Summer lists

Films and books, mostly. For the unemployed and the bored and the miserable. Hopefully everyone can find something that helps cope with the heat.

Films first.

1. Rentaneko (2012). Japanese, summery, lighthearted, and, as you can guess from the title, feline. Girl in her 20s with cats. Perfect for an unemployed summer.

2. Kikujiro (1994). Japanese, summery, rainy, sunny, pure happiness (and a drop of implicit sadness)--of course this is my all-time favorite. Young boy with old man (men?) on a road trip. I need to rewatch it. The brightest of Takeshi Kitano--he got much darker after, though admittedly I haven't watched any of his post-2002 films.

3. Kiseki (2011). Not exactly summery, but adventurous (in the sense of children's adventure) and magical (in the sense of everyday wonder). Children going on a trip to witness some kind of magical events (I thought it was a volcano but IMDb disagreed--I need to rewatch this too). Sweet with a tang of sadness, as expected of the combination of Koreeda and children.

4. Kindaichi. Live-action TV series. (I never read the manga.) So many versions, but the recent one (2014) seems good. Just silly fun, with crimes and blood and dead people. High-school detective with his childhood friend (girlfriend?) solving mysteries all over Japan. Great for a lazy summer night.

5. Spirited Away (2001). For some reasons I always associate this film with summer. Maybe because of the rain. Young girl venturing into wonderland and befriending dragon boy (?) and slaving away for weird old woman (weird creature?). Ok I don't know what it's about. Great for when you need more confusion in your life.

I'd recommend Graves of the Fireflies (1988) over this, but it's just way too sad. If you need a good cry, go for it. I'm also pretty sure all Ghibli films have a summer feel to them.

This is becoming a Japan-enthusiast's list so I need to move elsewhere. But there are still tons of Japanese films suitable for summer. Check out all Koreeda's.

6. Run Lola Run (1998). Making choices, running, causing death, preventing death. Exciting enough for summer? Lola helping her boyfriend not get killed in three tries. Perfect for when you need to look away from the choices in your life and into other people's.

7. Castaway on the Moon (2009). I wrote about it here on this blog, in Vietnamese. Korean, sort of summery, very unemployed, very anti-social. Girl who never leaves her room and only cares about photographing the moon discovers a guy stranded on an island in the middle of Han river. Completely over the top, but fun.

8. Bleak Night (2010). Also wrote about it in Vietnamese, here. Korean, violent, school setting, sad but contained. High school boys befriending each other and then breaking up with each other. Not quite fun but really really worth a watch. For the lost souls.

9. Somewhere I Have Never Travelled (2009). Also wrote about it in Vietnamese, here. Taiwanese, summery colors, sort of edgy but really just confused, a bit sad. I'm not sure how to describe the plot even, without spoiling anything. Color-blind girl constantly getting mocked and thus dreaming of moving to an island where everyone's color-blind, but I doubt if it's the core of the story. Somewhat of a love story (not really) or a coming-of-age story (more like it). Fun at times and sad at other times.

10. Amelie (2001). Briefly wrote about it here in English. French, adventurous, fun, wondrous, inspirational. Girl looking for ways to better others' lives and finally better her own. This is the free spirit of summer.

11. Flipped (2010). Wrote about it here in Vietnamese. Hollywood, yellow, watermelon, eggs, sycamore, middle school kids, 1960s. A love story with accounts from both sides. Simply adorable.

12. Juno (2007). I wrote about it fairly recently here in English. Hollywood, chair, high school, runners, musicians, pregnancy, adoption, marriage, divorce. Girl pregnant and prepared to give away her child. Revealing a big picture of the society in the process, which isn't too cool. But the film is really sweet.

13. 1735 km (2005). Of course I wrote about it in Vietnamese here too. Vietnamese, road trip, love story, people are weird. It's just a straight-up love story. Kind of silly. I just think it's summery because, road trips.

Now books. I add Goodreads links because I love Goodreads.

1. John Green, Paper Towns. Road trips, nothing beats road trips, especially to abandoned places. There's Walt Whitman in here too. Looking for someone? Looking for something? This is the perfect book, for all the times you have ever looked and not found.

