Van Gogh Sphere

Who would have thought paintings done by a man suffered from mental illness could become a blockbuster exhibition and appreciated by tens of thousands of people in more than 100 years time.

The paintings, revealing a man’s inner world through stunning colours, bold style, and brushstrokes inspired by Japanese woodblock prints, are not static. The pinenut trees and flowers, wheat fields and plain sky, all covered with layers of pigment and thick lines, making a statement of their own. I could also see a slim and lonely man sitting not far from them, rapidly sketching out their shapes, and fiercely making touches with his brush, or fingers.

Interestingly, his works have nowadays been recreated into replicas and become a source of income for peasant painters in China. In a Chinese village where there is no trees, no flowers, let alone wheat fields, the painstaking painters are self-teaching his techniques, applying them with their brushes, and perhaps adding a touch of their own imagination of the world he used to live in.

We all say that great art is invaluable, however when art becomes accepted, circulated, and a part of mainstream, they come in a price tag and distinct values. They then gradually form their own economy sphere — like the exhibition, the replicas, the moment another piece of work claimed to be inspired by Vincent.

As the end recipients of that economy sphere, we feel inspired by the strong energy and emotions those paintings convey to us and probably sympathise with the master’s suffering and experience. Behind that sphere, the struggle, isolation and frustration that once impacted or even drove the master’s works, may have been continued in today’s world, although in a different way.

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The Game of Watching and Being Watched

Live streaming on Taobao has been gaining more and more popularity since its launch in 2016.

Like this one above, they all seem very entertaining to watch, and especially engaging by allowing users to ask questions during the streaming process.

This kind of sales model doesn’t require much set-up or training. For the sellers, not only are they providing services and promoting their products at the same time, it is also an opportunity for them to show off their personality, build trust with customers, as well as to stand out from hundreds of other sellers who sell pretty much the same thing.

Similar to the spread of live streaming on Facebook, Instagram, etc., being filmed has never been this common. From a viewer’s perspective, live streaming is probably something with more genuinity and interaction than many other things one sees on everyday media. The impact is also spontaneous, like reality TV but the audience gets invited to be part of the show as it is happening. Here’s another example in advertising:

However, the dark side of technology has quickly emerged. There also seems to be a tendency for murder, suicide, crimes being broadcasted on live streaming, and they got circulated online faster than ever because of social media. Suddenly it feels like Hunger Games could happen anytime soon in the real world. But Facebook has already reacted to that and found a solution, which is to hire 3000 “Content Monitors” to review the live streaming content as they go live. A solution that is not so high-tech but perhaps effective for the time-being, which seems to suggest that more violence simply leads to more surveillance and regulations.

What do people gain from going live? Profit, leads, or just pure entertainment? There is never a standard answer. As broadcasters, as viewers, we are all being watched, willingly or unwillingly.

Gone with The Wasted Times

Wasted times

This is a film about 1930s Shanghai and its gangster past during the chaotic Japanese occupation period.

As a Chinese film, it is a nice piece of work that entails a sophisticated storyline and a unique style of art-house aesthetics, while still maintains its clear commercial intentions. With an all-star cast, it depicts the stories happening around three leading characters including a ruthless gangster leader (You Ge),  a Shanghaiese- speaking Japanese spy (Tadanobu Asano) and a lustful concubine (Ziyi Zhang) of a gangster boss. Each of them was after something they wanted during the wartime, and all thought that they had had  full control of the situation during the process of pursuing, while the end is pretty much tragic for all of them.

To me the film pays tribute to a wartime era where everything was unpredictable, all relationships seemed fragile, and people’s fate could turn into different directions at a blink of an eye. This might be the case for any wartime stories, however there seems to be an extra level of fascination involved when they are told in the 1930s Shanghai — back then a city under influences of different political parties, east and west cultures, while the local gangster groups still dominated the backend of the city’s criminal activities, and determined the ways things should be done in many circumstances.

I especially like the touch about the lives of a few supporting roles who have side stories that are peripheral to the main storyline. They include a maid who served the gangster family loyally but died as a victim as the result of a revenge spree by an enemy group, a dying gangster chauffeur who got rescued by a prostitute and then fell in love with her, and an actress who rejected the courting from the gangster’s top leader and hoped to get back with her estranged husband. They help the audience to catch a glimpse of people’s mentality during that era, where everything had some sort of unspoken rules, but they could also be steered away as lust and caution intervened.

The Chinese title, which literally means “A history of disappearing romance”, conveys a sense of both nostalgia and melancholy. With the end of war, aspects of the wartime humanity, genuine or distorted, all started to fall apart and became powerless, to a point that all comments seem absurd and further interpretation no longer seem necessary.

Ultra Rich Asian Girls

Reality shows featuring pretty girls and their luxurious lifestyles is an eye-catching topic in every culture, just like people can never get bored of checking out celebrity gossip magazines. Whereas it is also common for this kind of show to receive all kinds of criticisms and controversies.

There is no exception to this show — Ultra Rich Asian Girls, which is a reality show featuring 4 mandarin-speaking Asian girls who lead luxurious lifestyle in Vancouver Canada. The show takes audience to have a glimpse of their daily activities including trip to private island, designer bags shopping spree, million dollar villa parties, etc., as well as documents how they interact with (or loathe) each other. However, as it is set in a special context where these girls actually represent the tip of an influx of Asian wealth into western societies, extra discussions involving racism, cultural identity and its unavoidable political implications among the diaspora group are triggered on top of the usual level of criticism over “the rich” and “materialism”.

