By MARTIN FACKLER
T’ang Dynasty poem
Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.
~ Wu-men ~
Friday, December 29, 2006
By MARTIN FACKLER
Thursday, December 28, 2006
By KEITH BRADSHER
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
By DAVID LASKIN
IT’S a chilly Sunday in late autumn and a steady shower is falling on the Portland Classical Chinese Garden. Rain silvers the pebble mosaic in the Court of Tranquillity and dimples the surface of Zither Lake. Budding camellias shine, bamboo shoots nod and recover, the huge leaves of banana trees, already shredded by previous storms, tap out a few faint spattered notes.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Sunday, December 17, 2006
By Clifford Coonan in Beijing
Published: 18 December 2006
Scientists say the search for the dolphin will continue, even though the 30-strong team which has plied the length of the Yangtze for the past six weeks failed to sight the cetacean.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Monday, December 11, 2006
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Japan's birthrate is 1.25, while a birthrate of 2.1 babies per woman is needed to maintain the population. Japan's population is both aging and shrinking. One would expect the future to be bleak for Japan. ... or maybe not.
Below is an excerpt from an article about this phenomenon. For the full article, please click on the title of this post, and you'll be directed to the original page at Bloomberg.com.
Japan's Population Fall a Case for Freakonomics?: William Pesek
By William Pesek
Dec. 7 (Bloomberg) -- It's a worthy question for the ``Freakonomics'' guys: is a shrinking population, contrary to conventional wisdom, actually good for an economy?
Last year, Steven Levitt, a University of Chicago economist, and writer Stephen Dubner made a splash with a book turning traditional economics upside down by puzzling out everyday conundrums. The world's demographic quirks would seem a perfect candidate for their attention.
Most economists will roll their eyes at the question itself. Well of course, they will argue, dwindling ranks will lead to less growth. Shrinking populations reduce labor forces, crimp productivity, hurt tax receipts and boost debt levels.
At least in the case of Japan, Sharmila Whelan of CLSA Asia- Pacific Markets begs to differ. In a September report, the Hong Kong-based economist committed demographic heresy by arguing that fewer people will brighten Japan's outlook.
The plot has thickened since Whelan's report began making the rounds. Last month, the government said that in 2005, the population shrank for the first time -- excluding a dip during World War II -- since Japan began compiling data in 1899. The birthrate fell to a record 1.25 babies per woman, well below the 2.1 needed to maintain today's population of 127 million.
Complicating things, a rapidly-aging population means Japan's demographics are becoming ever more lopsided. A recent government report said Japan's workforce will shrink by as much as a third by 2050 if more women and elderly workers aren't hired.
An aversion to immigration doesn't help. While estimates vary too widely to bother mentioning here, Japan may need to import millions of workers in the years ahead to fill gaps in the labor pool. Never mind that those of us living in ultra-crowded Japan wonder where we will fit several million more bodies -- the economy needs the manpower.
Some observers are finding silver linings. In a new book, ``The Japanese Money Tree,'' economist Andrew Shipley takes an intriguing look at the bright side of a graying Japan.
``Investors are ignoring an arguably much more important demographic shift,'' Shipley wrote.
``A younger generation of politicians, executives and policy makers is poised to take charge.''
CLSA's Whelan says fewer people will do for Japan what former and current prime ministers Junichiro Koizumi and Shinzo Abe have been unable to: catalyze an innovation boom that makes Japan more productive.
``High population growth alone never delivered high economic growth,'' Whelan report. ``If it did, this report would be about Africa, not Japan.''
Innovation is Key
It's a good point. When you ask executives why they're investing in China, two words come up immediately: cheap labor. Yet if economic potential were only about cheap labor, money would be rushing to Sudan and Myanmar. In the same way, if population growth were all that mattered, then Indonesia, the Philippines and Cambodia would be thriving.
Whelan's optimism is based in part on history. Growth, she argued, tends to be driven by ``specialization, innovation and trade.'' Investment, like labor, tends to go where returns are highest. As Japan moves more toward a knowledge-based economy driven by increased research and development, its citizens will prosper.
Similar demographic trends didn't hold back Venice's economy in the 11th century, Whelan said. Nor did they imperil the Dutch Republic in the 14th century. Likewise, Whelan said, ``in the coming decade, Japan's shrinking population is the least of her problems as far as growth goes.''
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Further adventures in the study of Japanese.
Previously, I've mentioned that my Japanese collegues pronounce my last name, Matz, as Ma-tsu. Matsu means "Pinetree" (松). It turns out that Matsu also is the verb, "to wait" (待つ).
Matsu matte imasu. (松 待って います。) means "The waiting pinetree."
Matte, matsu ...
Waiting, the pinetree...
Over at the Martial Development blog, there is a new post talking about qualities of dancing and taiji. The post features a couple of video clips that are truly a delight to watch, as well as links to another couple of video clips that are terrific as well.
If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to that article; or you can click on the link over at the right to visit Martial Development as well. Please pay a visit, and enjoy.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
The founder of Japanese Taikiken, Kenichi Sawai, was not only a student of Chinese YiQuan, but he was a very good friend of the founder of one of the toughest styles of karate, Mas Oyama of the Kyokushin. Oyama had some of his top fighters train in the standing practice with Sawai.
At the blog, Taiki Shisei Kenpo, there is a short article and a long video clip of one of the top fighters of the Kyokushin, Hajime Kazumi. Kazumi never finished lower than 2nd in any of the many full contact (and bare knuckled) tournaments he entered.
If you click on the title of this post, of on "Taiki Shisei Kenpo" over on the right, you'll be directed to that site. Please pay a visit.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Cheng Man Ching, the Master of Five Excellences (Taiji, painting, poetry, traditional Chinese medicine, and chess) was one of the most important figures in bringing the art of Taijiquan to the United States. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to a blog I've found that is dedicated specifically to CMC.
