Made for Karaoke – The state of Chinese music

Ktv Party World

Recently I’ve been trying to find examples of good modern Chinese music. It’s been a hard search. Most Chinese music appears to be made entirely for the karaoke market. The reason for this is probably one of simple economies – the karaoke market in China is huge. Almost everyone takes part in it, both men and women, young and old. Karaoke centres are vast buildings with hundreds of private rooms where people go to sing on all manner of occasions – with friends, lovers, even on business.

TV is also full of karaoke-style shows. At any moment of the day it is likely that somewhere there is a TV station in China broadcasting amateur singing. It’s taken very seriously, with big competitions and major prizes. Often a popular karaoke singer will go on to start a successful pop career. It even goes deep inside the state with CCTV7 broadcasting the unintentionally funny army karaoke show (or at least, that’s my interpretation of it).

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28 Weeks Later

I’ll admit a certain liking towards end-of-the-world movies. For me there’s something irresistible in seeing what happens when everything goes wrong and Bruce Willis doesn’t manage to save the day. It was with delight that I watched 28 Days Later, a 2002 movie by Danny Boyle and Alex Garland about a horrible blood-spitting disease that strikes Britain. Maybe it was the bleak London vistas, maybe it was the unrelenting music and in-your-face video, or maybe it was just the fact that it was a great budget movie that packed a big punch.

With this in mind I looked forward to 28 Weeks Later, the sequel, with great anticipation. Both Danny Boyle and Alex Garland took a back-seat this time, leaving the movie to Juan Carlos Fresnadillo. The story starts 28 weeks after infection, and we are introduced to a Britain where the infected have all died of starvation. The American army has been called in to take control of the situation and reintroduce the surviving population back. Gone are the original actors, disappointingly with no indication about their whereabouts. Instead we have Robert Carlyle and his family as the main protagonists, as we follow them into London, entering a survival centre, and then escaping the aftermath as a good situation goes badly wrong.

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A very Chinese New Year

The Christmas and New Year season is finally over, and I’ve made it out alive. Time for an update.

Christmas itself was very peaceful. Christmas eve was spent walking around a park in 25 degree sunshine, and eating water chestnut ice-cream. Definatley a big change from the artic conditions that occurred back in Europe. Christmas day was spent watching movies, and eating as much food as could be managed at La Seine – a very fine French restaurant that had a lunch-time ‘all-you-can-eat’ buffet. As is usual at this time of the year, I ate too much, and had a very bloated night and little to eat the next day. Still, well worth the money, and the mini quiche tartlets really were to die for (so much so that the chef-on-prowl commented he couldn’t look for fear of eating them all).

New Years eve saw some more movies, and a visit to The Paddy Field, the only Irish bar in town, with some live music that saw in the New Year. New Years day itself was spent climbing Baiyun mountain in yet more 25 degree sunshine.

It’s been interesting having spent this time of the year in a country for which it has no traditional meaning. Nothing at all stopped like it does in the West. Construction workers were still constructing at 11pm New Years eve night, and everything was open for business as usual.

I suspect that the Chinese view Christmas as an excuse to put up lots of flashing lights and cute pictures. I can’t help but think that there is some cultural liking for all things overly cute and fluffy, as demonstrated by the countless Hello Kitty, Snoopy, and other cartoons, that adorn everything possible.

The Necronomicon

The other week I managed to watch a pretty bad series of horror stories, all wrapped together in a film called The Necronomicon. I knew it was going to be a bad movie even before it started, but I was still looking forward to it because it’s based upon the stories of H.P. Lovecraft.

For those unfamiliar with this author, he was a reclusive American writer who wrote in the mid-1920’s. His specialty was horror writing, but a horror unlike almost everything else in the genre. If you have any familiarity with Edgar-Allen Poe then you’ll know the style. We’re talking dark brooding horror, focusing on insanity and the human mind. Lovecraft managed to create his own shadow world which looked like ours, but contained unimaginable evils waiting to break free.

I read his stories as a teen and was struck by just how unique his visions were. They are not always scary, but most are genuinely creepy in a way that I’ve never seen before or since. The power of Lovecraft was that he rarely described the horror directly, but just suggested it and let you fill in your own details.

The movie is loosely based around Lovecraft’s world. The Necronomicon is a book that features in this, being ‘the book of the dead’ and containing all manner of dark secrets.

Loosely is a very apt term as the movie has little to do with the real stories. The whole story is centered on Lovecraft himself, performing research for his stories. He finds the Necronomicon in a monastery in America, and attempts to use it to further his stories. In doing so he discovers some of the events that happened because of the book. These are shown as sub-stories, with three in total.

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Dr Zhivago

I’ve been churning through a lot of books recently and so I thought I’d talk about some here.

First up is Dr. Zhivago. I’ll admit a distinct liking for Russian literature, ever since Crime & Punishment blew me away. The country is so big and has so much history. I just wish I could explore it all. As I do not possess an unlimited budget I have to make do with whatever books I can get my hands on, and this was provided by Boris Pasternak.

I knew almost nothing about this story. I’ve never watched the movie, although I was aware it was a big thing back in the 60’s. It even seems to have been remade for the TV, and stars the delightful Kiera Knightley (shown above for decorative effect).

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Politically incorrect fun – Woman Of The Year

I watched several movies over the weekend, courtesy of my flat mate making a bumper trip to the video rental store. His tastes could easily be described as eclectic – old romance, sci-fi, and Benny Hill are not an average choice.

Woman Of The YearMovie one was Woman Of The Year. This is a very old black and white movie starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn and it falls squarely in the ‘romantic comedy’ category. Normally I make a quick retreat from such movies, but this was a lot of fun and certainly a lot better than most modern varieties.

What was particularly curious is how much society has changed with regards attitudes towards women. The basic premise of the story is that Hepburn is a modern wonder-woman; strong, intelligent, and beautiful. She speaks several languages, knows many important political figures, and soon wins the prize for ‘Woman of the year’. At the same time she meets Spencer Tracy and before long they get married. However, because of her busy life things start falling apart. She tries to patch it together by adopting an orphan boy, but it’s quickly apparent she has no time for him.

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A bloodbath – Review of The Tenant and Gusher No Binds Me

TenantI watched two movies at the weekend and I still don’t know what to think of them. The first was Roman Polanski’s The Tenant. I’ve not watched many Polanski movies and even though I enjoyed my flat-mates story about meeting him at a wedding last year, he was always someone I heard a lot about, but never quite managed to see.

Sometimes you can watch a movie and wonder if, when you blink, you actually fall asleep by accident. That’s not because of boredom but just because you feel like you missed a key scene. The Tenant is very much like that. There is a slow build-up of paranoia as a man rents an apartment in which the previous tenant jumped out of the window. He begins to suspect that his neighbors caused it to happen, and this first half of the movie is great with lots of wonderful Kafka-esque situations.

Warning: contains spoilers – don’t read further if you want to watch the movie!

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Air Rage

On the flight back I experienced an occurrence of what is now known as ‘air rage’, although I prefer the term ‘stupid drunk person’. A man, one seat over from me, began the 11 hour flight by drinking from a bottle of Whiskey he had secreted in the front pouch. While this was initially met with the thought ‘are you kidding me?’ it did become more worrying when he’d drunk nearly half of a 1.5L bottle within a few hours.

This incident made me think about what would happen if he turned violent. My first thought was that either the flight staff, or some passengers, would restrain him. However, the man was big, and obviously a bodybuilder, so I couldn’t imagine that happening without problems.

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