Festival du Nouveau Cinema: Ash is Purest White (2018)

The 47th Annual Festival du Nouveau Cinema has started in Montreal and will be around until October 14th. I’m not sure why I’ve never thought about joining into this one before but this year had specifically this film that I wanted to see so I took a look at the other movies and ended up joining in the fun.

Ash is Purest White has been making its festival route and maybe theatrical screenings in China. The word about it is almost all positive which has me incredibly excited and one of my top picks for this year’s Festival du Nouveau Festival.

Ash is Purest White (2018)

ash is purest white

Director (and writer): Zhangke Jia

Cast: Tao Zhao, Fan Liao, Yi’nan Diao, Xiaogang Feng, Zheng Xu

A story of violent love within a time frame spanning from 2001 to 2017. – IMDB

Ash is Purest White is a movie that names itself as Jiang Hu Er Nu, which means in direct translation, Underworld’s Sons and Daughters. What seems like it is a crime and gangster movie quickly changes shape in its second and third acts.  Ash is Purest White is a slow-paced film that is essentially an epic romance that propels the life of a woman through a span of many years as she enters this world that she ends up being a part of because of her boyfriend. The story mainly revolves the perspective of Qiao, played by Tan Zhao where her boyfriend Bin, played by Fan Liao, only have scenes with her but rarely individual ones. At a runtime of over 2 hours, Ash is Purest White never feels like that despite its deliberate slow pace, in fact, it takes it time so that we get to know Qiao and her story and her emotions and especially  her strength and loyalty. Set in the beautiful outskirts of China in Datong in the Shanxi province, the cinematography also deserves a great nod as well as the fantastic soundtrack.

Ash is Purest White

With that said, the outstanding role here that definitely carries Ash is the Purest White is Tao Zhao. I’ve never seen her in anything else in my memory but she falls so beautifully into this role. Capturing her innocence and life in the early parts of the movie as she follows her boyfriend and supports him as he is the leader of his gang and fights off the opposing forces. There’s a loyalty and love here that binds them as individuals and makes their relationship strong. For a film to be carried by almost completely by one character is hard but Tao Zhao does it so fantastically. She has a strength to her character as she goes from her happiness of being under the protection of her boyfriend to when she stands up and sacrifices for him which changes her life around by then those things she learned from him becomes a circle and takes her to where she ends up years later when he needs her help. There is such a loyalty and commitment as well as regrets to their relationship that resounds.

Ash is Purest White

Don’t get me wrong though. As strong as Tao Zhao’s character is, Fan Liao’s Bin cannot be ignored. Even in his quiet expressions and his few words, he manages to show a lot of emotions. A sign of a great actor are in these skills. While his character might not be in a lot of the scenes in the second act for example. His character always has a presence in the other’s life and that is the power of this love story. However, there is something of a flip role as we see how both of their similar experiences has ended up with very different results. The debate in their character is what does “jianghu” does to them in some ways.

Overall, Ash is Purest White is a slow-paced romance that takes a fairly  unconventional route that brings about the loyalty, regrets of two people but their differences from what happens that changes them and also breaks them in some ways making them find and lose themselves respectively. There’s a perpetual aspect to their love even when they aren’t both on the screen. The story is crafted so delicately that it works to help us truly be bonded with these two characters. Even in two hours, it rarely feels like there are pacing issues but yet, every detail here is done to help the audience understand these characters and their experiences and think about it. There is a beauty and art here that is hard to ignore. Its one that might resounded to myself as I thought about it more and more.

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TV Binge: The Chamber of Secrets Escape 密室逃脱:暗夜古宅 (Season 1, 2018)

Moving away from movies for today, we’re taking a look at a Chinese TV game show called The Chamber of Secrets Escape.

Playlist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HxeBkIJb4qE&list=PLUM8x224JrX9wa0S9MatA4vQ-6v8Qm_x6&index=10

The Chamber of Secrets Escape (Season 1, 2018)

the chamber of secrets escape

Host: Ma Ke

Cast/Guests: Danson Tang, You Ming Huang, Yi Xuan Zhou, Zhi Yuan Xia, Xi Yue Cao, Xiao Yu Lu, Wen Han Li, Mei Ren Wang, Han Yu Gao, Amelie Xu, Bo Wen Wang

This is an ancient style chamber escaping reality show which the celebrity guests are to use their wits to pass each checkpoint and also whether they show good teamwork or working together against the opposing team. – My Drama List

***I’m going to say sorry in advance that the show is only in Chinese. I have the urge to use the Youtube translate thing and do it but I currently don’t have the time to commit to that yet. ***

With a total of 10 episodes, this season is a quick and fast one to go through. The Chamber of Secrets Escape : The Dark Night is all about pitching a group of people into different elaborately built puzzles with different back stories and different goals and twists in the escape room game. The eliminated participants have to go run this corridor of darkness which literally is a 100 metre corridor where you are being chased by a dog. Its a race between getting to the ladder at the end to salvation. The winners of the show have a donation made in their names to a pre-selected school in the country.

