on faceless mooks

Houses on fire, screams in the background, heavily-armed, swastika’d soldiers and flame-spewing, mechanical beasts swaggering around.

“Monsters did this.”
“Not monsters – men.”

So starts the latest trailer to Wolfenstein II. The trailer itself is a gory, expletive-filled affair, but it deflates itself right off the bat. It fails to live up to its own rhetoric within the first few seconds. Continue reading “on faceless mooks”

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on craftsmanship

Too late in life I’ve discovered: I’m a craftsman.

By trade I’m a teacher, and though (on most days) I’d call myself a pretty good one, I’ve recently found that what makes me feel good is not teaching, but making things. Producing tangible things – my latest pet project is carving on rubber slabs with lino knives. I started small, but I am getting better at it everyday. I can see it. As I said, tangible. I also produce educational videos, digital art, which is… less… tangible.

This is what occupies my weekends these days. Only just a couple of months ago my weekends would be exclusively for recharging – my Monday to Friday would be so balls-to-the-wall that if I didn’t sleep all day Saturday and Sunday, I’d start feeling physically ill. Church became an exalted burden. Continue reading “on craftsmanship”

on waiting for the fifth day

As evening approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who had become a follower of Jesus, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. And Pilate issued an order to release it to him. Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a long sheet of clean linen cloth. He placed it in his own new tomb, which had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a great stone across the entrance and left. Both Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting across from the tomb and watching.
The next day, on the Sabbath, the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate. They told him, “Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while he was still alive: ‘After three days I will rise from the dead.’ So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent his disciples from coming and stealing his body and then telling everyone he was raised from the dead! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.” Pilate replied, “Take guards and secure it the best you can.” So they sealed the tomb and posted guards to protect it. —
Matt 27:57-66

There’s a scene from the the second Lord of the Rings film, The Two Towers: the heroes are trapped inside a castle, surrounded by the bad guys. The bad guys, called the Uruk Hai, are these big, monstrous warriors, there’s an army of them, and they’re all six feet tall. They bellow and roar like wild animals, oh and they eat people. The good guys are three heroes: a man, an elf, and a dwarf, and they’re trying to help a bunch of farmers defend their castle. You gotta feel sorry for the farmers too, because they’re clearly no match for their enemies, and we the audience have spent, oh I don’t know, the past 10 hours watching the Uruk Hai slaughter and butcher them like pigs. And you know, if the bad guys break into the castle, not only will the heroes die, all the farmers’ wives and kids will also die. Continue reading “on waiting for the fifth day”

on the stories we tell

Hong Kong, my home, was rocked by major protests in 2014. Localist riots and student-led scuffles break out much more regularly now than in my parents’ day.

In June 2016, the UK voted by referendum to leave the EU. There was a spike in reported racial crimes across the country in the weeks afterward.

In July 2016 a French North African and an Afghan refugee launched attacks in Nice, France, and Wurzburg, Germany. There is little evidence for any coordination between both attacks, though Islamic State has claimed responsibility for both.

In the same month, a girl in the Indian state of Haryana was assaulted and gang-raped, allegedly by the same men who had been convicted of gang-raping her in 2013.

And as the 2016 US Presidential Election draws ever closer, both Republican and Democrat supporters are stepping up their rhetoric. International opinion mostly sides against Trump.

Every one of these stories stars a clear villain (though tellingly no clear heroes emerge). Who is to blame? Continue reading “on the stories we tell”

on paris and persia

I’ve always sympathised with the Persians more than the Greeks in the Greco-Persian Wars, a titanic showdown that started around 490 BC and lasted for half a century. From the Persian point of view you have a large, sophisticated and wealthy imperial power, struck by an unprovoked(ish) Greek attack; it responds with a retaliatory invasion, gets mired in the ensuing faraway war, and finally pulls out in ignominy. It all smacks of high tragedy, there are lessons in hubris, triumph and fall; that side of the story appeals much more to me than the Greek story, that of the scruffy underdogs who took on the bad guys and won through sheer gutsiness. That’s probably also why I’m an Empire man and not Rebel Alliance. And don’t even get me started on films like 300 (fun though they may be). Continue reading “on paris and persia”

on love

There is a cryptic line in the film Alexander, where the Persian warrior Pharnakes says to Alexander on his wedding night, “In the ways of my country, those who love too much lose everything. Those who love with irony last.”

I’m not sure why that line has stuck in my head even after so many years – it’s not particularly helpful, and as far as I know it’s mostly a load of orientalist crap; there is no provenance beyond a possible garbling of a sermon by Ali, brother of the Prophet Muhammad.

But by happy coincidence I think this line speaks more truth than it seems to. Continue reading “on love”

on honouring the dead

I was watching City of Life and Death recently, a rather grim movie about the Nanjing Massacre. It’s a powerful piece, shot entirely in black and white, like an old set of photos come to life. One particularly disturbing scene has one of the protagonists, a Japanese soldier, march a group of Chinese POWs to their deaths, and as they trudge along the man watches in increasingly numbed horror as his comrades unleash absolute evil on civilians in the streets: firing squads, severed heads hanging from trees, young girls tied up and frogmarched by rough soldiers, a dead young woman sprawled on the ground, naked and bruised, with a noose around her neck. Continue reading “on honouring the dead”

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