2. J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye. Maybe just because I read it in the summer. If you're still looking for more stuff.

3. Rana Dasgupta, Tokyo Cancelled. Stories connect people. An Arabian night at a strange airport is quite an adventure, isn't it? It's just the context to connect these short stories, which are mostly bizarre, but I do think this book is a great summer read.

4. Gary Shteyngart, Super Sad True Love Story. Ok, I've only read like a couple of chapters, but it is a fun ride. Comedy in a dystopia, summery enough?

5. Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl. There should always be at least one mystery/thriller title in your summer read. (For me they take about half the list.) The hype has come and gone, but the book's value stays. It's still my most recent favorite in the genre--admittedly I'm not quite an up-to-date person. A page turner, though there are like 400 pages.

6. Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. College kid with weird family (isn't that everyone?) so weird that she had a twin chimpanzee (no, definitely not everyone). Psychological fiction, if not science fiction (historical science fiction?). One of my favorite. Guess what, it's also a good book for people who are looking for things.

7. Leigh Stein, The Fallback Plan. Definitely a summer read, an unemployed one. Lighthearted YA. Well, if you're looking for things....

8. Kazumi Yumoto, Natsu no niwa. Summer, garden, children, elderly people. About death and growing up and friendship. It's soft and full of summer breeze.

9. Cynthia Kadohata, Kira-kira. Also because I read it in the summer. Immigrants' story. Children's story. Human's story. It's shining but sometimes the glares enter your eyes and irritate so much your eyes sweat.

10. Nicole Krauss, The History of Love. It'd be on the heavier side but still a summer adventure. Reference to WWII and Holocaust. It's beautiful, but here's a warning: It's not as much about love as it's about loss.

11. Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. My favorite. But maybe you don't want to read it together with Nicole Krauss's book, since the style is fairly similar. I just don't want to mention one without the other, though their writers have separated. Also on the heavier side, with reference to 9/11, but because the narrator is a 9-year-old, I find it easier to read. Please read this book, whatever the season.

12. Nguyễn Ngọc Thuần, Một thiên nằm mộng. Too bad there's no translation (yet). This has been my favorite ever since I was ten. If you have a kid around that age, and want them to fall in love with reading, and they can read Vietnamese, then definitely this book is a must. But of course you can, and should, read it yourself, even if you're already a hundred years old. It's dreamy and poetic, and simply beautiful. More rainy than sunny, but summer's the monsoon season, so yes, it's a summer read.

I could also make a summer playlist, but for now I think AKMU's Play would do. Korean, featuring lots of code-switching, and on the more enjoyable side of K-pop.

I already have a summer to-do list, I'm just to lazy to actually do it.

It's raining right now on my roof. I love this. I'd love it more if there was absolutely nothing to worry about, but well, as long as I'm still living I have to deal with life. I don't think it makes sense to say summer would be more enjoyable if I were dead, so yeah.

Anyway, happy summer.


[GIF] Cuppa (2015)

Cuppa photo cuppa.gif

So here's the thing. Of course it didn't make it anywhere, but I like it regardless.


Zootopia (2016)

It's so rare that I got to watch a film before its official opening in the US, an animation all the more so. Such a good chance I cannot not write something about it, especially because the film is awesome.

If you are expecting Walt Disney Animation Studios to continue the good work it has been doing with recent non-princessy stories, namely Wreck-It Ralph (2012) and Big Hero 6 (2014), I guarantee you won't be disappointed. I wasn't. In fact, if you've been following the news, you know their successful streak has started to trigger a whole debate about Disney becoming better than Pixar. I admit that I was disappointed back in 2012, the year Pixar released Brave but Disney had Wreck-It Ralph. If you'd associated Disney with "worse" animations, you'd have to reconsider your position. Disney are making better films, that's for sure. Nonetheless, films from these two studios are hardly on the same plane. Disney films have totally different vibes to them, regardless of the quality. I would say a comparison between the two studios is not quite desirable because of the fine line between the characteristics of their films.