Source: http://www.hbictv.com/

In a more realistic environment, the “invasion” of Asian students, investment, and culture has affected the local economy in many countries such as Canada and Australia. As much as these countries welcome the wealthy migrants, they also need to face some pressing issues like the rapid rise of property prices and the changing face of their local communities, which in a way has shaped the wealthy Asians into a form of special community and sometimes given the concept of “yellow peril” a new form.

Leaving all the”why”s and”how”s that people have towards these Asian migrants alone, what this reality TV did is simply to give the “ultra rich” group a voice and to satisfy the outsiders’ longing to know them. Besides, there is also no doubt that the group will continue to grow, bringing more change on both inside and outside of many western societies, just like a side effect of globalization. The consequence is obvious – one can either embrace it or feel intimidated by it.

The reality show is now preparing to launch for its 4th season. After all, it is all the controversies and criticisms that contribute to the success of this TV show series.

Lunar Chinese New Year 2017

First day of Year of Rooster in Melbourne, a summery day spent with blue sky, sunscreen and ice teas. To join the celebration, I went to Crown by the side of Yarra River, an alternative Asian Chinese gathering precinct in the CBD other than laneways of Chinatown.

On the big screen outside of Crown, Serena Williams won Australian Open Women’s Single over her sister Venus Williams — A happy day for the Williams sisters, so does it seem for most of the Asian-looking people who spent endless time and money at the Casino tables inside Crown on that day, or at least at face value.

I got corrected at work a few days ago, for calling the New Year “Chinese New Year” rather than “Lunar New Year”, because apparently for Asian Chinese who do not come from China but also celebrate the New Year, they would prefer to use the word “Lunar”… It’s interesting to think about the connotation behind that — to downplay the “Chineseness” side of New Year.

The hustle and bustle of people at Crown’s riverside night market has a good resemblance of the New Year shopping crowd in China. Other celebration features include lion-dancing, fireworks, and display of the Zodiac Lanterns, which all attract a great deal of crowds and cameras.

Lunar Chinese New Year in Melbourne, a quick dose of Chinese culture accompanied by  the colour of red, sound of drum from lion-dancing, and an influx of foreign wealth, largely fulfills people’s curiosity towards this traditional festival and brings deeper understanding or misunderstanding of the culture.

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First dinner for Year of Rooster, at a Thai restaurant, due to not being able to get a booking at preferred Chinese restaurant.

 

Sheng Nv (Leftover Women)

“Leftover Women” is more a fact, an issue, a phenomenon that happens on a personal and social level, rather than propelled by the government through propaganda .

“To marry or not to marry”should be a personal choice rather than something pushed by other people, especially from a western-world point of view. However, this is an idea that doesn’t fit in the traditional family value of most Chinese parents, who believe that young woman, due to biological reasons, should get married  before a certain age to fulfil the role and expectation of  a wife and a mother. Therefore “leftover women”, most of whom grown up in urban settings different from their parents’ age, have to bear the burden of being called “selfish”, “unattractive”, “career-oriented”, or even feeling discriminated among the public.

Leta Hong Fincher (@LetaHong) attributed “Leftover Women” to the result of a big propaganda campaign focusing on urban educated women orchestrated by the Chinese government.

However, to my view, the existence of this label of “leftover women” is more a fact, an issue, a phenomenon that happens on a personal and social level, rather than propelled by the government through propaganda . The pressure faced by “leftover women” would mostly be from their parents and friends, while being a problem for “China’s population planning strategy” would probably be their least concern. With the loosen-up of China’s One-child Policy, the pressure of “having kids”might be felt even more by “leftover women”, as the idea of having more grandchildren are favoured by many Chinese parents. The feeling of “being left” is already there once these women reach their “age of starting a family” perceived by their family and peers, no matter whether the government decides to spread the idea on the state media or not.

 

Soeda San

Sony released its PlayStation4 (simplified Chinese version) in Shanghai on 21 March. This gentleman— Takehito Soeda (添田武人) caught my attention. He is the Vice President of China Business Strategy department of Sony Computer Entertainment Japan Asia. As a Japanese, he speaks very fluent Beijing-style mandarin and seems to be very confident dealing with Chinese media in this interview and many others.

According to this report from WPDang based on Global Manager. Soeda san has lived in Beijing since he was a child, and holds a B.A in Literature from Peking University. He also completed an MBA from Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management as an “aged senior student”, which makes his education background more “global”. He has worked in companies like DELL, AT Kearney, Baidu Japan and is apparently experienced with cross-cultural marketing and management.

A quote from him: “When you communicate with someone, you should approach the topic on the same level and from the same perspective as the person, and also communicate in a way that can be understood by the person.”

Given that there are only 13 games available on PS4 for mainland Chinese users. Soeda san seems have done a good job in keeping the release of this new device a hot topic among the Chinese game players. Seen on various Chinese social media, he actively interacts with his team at Sony Entertainment China, as well as PlayStation users online. He has a nick name “Uncle Wu ten er”(五仁儿叔) and his fans has recently discovered that he was a special guest actor in Feng Xiaogang’s 2001 movie Big Shot’s Funeral.

Here are some screenshots of the film. Soeda san’s name can be seen on the cast list (top). He plays a Japanese film producer in this movie (bottom, man with glasses).

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Images: http://www.weibo.com/a9vg#_rnd1427109341244

I think this kind of “celebrity strategy” works well for Sony PlayStation in China. Soeda san represents a very friendly, competent, and unharmful Japanese senior businessman figure, which easily surpasses many political awkwardness and subsequently shortens the distance between the developer and its targeted consumers in China.

Maybe Sony Film should be considering applying the same strategy when they would like to expand its market in North Korea one day.