The owner of this blog, Mark Hennessey, has translated several of Prof. Cheng's non-taiji writings into English. A link is also found over to the right. Please pay him a visit.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Pushing hands is the name of a film by Ang Lee. It is also a main exercise in the practice of internal martial arts. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the Answer Pages article on the movie, Pushing Hands. Below is an excerpt.
Pushing Hands (Chinese: 推手; pinyin: Tuī Shǒu) is a film directed by Ang Lee. Released in 1992, it was his first feature film. It was one of the first of Lee's films to feature Sihung Lung in a major role.
Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.
The story is about an elderly Chinese T'ai Chi Ch'uan teacher and grandfather (played by Sihung Lung) who emigrates from China to live with his son, his American daughter-in-law and his grandson in a New York City suburb. The grandfather is increasingly distanced from the family as he is a "fish out of water" in Western culture and he does not care to participate in the materialistic life style prevalent in the West. The film shows the contrast between traditional Chinese ideas of Confucian relationships within a family and the much more informal Western emphasis on the individual. The friction in the family caused by these differing expectations eventually leads to the grandfather moving out of the family home (something very alien to traditional expectations), and in the process he learns lessons (some comical, some poignant) about how he must adapt to his new surroundings before he comes to terms with his new life.
The title of the film refers to the pushing hands training that is part of the grandfather's T'ai Chi routine. Pushing hands is a two person training which teaches T'ai Chi students to yield in the face of brute force. T'ai Chi Ch'uan teachers were persecuted in China during the Cultural Revolution, and his family was broken up as a result. The grandfather sent his son to the West several years earlier and when he could he came to live with his family with the expectation of picking up where they left off, but he was unprepared for the very different atmosphere of the West. "Pushing Hands" thereby alludes to the process of adaptation to culture shock felt by a traditional teacher in moving to the United States.
Monday, November 20, 2006
Nothing says "prepare to get your ass kicked" like the shark's mouth painted on the aircraft of the famous Flying Tigers. Below is an except from the www.answers.com article on the Flying Tigers. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the entire article.
The photo was taken by one of the Flying Tigers, R.T. Smith. It is copyrighted and used by permission. The story about the photo itself is pretty interesting:
Flying Tigers (Traditional Chinese: 飛虎隊, Simplified Chinese: 飞虎队; pinyin: Fēi Hǔ Duì) was the nickname of the American Volunteer Group, a fighter unit that fought in Burma and China, against Japanese forces during the year prior to the United States participation in World War II. After the dissolution of the AVG in mid-1942, the name was applied to its successor military unit, the 23rd Fighter Group, and more broadly to the China Air Task Force and the U.S. 14th Air Force. The shark faced fighters remain among the most recognizable of any individual combat unit of WWII, and they demonstrated innovative tactical victories when the news was filled with nothing but defeat after defeat by the Japanese at the start of WWII before American involvement.
The Flying Tigers had their first combat on December 20 1941, when they shot down three Japanese bombers near Kunming and damaged a fourth sufficiently that it crashed before returning to its airfield in northern Vietnam. The 3rd Squadron — 18 planes strong — defended Rangoon in December 23-25 and claimed approximately 90 planes, most of them heavy bombers. Other squadrons were rotated through Rangoon in January and February 1942. After the fall of Rangoon to the Japanese in March, the AVG was redeployed to bases in northern Burma and finally in China. Not surprisingly, later research has shown Japanese losses to have been smaller than believed at the time. The AVG was officially credited with 297 enemy aircraft destroyed, including 229 in the air (some popular accounts inflate the total to 500 or even 1,000 planes), but author Daniel Ford calculated that the AVG actually destroyed about 115 enemy aircraft in the air and on the ground.
Thirteen pilots were killed in action, captured, or disappeared on combat missions; two were killed in ground accidents; and eight were killed in flying accidents during the Flying Tigers' existence. One of the more famous pilots was Gregory "Pappy" Boyington, who was dishonorably discharged in April 1942. He went on to command the Black Sheep Squadron, with many similarities to the Flying Tigers, and was one of two AVG veterans (the other being James Howard of the USAAF) to be awarded the Medal of Honor in combat. Other notable AVG veterans were David Lee "Tex" Hill, later commander of the USAAF 23rd Fighter Group; Charles Older, who postwar earned a law degree, became a California Superior Court judge, and presided at the murder trial of Charles Manson; and Kenneth Jernstedt, long-time Oregon legislator and mayor of his home town of Hood River.
Many in China have not forgotten the Flying Tigers. Many model aircraft bear the slogan "Ding Hao", which means "very good" or "hot stuff" in Chinese, and there are pictures and movies of Chinese making a thumbs up gesture at American pilots. Some Chinese fathers who lived from the period told ther sons that it was actually the American pilots who picked the Chinese gesture for "you are number one", and people from China today can confirm the meaning of this gesture. This gesture appeared about the same time as the AVG deployment.
Thumbs up remains a common signal among US and other combat pilots. The blood chit on the back of leather flying jacket complete with Chinese writing and flag is still a common fashion statement even to those who have never heard of the Flying Tigers. Toy and hobby stores still stock model and toys of shark mouthed Tomahawk, some with the Chinese nationalist insignia. One 1960s magazine even featured a flying tiger shooting peas in a food magazine. The tactics used in combat to maximize the effectiveness and minimize the weakness of your own planes would be relearned over Korea and Vietnam with creation of specialized air combat schools such as TOPGUN and designing fighters specifically for combat agility after America had entered every war with fighters deficient in maneuverability.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
The Tang Dynasty was a high point of culture in the history of China. All forms of art were esteemed, especially poetry. No occasion; no homecoming or leaving taking, no celebration, no event of any consequence was complete without a poem to accompany it.
Some of the best poems of that era has been compiled into a well known anthology, The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an online version of this classic work of art. Poem #20 follows.
AT THE MOUNTAIN-LODGE OF THE BUDDHIST PRIEST YE WAITING IN VAIN FOR MY FRIEND DING
Now that the sun has set beyond the western range,
Valley after valley is shadowy and dim....