Zootopia has a perfect story structure, which reminds me of Ratatouille (2007), my favorite Pixar film. It might be the case that they both only follow the same formula to build their stories, but anyway I'm fond of the resemblance. The two stories, however, are not at all interchangeable, and not just because of the color schemes, which are always more vibrant and more popping in the case of Disney films. A signature Disney move, which makes the whole argument in favor of Disney getting the animation throne from Pixar so sickening, is the scene near the end of the film where they just have to read out the moral of the story. (Maybe Big Hero 6 escapes that treatment, but Big Hero 6 is from Marvel.) I couldn't imagine Pixar doing the same thing, which seems to be saying something about the two different targets. Disney has been doing this since the beginning of time, it's just when the films are better it's easier to accept. And guess what, Zootopia is good enough.

The story of Zootopia is excellent, especially in the context of the US with all the talks on discrimination. Discrimination is something that isn't supposed to exist in a "utopia," though as we audience have been too familiar with the dystopian scifi wave, we know how terrible it could be to live in a dystopia, which is basically created in the image of our real world, and how a utopia could hardly better than its dystopian counterpart. (Doubt it? Read the classic "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula K. Le Guin.) Zootopia, to my relief, isn't that kind of totalitarian utopia. It tries to promote equal opportunities, not by cutting down the ones that are better, but by acknowledging the potential of different species in the face of clearly shaped stereotypes. Zootopia is where "anyone could be anything." The American dream, isn't it? The thing about dreams, or utopias, is, however, they don't play out in reality the way we expect them to. Dreams are vulnerable. One massive blow, and they get smashed down, and you're back to fitting in the stereotype, whatever society's seen you as. Nick is just a sly fox. Judy is just a dumb bunny. Predators are just savage. But guess who doesn't conform to stereotypes? Not only our heroes, I warn you, but also the villain. If you like Dan Brown, I bet you'll like Zootopia, because using something one despises for one's own cause is pretty much the common theme. And if you read enough Dan Brown (2 books, in my case), you could definitely guess who the villain is before it's revealed. That's not important, though, because it's not the point (unlike Dan Brown's).

The point really is "life is not a cartoon musical where you sing a little song and all your dreams come true, so let it go." I guess our animal characters are not the only ones capable of changing huh? Big thanks to John Lasseter, who's led Disney to this age of stably good productions. "John Lasseter, forever and always" was the first thing that popped up in my head when walking home from Zootopia. (I hope I can say the same about Brad Bird after watching The Incredibles 2. I know we all do.)

I could say more about how fulfilling the story of Zootopia is to me, as every little detail is carefully planned to have a significant effect, but I believe you would get the most out of it by just going to the cinemas and watch it. Please. You won't be disappointed, pinky promise.


2016 wishlist (wish-to-do list)

This is a thing everyone else has been making and I have been resisting forever: a wishlist, a goal list, a resolution list, a to-do list; whatever, a list by any other name would be as daunting. Nonetheless, it is the right way to go.

1. Write a decent senior thesis. I have (kind of) decided on this. I'm writing a historical novel. There are tons of details to figure out and tons of planning to do, but it seems oddly doable.

2. Start and complete a 365 project. To find the beauty in the viewfinder again. I fell out of love some time during this weary year, and it's such a waste. If NaNoWriMo has taught me anything at all, it is that consistency is valuable, momentum is valuable. It's worth building.

3. Graduate. I must be a terrible student if I can't graduate on time. I don't think I'm getting near that terrible yet.

4. Not be unemployed. Unemployment is my worst fear. Permanent unemployment ranks above cockroaches and mosquitoes in the list of my enemies.

5. Travel to Japan. If I'm lucky. This, as many enjoyable things in life, requires money. Remember that Japan is not a cheap country. So if I was unemployed, my only travel destination would be hell and Japan would forever be a dream.

6. Start learning Japanese. Not serious learning, just for the purpose of travel. I have been avoiding it because Japanese is hard. But now I see any amount would be better than zero. Again, huge thanks to NaNo, which leads us to the next one...

7. Win NaNoWriMo. After all those years of knowing NaNo, I finally tried NaNo for the first time this year and fell in love. The community aspect is super helpful and super duper fun. I had a great time. I managed to write most days, except for that really bad week in which I had two presentations and two papers due or so. Next November I won't be in school, so I no longer have an excuse for not winning.

