Infantile Review: 87th Academy Awards (2015.2.22)


1. Just like last year, this Oscars was marked with a series of memorable moments, definitely including NPH’s extravagant opening number (much compared to Hugh Jackman’s humble one in 2009… I guess it has to be either monologue or song that makes up the Oscars opening), his hilarious parody of Birdman and Whiplash, the redemptive reunion between Idina Menzel and John Travolta, Lady Gaga’s glittering tribute to the Sound of Music, and many more. Also I keep wondering how NPH could have placed his accurate predictions.

2. Most of my own predictions went wrong, except my new favourite Alexandre Desplat who won the Best Original Score award for the Grand Budapest Hotel. I hoped Michael Keaton would win Best Actor in exchange for all the essential ones like Best Picture and Best Director, which I thought were very much reserved for Boyhood. But it turned out the other way around: Boyhood only won Best Supporting Actress out of 11 categories it was nominated while Birdman swept Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Cinematography. Personally I didn’t care about either one but I’d rather Boyhood for its more universal themes that extend beyond the interests of lofty film artists.

3. Also this Oscars was highlighted by a number of inspiring speeches, including Patricia Arquette’s call for equal wage for women, the Best Adapted Screenplay winner Graham Moore’s encouragement for all those “weird and different,” J.K. Simmons’ urge to “call our parents, if we are lucky enough to have one or two alive on this planet,” and Iñárritu’s few words for immigrants. But some of their words also attracted criticisms. I personally cannot understand why Arquette had to bring up (the rights of) sexual minorities and people of color to support her own vision of the fight for women’s equality, because their rights should be respected as equal as hers. I do think it was intrusive and …selfish.

4. Like last year, I was distressed to see ‘race’ become a heated issue all over again. As the host NPH jokingly remarked, this Oscars has been ferociously criticized for being the “whitest” Oscars in a few years, for the nominees in the important categories were all “white” people, famously snubbing the director and actors of Selma, a drama based on Martin Luther King Jr. and a Best Picture nominee. I haven’t seen Selma so I couldn’t comment on whether it deserved a best director or best actor nomination; but I hate to see the purity of art ruined by all these issues of discrimination and unfairness.

5. I am already thrilled to see next Oscars!

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Book #26. The Giver


I was somewhat surprised to know that a significant portion of the English-written books I have read in the last 2 years are YA novels. Maybe it was related to what I have been trying to do–teaching. Many of them were compulsory due to the coursepacks I needed to follow in my classroom. The Giver has always been widely known for its significance in the field of education, which was a reason I grab this one.

I did not do enough research to verify my vague suspicion that the ‘Giver’ series officially set the path for those successful ‘dystopian’ YA series such as the Hunger Games and Divergent. Even though Lowry’s Quartet was written much earlier, I found its setting already too familiar because of those worldly franchises too much exposed in popular media.

Simply put, I did enjoy the book, but it was not that as memorable or amazing as its fame.

First of all, its futuristic, dystopian setting seems a bit rudimentary to be a basis of anything substantial in the characters and the plot.  I know it’s absurd to expect details as much as in Brand New World and 1982, but I just wanted to learn more about the Community, their life without colors and love, in order to more closely connect to Jonas’ confusion and delights in receiving the ‘memories’. But a few of the facts a reader gets to know about this unknown setting is the significance of the December Ceremony where every 12-year-old is assigned a permanent role, and the concept of Release to Elsewhere. Lowry does not give more than that–there was little description about this colorless, painless, loveless community as vivid as that of the December Ceremony fully described in Chapter 6-7. That sufficiently explains why I did not wholeheartedly follow Jonas’ confusion and struggles as he receives the ‘memories’ of colors, pain and love.

Secondly, I also felt that the central characters are rather two-dimensional. The Giver is presented as a sage, but he relatively lacks human qualities for a common reader to connect to… We only get a glimpse of his feelings and thoughts in his brief mention of his daughter which is not further explained at all. (I think this is why Lowry published sequels) For the reason explained above, I also couldn’t connect to Jonas as he struggles in his ‘Receiving’ memories. He seemed a perfectly normal kid in the beginning, living with loving parents and a sister, hanging out with buddies, having a crush on a girl and so forth but he turns into some kind of alien as he takes his position as the ‘Receiver’… To me, Jonas did not spring as a fully developed character but only as a mere carrier of the plot.

