in the relationship, so it doesn't feel like something illegal is happening...

But because of my personal taste, I can't get into the romance between the two main characters, and I ended up skipping almost all of their scenes after the first few episodes.

The more interesting story comes in the middle and is courtesy of the two side characters, the "grim reaper" (or one of) and the boss of a fried chicken shop.

The thing about 重生 (rebirth) stories is that it provides the perfect background and atmosphere to 虐 and 騙眼淚. It really is the highlight of the story - the love between a sister and brother, a husband and wife, and a general and his liege.

其實我的淚點不算低(有看到悲慘世界最後一幕才落淚的光榮?成績),但是11到13集那段莫名地一直戳我的淚點。金善和金信相認的時刻(覺得這倆兄妹好慘,雖然都是心甘情願地被利用),王黎想起記憶的時候,以及最後王黎和金善雙雙投生的時候。話説第一次金信跟地獄使者對質的時候,使者滿臉流淚地嗚咽“我是王黎嗎”,我也在一邊同情淚一邊想鬼怪叔能衝著這可憐鬼下手才怪,只是陰陰那一集哭得實在太頻,到最後鬼怪叔跟他道別消失的時候,他又開啓淒美人落淚模式,我直接出戯翻了個白眼。

雖然我最心疼的是堅強溫柔的金善,但編劇還是成功地把王黎洗白了。他是不適合作君王,過於懦弱,也過於多情。由於一直被灌輸他的身份低賤,由於沒有得到父王的愛,他太過自卑,明知道是錯的也不敢跟奸臣說不,直到這份懦弱和自卑蒙蔽了他的眼睛,讓他真的以爲金家會對他不利。然而在他認爲會威脅他的人死去后,真正的威脅才顯露了出來,他卻又無力掌權,僅僅沉溺在自己的悔恨和哀悼中,選擇自殺死去。而真相就像金信說的,王黎並不是他自以爲得那麽沒人愛(好中二的思維?),他的父王、妻子和大將軍都曾因爲愛著他而守護著他,最有也都為他而死。

最後吐槽一下:金大將軍您說您當時走過來其實只是想跟王上轉達他父王的遺言順便把奸臣砍了,這事您當時打一下招呼啊,不然您手握長劍面帶殺意地走過來不嚇壞小孩子才怪…………

There's some undeniable holes in the plot, like why random people kept saying the main girl will die if the guy doesn't but in the end the girl dies anyway...and the guy stays immortal anyway??? In fact the plot holes detract so much from the main romance that the side story, being more emotionally piquant to start with, stood out a lot more.

It's a bit of a shame that the main girl had no role in the past. I don't think it is a flaw per se, but somehow her lack of involvement and the way her character is construed makes her seem really bland in the face of the cruel star-crossed destinies that the other 3 people went through.

The cinematography is gorgeous, and the plot is pretty good for about 7 episodes...and that would be episodes 1-3 and 10-13. I personally skipped the rest, but your taste will vary.
Jdrama

a life ~ itoshiki hito

When did Fuji's golden chicken of Gekku start laying turd piles? And when did Johnny's golden boy become a turd magnet?

Probably around the same time.

Kimura Takuya used to be the guarantee of golden ratings, but his last few dramas have been disappointments to the channels. To be absolutely fair, the ratings for all dramas have been going downhill in the last decade. In recent years you'd be lucky to find 3 dramas that rate above 20% in a year, or 3 dramas to rate above 15% in a season. With that in mind, the fact that Kimura-led dramas have still been able to pull in audiences of close to 15% is actually not that bad, until you consider that the supporting cast all consist of main star quality/popularity actors, then the rating appears mediocre against their combined star power.

The thing is, I never really understood the appeal of KimuTaku or his acting. His posturing isn't as obvious as many of the other JE graduates, and he manages to emote adequately for every scene, but his characters are never sufficiently different from each other.