8. Start learning chữ Nôm. I'm not set on this yet. I just think it could be fun and useful, but I'll have to see how things go.

9. Record 300+ index cards. I procrastinated the other day by designing a whole index system. Might as well put it to good use.

10. Keep learning Korean and Cantonese and English. My language skill is a nightmare. With three different things to master I should be able to find joy in learning though. When I'm tired of one thing I can just switch to another. It will work out, right?

11. Write 10+ articles on Medium. I think Medium is a great platform, so I should really make use of it. I have ideas what to write, I'm just lazy.

12. Do more web design. It's fun and beneficial, plus I kinda have a responsibility. I have a bookshop site and a magazine site to complete. Those are the minimum.

Those are twelve things for twelve months, so it shouldn't be overwhelming right?

In general, I hope my 2016 won't turn out to be a disaster. Not that my 2015, or any other year, has, but, you know, just in case.


Goodbye, Camera.

The first episode in the series of “Diary in Screenplay Format.”


2015: Year in Review

Definitely not the kind of things I would normally write, but there's a first time for everything, right?

2015 has been the hell of a year. If I could describe it in one word, the word would be unprofessional™. Mostly inspired by HSBC HK, but I admit, I've had my fair share.

A more in-depth report:
  • The first half of 2015, in hindsight, was pretty terrible, for my health at least. I was taking 6 classes and monitoring a student club and working a part-time job and dealing with my study abroad documents. So there was a time I barely slept for four days straight. (I was sleeping like one hour per night, barely enough to keep me from going insane.) There was also a blackout moment that I could kind of recall. So it was pretty intense. I should have dropped the stupid class, but again, it was a major class. Other than that, I have absolutely no regret. I know we should have done better, we could have done better even, but I gave everything I had already. By the end of the semester, I was a dead fish. A happy dead fish, though.
  • Summer break was short and sweet. Quality time with family. I succeeded in my attempt to be a little productive, but in general, home and productive don't go well together. But I got to eat all the avocados I could eat, so who cares. Mmmmhm. Oh, and more frustrating stuff with my study abroad semester. I survived, but was thoroughly annoyed.
  • But then, Hong Kong! Hong Kong greeted me with her incredible humidity--more humid than Hanoi, can you believe it? I felt pretty much like a freshman all over again, joining OTs and going on trips and stuff. The beginning of the semester was fun and frustrating at the same time when I, again, had to deal with document stuff. People at my home school also had to go through the change in course registration and complained like hell, but at least their new system wasn't as screwed up as HKU's. I couldn't get in a lot of classes I wanted, but the ones I got were quite good too. 5 classes, and I found myself plenty of free time. So I went to see films quite a lot as HK had amazing film festivals continuously coming up and also there was a club in HKU holding weekly screenings (September - October). And then, guess who finally got around to participate in NaNoWriMo in November? I know it sounds kind of stupid, like I went on study abroad where I could have the time of my life, and challenging myself to write 50000 words in a month was my idea of fun? But the NanoHK community is so great, and I always love it when I get to hang out with people and do things instead of talking all the time. (I don't talk, remember?) We did our own things and shared the spirit. Couldn't be any better. Of course I didn't win NaNoWriMo: I was on track until past 20K but then school got in the way, so I ended up with a little over 30K. Still a win, as I'd never written so much in my life. Then for December I went back to write academic papers, but it wasn't too bad. For the whole 4-month semester, I slept almost every day, except for once. That had never ever happened ever since I left for college. HK has showed me that education doesn't necessarily come at the expense of yourself. Truly mind-blowing.
(That was disproportional, as expected of my memory. But I have tons more of things to say about HK, and I'll make sure to write them down, so watch out.)

So uhm, the conclusion? 2015 has been the hell of a year. An emotional roller-coaster ride. Thank you, 2015, for everything, the bad and the good. Though if I could take all the good without the bad, I would make the deal without batting an eye. Haha. It's just I think the bad was valuable too, in a way? But still, bad feels bad.

May 2016 be good. May 2016 be anything but unprofessional and financially unstable. I'm not ready for you yet, but I will be in time.