Tag Archive: christian seiersen


The Sartorial Conman


A jaunt around some of New York’s most exclusive member’s clubs.

If you can escape the clutches of Manhattan’s commercial district- a tangled orgy of concrete, glass and steel, tempered by unfettered human ambition -then lower mid-town offers a brief moment of respite before flinging you back into the depths of the city. Here the sun’s rays, having no longer to contend with the invasive reach of New York’s sky scrapers, flood through the sky-line and bathe among the broad avenues.

Jutting out from it’s perch off Park Avenue and in the heart of Murray Hill, the Union League Club is a prestigious social club that boasts a gilded list of alumni including J.P. Morgan, Ulysses S. Grant, and Theodore Roosevelt. Robed in the candid American décor of early-twentieth century New York, the building’s earthen red façade is a timely reminder to the world that, “they make take our AAA credit rating, but they will never our Americanism!”

The Union League Club

Having being buffeted by such flag-waving machismo, presumably plucked straight from the timbers of the Bush family ranch, I made a subsequent discovery. The prestigious club stocked Johnson’s baby shampoo (which sincerely promised ‘no tears’) in its showers.

I am in possession of such an intimate knowledge of the Union League Club and other similar establishments because I have furnished my past month in New York conducting a social experiment. Drawing encouragement from the success of the world’s banking elite in evading significant retribution for the financial crisis, I concluded that we are bound by human nature rarely to question someone wearing a suit. After all, with some exceptions, they are usually correct with colour combinations.

Therefore armed with a dark blue pin-striped suit (and occasionally a briefcase, depending on my confidence levels), I have successfully strolled into some of New York’s most elite member’s clubs. The main perk being that the majority of these clubs have state-of-the-art facilities, including steam rooms, billiards tables and, in the case of the Union League Club, a golf simulator.

Breaching the clubs’ reception area, though, is a mere skirmish. From then on, your every movement and interaction must be governed by the chief priority of convincing members and staff that you are a fully-fledged member of the elitist establishment. The gleaming facilities at your fingertips are merely a third home, alongside that Upper-East penthouse and manor in the Hamptons.

Said Manor

Being among a herd of sliver Republican moustaches, I tended to stand out. As a result I took to painting myself as a flamboyant British aristocrat, in the mould of Oscar Wilde’s Algernon Moncrieff, to vault into the upper echelons of New York society.  My personal tale was one of shackled potential in rural Buckinghamshire that had driven me to cross the pond in a bid to unleash my creative beast (and wallet) upon the unsuspecting city.

I soon discovered that interactions with staff aided in smoothing the occasionally rough edges of the character. For example, to overcome the potentially awkward situation of being approached quizzically after making lavish use of the fitness equipment I merely brought the attack to the club’s employees; “Ahh “insert name on card here”, just hammered out 75 on the quadrilater, now that’s a p.b if I ever saw one. Am I right!” Accompany that with a pat on the shoulder and the club house is yours.

Conversations with members must be approached more cautiously. When the live stream of Fox News, radiating through the locker room, churned out a story of Tea Party member Christine O’Donnell allegedly practising witchcraft in her rebellious younger years (I guess it’s conservative Americans equivalent of listening to rap music), I had to suppress any laughter for fear that the Tea party had infiltrated the Union League. Perhaps by putting something in the drinks?

The Propaganda machine takes aim at Christine O' Donnell

When thrust into more intimate scenarios, such as the flabby depths of the steam room, it is advisable to preserve silence and escape, if the situation requires it, to your happy place. I once intruded on an elderly member who was going through what appeared to be some form of tantric workout on the marble benches. Through the coils of steam, I could make out his legs jutting at mathematically-implausible angles, and gyrating stubbornly. “Good amount of steam” offered the ghostly apparition in an eager New England accent. “Yep,” I replied “you can hardly see a thing”.

The beating heart of the club, and arguably American Republicanism, is to be found on the fourth floor and is aptly-named, ‘The President’s Room’. It houses a poker table, elegant leather couches and hums with exclusivity. My first and only visit to the room was greeted with the sight and smell of four stout middle-aged men with matching comb-overs. In a dense haze of cigar smoke, they were discussing voter turnout for the upcoming Presidential election beneath a portrait of Ronald Reagan, looking on approvingly. Upon my entrance, the group offered me a collective look as if I had just poured liquid shit into their whiskey glasses and a timely reminder that fictitious English aristocracy will only get you so far.

This clearly shook my hastily constructed pseudonym and, as I was leaving the club later, I heard a desperate shout snake after me, “Excuse me sir?” Needless to say, I have not been back since. After all, the Princeton Club is a leisurely stroll uptown.

DNA- The Empire State of Mind


Ten pointers to get you started on your quest to tame the concrete jungle and become a New Yorker

Concrete Jungle

 Being a New Yorker is a full-time profession. It requires an extensive knowledge of every alleyway and shortcut nestled in the city, an insatiable appetite for culture, and the uncanny ability to draw upon huge reserves of energy like a metropolitan Hercules. Every profession, though, has its perks and being a local in New York grants membership to an evolving, vibrant and colourful city with an urban life force surging through its streets to the top of the skyscrapers.