The Chamber of Secrets Escape

The host himself is Ma Ke who does a nice sinister feeling as he welcomes the participants and leads them on the journey as a behind the scenes sort of puppet master. I think that was the feeling this started as and even in the first or second episode, it felt that way on how the game set the tone of how it was more about the psychological aspect of it as it talks about how when people are faced with dangerous situation how their human nature would react. Granted these are actors and celebrities, I do wonder whether there is some aspect of it staged beforehand and the environments are controlled as well but they do give them leeway to be fairly exciting. Its one of the reasons that makes this so much fun to dive into.

The Chamber of Secrets Escape

The puzzles here can be fairly hard to put together. At the same time, the show has a definite focus on the game show human nature and opposing and teamwork and trust emphasis that the viewers only get glimpses of the puzzles so it isn’t one to sit down and have time to figure out. However, this is a game show so the human relationships here are put as priority to add in drama and suspense. I do love how the show defines some of its main participants like Danson Tang and You Ming Huang, who are there for 9 of the 10 since the 10th episode changed all the familiar faces from before. The dynamic of three of the most frequent participants definitely breathed life into the show.

Overall, its a fun experience. As with some of the other game shows on this channel in the same family, its one that makes me want to participate in real life in some of these maps. Maybe not the zombie ones because even if I knew it was fake, it would still be creepy. The budget behind these sets and stories and puzzles look so great and its what brings these stories to life and creates the atmosphere.

Sunday List: Stephen Chow Films, Ranked [updated regularly]

Stephen Chow was possibly the first actor to spark my love for cinema in general. Hong Kong cinema has changed quite a bit but most people associate it with action films from the likes of Jackie Chan and Jet Li for starters. There is an entire world of cinema to explore here. With that said, I have many actors and actresses that I’d love to explore.

Stephen Chow is the first up and honestly, in his extended filmography, I still have a long way to make this a complete list and will update it as I catch up and rewatch more of his films, both as an actor and/or director and some titles might even be rearranged. A few of the titles have been too many years since I’ve actually seen it and probably remember it and feel differently about it now. I’ll expand on the descriptions of the films to be updated gradually as well. Remember to check back for more Stephen Chow goodness!

1.Tricky Brains (1991)

tricky brains

My love for Tricky Brains runs very deep. There are a lot of absurd humor here. In fact, the star power behind this movie definitely brings together a culmination of what defines Stephen Chow’s career in the 90s. There is his comedic partner Man-Tat Ng who they have many fun and hilarious scenes together but also the incredibly talented Andy Lau joins in here. The ladies include many talents in the 90s which aren’t around much nowadays in the Hong Kong film industry but were familiar faces back then. Its a movie about hiring someone to do pranks in mostly a bad way to waiver the view of someone. Of course, pranks, no matter how they are will misfire or succeed and those are the best and most fun moments of Tricky Brains.

You can read my review here.

2.God of Gamblers II (1990)

god of gamblers 2

What happened to God of Gamblers, you ask? God of Gamblers is the sequel to what started out as a Chow Yun-Fat role. In fact, some would actually recognize God of Gamblers II as Knight of Gamblers which focuses on the talented Andy Lau who returns to Hong Kong  in secret after training with God of Gambler as we saw in the first movie. Their goal is to set up a charity casino however the revenge from the going on in the first movie is what causes him to be caught up. Stephen Chow reprises his role here from All for the Winner which started up as a parody film of God of Gamblers and earned him the title of Saint of Gamblers which he carries into this film and teams up with Andy Lau while of course still having Man-Tat Ng as his uncle. When the magical powers and the actually skilled gambling powers combine, hilarity ensues.

I will be reviewing the God of Gamblers franchise here very soon.