And now through pine-trees come the moon and the chill of evening,
And my ears feel pure with the sound of wind and water
Nearly all the woodsmen have reached home,
Birds have settled on their perches in the quiet mist....
And still -- because you promised -- I am waiting for you, waiting,
Playing lute under a wayside vine.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Monday, November 13, 2006
Fudoshin 不動心, and Zanshin 残心 are to key concepts in understanding Budo. Below is an excerpt from an article linked to http://www.aikidojournal.com. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article.
The presence of combat integrity develops fudoshin, or "immovable mind." Fudoshin is one of the major tenets of budo and refers to a state of mind that is impenetrable and immovable. In this case, immovable requires some explanation since it is being used in a Japanese philosophical context and therefore has a more elevated meaning than we would normally expect or associate in English.
Fudoshin does not indicate a state of mind that is inflexible, but rather, it points to a condition that is not easily upset by internal thoughts or external factors. "This mind that remains unruffled and calm is imperturbable, unattached and unfettered mind... It is the ultimate mind of mastery, achievable only through rigorous training, and equally rigorous soul-searching and spirit forging (seishin tanren, in Japanese) through the confrontation and overcoming of our own fears and weaknesses" (Fabian).
Fudoshin is directly related to another Japanese concept known as zanshin, or "continuing mind." Zanshin refers to a state of constant and continuous awareness or alertness. Zanshin applies to your awareness of the world around you. You notice the people around you how they stand, how they carry themselves, what is in their eyes because you need to be prepared to interact with them. You are present in the moment. Much of the reigi, or "methods of respect" in budo, particularly bowing (standing and seated) and other forms of etiquette are design with zanshin in mind.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
We've covered half of the 36 strategies, before moving ahead, let's review.
The First Group of Six: Stratagems When Commanding Superiority
Strategy 1 - Cross the sea by fooling the sky (Man tian guo hai)
A familiar sight provokes no attention - Chinese Proverb
Secrets Often hide in the open. In fact, the more obvious a situation seems, the more profound the secrets it may hide.
People tend to ignore the familiar. This is the principle behind the stratagem of crossing the sea by fooling the sky.
Strategy 2 -Besiege the kingdom of Wei to save the kingdom of Zhao (Wei wei jiu zhao)
He who knows the art of the direct and indirect approach will b victorious.
Such is the art of maneuvering. - Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Strategy 3 -Kill with a borrowed Kife (Jie dao sha ren)
If you want to do something, make your opponent do it for you. - Chinese Military Principle
Strategy 4 -Relax while the enemy exhausts himself (Yiyi dai lao)
The female overcomes the male with stillness. - Lao Zi, The Way of Power
Strategy 5 -Loot a burning house (Chen huo da jie)
An enemy with troubles at home is ripe for the conquest - Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Strategy 6 -Make a feint to the east while attacking in the west (Sheng dong ji xi)
The commander who knows how to attack makes his enemy not know where to defend - Sun Tzu, The Art of War
The Second Group of Six: Stratagems For Confrontation
Strategy 7 -Create something out of nothing (Wu zhong sheng you)
Everything in the universe is created from something, which in turn is created from nothing - Lao Zi, The Way of Power
Strategy 8 -Pretend to take one path while sneaking down another (An du chen cang)
Attack succeeds where the enemy neglects defense - Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Strategy 9 -Watch the fires burning across the river (Gean guan huo)
A clam was sunbathing with its shell open when a crane came along and pecked at its flesh. The clam snapped shut, catching the crane's long beak. Neither would yeild to the other. Finally a fisherman came by and cought both of them - Chinese Fable
Strategy 10 -Conceal a dagger in a smile (Xiao lo cang dao)
The man with honey on his lips hides murder in his heart - Chinese Saying
Strategy 11 -Sacrifice the plum tree for the peach tree (Li dai tao jiang)
A Peach tree grows beside the well; A plum tree takes root by it side. When worms invade the peach tree's base,
The plum tree is sacrificed - Chinese Folk Song
Strategy 12 -Take the opportunity to pilfer a goat (Shun shou qian yang)
Many grains of sand piled up a pagoda make - Chinese Saying
The Third Group of Six: Stratagems For Attack
Strategy 13 - Beat the grass to startle the snake (Da cao jing she)
One can win without a fight - Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Strategy 14 -Raise a corpse from the dead (Jei shi huan hun)
If you lack the proper title, people won't listen to you; and if they don't isten , your orders won't be carried out - Confucius
Strategy 15 -Lure the tiger out of the mountain (Diao hu li shan)
Good opportunitie are not as important as favorable terrain - Mencius
Strategy 16 -Snag the enemy by letting him off the hook (Yu qin gu zong)
To seize something, one must first thoroughly endow it - Lao Zi, The Way of Power
Strategy 17 -Cast a brick to attract jade (Pao zhuan yin yu)
The kingdom of Jin wanted to attack the kingdom of Chouyou, but there was no direct route. So Jin cast a great bronze bell as a gift for Chouyou. Chouyou biult a road to transport the gift from Jin, and then Jin troops came down the road and conquered Chouyou. - Chinese Tale
Strategy 18 -Catch the ringleader to nab the bandits (Qin Zei qin wang)
Choose a strong one when using bows, Take the long ones when choosing arrows; To shoot people, first fell their steeds, To nab bandits, catch the one who leads - Tang dynasty poet Du Fu
Now we begin the Fourth Group of Six with #19, Steal the firewood from under the cualdron (Fu di chou xin)
To get rid of weeds, dig up the roots; To stop a pot from boiling, withdraw the fuel - Chinese Proverb
When you cannot handle an adversary in a head on confrontation, you can still win by undermining the enemy's resources and morale. The is really a key concept in the theory of strategy.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Ryōkan (良寛, Ryōkan?) was a Zen Buddhist monk who lived in Niigata Japan 1758-1831. He soon left the monastery, where practice was frequently quite lax, and lived as a hermit until he was very old and had to move into the house of one of his supporters.