Despite these, it was a smooth read, definitely appropriate for teenagers. I think this is a good entry for young adults into this wide literature genre called ‘dystopian.’

I just pray I won’t have to plan a whole unit out of it. ;)

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Book #25. The Left Hand of Darkness

I bought this book for a Science Fiction course I took in the fourth undergraduate year. I purchased all the books for the entire course, unknowing to the prospect of dropping the course in only two weeks. I only returned an anthology and reserved several stand-alone titles.  I was glad to do so when I met a customer who was reading The Left Hand of Darkness, written by the godmother of SF (isn’t that what she is called or is it just me….) when I was serving my parents’ restaurant. We had a good chat that was way more worth than the two weeks of university lecture. I promised him that I would read the book and I fulfilled it several years later.

I have to admit that I struggled to get into this book, mostly because of the alien terms invented by Le Guin. I desperately searched for glossary on the internet but most of them were incomplete. In the end, as a novice to SF, I didn’t have to know all the scientific terms to complete my priority: to get through this unkind novel of an unfamiliar genre with any means possible.

The plot is as follows. The human race living on the planet Winter has only one sex: in 26 days, they enter a period called kemmer, in which they take form of either male and female in order to have sex with one another and get pregnant. The protagonist Genly Ai landed on this planet in order to convince this alien race to join the Ekumen, sort of UN in space. Naturally, these asexual aliens do not trust this young man who is essentially different from themselves, both physically and sexually. A course of events drives Genly Ai to prison, and one of the Gethenians rescues him and comes to an understanding with him.

The relationship between Genly Ai and Estraven is the most interesting part of this novel. It is much deeper than just friendship or alliance…  I was somewhat excited to read them sexually attracting to each other. Because they are fundamentally different with each other, their relationship was much more complex, ambiguous, and profound. And I liked that. They were bound together in no way two people of same nature can.

For it seemed to me, and I think to him, that it was from that sexual tension between us, admitted now and understood, but not assuaged, that the great and sudden assurance of friendship between us rose: a friendship so much needed by us both in our exile, and so well proved in the days and nights of our bitter journey, that it might as well be called, now as later, love. But it was from the differences between us, not from the affinities and likenesses, but from the differences, that that love came: and it was the bridge, the only bridge, across what divided us. For us to meet sexually would be for us to meet once more as aliens. We had touched, in the only way we could touch. (248-249 : emphasis mine)

In a world of constant clashes between beliefs, ethnics and politics, the concept of ‘bond’ built on ‘difference’ is quite striking. Maybe it was ‘difference’ that forms the basis of all types of union. For example, what could be more different than a man from a woman? Yet they attract to each other, love each other, and understand each other to form a basic social union. Understanding first comes from perceiving and  recognizing a ‘difference.’  All forms of dialogue, agreement, promise, and partnership that lie within the cornerstone of our society would not be needed had we been of all same opinion, same view and identity.

The novel’s depiction of ‘ambisexuality’ is way more than interesting. When I was young, I was somewhat repulsive to the pre-destined notions of masculinity and femininity, mostly promoted by the media. I was blindly, unconsciously searching for qualities that transcend the pre-decided notions of sexuality, because too often I felt constrained in my natural-born gender. It was affecting way more areas of life than necessary–daily appearance, social manners, public safety, occupation, etc.
In this respect, the Gethenian’s system of sexuality is much more genuine and more focused on its essential role–erotic love and reproduction. Their way of mating seemed much more beautiful and sacred to the eyes of an earthling that have seen all sorts of tyrannies and violence on ‘sexuality.’ I was once again surer with the vision of fading barrier between genders would make our world a better place.

