Saturday, 30 March 2013

A Pinoy @ The Movies: Anna Karenina

This is what I like about the movies. They allow you to 'read' the book without actually leafing through it. 

I always found reading novels by Russian authors to be difficult. Why? The characters have very long first and last names usually ending with ky, ov, ova, in or ina, that they all sound alike and with too many letters. And the books are thick, too! I remember reading Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brother Karamazov. Fyodor lost me after the first 20 pages. Ha-ha-ha!

But on the day I saw Anna Karenina's movie poster with Keira Knightley's poster, I immediately remembered the novel, which, of course, I haven't even thought of attempting to read! It wasn't assigned as required reading at school. (Thank, God!). And thanks to Working Title Films, I won't ever have to read the book!

Leo Tolstoy is regarded as a genius of a novelist, and his Anna Karenina novel is regarded as the greatest novel ever written. No wonder, the film wasn't portrayed in a lavish, epic production the novel deserved. Instead, the director told the story through a theater stage, complete with pulleys, ropes, huge curtains and stagehands.  And I think it worked. Up to a certain extent. Since it's about Russia and things in the czarist Russia were huge and extravagant, I was only convinced half-way. At least, there was some effort to give the audience some Russian-ness on the screen.

The costumes and the jewelry were ostentatious. Of course, the fur that everyone wore was real, too. It looked different. And Keira Knightley's beautiful face and long neck adorned with real diamonds and pearls, and the rest of the cast's suits, gowns and make-up made it easy for audience to remember who was who, and not to be anymore bothered with those difficult Russian names. Ha-ha-ha! And since it was staged on a theater, the play between light and shadows was fascinatingly eerie, considering the tragic ending. Oops!

Leo Tolstoy's novels usually talk about morals, the complicated society and everything in between. But as I sat on a semi-filled theater, this story might have been set in the late 19th century, but these romances and scandals are all actually happening these days. Though the characters might no longer be wearing real fur and their diamonds might be a few carats smaller compared to the huge ones scattered around Miss Knightley's neck. The times might have changed, but the morality of men (or the lack of it!) hasn't evolved! Ha-ha-ha!

Should I recommend you to watch this? Well, if you haven't read the book, you should. But if you have, I say you go watch it, too, especially of you love these great Russian novels.  
                          (The official movie poster in Korean)

And a few photos from the official Anna Karenina movie website:

Sunday, 24 March 2013

A Pinoy In The Movies: Lincoln

Films like these aren't usually shown simultaneously with its release dates in other countries. So I had to wait until it was exhibited here in Seoul. Too bad, the Academy Awards a month ago already spoiled the surprises.

But the accolades for this film were not really a surprise for me. I knew Daniel Day-Lewis would win his third best actor through his role as Abraham Lincoln in this film. And Academy nominations for Steven Spielberg for directing as well as best supporting nominations for Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones just proved that this one's not one film to be missed.

I was able to catch it on late night at CGV Yongsan along with a theater full of curious movie fans, and right from the start, Day-Lewis gave us a glimpse on the life of perhaps America's most loved president, who started to fight in 1865 for the Thirteenth Amendment in the US Constitution to abolish slavery. And as expected, the Spielberg way of story-telling made it easier for his audience to understand the complicated events of what would be an important time in American history: the Civil War, slavery and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  A few gory scenes here and there, but that was because it was the late 19th century when America was still young and was at war within itself. Although I think the politics and politicking were just as interesting then as they are now.

The performance of Day-Lewis and the cast, plus the amazing production reminded me on how good Steven Spielberg is in making these period films. His Schindler's List came to mind.   I read in TIME that during the filming, Steven Spielberg addressed Daniel Day-Lewis as 'Mr. President' during breaks, and that everyone in the set had to wear period costume in keeping with the 19th century fashion. 

I am glad Daniel Day-Lewis won another Oscar for this. And I am also glad I was able to catch this film before its run ended. It was definitely one of the best films released in 2012, although only shown in 2013 here in Seoul.

It is still showing in a few theaters in Seoul, I think. So do try to catch this film and pick up a few pointers about American history and one of its greatest presidents.
                  (The official movie poster in Korean)

Sunday, 17 March 2013

"Kim-ssi, Open The (Namdaemun) Gate!"

