Boy Reporter in Vancouver

Boy Reporter will be returning to his 'hometown' of Vancouver for three weeks. Stay tuned for posts from the West Coast!

Ken Lum works with photography

Last weekend I went to the Ken Lum retrospective at the Power Plant. Ken's works are deceptively simple. The bulk of the work in this show are large photos paired with large colourful descriptive text. Gallery-going habits what they are today, it's tragically too easy to gloss over Ken's work which means you're missing out on one of Canada's finest photo-artists.

The Ken Lum works at the Powerplant are full of contradictions, complications, subtlety, ambiguity and context. A work like "Mounties and Indians," with its smiling First Nations family flanked by two sentinel like Mounties in red serge tweak some very interesting cultural buttons. While the work is framed like a souvenir photo it's hard not to bring on Canada's colonial history into the mix.

Works like "Steve" and "Melly Shum Hates Her Job" brings the ordinary nature of these people into a direct clash with artistic practice. After all, both Steve and Melly are now shown in galleries all over the world, decades after these photos were both taken.

I would've liked to have seen some of Ken's other work. I remember a series of faux storefront signs that he showed at the CAG a couple of years ago that were also great, but then I guess you couldn't really call the show "Ken Lum Works with Photography."

The Saddest Music in the World

The saddest music in the world might just be Emily Haines, lead singer of Metric, on a piano. My favourite song on Metric's impressive and entertaining album, is Calculation Theme, arguably the most down-tempo, introspective and breath-stealing song on the album.

So needless to say that I was pretty happy to see Haines' solo show last night at the Church of the Redeemer on Bloor. Haines played a set of spare, moving and haunting pieces from, I presume, her upcoming solo album. Accompanied by blurry, out of focus, stills and scenes from the equally haunting Guy Maddin.

Haines' voice, that breathy, vulnerable voice that manages to evoke half-a-dozen emotions with each syllable gave each of these songs a sombre but rich emotional life. Couple this with the psychologically loaded blurry Guy Maddin clips and it's no wonder the audience sat in stunned emotional silence.

This seems like a radical departure for Haines. Someone in the audience was commenting that maybe Haines was pulling a Leslie Feist and giving up her rocker persona for a quieter more introspective sound. With Metric still touring and even recording a new album this probaly isn't true. But now we know what a post-Metric Haines would sound like. Perhaps not the saddest music in the world, but pretty close.

Despistado no more?

In the old days journalists used to wonder the streets, assistants, camera boy, and secretary in tow. Nowadays, most of us are chained to our desks, taking sips from that flask of whisky, bourbon or scotch hidden in the bottom drawer. But nothing beats hitting the streets and burning some shoe leather.

Take for example, yesterday your intrepid boy reporter was on Queen Street reporting. Fine, I was shopping for xmas presents. I spotted a young gentleman in a vintage store wearing a Despistado shirt. Who quickly informed me that a) he was best friends with the band b) that the band had broken up.

The band are currently on their US tour and made quite a splash here at NXNE last year. Moral of this story? Don't get in a van with your best buddies and expect to make it out alive....

Boy Reporter on Torontoist

Your very own Boy Reporter is on new-fangled blog writing about the show going on right this very instant at the Design Exchange.

Also, due to computer problems I might not be posting as regularly. Hopefully Benji will be back from the store very soon and good as new.

We want your braaaains

There's an old journalism adage. One is a fluke, two is a coincidence and three is a full-blown trend. Last year horror film director George Romero directed a remake of his very own Dawn of the Dead, starring lovely local Sarah Polley. The recently released Resident Evil: Apocalypse had Milla Jovovich blowing up city hall and raining chaos, mayhem and destruction on 'Racoon City.' Now Romero's back filming another "dead" movie, Land of the Dead.

There are plenty of reasons why you'd film a zombie film in Toronto: tax credits, experienced cast and crew, Toronto's ability to look like any city in the world or post-apocalyptic hellhole. But there are plenty of other intangible reasons why Toronto should be considered the zombie capital of the world.