But this time, more than any other year, KimuTaku needed this drama to do well. Still floundering in the aftermath of SMAP's messy breakup (it's embarrassing enough without the government coming out to apologise because they had hired you for the Olympics), KimuTaku is really putting his eggs in this basket. Never known for being the most easy-going person to work with, this time he reportedly splurged 1 million yen on buying the entire cast and crew...custom made jackets?

The supporting cast has such stellar names as Asano Tadanobu (you last saw him in Thor, unless you saw Silence), Takeuchi Yuko (a shade of her commanding presence in Strawberry Night), Matsuyama Kenichi (you've first met him in Death Note and you'll know he's a formidable young actor in his own right), Kimura Fumino (a rising young actress who has enough presence to hold her own), Nanao (a decently popular actress who unfortunately gets typecast in anego roles), as well as a string of respectable older supporting actors. As you might see, if you know anything about Japanese dramas, these are all people who would at any other time be leading their own series.

Then it's a wonder how the script manages to take these photogenic actors with likable personalities, and write them into a story about the most gratingly immature and unprofessional doctors you'll ever have the misfortune of watching.

As the story goes, Okita (Kimura) has spent the good part of the last 5 years in America, learning amazingly advanced surgical procedures. It turns out his best friend Masao had gone behind his back and suggested to the hospital president that he be sent to America. With him out of the way, Masao married Okita's ex-girlfriend-or-crush-or-just-some-girl-he-liked-practising-sutures-with-Danjo Mifuyu (Takeuchi), who also happens to be the president's daughter, so then Masao climbed into the vice president's role. It's quickly clear that Mifuyu is Desdemona with her head in the clouds, and Masao snuggles with the hospital's medicolegal solicitor at work but sleeps in a separate bed to Mifuyu and their daughter.

Rounding up the cast is an uncaring surgical director, Matsuyama's hot-headed young doctor Igawa, and Kimura Fumino's refreshingly feisty (and smart) scrub nurse.

If I didn't know that Matsuyama and Takeuchi (and Asano) are more than capable of holding down amazing characterisation, I would have blamed the jaw-hurting ensemble on their acting. Asano brings a complexity to Masao's jealousy, but Matsuyama and Takeuchi manage to have a combined IQ of a squirrel, and I blame that on a terrible script that has characters spew out stupid things to create conflict only for the sake of conflict.

For example, the storyline of the first episode was Mifuyu's father (i.e. the president) needed a valve replacement, but developed a severe post-op complication. While Okita tried to find the surgical solution to fix it, Mifuyu yelled at him that she doesn't want any more surgery because "you promised it would be okay!" and "I'm saying this as the next of kin!" Then the next day when Okita interrupted the surgical department meeting, requesting to go ahead with the surgery that he has worked out, all the of the surgical department opposed him but all of a sudden Mifuyu stands up and asks Okita to save her father. What was the whole point

Then the second episode was about a man who had his thoracic aortic aneurysm stented, but developed a post-op complication due to a (rare) aberrant right subclavian (i.e. the artery that supplies his right arm came off the "wrong" side of the aorta), and his right hand was affected because the stent blocked off the supply.

When Okita put forward that they should go in and fix the problem, the surgical director overruled him based on the fact that "this will amount to admitting to a medical error and they'll sue us" because "we are a top hospital providing top quality medical care so we can't do anything that suggests we have made a mistake".

What. The. Actual. French.

Let's not even go remotely into the ETHICAL issues of KNOWING there is something you can fix and KNOWING there is a solution but choosing not to do it. I'm pretty sure that LEGALLY you can be dragged through the court and beyond for NOT DOING IT. In fact, I am pretty sure that is what MEDICAL MALPRACTICE is, given that there is CLEAR INTENTION and CLEAR HARM.

I'm sorry, that's the moment I decided this drama was too retarded to be worth my time. Any doctor or nurse standing in that room should go read the Hippocratic Oath and get their licence revoked.

This drama is clearly written by someone who have no idea how health professionals actually think and work. It's also written by someone who has a terrible grasp of character, and you have two major characters (Mifuyu and Igawa) whose personality switch dizzyingly from scene to scene, depending on whether the director needed them to be whiny rats or tail-wagging sidekicks.

