Saturday, June 26, 2010

Movie Review: Toy Story 3 (2010)

A snapshot of Toy Story 2's main characters - most of them pulled through the storyline and made it to Toy Story 3 but a few of them, accordingly to Woody The Cowboy, were adopted by other children and did not continue with them for the next adventure.
Sunnyside - a seemingly sunny-looking place for abandoned and second-hand toys where they get to be played by children from the day-care center in the neighborhood. Seems like a good deal the toys when they misunderstood Andy's intentions about their fate when Andy (their original owner who was then17 years old) was about to head off the college.

Upon their initial arrival at Sunnyside, the toys were totally bowled over by the sheer size, colors and spaciousness of the day-care center's playroom. There were also many other interesting toys whom they made friends with. Only Woody seemed worried about the place because he was more interested in getting back the attention of Andy.

Toy Story 3 is one movie about how a group of toys struggled deeply with their loyalty to their original owner and with their desires to continue their lives as playable toys with integrity rather than risk being stashed away in the dark attic or thrown right out to be incinerated as trash.

As the toys generally decided to try their luck at continued survival at Sunnyside Daycare Center, what seems to be a friendly cohort of new toys belies a dangerous and tyrannical regime of anger and rejection of love. Realizing they need to get back to their original owner, the toys planned to stage a daring escape from Sunnyside but there were numerous obstacles in the way.

How will they get past locked doors, alert patrols, floodlights and a sleepless, screaming monkey with surveillance cameras installed all around the godforsaken place? How will they make their way back to Andy without freaking out the neighborhood if they are seen trotting down the streets? Will they be united with their owner Andy who will be leaving for college in a matter of hours?

I shall not elaborate any further and spoil the fun for all you readers out there. Go catch the latest and epic five-popcorn-worth story of the toys at your nearest cinema now!

All I can say is that, by the final scene of the movie, I was close to tears as it brought back memories of how I could have chosen to save so many of my childhood toys but I chose to throw them away instead. My toys cars, my plastic toy soldiers, my magic drawing board and my only LEGO set. If only I had caught this movie then, I would have fought every objection from my parents and kept all of them or recycle them.

I want to watch the movie again - this time - with the only surviving childhood toy - Blackie - a brownish teddy bear from a toy factory many many years ago. It's still sitting there at my study table. And I will see to it that it will remain by my side till the end of my days. I swear it.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Movie Review: The Karate Kid (2010)

I finally found some time to watch the movie - a newer version of the original Karate Kid trilogy many years ago. The movie is about how a reluctant Detroit-born kid is forced to move to Beijing to start life anew because her mother Sherry (Taraji P. Henson) is transferred to a new workplace. New to the neighborhood, Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) tries to make friends with the children, especially to a violin prodigy Meiying (Wenwen Han) but instead has a series of bad encounters with the local bullies. During one of the deadlier encounters, Mr Han (Jackie Chan) finally intervened and stopped the bullies in time.

After much pleading, Mr Han accompanied Dre Parker to the martial arts school where the bullies learned their arts, only to realize they were trained to be cruel, unthinking fighters by their teacher Master Li (Rongguang Yu) inside. Master Li arrogantly put up a challenge and Mr Han reluctantly agreed to train Dre Parker to meet Master Li's disciples in a national martial arts tournament.

What follows is a series of interesting training sessions, including the seemingly-mindless "Take off your jacket-put up your jacket-take it off" routine but what is truly captivating is when Mr Han takes Dre Parker to what I believed to be Mount Wudang (one of the top martial arts sect in China where Taiji Quan is originated from). Dre Parker witnesses all sorts of martial arts and is deeply moved by the concentration level of all the master practitioners there.

All these while, Dre Parker tries even harder to develop a love relationship with Meiying, only to be rebuffed by her strict parents, because Dre takes off with Meiying from a violin practice session without permission and nearly costs Meiying's violin auditions with the Beijing Academy of Music. A sincere reading of an apology to Meiying's father finally wins the forgiveness and the two young lovebirds are together again before Dre's impending martial arts tournament.

The tournament is one exciting affair and the audience is treated to a spectacular display of agility and aggression from the various promising young martial artistes. Dre Parker, after the initial confusion, finally gets the hang of the competition rules, and starts delivering excellent moves, match after match but suffers a horrific injury to his thigh at the semi-finals when Master Li instructs his semi-finalist disciple to break his leg. Dre Parker pleads with Mr Han to use an ancient bulb-heating healing technique to temporarily heal his leg and he forces himself to enter the finals only to be floored badly by his nemesis bully and with his thigh twice injured, Dre Parker struggles up for one final technique which he learns on his own (a snake stance which he witnesses at Mount Wudang) and delivers an amazing flip kick to gain the final point for his victory.