My legacy --
What will it be?
Flowers in spring,
The cuckoo in summer,
And the crimson maples
Monday, November 06, 2006
My youngest daughter is growing up so fast. I look back to when she was a little girl, and I miss it. There is so much pressure on kids to grow up so fast. You don't gain something, but you lose something.
Tomorrow, being Election Day, school is out. She's going over to a friend's house, after stopping at the store to pick up some Oreos and ice cream; and their going to watch Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen movies all night. They're going to be kids. I love it.
These episodes will come along more and more infrequently, and I hold them all the more dear.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
A click on the title of this post will take you to the original page...
This pure mind, which is the source of all things, shines forever with the radiance of its own perfection. But most people are not aware of it, and think that mind is just the faculty that sees, hears, feels, and knows. Blinded by their own sight, hearing, feeling, and knowing, they don't perceive the radiance of the source. If they could eliminate all conceptual thinking, this source would appear, like the sun rising through the empty sky and illuminating the whole universe. Therefore, you students of the Tao who seek to understand through seeing, hearing, feeling, and knowing, when your perceptions are cut off, your way to mind will be cut off and you will find nowhere to enter. Just realize that although mind is manifested in these perceptions, it is neither part of them nor separate from them. You shouldn't try to analyze these perceptions, or think about them at all; but you shouldn't seek the one mind apart from them. Don't hold on to them or leave them behind or dwell in them or reject them. Above, below, and all around you, all things spontaneously exist, because there is nowhere outside the Buddha mind.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Kongobuji (Temple of the Diamond Mountain). Kobo Daishi gave this name to the whole collection of temples at Koya, but today the name refers to this specific temple, the "mother temple" and headquarters of the Shingon Sect. Kongobuji is 30 by 35 ken, about 210 feet in length. The curves of the temple roof are very fine and the entire building is an excellent model of Buddhist Architecture. The chief statue on the altar is that of Kobo Daishi and around him are the tablets of Emperors and distinguished persons. The numerous wall screens in the temple rooms are prime examples of the Kano school
In front of the Kongobuji is a large bell, given by Fukushima Masanori in memory of his parents. Upon the bell was written: "To ring this bell, all evil existences will be destroyed; to hear its sound one thousand holy ones will be benefited." This bell is not one in which the bell itself is struck from the inside, but is struck from the outside with a huge wooden beam. These type of bells are called kane whereas bells struck by an inner tong are called rin.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
The Dao De Jing is not only one of the foundational documents of philosophical Daoism, it is also one of the world's classics. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an online version of the complete text
When the Way is forgotten
Duty and justice appear;
Then knowledge and wisdom are born
Along with hypocrisy.
When harmonious relationships dissolve
Then respect and devotion arise;
When a nation falls to chaos
Then loyalty and patriotism are born.
Friday, October 20, 2006
I found this on Yahoo. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the original article.
Estuaries of China's greatest rivers declared "dead zones"
Fri Oct 20, 4:38 AM ET
BEIJING (AFP) - The estuaries of China's two greatest rivers, the Yangtze and the Yellow, have been declared dead zones by the United Nations' due to high amounts of pollutants, state press has said.
"Experts warn that these areas are fast becoming major threats to fish stocks and to people who depend upon fisheries for food and livelihoods," the China Daily reported, citing a recent study by the UN Environmental Program.
Dead zones are areas in oceans and lakes choked of oxygen by algae blooms that feed off high concentrations of pollutants such as raw sewage and fertilizer, the report said.
The algae blooms sap the water of its oxygen, which in turn endangers marine life, it added.
According to a separate report by China's State Environmental Protection Administration, the nation's coastal regions suffered from 82 "red tides", a form of algae bloom, in 2005, the paper said.
Large-scale red tides have become an annual occurrence in waters off eastern China's Zhejiang province, where the Yangtze River flows into the sea, and farther north in the Bohai Sea near the Yellow River estuary, the paper added.
Last year, land-based activities in China led to the dumping of 500,000 tons of ammonia-nitrogen and 30,000 tons of phosphate into the sea, it said. The two chemicals are key ingredients in fertilizer.
In June this year, a red tide that spread out in a 1,000-square-kilometre (620-square-mile) area in the Yangtze River estuary killed more than 12 million fish.
The spread of the tide led to safety warnings in Shanghai about eating seafood from the area, the paper said.
More than 20 years of robust economic growth in China have come at the expense of the environment, with local governments and industries shunning ecological protection in the pursuit of short-term profits.
The central government often cites this as a major problem and says it is taking action, but the nation's environmental woes continue to worsen.
Meanwhile, the leading People's Daily reported Friday that it would take at least 200 years to clean up the Bohai Sea, even if no more sewage was poured into it.
The body, located some 150 kilometers (90 miles) east of the capital Beijing, was named the "worst polluted" sea area in China after an investigation by the State Oceanic Administration, the paper said.
Industrial sewage, pesticides, fertilizers and the dumping of garbage had gravely polluted it, the paper added.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
I've been busy. This week there was a trade show in town, at which I had to work. I also had to take various bigshots from out of town (many of them from Japan) to various customer meetings.
It was a good opportunity to see how my Japanese Language skills have come along. The bottom line is, that I'm doing ok.
At full speed, I found that I couldn't keep up with my Japanese visitors, but I COULD catch some words, and I could generally get the gist of what they were talking about. My own vocabulary was limited, but again, I could generally get across what I wanted to say. So in the end, I could hold simple, but meaningful conversations.
Right now, I can understand the meaning of about 250 kanji, in addition to being able to read both hiragana and katakana. From labels and markings, I was surprised how much I could make out. Perhaps not the exact wording of something, but the basic meaning.
My Japanese collegue at work will be moving back to Japan early next year. I met his replacement during the show. He'll move here in January some time. His English is a little better (but not much) than my Japanese, but we were able to get by. We agreed to help each other with our language skills after his move. I'm looking forward to it.