I'd like to say you can watch this if you like the actors, but I feel like I'm angrier because I know what they're capable of, and the script has not been kind to anyone except the golden boy who's already lost his halo.
Geek

red oil wonton

It's one of my favourite dishes at 鼎泰丰 (Din Tai Fung), the deliciously numbing and slightly chilli oil, and the (really quite good) fat noodles soaking up the juice.

The "red oil" is a versatile mixture used in a several of my favourite Szechuan cuisines - the chilli oil wonton, the cold noodles, and add it as topping to your favourite noodles.

I did this as an experiment, but it actually turned out rather amazing. This is quite a versatile recipe, so you can alter whatever spices you prefer to be in there.

A) Dry ingredients (alter this to taste):
- Sugar
- Salt
- Crushed Szechuan pepper 花椒
- Crushed fennel seeds 茴香籽
- Crushed fried red onions 炸紅蔥頭 (you can get these from SE Asian shops)
- Crushed fried garlic 炸蒜
- Chilli powder or crushed dried chillis 辣椒粉或干辣椒碎 (one recipe suggested 3 different types of powder, I happened to have some chilli powder I got from Coles and a bag of crushed chilli from a Korean store, though to be honest I'm not connoisseur enough to taste the difference)
(Optional) Sesame or crushed peanuts
(Optional) Pepper 胡椒
(Optional) Lithospermum 紫草 - supposedly this, in Chinese medicine, counteracts the "hot" effects of the other chillis/peppers that's added to this

B) Oil ingredients:
- Fresh ginger
- Fresh garlic
- Fresh shallot
- Dried Szechuan pepper
- Dried star anise
- Dried cinnamon (I actually forgot this, but it didn't seem to affect the core of the taste too much)

The idea is that you use low heat to deep fry all of the ingredients in (B). Unlike in other Asian stirfry cuisine where you typically heat up the oil before adding in the spices, you actually put the ingredients into cold oil and slowly heat it until small bubbles ooze, and let it cook until the ingredients turn crisp. Then you discard the spices in the oil and pour the oil, while hot, onto all the dry ingredients.

To make the sauce for the wonton or the cold noodles, mix one part of the chill oil/paste to one part Chinese vinegar (or black vinegar) to one part soy sauce.

You would definitely scoop some of the crushed/ground spices along with the oil, because that's where the flavour pops.
Gundam 00

time, the final frontier

Firstly, congratulations on surviving 2016 and welcome to 2017.

2016 was certainly an interesting year, not just because of the number of shock celebrity deaths (RIP). It showed us there are flaws to every form of government, including democracy, and it gave us a world that proudly preys on our fear of "them" and "those people".

“There is a curse.
They say:
May you live in interesting times.”
---Sir Terry Pratchett


But my subject is actually much more mundane. I recently watched The Martian and following that, because it's still touted as a masterpiece, Interstellar.

I'm beginning to think I'm not really a sci-fi fan.

They were both nice movies, though Interstellar felt about 1 hour too long. The pace was slow, perhaps to give the audience time to absorb the beauty of space and the gravity (hah) of the situation. I liked that Murph (and Brand) was a strong female who was pivotal to the plot (and to solving humanity's plight) without serving a romantic role. The trouble was, as clever as the conceit was, there was too much gobbledygook going on towards the end that, given how realism had grounded much of the movie, came to its undoing as it gravitated (hah) too close to fantasy. The snippet where Cooper enters the black hole and transmits the secret quantum message to his daughter was particularly gobbledygook. Nolan has authored some clever stuff, and you're much better off appreciating his genius in something like The Prestige or Inception, both of which were also better served by their pacing and atmosphere. The music was starting to really grate after 2 hours and 50 minutes of ominous swell of strings chorus, and again (?) you have Hans Zimmer to thank. As usual with Nolan's movies, the quality of the cast was superb, especially in the actresses for Murph.