‘The Left Hand of Darkness’ was a successful read, considering my relative indifference to its genre. As a result, I summoned a copy of another shelved text of that course–Snow Crash. With three other YA books I ordered, I sincerely doubt whether I could open that copy within this year…:)


Le Guin, Ursula K. The Left Hand of Darkness. New York: Ace. 2010.


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Afterthoughts and mini-awards on the 86th Academy Awards



1. I just love to see Ellen back to Oscars. She is one of the few comedians in English speaking countries whose humour really resonates mine, including her obsessions in selfies, SNS, pizzas and delightful graciousness to others. She would be remain as my favourite Oscars host, no matter what.

2. It is still strange to see the ‘racial’ issues so hot around the Oscars. I don’t get why people make so much fuzz about the race of Steve McQueen, the director of the Best Picture winner, ’12 Years a Slave.’ What matters about Steve other than the fact he directed the Oscar winning film? What makes ‘race’ just an important criterion on the movie awards? …Yeah, it’s America, I almost forgot.

3. I’m glad to see American Hustle empty-handed. Not worth the fuzz, was the thought I had when I saw it. ;(

Here’s the mini-awards:

– Disappointing: Idina Menzel, Triumphant: Pharrell Williams.

– Best speech: Jared Leto “…this is for the 36 million people who have lost the battle to AIDS and to those of you out there who have ever felt injustice because of who you are and who you love, tonight I stand here in front of the world with you and for you. Thank you so much and good night.”

– Best filial love: Jared Leto who gives his piece of pizza to his mom.

– Best cameo: Edgar, owner and delivery man of Big Mama’s and Papa’s Pizza

– Best joy: Steve McQueen


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Best moments in 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics

As far as I can remember, the Olympic Games occurring every four years always fascinated me, largely due to its quintessentially global nature. It was just magical to see the athletes from all around the world competing equally and fairly, completely free from any political, ethnic, and geographical differences. However, having little interests in sports, I was not that keen to watch over the races and matches myself, except for those of a few major athletes who have been popularized by media. (Yuna Kim for South Korea, for example) All I used to do to enjoy the Olympics was merely searching for the medal rankings on the Internet.
But my feelings for this Sochi Winter Olympic Games was different. I was more than eager to keep track of the daily broadcasting schedules and staying up all night to watch the games to cheer for the national team. Maybe it was because I got back in my native land in thirteen years,
or because I had the time and means to do so. No matter what, the global games in such scale can be a great diversion from routine.
The last thing I cared about was the political concerns surrounding the Olympics, about the western efforts to discredit the Russian host of this Olympics. No matter what they say, this will be the first Winter Olympics I thoroughly enjoyed.

Here are several best moments I don’t want to forget.

1. Best Player – Victor An
The personal history of the likely MVP of this Olympics is pretty well-known: born, raised and trained in South Korea, he represented his native country in 2006 Turin Olympics and won three gold medals but was later mysteriously excluded from the national team for 2010 Vancouver Olympics. The power struggles within the national sports associations are notorious in South Korea, so the short-track genius has chosen to go and settle another place for which he could compete freely. Angry over the corrupted officials who clearly mistreated an excellent athlete, the South Korean public compassionately supported An’s decision to be naturalized and represent Russia. With no ace to replace An, the South Korean male competitors flunked this Olympics, bringing no medal after a number of crashes and penalties. But the remarkable achievement of An (3 gold medals from 1,000 m, 500 m and 5,o00 m relay and one bronze from 1,500 m short track race) kept my eyes on the male short-track games. His emotional triumph after winning 1,000 m race brought tears to my eyes.

2. Most memorable race- Sven Kramer, Speed Skating 5,000 m
I first laid my eyes on the speed skating races for the depending champion, Lee Seung Hoon, who this time was surpassed by the Dutch who took 23 medals from this category. The media labelled the male 5,000 m speed skating race as Kramer vs. Lee from which I learned the name of this unrivaled Dutch hero. From his race, I learned the joy of watching long-distance speed skating. It was stunning to see his remarkable race in which he magically reduced his lap time (32 secs -> 29 secs) towards the end, shortening the record by eight seconds.