I had to borrow that line from the film Sunset Boulevard, when the movie star Norma Desmond's car entered Paramount Studios and she had to order the guard to let her in. I think her line was, "Jonesy, open the gate!" 

But today, the gate is still closed. Closed for restoration, that is. And I am not talking about Paramount Studios; I'm talking about Namdaemun.

Sungnyemun, popularly known as Namdaemun, was the main gate of the Hanyang, the old Seoul, which was the capital of the Joseon Dynasty. According to the Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea, it only took three years to construct Namdaemun from 1396 to1398, during the reign of King Taejo, the founder of that dynasty.

But it only took one night to destroy it. On February 10, 2008, without any of King Taejo's guards watching over it, Namdaemun was set on fire by a disgruntled citizen, shocking the whole nation. And me!
                             (A fireman checking any burning ember)
                        (Hundreds of people even from the other side 
            of the Namdaemun street watching in disbelief)
I could not believe that this very popular tourist spot, which always showed up in Korean postcards and competed with the Seoul Tower and Gyeongbuk Palace as the most recognizable places in Korea, was destroyed! Just like that!
                  (If King Taejo were still alive, heads would have rolled)

On that chilly Sunday night when disaster struck Korea's National Treasure No. 1, I was switching TV channels when I saw on a local Korean TV the whole structure being surrounded by firemen as they bravely tried to save with icy cold water whatever ancient wooden structure there was to save. I think they were able to control the fire past midnight but the most revered national treasure, along with the national psyche, went up in smoke.
                               (Not exactly a postcard picture now)
                                      (People flocking to see for themselves 
                       what was left of the national treasure)

The next day, at noon, I went over to the area to take a look for myself. What I saw was a shattered monument, black in soot and surrounded by sad, shocked faces. Standing there among the crowd, I joined the chorus in asking, "How could this happen?"  This wasn't just National Treasure No. 10 or Number 2 or Number 3. This was Number One! The top of the list!  And just like any preventable disaster, there was a lot of blaming after.
                       (Messages for the Sungnyemun)

But the blaming could not bring back the old, colorful glory of Namdaemun.  Two and half billion Korean won would try to.

From 2008, the area was cleared, research on historical archives and documents about Namdaemun was made, and the construction site was prepared. In 2010, the actual restoration started, and in April 2013, it is expected to have been fully restored and will be opened once more.

                  (A priest with an altar and offerings in front of the site)

So next month, I will be there again at Namdaemun to join the thousands in celebrating its return to the lists of the most popular tourist spots and the most popular postcards. And most important, with its restoration costs of at least KRW 2.5 billion, it better be up there again as Korea's National Treasure Numero Uno.
                                              (A photo taken this month)
                                (Restoration almost done)

And when that happens, I guess King Taejo will be proud again that the gate he had first built in 1398 is back to its old splendor, its rightful place in Korean history, and its place on a tourist's itinerary.   

But in the meantime, we are all waiting for his majesty to call out...

"Kim-ssi, open the gate!"
                (The Namdaemun was a postcard-perfect sight 
                                    before the fire)

Sunday, 10 March 2013

(For K-Pop Fans) If It's 2PM, It's Time For Hands Up!

I heard from my friends in the Philippines that 2PM just had a successful, sold-out concert in Manila last week. Way to go, 2PM boys! This reminds me to thank the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) again for a gift they sent a few weeks back:  the 2PM's limited edition CD, 2PM Members' Selection
And speaking of 2PM, both the band and the time, usually after lunch during weekdays, drowsiness sometimes kicks in for anyone who's been working late the night before (or drinking late for some!). For me, a trip down to the building's arcade for a cup of iced cafe mocha always does the trick. But for some, maybe, he or she should just plug in an earphone and play 2PM's music CD!

Not that he or she should then stand up on the desk and dance with hands up mimicking 2PM's choreography in the video, because blasting the song through your ears in full volume will awaken even the dead. But some fast music would eventually get into your system and give those sleepy brain cells a kick!

          (Thanks, KTO, for the 2PM limited edition CD!)

I still have the other 2PM CD which I got the other year by attending KTO's launching of 2PM and miss A's interactive movie to promote tourism in Korea. On that occasion, I told a couple of 2PM members that I did like their 'Hands Up' music video. That song, of course, can also wake up any sleepy head on any drowsy afternoon.