My Japanese visitors, most of them being upper management, are very pleased and appreciative of my efforts. In this time of tight travel budgets, one of them extended his invitation for me to come and visit him in Japan; so I'm sure my management will take advantage to send me there sometime next year.
This particular bigshot took quite a bit of enjoyment in teaching me some new kanji. One of them was a component of his name. The kanji is: 信. The character on the left means 'person.' The one on the right means 'words.' The meaning is: trust, faith, fidelity, etc.
A man and his words.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
One of my favorite 'spy' movies is on cable tonight. Ronin. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to more information about this movie.
An excerpt from that page:
Released in 1998, Ronin is an action/thriller that tells the story of a group of former intelligence agents who team up to steal a mysterious metal case. Starring Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgård, Sean Bean, Skipp Sudduth, and Katarina Witt, with Jonathan Pryce and Michael Lonsdale in supporting roles.
The movie was written by J.D. Zeik and David Mamet, and directed by John Frankenheimer. David Mamet served as a script doctor on the screenplay, being billed as "Richard Weisz". The Writers' Guild refused to allow him to get top billing for the writing credit, so he refused to allow his real name to be used.
The title is derived from the Japanese term ronin, used for samurai who had no master; some of the characters in the movie are unemployed agents set adrift by the end of the Cold War. The movie also makes a lengthy reference to the classic Japanese story, the 47 Ronin.
It is notable for a number of car chase scenes, the last being a particularly lengthy one through the streets and tunnels of Paris; some scenes utilized up to 150 stunt drivers. Car work has been a specialty of Frankenheimer, a former racing driver, ever since his 1966 film, Grand Prix. Although action sequences are often shot by a second unit director, Frankenheimer did all these himself. While he was aware of the many innovations in digital special effects since then, he elected to film all these sequences live, to obtain the maximum level of authenticity. To further this, many of the high-speed shots have the actual actors in the cars: Sudduth did nearly all of his own driving, while other cars were right hand drive models with stunt drivers driving - crashes were handled by a stuntman.
The contents of the metal case are never revealed (see MacGuffin). Mamet has written that he believes revealing such details can be anticlimactic, that a director is wiser to allow the audience's imagination to answer the question. This is a technique Mamet has used repeatedly in his films.
Ron Jeremy had a small role, credited as Hyatt. However, scenes involving him were eventually cut by the studio.
There has been speculation as of late that a sequel was to be filmed somewhere in Asia, with De Niro and Reno reprising their original roles alongside actors James Franco and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai.
Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.
Ronin opens in a small café in Paris. Several former covert agents, from various countries and backgrounds, are meeting there to receive information on a new assignment. They are taken to a warehouse where a young Irish woman, Deirdre (Natascha McElhone), informs them that they will have to steal a mysterious, silver-colored case. Deirdre is deliberately vague about the case and many of the details of the job; she only tells the team that the people who possess the case are “unpleasant.” It is also handcuffed to a man’s wrist and he is protected by an elite security detail. One of the agents, Sam (Robert De Niro), is suspicious from the outset, particularly when Deirdre rudely ignores his questions about the case’s contents.
The next evening, part of the team travels to a secret location near the River Seine to purchase the weapons they need for their mission. The deal goes badly when Sam spots a sniper, provoking a gun battle with the arms dealers. The team speeds away into the streets of Paris with the weapons, stopping momentarily when the agent who arranged the pickup, Spence (Sean Bean), becomes violently ill. He is later fired by Deirdre after Sam proves his incompetence.
Deirdre is informed that the retrieval of the case will be in Nice. Sam becomes a de facto negotiator for the team, demanding more money for each member since, as he correctly perceives, the job promises to be highly dangerous. Deirdre agrees to their new demands and they travel to southern France. With Deirdre’s assistance, Sam performs reconnaissance to determine the ability of the security detail protecting the man carrying the case.
The team goes forward with the theft. A furious chase ensues, ending near the waterfront in Nice. Sam’s team find themselves in a gun battle with the case’s security guards. During the fight one of Sam’s team, Gregor (Stellan Skarsgård), switches the case for a fake one. Gregor slips away after giving the fake to Sam, who discovers the switch. He throws the case away right before it explodes, injuring Larry (Skipp Sudduth).
Gregor intends to sell the case to a rich Russian gangster, Mikhi (Féodor Atkine), and meets with one of Mikhi’s subordinate’s to receive payment. After a brief conversation where Gregor reveals his murderous nature (he nearly shoots a little girl on a playground), the man pulls a hidden gun on Gregor. Gregor manages to overpower and kill the man and calls Mikhi to tell him that a new exchange will be arranged on Gregor’s terms.
Sam and the remainder of the team track Gregor to the city of Arles. Gregor meets with more of Mikhi’s men in the Arles amphitheatre but refuses to give them the case, believing he’ll be betrayed yet again. During his meeting with the men, Sam takes him hostage and demands to know where the case is. Gregor tells him that he mailed it to himself in Paris. Using some tourists as a distraction, Gregor escapes after a brief chase through the amphitheatre.
At the same time, Deirdre’s boss, Seamus (Jonathan Pryce) appears nearby and finds Larry in the getaway car. As Gregor approaches, Seamus captures him. Deirdre finds them both with Larry dead in the driver’s seat.
Sam and teammate, Vincent (Jean Reno), encounter Mikhi’s men in the amphitheatre. One of them, recognizing Vincent, is about to shoot Vincent when Sam distracts him. The man gets a shot off and the ricochet hits Sam in the side. Vincent shoots the man. Vincent and the injured Sam make their way to the getaway car just in time to see it leave. They steal a bystander’s car and drive into the nearby mountains.
Seamus and Deirdre take Gregor to Paris to retrieve the mailed case. It hasn’t arrived, infuriating Seamus, who takes Gregor to the Paris hideout. Seamus beats Gregor severely and harshly criticizes Deirdre’s handling of the job. Deirdre reminds Seamus that he’s a wanted fugitive and shouldn’t have resurfaced in Arles.