1) Lack of sunlight gives us that lovely undead pallor. Have you seen us in February? Some of us look like we haven't seen direct sunlight for months, and guess what? we haven't! Save tons of money

2) Past experience. How many cities have real life experience with an honest to goodness biological epidemic. We all know that zombies aren't actually created by black magics but by insane scientists, and careless animal-rights activists! After SARS most Torontonians know the fear that a pandemic can unleash on the populace.

3) Multicultural populace! multicultural zombies! Brain-eating, bloodthirsty zombies are equal opportunity killers. It doesn't matter if you're black or white, rich or poor. So shouldn't the extras of a zombie film reflect this unifying message?

Reel Asian update...

Spent the entire weekend at the Toronto Reel Asian Film Fest. Like last year the sheer breadth of the fest makes one giant review rather silly. A few capsule reviews of some of the films I saw.

The Adventure of Iron Pussy:
Director Apichatpong Weerasethakul is better known for his Cannes prize winner Tropical Malady. So this campy cult homage to popular Thai film genres (spy, action, musicals, romance, all make an appearance) seems like a radical turn. Add the fact that co-director Michael Shaowanasai is fighting, singing and dancing in drag as the titular character for most of the film makes this a one-in-a-million film. The film draws heavily on Thai film iconography and convention so at times it felt like we were missing out on the jokes and the subtlety but the energy, humour and sheer fun of the film makes this a moot point. I dare you to find a film this campy and this much fun.

July, Secondary School and Moving: Tammy Cheung is a Canadian documentary maker now living in Hong Kong and over the last few years she's turned her camera on some of the hidden aspects of Hong Kong society. In Secondary School, she took her cameras into two of Hong Kong's elite public schools and unearthed the boredom and rigidity that is sapping the creativity out of Hong Kong's youth. Moving takes us to the other extreme into a housing estate that houses many of Hong Kong's poorer seniors. Using the fly-on-the wall, cinema verite style popularized by Frederick Wiseman, Cheung forsakes voicovers, narration and many other storytelling devices preferring to weave her images carefully together and allows us to make up our own minds. The approach is challenging for the audience but well worth it. Interestingly Cheung doesn't see herself as a social activist, yet her films seem to deal (whether she wants to or not) with social issues (education, the poor, the elderly) and sometimes even overtly political events like in her film July about the massive democracy protests that rocked the city last summer. And after speaking to Cheung yesterday I found someone who is quite political, willing to speak her mind and has a real social justice bent to her philosophy. Does this make her an activist?

I also saw more short films than I can shake a stick at. Some of the highlights:

O. Nathapon's gorgeous Bicycles and Radios, a first film no less! Keep an eye for his name in the future. Doan La's Dragon of Love is only the second film I've seen that shows a black-asian relationship (the first was Greg Pak's film Robot Stories). This happens more often than films would like us to think. La's film examines this with a witty blend of humour but nonetheless serious undertone of representation and race. I also can't forget the moving films of Luo Li and Ho Tam's experimental and slightly discomforting In the Dark, about the SARS epidemic.

I'm planning on chasing a few stories that came out of talking to people at Reel Asian, stay tuned.

Trust me this isn't a film blog...

Or an asian film blog to be specific. I know that the last couple of posts have been about asian film but bear with me here.

The Reel Asian Film Fest starts tonight with a shorts programme. I'm personally looking forward to a few of the more eclectic films. Like a Thai spy spoof called the Adventures of Iron Pussy. I'm also ecstatic about seeing Cheuk Kwan's restaurant series. I always thought someone should do a huge project looking at the Chinese diaspora and look someone has!

If you're in Toronto go!

Spacing #3 Launch Party

For all of those in the Toronto area:

Spacing Issue 3 "Work and Play" will be hitting the newsstands next month! I've got an article on public space and politics in Jakarta in the back of the mag. But there's tons of great stuff in there, check it out.