To its credit, Interstellar's slow pace gives the audience pause to think about what humans are doing to Earth, about the moral dilemma of a world crises - do we choose to turn a blind eye and hide in a shell of ignorance, or do we take the higher intellectual ground of saving the species, or do we bank on our empathy and fight for those we care for? The movie seems to support the last option, and we like to believe that it's empathy that makes us human - but as it questions even in the movie, so often an individual's empathy is short-sighted, given only to those we have contact with. Is saving the species, rather than the individual, the real moral high ground?

Space, the final frontier, said Star Trek, but Interstellar suggests that there is another frontier out there, beyond the three dimensions, that the humans will conquer. Time, the one thing that has always been constant in our existence, the one thing we cannot escape nor alter. But Cooper suggests that humans conquered time to deliver him the message for him to save mankind.

The Martian is a much lighter film in terms of its mood but also philosophy. Quite a few of the same cast appears, supported by a bunch of MCU veterans (especially the two who've recently appeared in Doctor Strange). Like Interstellar, it's a story of survival but on a one man scale. It's a movie of optimism, not only in the old Chinese adage that "the heavens will not give you a road that ends you", but one that also believes in a world where people will come together to save one man. It's a story that empowers nerds and scientists, if that needed to be done, although it is a bit incredible the amount of knowledge Matt Damon's character possessed to survive on his own. Reacting hydrogen with oxygen? I don't think I learned that in biology.

And at the birth of another year, let's commemorate the passing of the last with the poem endlessly referenced in Interstellar.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
--- Dylan Thomas
Reflective

doctor strange

In a movie that draws heavily from Oriental philosophy/ideology, and in fact has multiple parallels to the Dreamworks panda story, it's only appropriate to use Master Oogway's icon to represent it.

I actually ended up watching this movie twice, more out of circumstance than because I felt particularly compelled to, the first time in 2D and the second time in 3D. I don't know if it's because 3D glasses never fit me very well but although the visuals were indeed a tad more impressive in 3D (it would be much better on IMAX, I'd imagine), you miss out on the nuances of the actors' expressions, in particular Tilda Swinton.

I think people have already said all that's needed to be said about this movie. It's a par performance by Marvel, upping the bar for imagination and visual representation, and barely clearing it from a plot and character point of view.

Unlike his incredibly popular turn as Mr Holmes in Sherlock and (for me at least) a riveting presence as Khan in Star Trek: Into Darkness, Benedict Cumberbatch's Stephen Strange is just...par. I mean, from where I stand, there's definitely humour in the familiar caricature of awkwardly narcissist surgeons, but whether it's the slightly distracting almost-American accent (he sounds much better than RDJ sprouting British, so there's that) or the failings of the story, Strange is unfortunately not as charismatic as Tony Stark or Thor, not as funny as Peter Quill, not as morally straight as Steve Rogers, and not as personable as Scott Lang. Marvel's leading men had always led the story, the plot there only as an embellishment to display their best qualities. It's not as though Benedict hadn't pulled his weight, and it certainly isn't that he is incapable of doing great or lovable, but unfortunately Strange is neither, and that is this movie's greatest misstep.

There were some great acting from everyone involved, which unfortunately only further highlighted the thinness of the plot. Rachel McAdams did what she could with 15 minutes of screen time for a warm and compassionate ED doctor (where do you find one of those these days? LOL), and was a lot less grating than the last token girlfriend *cough*Nat Portman*cough*. Mads Mikkelsen also did what he could with a largely 2-dimensional villain in Kaecilius.

I think my greatest frustration is that the stems of the plot are there, but the story wasn't allowed to develop into a rich canopy. To draw on the Kungfu Panda analogy - if a cartoon could make you shed a tear at a doddery turtle's ascent to the stars, there's no reason it couldn't have done the same here. Similarly Kaecilius and Mordo were both short-changed in terms of their character (well, in terms of character even Stephen Strange was short-changed, so I suppose all that's not surprising). The betrayal these 2 students felt, and in particular in the case of Mordo, if the movie had given a little back story to explain why he was so fiercely adherent to the idea of "rules", then Marvel would have created one of their best antiheroes next to Loki, but alas.