So without further delay, here are the club rules for being a New Yorker:

–          The only time you go to Times Square is to laugh at the tourists as they gawp like badly-dressed moths at the flashing lights.

Times Square

–          You nurture a burning and irrational hatred for people from the neighbouring state, New Jersey. In fact, any mention of a New Jerseyite at a bar is more effective than a fire alarm for clearing people out.

–          You have worn spandex at least once while cycling/running in Central Park. A true New Yorker knows that appearances count for nothing when planning an efficient work out.

Spandex patrol, Central Park

–          You have mastered the ability to drink coffee, text on your Blackberry, scan the daily newspaper and update your diary. All while being crushed to near-death on the Subway.

–          The oven and washing machine in your flat are as unused as media baron Rupert Murdoch’s voicemail service. Take-aways and tailors thank you very much.

–          You are willing to pay more than $4 for a bottle of vitamin water because its label boasts more for your well-being than the Garden of Eden.

–          Your watering hole of choice is located in the most avant-garde stretches of Brooklyn, anything without a live band and/or a converted roof simply won’t do.

Radegast Biergarten, Brooklyn

–          You have eaten more raw fish than a grizzly bear. In the city’s many sushi bars, that is.

–          You go for massages in Chinatown. They may be in the living room of a basement apartment that smells of tuna salad but who can argue with the $20 discount?

–          You’ve never travelled up to the observation deck of the Empire State Building, after all your friend’s rooftop garden a few blocks down doesn’t have a thirty minute queue.


The glamorous side of paintballing

Heroic, gallant, virile. Students who pledge their thumbs to the digital deity Call of Duty are none of these and less. Because to waste such god-given militancy prancing round a pixelated wonderland, knifing the odd dissident, is a sin answerable to Ares alone. As any self-respecting war monger will tell you, true glory can only be won in the smoke and heat of the battlefield. Or in the case of an intrepid band of Durhamites, on the paint-spattered grounds of a Geordie forest that, come nightfall, boasts the North’s highest dogging rate. And that’s saying something.

The paintballing was an impulse buy. Besides a wave of regret that I hadn’t gone to Bristol, paintball tickets were the only thing I had picked up from the Fresher’s Fair. Students who’ve had Durham’s cultural zeal sufficiently caned into them need not concern themselves with paintballing and other soiled distractions of the ‘broleteriat’. True people of Durham wipe their arses with such degenerate filth, before it morphs gratefully into sheet music or a provocative play script on bi-curious terrorists.

Unfortunately I’ve still got some lashes to go and the paintballing base camp was a glorious two-fingered salute to the culture vultures, nested around Durham. Urine-soaked excitement hung in the air, courtesy of marauding bands of adolescents, while the more experienced participants menacingly stroked helmets, or any other SAS equipment they had brought from home.

As chance, or the vindictiveness of the organizers, would have it we were pitted against a crack squad of locals more than twice our number. Their sheer aggression and enthusiasm suggested they were on the back of a monstrous winning streak, including stints in Libya and Charlie Sheen’s pool house, and had been airdropped in for the occasion.

With a bamboo shoot for a family tree, the sorry-looking gaggle of yokels that made up the rest of our team looked more adept at holding a barn dance than a gun. Their leader was a man of deceptive size who looked like Bryan May and took to guarding our extreme rear. He was a paintballer who would not go down in history but, thanks to a gangly ponytail and a moustache that would put Ron Jeremy to shame, he would go down on your sister.

It would be a massacre.

The opening rounds proved true to speculation. Our natural survival instincts took over and led us galloping aimlessly through the foliage like twisted genetic experiments that had gone wrong and been released into the wild for the warped amusement of a Japanese game show. It was not long before we were hunted and felled without mercy by the well-oiled Geordie machine.  Based on that evidence, in Prehistoric times we would have been assigned the foraging duties.

From his entrenched defensive position Bryan May attempted a guerrilla resurgence but soon fell ingloriously in a shower of paint. With his greased locks he may have been the ‘Che Guevara’ in the cut-throat world of dry weather crop-harvesting but he was a 40-something playing paintball and I just couldn’t trust him.

I won’t bore you with the heroic tale of our comeback. For services in the field one of our rank earned the much-coveted ‘Top Gun’ award, which came with its own shiny certificate. Although later reports suggest that he had offered the Warden sexual favours for the prize and, failing that, his packed lunch.

All I will say is we may have been approached by Channel 5 and other mediocre broadcasting stations to televise the account and victory was achieved mainly through the use of paint grenades. Yes you read correctly, GRENADES THAT EXPLODE WITH PAINT!

