Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Twilight Saga--No real substance

Author: Stephenie Meyer
Series: Twilight Saga
Genre: Paranormal Romance

After being thoroughly disgusted by the second movie New Moon, I feel an even stronger urge to trash this book series, something that I itched to do for a long time.

Whatever faults it has in a literary sense, the Twilight series is undeniably one successful commercial venture. Stephenie Meyer understands human nature well--adolescents are slaves to their hormones, and all girls dream of being the next Cinderella.

To substantiate my point, I have to refer back to a post that I translated a month ago, "Popular Article on How to Write a Successful Chinese Romance Novel, Part 1," which touches upon a number of common tropes in romance fiction. Coincidentally, Twilight contains most of them.

1. To make the readers like the heroine, Meyer describes Bella as a ordinary-looking and slightly lonely girl.

2. In the series, Bella undergoes enough emotional and physical trauma to earn her the title "Survivor of the Year."

3. I am not sure how coordinated and fit Bella is, but Edward certainly does not lack any opportunities to rescue her from danger.

4. Bella stays a virgin until very late in the series.

1. In stark contrast to Bella the ordinary, Edward is an extraordinarily handsome boy.

2. Edward's vampiric nature means that he is strong enough to satisfy most female desires for a shining knight.

As befitting a young adult novel, there are at least 2 men in love with Bella, both exceedingly attractive, and a dozen others who want her for a number of reasons. Faced with so many stellar catches, Bella agonized over the choice she must make for a least one novel and a half--I suppose this is thoroughly satisfying to the female ego, especially for those who identify with the stories more strongly than other readers.

Now, having explained rather objectively (in my point of view) why the series is so hugely popular, I would also like to point out why it is so ridiculously awful.

At the beginning I mentioned that the Twilight Saga is essentially a series of common tropes strung together. Well, this is also the reason for the abysmal reading it offers. For every Chinese romance novel readers (I can't speak for English readers), these plot devices are overused, uninteresting, and boring, unbelievably so. The entire series smacks of banality.

Furthermore, I fail to understand why Edward and Bella fell in the love in the first place. The dubious "meant to be" claim aside, how does a rational being fall in love with his food? And by food I mean ambrosia. After all is this not how Edward repeatedly described Bella? OK, I concede that overcoming one's animalistic instinct in the higher power of love is another point designed to impress female readers.

The last two books of the series are even more horrible, tainted by the heavy stench of "Mary Sue," from Bella's sudden elevation of status to her miraculous contribution to vampiric procreation. By the way, for those who haven't heard of the term,

"A Mary Sue, in literary criticism and particularly in fanfiction, is a fictional character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as wish-fulfillment fantasies for their authors or readers. Perhaps the single underlying feature of all characters described as "Mary Sues" is that they are too ostentatious for the audience's taste, or that the author seems to favor the character too highly."

I have to say that despite of its gigantic success, the Twilight Saga is an insult to the romance writing, even though this genre is already known for not requiring extensive cerebral activity to read.

2 out of 5 stars

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Thai Horror "Coming Soon" โปรแกรมหน้า วิญญาณอาฆาต

Director: Sopon Sukdapisit
Genre: Horror
Year: 2008

The Thai horror movie industry appears to be flourishing these days, Shutter, Alone, Coffin,4bia...It has spawned a respectable number of productions, though not all are created equally scary.

Coming soon, which was released in 2008, starts off with an advanced screening of a horror flick having the same name ("Coming Soon"). As a marketing gimmick to entice the audience, the movie comes with the claim that it is based on a true story. However, much to the dismay of those who saw said film the creepy effect lingers long after the viewing, because everyone who watched it mysteriously dies, and bodies somehow are transported into the movie itself.

Former boyfriend and girlfriend Chen (played by Ter-Chantavit Dhanasevi) and Peoll (played by Punch-Vorakarn Rojjanavatchra), also protagonists in this movie, inevitably become entangled and are persistently haunted by a vengeful ghost. To avoid looming death, the two set out to find the true story behind the making of Coming Soon. From there the tension continuously builds, climaxing when the truth is finally revealed.

The ghost's makeup is designed to have an all-around repelling effect, compounding the baleful venomous stare with an thoroughly dirty look. If one is not scared, then one is nauseated by the suspicious yellow chemical that coats the ghost's body. The turn off is effective either way. And I am very serious about the atmosphere being spooky. The manner in which the ghost stalks the victims is reminiscent of classics such as Ju-0n. It will make your heart pound.