The details:
When: Thursday December 9
Where: El Mocambo (462 Spadina Ave. and Spadina and College)
How much: $10 cover, which includes a copy of new issue
As usual, Spacing will throw a big bash to launch our new issue on Thursday Dec. 9th, at Toronto's legendary El Mocambo. Show up anytime after 9pm. Musical guests are Reid Jamieson and Friends, and Audible. Also performing will be Dylan Studebaker, a punk rock street magician. We will be projecting large images captured by Spacing photographers. You can also win a subscription to Spacing by entering our raffle that night.

See you there!

Recent projects...

I've been working with these folks lately, doing PR work for the Toronto Chapter. Anyways, their very well written and insightful report on Canada's foreign relations was just recently launched. Download it

China watching...

Last Saturday's edition of the Globe and Mail was an all-China extravaganza, with every section fronting a long long feature on something China (Ian Brown on fashion house Shanghai Tang and chinese style, Jan Wong on Chinese tourism in Canada, the front page in Chinese/English).

The Globe's coverage tried to capture the breathtaking and massive changes that rock China on a daily basis. This is after all a country that has gone from Soviet collectivization to late 19th-century robber-baron style capitalism in the last 20 years.

What is equally interesting is how China has changed in the western imagination. What started with Marco Polo, silk, Cathay, the exotic east images of the pre-colonial era to the "old man of Asia" and land ripe for exploitation mentality that pervaded so many Europeans in the 19th century has drastically changed. China has always been in Western minds; Henry Luce founder of Time magazine and media mogul was born there and entranced with it. China, and its millions of souls yet to be saved, was a favourite of American missionaries. China was exotic, it was remote but it was also a loyal ally, friend of the American people (as long as they stayed over there in Asia). The Communists changed all this in the United States and China became another part of the Communist menace.

The last 10 years have seen us in the west try to come to grips with a new China. One that in many ways resembles us (they want shopping malls, highways, flashy cars and Rolex watches too, how comforting) mingled with what remnants of racism, old stereotypes and general ignorance exist in the zeitgeist about China.

In popular culture China is entering our imaginations but it's not China per se but hyper-modern, capitalistic Hong Kong via Wong Kar Wai's film, or John Woo's gangster films. WKW's films have always felt familiar to me, but it's because they were set in Hong Kong, in situations that felt familiar (the regulars at a local eatery, the neighbours in an apartment complex falling in love with each other). These films while set in HK are painting pictures of a new urban China, one that is being built at a breathtaking pace. Optimistically, I could argue that watching a WKW is like watching China 20 years in the future and what you see isn't threatening at all but no different than city life in New York, Paris or any other metropolis.

But while WKW is giving us a glimpse of what China is becoming, films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero are crafting an image of Chinese history and myth. Much like the image of the Wild West was created as much by John Wayne, Bonanza and Rawhide as it was by actual history. there's been a process of myth-making going on for years now among the Chinese, but not those living in the PRC. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero are recent examples but Hong Kong directors have been making films like this for decades in an attempt not just to make myth but to try to reclaim a shared history with the rest of China, a history that due to political differences has been unavailable to those living in Hong Kong, Taiwan and abroad.

What is interesting to see is how western filmmakers and artists choose to respond to China's greater role and presence in the international stage. The last time a country made such an impact on the western imagination was Japan in the 1980s, an economic powerhouse in the midst of recession.

The result in popular culture was slew of books, films (and even music) some that played with and engaged Japan and Japanese culture positively, others that resisted and mocked the Japanese often reducing them to stereotypes (strange, inscrutable, hard to understand, almost inhuman). I've seen elements of both these things in popular culture and it can go both ways with China and Chinese culture. I certainly hope the former wins out.

Stay tuned...

I will have a piece published in the next issue of Spacing Magazine (a little magazine here in Toronto dedicated to issues of public space). I'll post it here for the benefit of those that don't live in Toronto. All of you Torontonians, help a buddy out and buy a copy of the magazine (or come to the launch party). I'm not getting paid for the article so the least you can do is buy it and read the mag, you won't be dissapointed.

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