3.Justice, My Foot (1992)

justice my foot

Justice, My Foot! boasts a fantastic cast. As usual, he is partnered up with Man-Tat Ng however, this time, they play as opposing forces where he impersonates a talented lawyer and Man-Tat Ng, plays as a judge. Along with this pairing which comes up with some hilarious moments even as they investigate a murder, the material is very light-hearted here. Anita Mui plays his wife. This Hong Kong super diva plays very well into this comedic role who is both a strong and convincing lady. This movie was on Netflix for a while last year but unfortunately  has left it as this posts goes up.

4.All For The Winner (1990)

all for the winner

Pretty lady, Sharla Cheung and funny woman, Sandra Ng act together in this film that starts off as something of a parody film for Stephen Chow which gets his character the title of Saint of Gamblers and has special powers that he soon discovers can win him some big money as long as he follows the hidden rules. They try to exploit them as he reunites with his uncle in Hong Kong. There are some barriers to entry to this one mostly because it plays on the difference of Mainland Chinese versus Hong Kong Chinese and the etiquette and mannerism differences between the before 97 handover when Hong Kong was still a British colony. It also plays on a lot of puns and Chinese sayings that could get lost in translation or just lose its effectiveness in translation. However, this film was enough of a success to earn him a role that entered him for God of Gamblers 2 (which is #2 on this list).

5.All’s Well Ends Well (1992)

all's well ends well

All’s Well Ends Well is an entertaining film to say the list. It was released as a Chinese New Year celebration movie. Rightfully so, as it is a comedic affair that also does something of a parody film like reenacting scenes in famous Hollywood movies. You’ll recognize films like Ghost, Terminator and Pretty Woman for starters. Does it gain it a better entrance to a Western audience? Perhaps it can, mostly because there are a lot of unspoken humor just with its talented cast and their over the top reactions and expressions in each scene that makes the humor work. For myself, this is a movie I watched a child and still holds up incredibly well.

6.From Beijing With Love (1994)
7.The Mermaid (2016) Review
8.Look Out, Officer (1990)
9.Love on Delivery (1994)
10.Shaolin Soccer (2001)
11.Flirting Scholar (1993)
12.Royal Tramp (1992)
13.Hail the Judge (1994)
14.God of Cookery (1996) Review
15.Fight Back to School (1991)
16.God of Gamblers III (1991)
17.Forbidden City Cop (1996)
18.A Chinese Odyssey Part I: Pandora’s Box (1995)
19.A Chinese Odyssey Part II: Cinderella (1995)
20.The Tricky Master (1999)
21.Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
22.The Lucky Guy (1998)
23.King of Beggars (1992)
24.Sixty Million Dollar Man (1995)
25.Lawyer Lawyer (1997)
26.Mad Monk (1993)
27.CJ7 (2008)
28.King of Comedy (1999)

Not seen:

  • Bo fung hon ji (1988)
  • Faithfully Yours (1988)
  • Dragon Fight (1989)
  • Just Heroes (1989)
  • Liu Mang Chai Po (1989)
  • Love is Love (1990)
  • Lung Fung Restaurant (1990)
  • The Unmatchable Match (1990)
  • Curry & Pepper (1990)
  • Sleazy Dizzy (1990)
  • When Fortune Smiles (1990)
  • Triad Story (1990)
  • Yi Ben Man Hua: Chuang Tian Ya (1990)
  • Legend of the Dragon (1991)
  • Fists of Fury 1991
  • The Magnificent Scoundrels (1991)
  • Fists of Fury 1991 II (1992)
  • Fight Back to School 2 (1992)
  • Fight Back to School 3 (1993)
  • Out of the Dark (1995)
  • All’s Well, Ends Well (1997)

Do you know Stephen Chow? 
What other actors do you want me to rank their filmography?

Restaurant: Mon ChiCha Bistro

Finally some new restaurant visits to share. This first one was somewhere in mid-July when my best friend joined me for Fantasia Festival and we had a double movie date for Napping Princes and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. We ended up walking by this restaurant called Mon ChiCha Bistro, which peaked out interest and we ended up going in there for a quick lunch in between the movies.

Mon ChiCha Bistro

mon chicha

Decor

Mon ChiCha Bistro

Halogen lights don’t work well on camera however the setup and seating for the restaurant is pretty cool and trendy.

