Sunday Reading for Shadowlines

Posted by sepoy on July 31, 2005 · 5 mins read

Monday cannot come soon enough. I have things to do, people. The weekend started with a birthday celebration and fails to end anytime soon. Last night we watched JSA by Chanwook Park [of Old Boy fame]. I grew up pretty close to the Wagah border between India and Pakistan and the storyline kept reminding me of vague tales of Indian soldiers on patrol and their encounters with the peasants, smugglers and cricketers found around the border area. Once, this Indian sentry threw a rolled up magazine over to us. It was in Hindi and I didn't know how to read it back then. So, I threw it back. We didn't have anything to throw to him. None of us actually said anything out loud. We had heard that Indian snipers lived in trees and took out Pakistanis who ventured closed to or talked to Indian sentries. Mind you, there is no walled or fenced border. Just interminable fields with limestone markers where Pakistan ends and further down India begins. Anyways, we went back the next day and threw some Akhbar-e Jahans over. He wasn't there. I think we just littered India.

  • Before watching JSA, I had read Margaret Drabble's piece in the TLS and it is stuck in my head. I cannot recommend it to you highly enough. She writes about the reception of her novel The Red Queen - a translation and fictionalization of the memoirs of a 18th century Korean princess. "The novel I actually wrote received no critical attention, either hostile or appreciative. I was accused of appropriation, and that was that. The multicultural censor looked no further. No questions were asked about my text, my intentions, my meaning. I did have a meaning, or I once thought that I did. I was so profoundly shocked that I hardly knew what I had done. Appropriation, like racism, is an ugly word and an easy allegation, not easily addressed in the courts. The nature and ethics of cultural transmission are endlessly fascinating. When is a borrowing a theft, and when is it a benign sign of cross-cultural fertilization? Is there some common source from which all stories rise?". Seriously, if you are interested in transmissions and transgressions of the cultural nature, you should read this.
  • Nicholas Kristoff is about to open up a can of whupass on The General and his PR machine. Today, he writes the first in a series on Dr. Shazia Khalid - who was raped in Baluchistan. I am quite happy that NYT is giving exposure to The General's brand of GSAVE.
  • Max Rodenbeck reviews some new works on terror in the NYRB - including Faisal Devji's Landscapes of Jihad. With Kepel and Roy's entries, this is one hi[p] parade on terror. Have you noticed that there is a "he was interested in terror BEFORE September 11" meme of "authentication" in many Western reviews/books? "He was wrong about terror BEFORE September 11" meme needs catching up. Devji quotes Derrida on jihadists. "Too far a flight of academic fancy". Go read.
  • Also in the NYRB is Peter Galbraith's Iraq: Bush's Islamic Republic - a story that is slowly taking shape in blogs yet. Will Iraq's constitution be based firmly on Shari'ah [rights of minorities and women being the litmus tests]? Will it have a close relationship with Iran? This is a must-read folks: "There are two central problems in today's Iraq: the first is the insurgency and the second is an Iranian takeover. The insurgency, for all its violence, is a finite problem. The insurgents may not be defeated but they cannot win....The Bush administration should, however, draw the line at allowing a Shiite theocracy to establish control over all of Iraq. This requires a drastic change of strategy." Go Freedom.
  • That Torture Thing. Yeah. It's coming sometimes later this month.
  • Quickies: Well, it certainly led to a lot of poorly Photoshopped crying lions and unicorns in my e-mail." [btw, the onion has a blog!]; Harry Potter was a Scottish hymner; Sultan of Palermo looks good; Bollyworld explained; Whatever this is, I want to see it. Any malaysian readers?; You must see this; Family fun.

monday update: Amardeep, on a blogging tear lately, has a nice post on Pakistani Writers in English. Good stuff.


bulleyah | July 31, 2005

hey sepoy, jsa was the first park chan wook film i caught. once, four years ago. and it still rememeber how that photograph right at the end recalls the throwaway moment of an american tourist taking snapshots and being chased away... to put it mildly, i was blown away, at the time, it was the coolest, most moving movie i'd seen... i think it still is. and yes, i thought of the wagah border too.

Dman | August 01, 2005

Speaking of Park Chanwook.. ìThere are good kidnapping and bad kidnapping in this worldÖ.,î Bae Du-na speaks softly Choi Minsik in Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. Having read the plot of Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (SFLV), it stirs up a series of overlapping images from Parkís previous movies on revenge. Woojin (Old Boy) whispers into Daesooís ear, ìAhÖnow what fun should I (Park) look for in life?î Besides, itís always inevitably intriguing to dissect and put together a series of movies on a common theme however fictitious it may be. The first impression from the script is the mechanical side of the plot is quite similar to that of Kill Bill. But that is about all the similarities I could find. The rest seem all vintage Park Chanwook. The reason that Keumja (our heroin in SFLV) is not flying around in a yellow jumper suit and slashing heads off with a samurai sword lies in a simple notion of Parkís narrative. Conscious of the mainstream formulaic pitfalls, Park chose to tell a story about revenge not from a self-absorbed reproduction, but from a dialectic lens. While the cameo appearances of many actors and actresses from the first two installments provide obvious clues, the narrative itself shows an agonizing effort to reach a new synthesis. I think perhaps this struggle could be the reason that the reviews are so dichotomous. There are neither the socio-economically interlocked dilemma of SFMV nor the highly stylized longing for oblivion of OB in SFLV. The ending of SFLV seems to go a place that most people would rather not contemplate especially when they can so easily relate to the urge of vengeance in Keumja. On the surface, the plot tells a story where one can see Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (SFMV) as well as Old Boy (OB) in this third installment. Fans of Park can easily see that the child abduction in SFLV draws eerie parallels to SFMV. The parallels are almost too simple in that the protagonists from both movies are inescapably enmeshed in the extremely personal and petty nature of their motivation and thus completely oblivious of the heinous nature of the crime. But the point of bifurcation is in the end. While SFMV reached a zero-sum ending with an identifiable linear story, SFLV goes back to the emotional void of having finished a long narrative of revenge. While SFMV depicts the irreconcilable conflict between classes in the Marxian sense and OB submerges itself in the pure aesthetics of revenge, SFLV delineates the futility of hoping salvation in vengeance. This is nothing new in movies. In a way, Park tries to end his trilogy with a cautious remark that the end of revenge never leads to redemption and in fact the protagonist is left in a deeper agony with no catharsis in sight. ìThere are good kidnapping and bad kidnapping in this world..î ironically murmurs the last confession of Park that there are no good revenge or bad revenge. The interlocking nature of revenge in SFMV and the personalized style of OB tumble and struggle in SFLV to say something quite simple: (chinese characters might not show up properly here). That is, the nature of an object lies within the emptiness of the object. Keumja desperately longs for a sense of redemption but itís as futile as the last scene of the movie where she wails with her face crumbling in a snow-white cake. This scene carries a very different meaning of tragic closure from OB. The trilogy has come to an end, but the prayer of atonement goes on long after the movie is over. Although Park might not have intended this, but SFLV might be the most visually exuberant and emotionally tolling entertainment movies fused with a hint of morality. Now, that might be a shock to a lot of people who have seen only Old Boy.