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Price of perfection

I wrote this on WaterInk, but guess some of the dianying.com visitors may be interested in this as well.

The Olympics has truly become showbiz when the headline is an adoring young girl lip-synced a song by another young girl at the opening ceremony. In the director’s mind, the girl with the best voice has to have the cutest complexion as well. The more baffling part is the director of music of the opening ceremony, Chen Qigang, only revealed this fact as one of the “behind the scene” stories when being interviewed on the radio, as if giving away some “making of” extra like those coming with a film’s DVD releases.

Let’s not forget the opening ceremony was directed by Zhang Yimou, a film director renowned for his pursuit of visual perfection, which is not only about striking prime colours and stuning special effects, but also, perhaps more importantly, the perfect face expression and image composition. Zhang Yimou obviously took the latest challenge of directing the opening ceremony performance as if he was shooting a film watched by 4 billions people simultaneously. Image perfect is the holly grail while conventions and rules were something could be bent and ignored.

And lip-syncing is not so unusual in Chinese cinema. In early Chinese cinema, there were those actresses, like “Gold throat” Zhou Xuan who could act as well as sing, but Chinese audiences largely accepted, even expected, the song they heard was not sung by the leading actor and actress, but someone with better voice. During 1950s and 60s when sing-song movies and musicals were hugely popular in Hong Kong’s mandarin film scene, there was a mixture of popular actresses who did and who did not sing. The fact that an actress could not sing wouldn’t dent fan’s affection, only advanced the career of the singer behind the screen. This tradition continued to 1980s Chinese cinema. When Joan Chen, still a budding young actress, played a soprano and sang “I Love You China” in the film Loyalty (1979) (《海外赤子》), of course everyone understood that was a song by a famous soprano Luo Tianchan.

This may somewhat explain the relaxed attitude Chen Qigang displayed. He certainly didn’t expect such a clever act would be ridiculed, mostly by Chinese internet users. What he seemed not to realize, was that audiences enjoy spectacle and perfection in sports, yes, but a performance replying on unfairly borrowed ability isn’t the message the Olympic Games want to sent out.

21 Responses to “Price of perfection”

  1. on 05 Jun 2009 at 7:40 pm Craig

    China and the Fictional World of Total Recall

    When Fiction Meets Reality

    In wake of the 20-year anniversary of the Tiananmen Square catastrophe of 1989, The Film Crusade brings to light a film produced just one year after which shares a horrifying vision with the Chinese government in its treatment of dissent (or “terrorism”). Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall depicts a futuristic world on Mars run by a pseudo-military-oligarchy which can control the minds and identities of its people. For the government, it is the memory and minds of its people which pose the greatest threat to the status quo since radical ideas can breed vigilantism.

    When Douglas Quaid (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has dreams about Mars, he decides to go to a company called “Total Rekall” which simulates intense “mind vacations” by implanting memories into your brain to experience a vacation on other planets without actually leaving Earth. What Quaid doesn’t realize is that the dreams of his time on Mars are actually traces of old memories.

    The trip goes awry when Quaid begins acting strange and having curious visions of life on Mars. The people at Total Rekall become frightened by this since they haven’t yet injected his brain with the Mars vacation. How could Quaid know about a planet he hasn’t even been to?

    The film is a mind-bender particularly because it is always unclear whether Quaid is in his mind-trip or if he is actually on Mars in person as the leader of a rebel resistance movement trying to overthrow the government.

    Quaid’s value to the government is what’s really key: If Quaid stays alive long enough to experience a “total recall” (memory) of his past then his mind will be corrupted by memories which the government certainly would not want to admit to. For this reason, the film plays out like a cat-and-mouse, paranoia thriller as government enforcers hunt down Quaid to erase his memory before he can remember who he used to be and what he used to stand for. The ending is truly frightening once we discover that Quaid is not exactly who he once was.

    Which brings us to the Chinese government and its treatment of the Chinese. By downplaying Tiananmen Square and refusing to apologize to its people, China is essentially denying that it ever happened. The lengths that China has gone for the purpose of maintaining order are fantastic, cinematic, and horrifyingly real.

    When Quaid’s love-interest, Melina (Rachel Ticotin), is in danger of having her memory erased towards the end of the film, the presiding leader of Mars, Vilos Cohaagen (Ronny Cox) tells her, “We’re having you fixed. You’re going to be respectful, compliant, and appreciative.”

    Such is the tone taken by the Chinese government which wants to take pride in its accomplishments and ascension to world power status while disregarding its many flaws.

    There is a feel in both the world of Total Recall and in China that the individual is increasingly powerless. The denial of the past and refusal to learn from it is what makes China the greatest threat to humanity. And what is more human than holding onto memories? It is, after all, our thoughts and memories which form our identities. Identities are what make us different.

    Is China’s form of mind control any different from that in Total Recall? The government not only denies open-mindedness to its own people, but shuts out the rest of the world as well by censoring information considered a threat to the CPC. It’s probably only a matter of time before this article is picked up by Chinese censors and banned from potentially millions of curious minds.

    It is only a wonder how some of the 1989 protesters can live with themselves knowing that they are denied any form of political influence and that their country refuses to recognize their place in history. Years from now they may be among the few who can totally recall the events that really took place.

    The dystopian, anti-totalitarian vision in Total Recall inspired by Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” is perhaps also inspired by the events at Tiananmen Square through the many philosophical attacks against governmental control. There’s a scene towards the end of the film which depicts mean, corkscrew-grinding tanks breaking down the walls of the resistance’ hideout and steamrolling over anything in its way. Another ironic connection with China is the mere fact that the film shows the government is controlling the atmosphere and has the power to deprive oxygen to its people. The scary truth is that China already has the power to control weather.

    So for the Chinese who might be sneaking a peak at this lonely article in vast cyberspace, understand that your country’s reality is inevitably becoming the realization of an American, cinematic escapist film. Hopefully they let you read this.

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