This is one movie worth watching because you get to enjoy an innocent love story beyond racial lines, an unusual martial arts training regime, an exciting martial arts tournament and even a emotional scene between Mr Han as he shares the reason why he has a car in his house's living room. I love the acting and chemistry between Mr Han and Jaden Smith and also the realism between the mother and son relationship as they struggle to cope with a completely alien culture.

I will give a four popcorn out of five for this not-to-be-missed movie, which really influences the audience, especially the young movie-goers who are just re-enacting the moves even as they leave the cinema. I hope they will also understand not just the beauty of martial arts but also the deep philosophies behind the value of them as a way of living and respecting oneself and others as well.

"Kungfu is in everyday life!"

This is an edited version of the original Karate Kid which shows most of the footage of their version of karate tournament. Hope you enjoy this as well... ^__^

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Worldvision Famine Camp 2010 Afterthoughts


This year's Worldvision Famine Camp 2010 had intended to focus on increasing the awareness and the empathy of Singapore's youths about the plight of starving children across the world. The camp was organized around a series of experiental activities for a duration of 30 hours to bring across the message and hopefully stir the youths into action to help the starving children.

The Symbolic Bite Before The 30 Hour Famine:

One of the main activities on Day 1 was the symbolic bite of a delicious Crystal Jade bun by all the participants - campers, facilitators, and organizers before the actual camp commences and I thought it was a fabulous idea to mentally and physically prepare all the participants about the hardship to come.

The Experiental Games As A Family:

The campers were separated into 8 different countries with approximately 10 families in each country and every family group has a family head, vice-head, a few adults and a few children. The concept is for each family to try and figure the best way to achieve the experiental games' objectives - $100, education for all the family members, vaccinations for all the family members, 40 kilograms of water and 10 kilograms of food. The family has to make collective decisions on how best to juggle school, work and even illegal jobs to fulfill such needy objectives, thus mimicking the life conditions of a typical family in 3rd world conditions. This game concept was as realistic as it could get because the campers were made to decide under imperfect market conditions - most of them have to rely on guesswork and persuasion, subjecting themselves to simulated harsh treatment by various station masters who acted as employers for jobs or disgruntled workers from 3rd world hospitals or schools.

However, a major drawback from that, unlike a limitless supply of water from last year's Famine Camp, this year, each camp participant only had a refillable 125ml mineral water bottle, with which they were told to refill whenever they were thirsty. The problem was the camp never really gave any time for breaks for refilling of such water as the experiental games were really intense and most of the campers seemed to be really parched from all the running and games. Personally, I thought that was an schedule oversight, especially when the campers were then both hungry and thirsty and tired when they did not have to be subjected to such a punishing camp schedule.

Talks, Videos and Presentations:

After the grueling experiental activities which lasted from nearly 4 hours, the campers were finally able to take a reprieve from the heat, confusion and physical fatigue by listening to a series of talks, presentations and videos at the main hall as Worldvision Singapore had invited the speakers to give their views and share their experiences about working at difficult, and sometimes dangerous, places to secure the safety, freedom and integrity of the much needy people in other parts of the world. One of the speakers' talk was pretty dry and bored many of the campers as the speaker droned on and on but another speaker managed to capture the attention with a more lively talk and an interesting video about the plight of street children in Asia. A further question and answer session perked up the morale of the campers once more before the talks, videos and presentations concluded and the campers made their way to dinner - packet drinks before retiring for the night.

1,200 Campers Sleeping In For The Night:

This was one of the logistical nightmares of the camp because it was really not easy trying to arrange 1,200 camp participants into a sports hall, with all their belongings, decent sleeping space and of course, enduring the noise, smell and clutter. Most the waking night before the lights out timing at around 1am was spent arranging the sleeping bags and making sure none of the camp participants slipped out at night without permission as Worldvision Singapore actually hired two professional guards to keep watch over the camp participants. This was considered as a nice touch as most of the camps that I had attended (no less than twenty) had very little concern over the security of the place at night. Another major plus was that the camp facilitators did not have to endure late night debriefing sessions (which lasted till nearly 4am last year) and most of the facilitators actually managed to squeeze some decent hours' of sleep for this year's camp.

Area Cleaning Before Departing For Orchard Road:

It seemed like many of the campers, who were students in various secondary schools and junior colleges, had trouble trying to clean up the camp. Many were reluctant to clear the litter and the rubbish bins and were groaning throughout the entire exercise. I thought it sort of acted as another unintended experiental activity since many of these students had maids at their beck and call back home but had to personally clear and clean up in the camp. After much complaining, the camp was tidied up and everyone fell back to the assembly hall.