So, if anybody in the office sees me moving or shaking my head while my earphones are on, you know what song is playing. Ha-ha-ha! Or perhaps, I may just have a lot of caffeine in my system. 

And for those fans who missed their 'WhatTime Is It?' concert in Manila, here are a few photos from their press conference and concert released by their official account in KakaoTalk messenger:

          (Photo credit: 2PM through Kakao Talk messenger) 

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

"Let Him Eat Cake!"

Cafe Mary Grace's truffle cake, that is!

Before I flew back to Korea from my Manila vacation, my friend Cielo gave me some 'pabaon'. A pabaon is a Filipino word for provisions that one brings to school, to the office or in my case, to Seoul, Korea!

So, before I checked in at NAIA 3 for my flight bound for the Incheon International Airport, we checked the goodies galore at Cafe Mary Grace at Greenbelt 3 (in Makati City, Philippines) for me to see face-to-face for the last time those glorious cakes which I wouldn't be able to see at any bake shop in Seoul. 

Cielo got me two cakes! One rum butter cake and the other, the truffle cake, which the Cafe Mary Grace staff carefully transferred from its traditional box into a small plastic container which I bought a day before just for this.  I made sure that if I had to put the cake into my handcarry bag, this glorious delight would not transform from its round shape into some form that is not included in the list of three-dimensional shapes we studied in high school geometry.

And the cakes flew to Korea! Economy class! Ha-ha-ha!

                          (These goodies flew to Korea!)

And the days following my (and the cakes') arrival in Korea, I am still enjoying this delight even though I am nowhere near any Cafe Mary Grace. But thanks to the thoughtfulness of a good friend, living away from family and friends in this chilly winter season in Korea is not bad at all, especially when I know that there's always a slice of home awaiting inside my refrigerator. 

So, as I try to enjoy a slice of the truffle cake, I could hear Marie Antoinette call out, "Let him eat cake!" And if she were actually around, I would be able to convince her that the delight one gets from enjoying Mary Grace's truffle cake (or even the rum butter cake!) is one thing she would be willing to lose her head for. 

                 (The divine MG truffle cake well preserved
                        in my plastic container!)

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Sede Vacante: Who Wants To Be Pope?

A couple of years ago, I watched Pope Benedict XVI roam around the St. Peter's Square in the Vatican City while thousands of Catholics waved and called his name. He was riding his 'pope mobile' and his bodyguards walked speedily by it. This was during the weekly general audience with him. As he passed me, I could see that he was trying to force a smile as he raised his arms to bless the international pilgrims. From the way his face looked, I realized that this octogenarian, the successor of Saint Peter, had only a few years left in him. He looked weak and tired.
                                    (Pope Benedict XVI)

And yesterday, as I watched CNN's coverage of his departure from the Vatican City on board a white helicopter, I thought that his decision might have been for the good of the Roman Catholic Church, an organization he might have felt was getting too difficult for him to rule. Citing old age, he just gave up as its CEO.

And today, the sede vacante (the seat is vacant) continues. This is the period when the Roman Catholic has no pope and no leader. It ends when a new pope is elected. So, today, like the rest of the 1.18 billion Catholics around the world (according to the Pontifical Yearbook), I have no Pope.

Yes, I am a Catholic like most Filipinos. I was baptized a Catholic and raised a Catholic. Some Catholics boast of being baptized a week or two after their birth. How about three days for me? I'm not sure if my father secretly snuck me out of the hospital, or politely borrowed me for an hour from the nurses with the promise of returning the same baby boy, but with a baptismal certificate this time! He then brought me to a cathedral. It wasn't just a chapel nor a parish church, but a cathedral, no less!  And at my baptism, my father, my lola (grandmother), and my own set of the traditional maninoys (godfathers) and maninays (godmothers) finally carried out my mother's instructions that I be baptized immediately; she was still in the hospital that day recovering from giving life to her first-born. She had her son named after a saint, by the way. No wonder the baptism had to be in a cathedral! I wonder what would have been had there been a basilica on the island.