Food

There is a more Asian Fusion menu however due to our time constraints and preferences, we stuck with a more traditional Chinese menu.

mon chicha bistro

Something you should know about me is that I’m super traditional and simple when I go for Chinese foods most of the time. Whenever given the choice at a new restaurant or too many choices or whatever factor, my fallback is always automatically Fried Rice or Wonton Noodles.  I actually haven’t had Wonton Noodles in forever for so many reasons. Regardless, this one was pretty good. There was something different about the wonton noodles, more accurately how they made the wontons which I liked a lot. It gave it a really nice texture and distinct taste. It was also a very generous portion for the price.

mon chicha bistro

They recommended to us their in-house specialty, which is a soy sauce chicken. Its a very simple everyday meal. Actually, my mom makes a super delicious one. Usually when my mom does something well, its hard for restaurants to even compare. My mom doesn’t read the blog so its the truth. This one was pretty good also. The wonton noodles filled me up quite a bit so I didn’t eat a lot of this dish.

mon chicha bistro

My best friend had the Fried Sauce Noodles which is a Beijing specialty. She has a fond love for it and a craving from what I gathered during our conversation. However, we didn’t discuss how she felt about this as we were in a rush to leave for the movies and had to eat the meal quickly.

The more traditional portion is really just a side. If you check out their website, its a lot more of the asian fusion sort of food. I’d definitely be interested in heading back to see what else they serve for their mainstream clients. Maybe there will be a second post when and if I get a chance to go again.

TV Binge: The Neighborhood (2014)

Another TV Binge here!

I thought it was fantastic to see Taiwanese series on Netflix but now, Hong Kong TV series are also gradually flocking  there. Its nice to see it, even if the bigger series haven’t quite landed there yet. There are some awesome shows that honestly, I’ve missed out on in the last few years. While those shows are good, it is hard to not admit that Hong Kong series are quite predictable and very formulaic, including dialogue. However, perhaps its a sense of nostalgia and the fact that I really enjoy watching certain actors and actresses and just the idea of something really simple that I like to spend my downtime to relax and give those a go. While Netflix isn’t showing any incredible Hong Kong series, the ones I’ve seen on there are actually pretty meaningful. Like this one for example, The Neighborhood, released in 2014 and a rather short series funded partially by the government in collaboration with RTHK radio station to encourage caring for and building the community in each neighborhood.

Let’s check it out!

The Neighborhood (2014)

The Neighborhood 2014

Cast: Chin Siu Ho, Xian Se Li, Chan Lai Wun, Ma Chi Wai, Mang Hoi, MastaMic, Det Dik

When laundromat owner in a neighborhood goes missing, everyone starts wondering where he is and starts realizing how little they know about the people they deal with every day. Until the laundromat owner’s estranged daughter Zoe shows up and ends up staying there. Her arrival and reluctance slowly change as she gets more involved in the community and she changes everyone as much as everyone changes her. The short form of this fifteen episode TV series is generally that. While this community does show a lot of people, the focus is on a few people that cover the different demographic and really how much each of these people regardless if they want it, do need to be cared for, even if they have everything planned like the mysterious old lady who sits at the top of the stairs everyday or a the crazy man called CIA who wanders about jotting down everyone’s information but breaking out into random made up silly songs or the patrol cop who sees the people in the neighborhood to be odd and quirky. Everyone has their story and in each episode, they hone into a different part of them as they grow closer together with the changes in the community and the fact that things may change but the people we know sometimes will leave a mark in our hearts.

The Neighborhood does a really good job at being a neighborhood. Sure, there are some predictable moments and its pretty obvious how things will turn out but still, there is still some sort of mystery behind these characters as we peel back the layers one episode after the next to reveal their inspirations and who each of them are. Not everyone is a good person but yet, for a 30 minute episode length, it does help flesh out the character a little more and with each appearance in the episodes, all the characters do feel very personal. However, this isn’t a drama so while it is very much in the line of Asian cinema to be very dramatic (particularly in series), this one knows how to keep it lighthearted and positive. Perhaps the jokes might not translate completely well in the subtitles however the essence of the show is still there. The Neighborhood

The focal point is definitely on Zoe, who is the younger generation along with the “young blood” of the neighborhood, Kei. While they are the first to meet each other and rather newer to the neighborhood, the differences in their point of views of how much to invest their time and feelings into their community are quite opposites and in many ways, they grow together. While you may expect a love story to blossom, surprisingly, the core of the show is not about that. Everything works out in a believable way. It definitely does lead the way and forge a path for certain relationships to build and there is a sense of it all being rehearsed and probably too coincidental, however, if you take out some of these factors and see that sometimes life does hand us these relationships that are forever or passing but still hold some meaning.