3. Most controversial medal – Gold for Sotnikova, Women’s Figure Skating
Yuna Kim’s successful defense of her championship was largely anticipated across the globe. I stayed up til four in the morning to watch her Free Program and hear her score of 144.19, five points short of the Russian Sotnikova’s 149.95 who snatched the gold. Well, the controversy around Russia’s home buff has been publicized from the beginning of the Games, so this result did not surprise me a lot. But it was clearly not okay with the rest of the world. There are evidence that Sotnikova’s skills do not surpass those of Yuna, and people are harshly criticizing the home advantage Sotnikova must have enjoyed. This case just proves how unpredictable the Olympics are compared to other international games. I know it is enraging sometimes, but this randomness is what makes the Olympics fun.

4. Most tearful moment – Asada Mao after Women’s Figure Skating, Free Program
Asada Mao has been a longtime rival to the former champion, Kim Yuna, since their junior years. After she settled for Silver after Yuna in 2010 Vancouver, the media seemed no longer interested in their rivalry. Even so, Asada remained as the beloved skater in her native country, Japan, who widely anticipated her victory this time. However, Asada disappointed her supporters by continually crashing while executing her triple axel jumps in early in the Games. As if trying to make up the disappeared hope of getting on the podium after being ranked in the shocking sixteenth place in the Short Program, she masterfully cleaned her Free Program and burst into tears. Right at that moment, she was nothing but a soft-minded girl who must have suffered a lot by her steady decline from the top of the world.

5. Glad to learn the fun of – Curling, Team Pursuit Speed Skating
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I used to glimpse at the Curling games in Canadian TV but never cared to watch the full game until now, largely due to its complicated strategic gameplay. This year, the female South Korean team made their entry to the Olympics for the first time, but sadly missed the ticket semi-final by 3 wins and 6 losses in the Round Robin. But it was sufficient to drive the whole nation into the fun of Curling.
I discovered another joy in watching a formerly unfamiliar game called the Speed Skating Team Pursuits, a vigorous, thrilling race by two teams running their hearts out to take over the end of the other team from the other ends of the track. The fun of it is that you can never guess the winner until the end because they always reverse the leading team. In the third-place match, Poland surpassed Canada by two seconds in the end after racing behind the exact amount of time in the first six laps. A same thing also happened in the semi-final match between South Korea and Canada. It was another game that proved the Dutch supremacy in Speed Skating. I hope they would get pretty tired at Pyeongchang, so other nations may have some more chances. ;)

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Book #24. Night


This is the second book on the Holocaust I taught to the advanced fiction class this semester. I was somewhat reluctant to begin Elie Wiesel’s gruesome Night right after finishing the Boy in the Striped Pajamas that shares the same background. But the memoir turned out to be a right choice after all. I guess the book more touched my heart than theirs, as far as God is concerned.

Before I let myself being genuinely impressed by the events depicted in this book, I sensed a fundamental doubt on the ‘authenticity’ of Wiesel’s narrative and also of the entire genre itself. You relive your own memory in order to produce and publish a memoir, and on what basis could I, a reader, assess the accuracy of that memories which must be as old as several decades? There are many episodes that I felt too dramatic to be true (the part about violin-playing Juliek was a good one, and I almost mistook myself reading a novel).
In a memoir, you are telling a story of your own as if it is some kind of fable that delivers some kind of moral or life lesson. And that story should have all the structures of a good story, the same old craps like the rising actions, climax, denouement, so forth. Surely, there must be significant liberty for the authors to fabricate in a cell and trying to reproduce your memories into a impressive, moving story.

Nevertheless, Night was a great experience for me for its stark contemplation of God in one of the darkest moments in history. It was simply miraculous to see the Jews, including Elie himself, still holding onto their faith in the midst of the atrocities against them, and it was so clear to see what they truly lost during that difficult time. It wasn’t their language, country or lost king or queen they fought for–it was God, the mighty force that encompasses all positive elements of a human life. There was nothing eviler in the book than the most pious Jews losing their faith in God.