I went to Catholic schools, too. All throughout grade school, high school and college, there were always chapters from the Bible to study, the Holy Mass to attend, Holy Rosaries to say and church feasts to celebrate. And during the Mass at school, it would either be singing in the choir, serving at the altar, or doing the reading.  My classmates and I must have had attended too many a Holy Mass that we could recite from memory the liturgy and those prayers, including all the hymns!  I guess we were so holy already that if it were not for our countless mischief, rowdiness and not being able to properly name the 12 apostles, most of us would have been a martyrdom away from beatification, even before we got our high school diplomas.

But those were the years when my reading and my awareness of the real issues of the world were limited to textbooks, the Old and New Testaments, and the occasional comic books (and a few restricted literature I secretly brought to school, which would have had me expelled had I been caught and thereby jeopardizing my sainthood!). And in this age, news, scandals and issues are just a URL away, especially those  involving the Roman Catholic Church. They're even more difficult to ignore because nowadays as the Vatican City is always in the headlines.

And that's what I mostly read about the Catholic Church these days: pedophile priests and abused altar boys and seminarians, and cover-ups, and in the case of the Philippine Catholic church, meddling in the affairs of the government and in elections.  I thought the separation of Church and State was written in the Philippine Constitution. I guess, if it's not in written in the Bible, it doesn't count. I just could not understand why those Philippine bishops and priests tried to move heaven and earth in opposing a law (then a bill in Congress) that would provide information and care to Filipino parents. Aren't they supposed to promote love and care for their fellow men and women? Why couldn't they understand the plight, especially that of the poor Filipino mothers, who could not afford proper maternal health care and who usually have no access to proper medical information? These priests and bishops' being single, unmarried and not worrying about daily survival should not be an excuse for not understanding the issue. Could they at least include these issues involving their so-called 'flock' in their list of things to worry, which I think usually only include what sermon to deliver or how much the Sunday collection would be? Do they still think they're still in the Medieval Ages when the Church labelled a heretic anybody who opposed them? It's now the 21st century and just like any corporate entity that wants to go global, the Roman Catholic Church should adapt, too.

Over the years, in my parish, I have heard stories about priests whose relationships with their 'flock' were not only limited to the spiritual. It included sexual and financial as well. And when I was in high school, I met a middle-aged man who told me he was a priest but was ex-communicated because he had children. Remembering it now, I can only admire that former priest's bravery. At least, he had the decency to own up to his decision to have a family and face its consequence whatever it might have been, unlike the ones who hide behind the cassock and use their authority to get whatever worldly things they want. Well, so much for the vows of chastity, obedience and poverty, I guess.
                                        (Saint Peter)

So, who wants to be pope?

I heard from a priest on TV that any unmarried, baptized Catholic can be actually pope!  Really??  Although that would include me and a few of my friends, I doubt any of us would actually think about it. We are not part of the College of Cardinals and flying to Rome this time of the year is not part of my travel plans (although my friends Margarita and Maurizio in Rome are already hurrying me to visit them again!). But whomever the cardinals vote for at the conclave, the next Pope should have to first own up to the Church's sins, just like a sinner before a confessor. And the penance should not only be a few Hail Marys and Our Fathers, nor a simple re-assignment to another parish. It should include proper admission and retribution for those culpable with no cover-ups. If the Church was able to apologize to Galileo after 367 years, why not the sins of last century? And to quote a cardinal from the movie, Angels and Demons, "Religion is flawed because man is flawed."  Do I hear, 'Mea culpa!' ?
                    (A sign before entering the Sistine Chapel)

And just like any good CEO, the next Pope should be able to trouble-shoot the Church's problems inside and out. It won't be an easy job, but with God on his side, solving the problems of politics, the finances and the changing landscape of the faith and the faithful should make it less difficult. And while he's at it, perhaps he should appoint a committee to look into the pricing of souvenirs at the Vatican Museum, its long queues and the crazy fees to hire a museum tour guide, too.

Seriously, now.

In a few weeks, before Easter Sunday, we will hear the words "Habemus Papam!" (We have a new Pope!) He may be a cardinal from Europe or from North or South America, Africa or even Asia. I just wish that before they send out that white smoke from the Sistine Chapel, the College of Cardinals will need to choose carefully from among themselves someone, who not only can carry on what Saint Peter started during the first century, but someone who will be able to spiritually lead and clean up the Roman Catholic Church, and let it adapt and flourish in the 21st.