Vincent takes Sam to a friend’s house in the mountains. Under Sam’s instruction, Vincent and Jean-Pierre (Michael Lonsdale) remove the bullet lodged in Sam’s abdomen. Vincent asks Jean-Pierre to find Seamus, Deirdre and Gregor. Sam recovers quickly and finds Jean-Pierre working on an elaborate diorama depicting the story of the 47 Ronin. Sam sees the parallels between his current work and the masterless samurai of the story.
Vincent and Sam travel to Paris and find the rest of the team as they pick up the case from the post office. Another chase ensues, this one traveling through several city tunnels, at times up the opposing traffic lanes. Vincent is able to disable Deirdre’s car, causing it to flip over and fall off the end of an unfinished bridge. All three manage to escape the explosion, Gregor with the case.
Vincent and Sam figure that Gregor must be trying to sell the case to the Russian mafia. They track him to a local skating arena. Gregor meets with Mikhi in a control booth and demands, in addition to the money for the case, that he be let free of any commitment to Mikhi. Mikhi shoots him. As Mikhi tries to leave the arena, he is shot dead by Seamus, who takes the case himself.
However, Sam stands between him and the escape car, driven by Deirdre. (Sam also reveals to her that he, in fact, never left the agency he worked for and is actually there to apprehend Seamus himself.) She drives away and Sam chases Seamus back into the arena. In the pursuit, Vincent is shot, as is Sam. As Seamus closes in to kill Sam, Vincent shoots him dead.
The fate of the case and its contents are unknown, however, a montage of news audio clips tell us that the killing of Seamas was somehow instrumental in ceasing the violence between the British government and the IRA. Vincent and Sam meet at the café from the beginning of the film, hoping to make contact with Dierdre, after concluding that she will not show, they part ways as friends.
In the original ending (included on the DVD), the viewer also sees Dierdre returning to the café, when she is abducted (and presumably killed) by her former IRA associates.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
"Awakened at midnight
by the sound of the water jar
cracking from the ice"
If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to a website that has all SORTs of scholarly information about haiku. History, themes, interviews with haiku masters. If you are interested in this form of poetry, please pay a visit.
Friday, October 06, 2006
Thursday, October 05, 2006
If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article.
Ethnic games tainted by cross-dressing cheats
BEIJING (Reuters) - Touted as a celebration of sport, culture and national unity, the Ethnic Minority Games held in southwestern China descended into a farce of cross-dressing cheating and mob violence, state media reported.
Athletes representing China's 55 ethnic minorities assembled in southwestern Yunnan province last week to compete in blow-pipe darts, horse-riding events and other traditional sports.
But blind pursuit of victory lead to some unorthodox tactics, Xinhua news agency reported.
Results of the women's dragon-boat racing event were reviewed after athletes complained of "big women with Adam's apples", Xinhua said. Referees subsequently found that several of the competitors were actually men wearing wigs.
A dispute between a team from the games' host city, Zhaotong, and another from Wenshan city in Yunnan province over the result of a wrestling final turned into a brawl, Xinhua said.
The Wenshan team was eventually chased away by a local gang with blades and sticks called in by the Zhaotong team, Xinhua said.
Friday, September 29, 2006
Below is an except from a newspaper review of two movies, both of which, in their own way, have to do with becoming middle aged. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article.
I never intended to become middle-aged. Or at least, I figured that upon reaching that milestone of maturity, I'd know it and welcome it, and I'd be ready to embrace it with wisdom and grace. I certainly didn't expect to get sideswiped by the passage of time, knocked into a new demographic paradigm without having had the chance to carefully consider its implications. (Like, should I be eating more fiber?)
Fortunately, two movies arrived in Bay Area theaters this past weekend that provide unexpected insights into the process of growing old -- or growing older, anyway. Both center on Chinese men of a certain age who find themselves losing the things that mean most to them -- their self-respect, their sense of purpose, their families. Each flees the domestic disaster of his own making, hoping to leave bittersweet memories behind -- but ultimately returns from self-imposed exile, having learned that the only true solution to his heartache lies not abroad but within.
You might guess that one of these films is Jet Li's latest -- and ostensibly, last -- martial arts epic, "Fearless," which opened over the weekend to a welcoming $11 million at the national box office. The other, however, might not be so instantly obvious. I'm talking about Georgia Lee's poignant and accomplished debut feature, "Red Doors," which premiered at two sold-out New York theaters a few weeks ago and last Friday expanded to L.A. and San Francisco.
"Doors" tells the story of Ed Wong (Tzi Ma), who has entered his golden years burdened by the feeling that he's become irrelevant in his own life and household. With no other hobby to keep him occupied, he spends hours each day copying childhood videos of his three adult daughters to more permanent archives on DVD. But the viewing of these nostalgic tapes only reminds him that the sweetness of those memories has faded from his life, that now he finds himself politely ignored -- or worse, casually dismissed -- by his family's female foursome, a cardinal example of the quaint Japanese slang term for retired men, sodaigomi (literally, "oversized garbage," like a broken refrigerator).
Click on the title of this post to go to the original article.
Sickening 'Animal Olympics' forces kangaroos to box humans
Last updated at 16:38pm on 28th September 2006
An Australian kangaroo receives a fierce blow to the head by a man dressed in a clown suit (pictured below) in a shameful contest that will further fuel fears over China's barbaric attitude to animals.
The bizarre marsupial-versus-human bout happened during the so-called Animal Olympics in Shanghai.
Animal rights campaigners say the Chinese have an appalling poor record for animal rights protection and have no laws to protect them.
In the fight, the Australian kangaroo appears to reel backwards after receiving a right hook from its garishly attired opponent.
But the 'roo, which was wearing boxing gloves on its front paws, fought back, grappling with the clown who was forced back towards the ropes by its onslaught.
The kangaroo is just one of 300 'athletes' taking part in the annual event, now in its fourth year, at the Shanghai Wild Animal Park.