The question of whether God exists even in the times of unspeakable extremities must be one of the fundamentally unresolved riddles. Compared to the fictional narratives such as Life of PiNight offers much more convincing discussion on God on the background of reality, no matter how solidly depicted. One thing I ascertained from Wiesel’s account about God is that whether metaphorically or spiritually, He is inevitably indispensable from everything that keeps us living: hope, love, care, friendship, loyalty, family, and so forth. Once you let go of the last shred of faith in Him, you finally ungrasp the last string of life, and descend into the bottom of the darkest valley of despair and death.

“…Man is too insiginificant, too limited, to even try to comprehend God’s mysterious ways. But what can someone like myself do? I’m neither a sage nor a just man. I am not a saint. I’m a simple creature of flesh and bone… Where’s God? How can I believe, how can anyone believe in this God of Mercy?”

…Poor Akiba Drumer… as soon as he felt the first chinks in his faith, he lost all incentices to fight and opened the door to death. (p. 76-77)

What can be more sorrowful than the Jews who realized no God presides over such a hell like where they are–the Auschuwitz concentration camp–and let go of their lives? It was truly a night in which the light of God has vanished. I believe Wiesel’s Night offers powerful rationales for both the atheists and believers on why we deny or believe in God. The answer really rests on the reader.

I would be very careful not to present Night as a religious work if I have a chance to teach it again. How can I discuss ‘God’ in a non-religious setting? I should work on it now…


Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York: Hill and Wang. 2006

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Book #23. The Grapes of Wrath


A good way for a non-American to comprehend this essentially “American” novel was to juxtapose scenes from movies. The premise of the Grapes of Wrath reminded me a lot of the documentary film about the American food industry I saw years ago. There was simply nothing in my world that unveil the stark truth about Corporate America other than the scenes of the weary-looking farmers who have been completely stripped of their dignity and control over the fruits they produce. To see them reduced as mere ‘clerks’ to giant companies was striking for my childlike respect for the farmers as a dignified occupation.

My official disdain of Corporatism that help me appreciate John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath has been probably spawned right at that moment. My disillusionment of the positivism, heroism, individualism and materialism–what have been known as the traditional “American values”–that have been prolifically promoted in my favourite Hollywood cinema is not a strange thing, as I drifted into the middle of my twenties that coincided with the decline of neoliberalism. Ironically, the more I read the great American novels, the more I grow distant with the essential principles of that culture… That’s probably why I, along with the rest of the world, read American literature.
I was thankful for Steinbeck for representing unspoken contemplations of religion and justice I used to entertain in my head. Why would God matter if we fail to look after ourselves? How could I be completely happy if someone in this world is suffering for my happiness? Steinbeck’s version of ‘righteousness’ evident in many parts of the novel–especially in the character of Casy–was strikingly resembling my personal crises with God and the orthodox ideals of success in my generation. I couldn’t articulate my own criticism of such values in one of my political Science Tutorial or Bible Study sessions as well as Steinbeck did in this novel. The only difference between the author and me might be the ability to translate it into a literary masterpiece… Casy was literally speaking my doubtful mind when he confided why he gave up his ministry.
“I ain’t gonna preach… I ain’t gonna baptize. I’m gonna work in the fiel’s, in the green fiel’s, and I’m gonna be near to folks. I ain’t gonna try to teach ‘em nothing. I’m gonna try to learn. Gonna learn why the folks walks in the grass, gonna hear ‘em talking, gonna hear ‘em sing. Gonna listen to kids eatin’ mush. Gonna hear husban’ an’ wife a-poundin’ the mattress in the night. Gonna eat with ‘em an’ learn.” (128)
 Many people interpret the Grapes of Wrath as a call for socialism or collectivism. I cannot bring myself to relate it to any political discussions, as I don’t have to label my own morality with such a name. I don’t want to call it socialist when I pray for those in other parts of the world a little more than my own family. The Grapes of Wrath is an epic representation of Steinbeck’s own assertion of morality that has to stand firm even during the most difficult time in history.
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath. New York: Penguin Books. 1992.

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