There was a lot of controversy about the casting of Tilda Swinton. It's ironic to call it "not whitewashing when the character was white to start with" when the original character was Asian and much of the movie's imagery and even some of its philosophy draws on Asian culture. To her credit, Tilda Swinton makes the Ancient One great, but I have no doubt there are equally capable actors of Asian descent that could have done this. That said, her portrayal of the Ancient One with a mischievous twinkle and fleeting moments of vulnerability certainly made her the most interesting character in this movie.

She also has the best quote - "We never lose our demons, we only learn to live above them." - neatly foreshadowing perhaps not only her students' downfall but also her own.

I am very fond of Benedict (and also of Rachel and Chiwetel), so I do want to see more of them, but while this has been a stunning visual experience, I really hope the story gets much better by the second time round.
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As an aside, I've seen a few sites talk about when Doctor Strange was set, and one of the makers came out and said that the movie started in 2016. Without arguing over how long Strange would take to master sorcery - just from a medical point of view, the guy was in a car accident (it's amazing how he managed to get out of it without brain injury when his face is all smashed, but hey, creative license). Then we see him wake up with external fixators, then he flips through 3 hand X-rays, representing a progression in time - the first one when the ex-fix's were in, the second when they were out, and the 3rd when more pins were removed. Following that, at least one major surgery was depicted, followed by a period of rehab. The impression you get from the movie is that he had more surgeries (likely with rehab in between) before everyone had given him up and he had to search out Pangborn.

In the "leanest" case scenario, we're talking about: accident - ex-fix - ex-fix out - pins out - rehab - surgery - rehab. This is a process that would have taken at very minimum 3-4 months, though if I were to factor in other surgeries and in real life terms, I'd be estimating a year or even two. This does still give enough time for Strange to arrive at the same chronology as Thor: Ragnarok by 2017. To be honest I think it doesn't really affect the Marvel continuity if he had been around earlier because he would have been immersed in training, and may not even have heard about Sokovia or whatever.
Geek

a bunch of movies

A few months ago I went to New York, and as often happens on these 20+ hour flights, I caught up on a few movies. As often happens when you are sleep-deprived, cramped into a tight space and struggling to hear the dialogue over the drone of engines, these are usually not the best circumstances to meet a movie (or anything/anyone) for the first time. Sometimes I wonder if airlines should change the name from "entertainment" to "procrastinator" or perhaps more aptly, "sleep replacement therapy" - for those moments in life when you're too uncomfortable to sleep, too tired to read, and...well, there really isn't any option apart from trying to raid the galley for the 5th time for biscuits.

By the way, JAL has some really amazing snacks. Definitely worth the raid...ahem.

Strayer's Chronicle
This one I actually watched last year on our way via Japan. It's the sort of dystopian science fiction that Japan seems to love churning out - ala Gantz, SPEC and Shin Sekai Yori. Perhaps a little too similar to X-men than it intended to be, but much smaller in scale. In the near future, scientists have worked out a way to create "superhumans" via one of two methods. The first group "Team Subaru", to which the main characters belong, were born from mothers who had been placed under prolonged extreme stress during gestation. This group has heightened senses and perception, at the price that when they reach "adulthood", they undergo an abrupt breakdown and die - that process occurring at any point after they reach teenage years.

The second group "Team Ageha", are Magneto's team the antagonists, having been created from recombinant technology that spliced animal DNA with humans. Their DNA had been coded so that they were unable to live past the age of 20 (I can't remember if it was this movie or another that talked about telomeres, but the concept is similar).

The result is painfully akin to a watered down version of X-men, where the two groups of children meet as enemies and eventually unite in the common cause of preserving their line. Unfortunately, a recurrent flaw of these dystopian science fiction stories is that the final reveal, the big boss's motivation, the cruel hand that drove their fate...is incredibly uninspired and underwhelming. Think Death Note and its nihilistic "after death there is nothing" message, or SPEC and its ludicrous retconning.