At this point, I would almost say Coming Soon is a fine movie. Alas no, it was good until the last 30 seconds. Then it crashed. Since I don't want to ruin the fun for those who stumble upon this review, I shall conclude with this advice for the director: More is not always better; stalking is much more creepier than a direct confrontation.

Rating: 5.5 out of 10

P.S. Anyone has recs for good horror movies?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Movie: The Proposal

Year: 2009
Director: Anne Fletcher
Genre: Romantic Comedy

Before movie/book reviewers assign a rating, they should always make known to which standard they are comparing the work to. Likewise, before readers take this rating to heart, they should understand how the reviewers are assigning the rating numbers. In addition, a fluffy, light romance movie should not be compared to, say, Un chien andalou; a comparison between apples and oranges is meaningless.

The reason I stress this is because of two recent examples in which the reviewers were comparing apples and oranges. In the first case, I was browsing through a book review website that for the most part restricts itself to romance and fantasy novels. Yet when the site owners explain the rating system, they mention Siddhartha as an example of a book that merits a 9, full mark being 10. Does this mean that when I see a romance novel likewise being given a 9, I should automatically think it is Nobel Prize Quality? In the second case, I saw a reviewer on Douban (wiki) assigning 1s and 2s to perfectly enjoyable Hollywood-type movies and assigning highest score of 5 to those like Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl (wiki). In layman terms, the movies he recommended were often pompous ones that are dressed up to be presented for Chinese movie awards, and the ones he belittled were actually what ordinary people actually watch. Speaking of Xiu Xiu, my friends' parents who also had gone to the countryside as the female main character angrily denounced it as a twisted film that intentionally exaggerates and maligns the Chinese government to curry favors at foreign film festivals. I wonder which side is right, the director or parents.

But I digress...getting on with the movie review.

The Proposal is one of the better stories in the romantic-comedy genre. Margaret Tate, played by Sandra Bullock, is a fearsome autocratic book editor at a publishing firm in New York. Her "faithful" assistant Andrew Paxton (played by Ryan Reynolds) follows her every order but trashes the editor behind her back. The story quickly takes a turn towards the hilarious when Canadian citizen Margaret is informed of her visa expiration and imminent deportation, but instead of leaving US of A and potentially losing her job, Margaret decides to marry Ryan to gain legal residency. Ryan agrees to the scam of a "brief marriage, quick divorce" because of the enticing promotion she presents to him.

To convince the skeptical immigration officers as well as Andrew's disbelieving family, who by this time have had an earful about Margaret, the two invent dating tales as they go. As befitting their characters, Margaret plows right on, while Andrew at times appear unconvinced and much put-upon. Adding to the fun is Grandma Annie, an outspoken and eccentric character who is into giving thanks to Mother Earth by dancing to the sound of drums.

For me the female main character contributed much to the watch-ability of this film. There is something about a mixture of stubbornness, independence, and also a soft vulnerability (revealed during the Alaska trip) that I like very much. Andrew's character is convincing but gets eclipsed by the more dominant Margaret.

The film has its boring trite moments, for example the bedroom scene where the two have their tête-à-tête. But these are required for plot development and are not dragged out. Even if the ending is predictable, there is plenty of comedy to compensate.

Rating: 7 out of 10 stars

Friday, October 16, 2009

Book: Frostbitten

Author: Kelley Armstrong
Genre: Paranormal Romance

Considering Frostbitten is the tenth installment in the "Women of the Otherworld" series, it is amazing that the book held up, instead of pathetically flopping like so many long series have done before.

The story takes place more than three years after Broken. Elena investigates yet another set of mutts-related deaths and wherever Elena is, Clay follows, this time into the wild and mystical Alaska (by the way, though the man is convincingly portrayed as usual, I still think he is too good to be true). To avoid spoilers, suffice to say that in the book a few new werewolves make their appearances, Jeremy shows up in perhaps two places, and Elena's twins "drop" into just enough scenes to let readers know they are adorable. This book is truly about Elena and Clay--more specifically, how their relationship has matured and deepened. After the bland and boring Broken, Armstrong appears to be on solid grounds again. Interactions between the two main characters and their offspring are filled with warmth, sweetness, and contentment; the two have gotten over their trust issues, Elena no longer shy of proclaiming her love for Clay.

Although the romance portion offers good reading, the fantasy part is more of the plain vanilla type. That "capture-escape-capture-furious Elena/Clay explode and triumph" routine is especially tiring, because every single previous installment contained something similar.

4 out of 5 stars