The event held in a large arena also involves an elephant carrying the Olympic torch and various animals including zebras and mountain goats put through a series of events such as hurdles and races.
Also pictured at the event yesterday were bears standing with boxing gloves on their paws during another distasteful performance.
In July the Daily Mail reported the babrbaric sport of horse fighting where cheering crowds took bets on which stallion would win a bloody battle.
Thursday, September 28, 2006
If you click on the title of this post, or "Collaboration Strategy" over at the links at the left, you'll be directed to a blog whose purpose is to apply the classics of strategy to the here and now, real world problem of effective collaboration. Interesting stuff. Please pay the site a visit.
Monday, September 25, 2006
Next to the Art of War, by Sun Zi (Sun Tzu), the 36 Strategies is the mostly widely known book on strategy in Asia. Most asians are familiar with them at some level. It's important to understand them, if only so you can recognize when someone is trying to use a strategy on you.
18. To capture the brigands, capture their king
When confronted with a massive opposition, you take aim at it's central leadership.
... aka "cutting off the head of the dragon." Take out the leadership, and keep doing it. The second in line, and maybe even the third or the fourth, might be able to effectively take over the reins of leadership, but sooner or later the "brigand king" will find himself over his head.
In the classic book on the American Civil War, Lee's Lieutenants, the central premise is an investigation into the chronic problems of the South revolving around a crisis of leadership in it's armed forces - they really had no system to effectively train officers and groom them for leadership positions. As their leaders died or were otherwise incapacitated, they had to be replaced by others who were less and less capable.
The "brigand king" doesn't necessarily have to be killed, but neutralized, forced to resign or step down, or otherwise rendered ineffective.
Friday, September 22, 2006
Butterfly or leaf?
Early twilight fools my eyes
Moving into fall.
Fall is my favorite time of year. I look forward to having a campfire in the backyard, while enjoying the cooler evenings. I enjoy the change of colors, with which Michigan is particularly blessed.
I'm rereading the Baroque Cycle, a trilogy by Neal Stephenson, which is historical fiction about a fascinating time in history.
Reading about the baroque period in the fall, brings to mind the story of the Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow. The movie, Sleepy Hollow, with Winona Ryder and Johnny Depp is usually on cable around this time of year, at least as we approach Halloween.
Halloween wouldn't be complete without one of the greatest horror movies of all time, Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi. The scene where Dracula and Van Helsing simply face off against each other, without a word being said, has got to be one of the best moments in movie history.
Did you know that while they were shooting this movie, they were also shooting, at the same time, a Spanish version? When the English speaking crew left the studio at the end of the day, the Spanish crew arrived. They had the benefit of the rushes of the day's shoot to improve their own product, and some critics believe the Spanish version is actually the superior one. I would like to see it one day.
The movie of course, isn't enough. I have to reread Dracula, by Bram Stoker before Halloween.
Another newer classic is Bram Stoker's Dracula, starring Winona Ryder (again), Gary Oldfield, and Anthony Hopkins. I like it almost as much as the original.
Halloween. We take the portable firepit out to the driveway, put some music on the radio in the garage, stock a cooler with beer, and pass out the candy. A couple of neighbors have adopted this practice. When the kids stop coming, we gather around whoever's fire is still going the strongest, and have our own little get together.
My Japanese Language study has progressed. This is the character for autumn: 秋. It is a compound of two characters. The one on the left is a plant (specifically a rice plant), while the one on the right is 'fire'. Interesting, huh?
I've finished the online course I was taking. While I was grinding through the course, I was paying attention mostly to grammar and sentence patterns. I didn't pay so much attention to vocabulary or conjugating verbs or adjectives. I reasoned that I could always look things up, and what I looked up a lot, I'd remember.
Right now, I'm doing a thorough review, at a leisurely pace; paying a lot more attention to the vocabulary, verbs and adjectives.
I also have learned 240 kanji. I'm doing a very thorough review of them. Once I review the ones I know, I'll start grinding through the other 2000+ a literate person would know.
I have a couple of "learn Japanese" books. I intend to study these soon. It'll be the same information I've already received through the course, but it'll be presented a little differently. I think if I go over the same information, but in a slightly different way, I'm likely to understand and retain it better.
What I'm going to do soon, is to start to read Japanese literature. I've picked up two books: Breaking into Japanese Literature by Giles Murray
And Read Real Japanese by Janet Ashby
Each of these books is a collection of short stories. The beginning ones are easier, and the later ones are harder. Each has the original Japanese text on one page, the translation on the facing page, and a running dictionary for the kanji and less than common words along the bottom.
One of the stories I'm looking forward to reading is "The Grove" which was the story that inspired the movie Rashomon, by Akira Kurosawa. The story is interesting. A samurai is killed, and a suspect is apprehended. The suspect describes what happened from his point of view. The samurai's wife then gives her description, through the use of a medium, the victim tells his story, then finally a previously unknown eye witness describes what he saw happen.
Monday, September 18, 2006
A movie review. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the original article.
September 17, 2006
Exit Kicking: Jet Li’s Martial Arts Swan Song
By TERRENCE RAFFERTY
"POWER, precision — and don’t forget speed,” says the young martial arts whiz Chen Zhen, played by Jet Li, to a bunch of eager students in “Fist of Legend” (1994), and you know this very serious-looking guy isn’t just talking the talk. As Mr. Li demonstrates in the movie (and had, at that point, been proving to Asian film audiences for more than a decade), he can walk the walk, and kick the kick too. And since power, precision and the kind of speed that doesn’t sacrifice either of the first two qualities are not currently in long supply on the world’s screens — even in action movies, where you’d think they were pretty much required — it’s fairly alarming news that Mr. Li is calling his new picture, “Fearless” (set to open Friday), the “conclusion to my life as a martial arts star.”
Going to the movies seems a little less exciting already.