What it does differently to the much glossier X-men, and in no small part due to the young age of its cast, is the sense of family between its characters. Japan seems to be able to do the tenderness of a family a lot better than Hollywood, but it may be more due to the cultural structure than scripting. The adoration the younger kids have for their big brother Subaru, and the responsibility he feels towards his charges, the bickering between the Ageha members while always watching out for each other...in the end you feel bad for them, because these are vulnerable kids who should be coming into their prime, and are yet faced with the imminence (and certainty) of death.

I wouldn't have placed Okada Masaki as an action hero, but he did a fair job here, having enough presence to pull off the thoughtful big brother and a keen fighter who can predict other people's moves before they make them. The kids all turn in on par performances, though this was probably an item that should have stayed a book where morals and social values could be explored without undermining an action-packed climax.

Kung Fu Panda 3
These days, everything must have a sequel, and when things have a sequel, they must be a trilogy. Hollywood logic *eye roll* Franchises that have so far been undone by the need for trilogies include and are not limited to The Hobbit, Iron Man, Pirates of the Caribbean and....Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon.

In this perfunctory and forgettable final entry, we meet Po's (real) dad and a village of similarly fat and silly pandas. I don't really understand the logic of "we almost got killed because we knew kungfu so let's hide in a place where no one can find us...and purposely not learn kungfu". I'm pretty sure they'd kill you even faster....

Anyhow, I've seen talks on the net complimenting the climax on the way it portrays the importance of attaining inner peace, of looking within, of letting go of the attachment of life and death...but that's giving the movie way more credit than it deserves.

Funny and colourful, but unfortunately no longer as impressive as when the first movie was released, though to its credit, it's still much less hamfisted with the "be yourself" message as most other Hollywood animations out there...

Spotlight
This was the movie that won the Oscar. I feel watching it on the plane really didn't do it justice. Set in 2000-2001, a group of columnists expose the long-standing child abuse perpetrated by church priests(?) and protected by a society that did not want to know it.

It's really a sad movie that passes such keen criticism on the damaging inertia of society. People, involuntarily or not, protect the perpetrators and cast out the victims, because to do otherwise - especially in this case but also in other circumstances - would be to defy some part of their own beliefs.

In the end there was no powerful corporation, no scheming villain, no unscrupulous thugs...just lots of embittered and angry people who tried to make things right, and on their way discovering that the barriers that had prevented them were so insidious and institutionalised that they almost could not pinpoint it.

I think the most poignant scene was when Rachel McAdams' character tried to calm Mark Ruffalo's character down, and as they sat outside in the dark fuming, McAdam's character says in a sad, wistful tone, "You know...I used to go the church, then life got busy...but I've always thought I'd go back one day, you know, when I get older. But now that I've read all these...I don't know. I don't know if I can sit there, knowing what they've done."

For a lot of people who still have a belief, it's a very sacred, pure thing, whatever the religion. That moment after the newspaper was in wide release and McAdams' grandmother reads it, then puts a trembling hand down...it was terrible, not just what the perpetrators did to the victims, but to do so from a position of trust, and what it meant for the masses who had turned to them for purity and purpose.

Jurassic Park
I hadn't been meaning to watch this, given how reviews had been, and how scathing dear Joss Whedon had been about its use of regressive gender tropes.

What can I say? I think my brain had been pretty numb by this stage of the trip, which meant this was the perfect combination of running-screaming-shooting-and-rinse-and-repeat to engage your time without needing a functioning brain to actually process any of it. The CGI was nice, the main characters were gorgeous, there were predictable but not altogether too stupefying ebbs and flows of tension. Did someone die? I think someone did, but frankly I can't remember, so can't have been important.

I liked Chris Pratt from GotG, and if I had time I'd watch Parks and Recreation, but somehow Jurassic Park took an all-round fun and charming guy and turned him into a sour bore.

So it was fortunate I watched this in a state of stupor that I would forget it before GotG 2 rolls around, I suppose.

That was not a review.