The Arduous Waiting For The Buses:

All the camp participants spent most of the second morning waiting for the buses to get ready to bring the whole camp to Orchard Road Scape Park and thus the organizers used the time to practice the mass dance for the event. The dancers were brought in and instructions and rehearsals were conducted. I must say the dance was pretty interesting but there seemed too little time for everyone to learn a dance within an hour and deliver the dance competently and confidently on Orchard Road in front of so many strangers - this was later translated into a less enthusiastic-than-expected dance because most of the campers were still unfamiliar and shy about dancing in front of complete strangers on the busiest street of Singapore. As a facilitator, the second morning was also one of the greatest challenges that faced me because I had to try and motivate and cheer my group on since the waiting was amplifying the hunger. Most of my group were already bent over from the hunger but fortunately the dance practices cheered them up somewhat.

More Waiting at Scape Park Orchard:

When my group finally reached Scape Park Orchard, yet another two challenges awaited us. One of them was that there weren't enough buses to bring all the 1,200 campers to the venue so the buses had to make multiple trips - this easily translated into more waiting time - about 2 hours before all the camp participants were present at Scape Park Orchard for the mass shelter building for some world record. The second challenge was the intermittent rains which prevented the activity from happening until the organizers decided to go ahead with everyone setting up cardboard shelters (one per family of eight campers) under slight drizzling conditions. Although the weather was looking gloomy, everyone seemed a lot happier to be doing something rather than waiting for something to happen or some instructions to filter down. After about 45 minutes, all the shelters were up and everyone got ready for the mass dance and flash mob along Orchard Road.

The Mass Dance and Flash Mob:

My group was assigned to do the mass dance in front of Takashimaya Singapore and alongside with a number of families, the contingent swelled to about 350 people and it was really prominent as we were in bright orange and green T-shirts saying "I am hungry! They are starving!". As the timing was in the afternoon around 5pm, I took the audacity to allow my group to do some window-shopping and have a stroll inside the air-conditioned mall since all of them had just built the shelter under drizzling rain and subsequent hot sun. The mass dance was activated upon the timing with an impressive display by dancers from the Singapore Youth Festival and there were even mascots to bring the mood even higher. Unfortunately, not all of the campers were energized enough to deliver a properly coordinated dance so I myself thought we could have more practice and preparations for such a public display before we commit ourselves on Orchard Road. The Flash Mob was done with more gusto than the mass dance but it was suddenly limited to just one venue along Orchard Road instead of the briefed three locations. Such last minute changes also caused much confusion amongst the campers and facilitators alike.

Finale Concert and Break Fast:

The Break Fast, after an arduous 30 hours of activity and waiting, was quite a disappointment. Although it was mooted from Crystal Jade Restaurant, it only consisted of white rice, two small slices of chicken in some unidentifiable sauce, two small cauliflowers and a thin slice of carrot with a small bottle of mineral water. This less-than-expected meal triggered a small uproar amongst the campers who began to filter out of the Finale Concert watching area and started to head to collect their own bags without permission from the organizers. Apparently, most had the idea to find more rewarding food to satisfy their hunger pangs. The Finale Concert was thus being neglected by most of the hungry campers even though there was a slight perk at Jack and Rai's performances but it went downhill from there onwards as almost 500 campers were already making their way to the bag collection room five floors above the concert area. The human traffic jam there was spectacularly chaotic and after much impromptu crowd control, most of the bags were collected by the campers after another arduous hour of waiting and pushing by the mass of hungry and eager-to-go-home campers.

By the time every major event concluded, my fellow facilitators from the same country and myself were so exhausted that most of us chose to find a nice, cozy Japanese restaurant to tuck into some ramen and ice-cream and rest our tired feet (we had been sitting on the floor for no less than 4 hours for the entire second day of the camp). The general consensus was that the camp was enjoyable in its own rights but some parts of the camps were rather lacking organization whilst overly-ambitious and the camp organizers were underestimating the cumulative effects of hunger and fatigue working against both campers and facilitators, especially resulting in the ragged morale and exhaustion on the second day.

Personally, I am still thinking if I would still join Famine Camp 2011 because ultimately, I would not want to dismiss the good charitable cause behind the Famine Camp 2010 - more awareness was indeed created amongst youths about hunger and starvation and the poor living conditions of children across the world, even though the organization of the camp was weaker compared to last year.

I think there was a saying which goes something like "Hate the sin, not the sinner". Perhaps that saying would sum up my afterthoughts for this camp after all...

(Thank you for reading the extensive afterthought blog post. Time to bathe and sleep ^__^ Tomorrow will be a better day.)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Pending Posts: Worldvision Famine Camp 2010 Singapore and Singapore's Children's Society Anti-Bully Camp 2010's been so long since I last blogged. Been so busy and lethargic about blogging that I have to admit the guilt of neglecting my poor old blog. I have intended to blog about the two recent camps that I have just attended and this pending blog post will be long and as detailed as possible to satisfy those faithful blog readers who are still popping over to take a peek once in a while (I know because I have a good counter program embedded).

I promise the blog post will be up before the weekend is up. For now, time to rest my exhausted feet and mind from the camps before I rush off to work tomorrow morning again. Goodnight everyone! ^__^