Mr. Li (born Li Lianjie) has been practicing wushu — the comprehensive term for the martial arts of his native China — since he was 8; between the ages of 11 and 16 he racked up 15 gold medals in the sport at the All-China Games, before retiring from competition to begin his movie career. He is now 43, about the age when all but the stubbornest, most self-delusional athletes and ballet dancers are forced to admit that their bodies, which have served them so well in their difficult, exhilarating pursuits, are somehow not quite as reliable as they used to be.
This physical deterioration is of course highly relative: except perhaps for a fractional loss of speed, Mr. Li’s wushu in “Fearless” looks as fierce, fluid and elegant as it did in “Fist of Legend,” and in the four “Once Upon a Time in China” historical epics he starred in for the Hong Kong producer Tsui Hark between 1991 and 1997. Jet Li at 70 will probably still be moving better than most of us did at 20.
He, however, undoubtedly feels the difference, and more to the point, it matters to him. “Fearless,” which features at least as much martial arts philosophy as actual combat, leaves no doubt that Mr. Li is a true believer in the spiritual value of his wushu. The character he plays here, Huo Yuan Jia, is an important figure in the history (and mythology) of Chinese martial arts.
Huo — who in the year of his death, 1910, founded Jing-wu, the Shanghai wushu academy that Chen Zhen defends with such gravity and ferocity in “Fist of Legend” — espoused principles like self-discipline, restraint and pride, which Mr. Li, it’s clear, devoutly shares. (In “Fearless” Huo attempts to restore the martial honor of China — at that time widely derided as “the weak man of Asia” — by competing in a series of patriotically charged exhibitions against foreigners, whose fighting styles prove to be no match for the purity and power of his wushu.)
It’s clear too that in this martial arts star’s view, there’s no sense even aspiring to such lofty ideals if the body and the mind are at anything less than their peak. He’s establishing a standard that virtually requires him to abandon his art at the first, smallest sign that he can no longer execute it to perfection.
Perfectionism is not a concept ordinarily associated with martial arts movies; nor is restraint. But part of the fascination of the genre (for those of us, that is, who remain sheepishly hooked on it) is that while the films themselves can be sloppily plotted and directed with a shameless, mind-clouding flamboyance, they serve as showcases for practitioners of an exceptionally rigorous art.
Fighting through the obstacles the genre itself puts in the way of the artists (and our appreciation of them) can be heavy going. Here in the West, wushu — or if you prefer, kung fu — movies frequently arrive from Asia like contraband, roughly handled and distributed almost clandestinely.
Until Mr. Li’s first English-language picture, “Lethal Weapon 4” (1998), brought him to the attention of American audiences, seeing a Jet Li movie in most parts of the country took a fair amount of planning and legwork (going to Chinatown theaters, finding specialty video sources, etc.) and also demanded a mighty high tolerance for mangled, faded prints, risible dubbing and deeply puzzling subtitles. To say nothing of the keen investigative work needed to sort out the many titles an Asian martial arts movie might acquire in its checkered distribution history. (I am myself the proud owner of DVD’s of both “My Father Is a Hero” and “Jet Li’s The Enforcer,” which are the same, not very distinguished, 1995 film.)
But when, at least four or five times in every movie, Mr. Li goes into a routine that allows him to do what he does best, and cares most about, all is forgiven.
Watching a martial arts picture is a lot like sitting through a Hollywood studio musical of the 30’s or 40’s: you wait for Astaire and Rogers, or the Nicholas Brothers, or Donald O’Connor to take the stage, and you learn to endure the witless banter and clunky farce that fill the long minutes between numbers. (And, as in Astaire’s movies, a solo turn is often a showstopper. About halfway through “Fearless,” Mr. Li takes himself to the top of a hill, all by his lonesome, and uncorks a complex, thrillingly sustained wushu workout that Twyla Tharp wouldn’t be ashamed to have choreographed.)
WITH a handful of exceptions — the first three “Once Upon a Time in China” pictures, “Fearless” and Zhang Yimou’s luminous, stirring martial arts poem, “Hero” (2002) — Mr. Li’s 30-plus movies aren’t worth talking about as movies, and in too many of them frantic cutting and an overload of special effects obscure rather than enhance their star’s abilities. But in every one there’s at least a moment or two that reveals something improbably pure, a flash of unaccountable grace.
That’s because Jet Li in action is a virtuoso of physical lucidity, a creator of sharp, memorable images of the human body’s unlikeliest capabilities. When he’s still, preparing to strike, his line — as ballet dancers put it — is clean, well defined, expressive of the extraordinary force that’s about to be unleashed. When he leaps, his elevation is remarkable (unlike many martial arts stars, he’s more exciting without wires than with), and his control in the air can be as breathtaking as Mikhail Baryshnikov’s. His transitions between moves are smooth, assured and impossibly swift. And the blow, when it comes, always looks devastating.
Except for the violence, what Mr. Li does is ballet. (That beleaguered art, come to think of it, would probably be quite a bit more popular if there were more fighting.) Or was, anyway.
It’s apparent that when he says his latest movie will be his swan song as a martial arts star, he really means only that he will no longer practice on screen the traditional wushu of masters like Huo Yuan Jia, no longer presume to represent the art at its highest level. This is not so different, actually, from what Mr. Baryshnikov did 15 years ago, when he retired from ballet but continued performing in the less demanding idiom of modern dance.
And that, it seems, is the kind of twilight career Jet Li has in mind: no more movies like “Hero” and “Fearless,” but (why not?) plenty of pictures in the contemporary-urban-action mode he’s been slumming in for the past five or six years. Most of those films — from “Romeo Must Die” (2000) through “Unleashed” (2005) — haven’t been very good (though I’ll admit to a sneaking fondness for the 2001 film “Kiss of the Dragon”).
But there’s reason for hope nevertheless, because Mr. Li is a past master of smuggling the most astonishing beauty into the crassest settings. (The first movie of this new phase in his career, “Rogue,” in which he plays a mysterious assassin, is in postproduction now.) There are bound to be, as there always have been in this artist’s work, moments of barely imaginable power, precision and speed. And don’t forget grace.