Perhaps, my love and exposure of the Hong Kong series has made me a little easier on this one, However, The Neighborhood holds its own meaning especially for a very densely populated city like Hong Kong and where everyone is always on the go and life is very routine. This series not only highlights a very important message perhaps even more for those living in Hong Kong and their community but also the fact that it does strive to show off the different areas of Hong Kong, using real life shots of the area to highlight its distinctive characteristics in each neighborhood. It was fun and entertaining and for me, that is all I ask for, plus its not overly long so its a refreshing breath of air to just relax and enjoy a series like this one.

Baking: Hong Kong Style Egg Tarts

Yesterday was my husband’s birthday and well, he loves sweets so I made a last minute decision before heading off to work to make him Hong Kong style Egg Tarts.

He had been asking for them for a while and I had bought the mini tart shells before.  My only issue was that the normal recipe had one ingredient that I wanted to research to make sure that I could eat it also so I was actively looking for substitute.  It was why this has been delayed.  Normally, I’d make the tart shell also but I’ve made tart shells before and it is really painful to do at times. Honestly, I couldn’t be bothered with it.

Regardless, we are making Hong Kong Style Egg Tarts!

I got the recipe from Tasty.com and here’s their video:

I only used the filling part of the recipe but I did make a few changes.

The main thing is the ingredient I mentioned before: evaporated milk. Being lactose-intolerant is a big problem.  I read up a few alternatives.  One was to boil soy or almond milk (with a bigger quantity) to its desired amount.  The other was just to use a little more than half of the amount in the recipe.  Being the lazy person I am and being on a time crunch to leave for work, I chose option 2.  Scroll down to see whether it worked out!

AND, here’s how it looked before the oven and after it was done its 15 mins bake time!

Hong Kong Style Egg Tarts

Before

Hong Kong Style Egg Tarts

Fresh out of the oven!

FYI: The pie tarts were Tenderflake Mini Tart Shells. They come in packages of 12 which is exactly the amount this recipe needed.

Also, the straining is one of the most important steps of making Egg Tarts because it makes sure that there are no bubbles on top of the tart and gives it that smooth glossy finish just like store-bought ones.  I had to strain it two times so do it till you feel satisfied with the filling before you pour it in.

Hong Kong Style Egg Tarts

Apparently, the simple substitute works well.  The husband thought it tasted like what we had bought in Chinatown before. That is perfect because that also means I’ve found a way to revamp the recipe to make it work.  AND, further proves that many baked goods out there can work without dairy ingredients and yet, everyone insists on using it.  However, after giving them a go after work, I thought they were a little on the sweet side but still the texture is good.

Have you ever eaten Hong Kong Style Egg Tarts? What type of desserts do you like?

A Word A Week Challenge: Journey

Being on vacation means I’m always on a journey somewhere.  In Hong Kong, its all on public transport and sometimes it was over an hour of travelling.  It made Sue from A Word in Your Ear’s word for this week JOURNEY seem so on the spot.  (You can join into her challenge here for more details)  I had to think about which part of my trip felt like a journey.  Leading up from Ocean Park feature for the weekly photo challenge of green, I’m a bit late with this week’s word but I still wanted to participate to demonstrate my journey into the old days of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is different from China in the way that it was influenced by Chinese culture but also because it was a British colony before 1997, it has been influenced by colonial architecture around Hong Kong.  This makes Hong Kong into a different phase in its early days before modernization.  This part of Hong Kong is the part I want to show you.  Ocean Park now features a Old Hong Kong street area.  Here is a gallery to show you my journey through that.

Here is the walk down old Hong Kong street where we get an idea of how the stores looked.  There were side carts and people that sold fruits and vegetables and other goodies on the side of the street as well.  There were posters on all the walls advertising perfumes and lotions, ointments and messages from the government such as to preserve water.  One of the issues is that people needed to get water at a certain place and they only had a certain amount they could get so they would use old oil cans to fill it up and bring it back home to store and use accordingly. There is the old double decker buses and the first generation trams.  You even have the booth for where the traffic control officer would stand before traffic lights existed.  Also, there are rickshaws and we even get the actual frontal display of the theatres and how they looked.

I’m all about history and heritage when I talk about Hong Kong and I feel that as someone whose family is primarily born in Hong Kong, I find it important to understand how my grandparents and parents lived when they were younger and understand the past society.  It has been a tremendous change from back then till now.