Now if that doesn’t fire up the loins then we may as well just be done with it and drown ourselves, chained to our games consoles, in a sea of spirits, pederasty and Tesco’s 99p Curry. Or failing that, dress up as pirates and head to Klute. They’re equally degrading.


Costa Rica’s picturesque coast

 

Holding off the cowboy capitalists of the USA to the North, and the untamed South American wilds to the South, Costa Rica has blossomed as a holidaying spot ideal for rekindling your passion with earth’s natural beauty. Whether it’s a weekend fling or a strung-out affair, its expansive beaches and smouldering volcanoes are the perfect setting for a romp with Mother Nature.

Mixed Signals

  

"The city has swelled doggedly across the Costa Rican plains..."

 

Arriving into the Costa Rican capital of San Jose, you could be forgiven for querying the country’s much flaunted role in preserving natural beauty and promoting eco-tourism. The city has swelled doggedly across the Costa Rican plains, accompanied by pollution, poverty and a generous sprinkling of crime. The chain-link fences and grubby sidewalks reveal nothing of Costa Rica’s open and friendly soul, treat the city as a fortified gateway into the Garden of Eden.

If you’re in the market for a side entrance, the multinational Marriot Hotel beckons. A 5km ride from San Jose’s international airport, the hotel was built on a coffee plantation. The bulk and splendour of its architecture are a nostalgic nod to a grand colonial villa, with nightly rates starting from $189.

Marriot Hotel, Costa Rica

 

Nevertheless, don’t regard a stay in the city as a prison sentence. For all its intimidating chaos San Jose is not uninteresting; its furnace burns with a fiery passion, stoked by the vivaciousness of its inhabitants. To dip your toe into these untamed rapids head to Centro Commercial El Pueblo, a lively sanctuary for San Jose’s creative body and a chance to get your hips swaying to the rampant beats of Central American music.

Baptism of Fire 

 

 

 

Arenal Volcano

150km North-West from San Jose, navigating over Costa Rica’s notoriously jerky and treacherous roads, lies the charming town of La Fortuna. Like a reserved younger sibling it has passed its days in the overbearing shadow of its raucous elder brother, Arenal Volcano. The conical colossus brushes aside swathes of greenery to rise majestically into the skyline, rumbling sullenly like the deep slumber of a mythological beast. Such a spectacle, though, is not marred by inaction. Being amongst the world’s ten most active volcanoes, Arenal spews regular pillars of ash which surge upwards like heavenly columns and its eerily luminous lava flows enchant the night sky.

Nestled in a bed of tropical flora and boasting sweeping views of the volcano, the Springs Resort and Spa is a luxurious perch from which to marvel Arenal. For the ultimate spa experience visit nearby Tabacon Hot Springs, this resides amongst the world’s top spas thanks to its extensive accommodation of nature into treatments. For example its thermal springs are nourished by underwater currents of water, which are heated by magma and flow through the spa’s network of cascading waterfalls and serene pools.

Tabacon Hot Springs

 

If the idea of relaxation is about as appealing as a bed of nails, Arenal’s surrounding national park is a treasure trove for hikes. Some of which flirt with danger as they traverse the jagged remains of Arenal’s previous lava flows, www.arenal.net is a hub of information and allows for easy planning. 

In Cloud Nine

The Cloud Forests

  

To lay further toils upon the undoubtedly remorseful suspension system of your transportation, the short trip to Monteverde town is crowned by a viciously winding and unpaved road that lurches erratically through throngs of jungle. Suspended 3,000ft above sea level, Monteverde has retained a sense of humbleness in the wake of invading tourist armies. The most pleasant accommodation can be found in the Hotel El Establo, a three star affair with spacious and well-furnished suites. As a tip of the hat to Costa Rica’s eco-friendly contingent, the hotel employs a body of solar panels and integrates locally-grown produce into its menu.

Having established base camp, you can then venture into the mysterious grasp of the cloud forests which envelop Monteverde. Named for the lingering presence of clouds in their canopy due to high altitude, Santa Elena and Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserves are some of Costa Rica’s most diverse habitats and a nature enthusiast’s paradise. Alongside a resident population of 120 mammal species and perched amongst the aesthetic tangle of vines, mosses and branches are small gems of colour constituting the lively and diverse bird population. With any luck, you might have the pleasure of spotting the Resplendent Quetzal, which earns its name with a sizeable tail feather encased in emerald green.

Thanks to a heady abundance of moisture, paths through the forest can be treacherous and branches scrape against you like the gnarled limbs of the undead. Tour guides are a sensible option, with www.monteverdetours.com providing bilingual and experienced guides starting from $55 per person. To add some spice to your adventure, horseback tours can be organised from the hotel and, like the Ewoks from Star Wars, Monteverde Sky Trek have erected a labyrinth of walkways and zip lines in the jungle canopy to clamber and howl your way through. Undoubtedly such strenuous exertions require a caffeine boost and centrally-located Café Monteverde is at hand, serving organic coffee grown in nearby plantations.

Surf’s Up

Nicoya’s peninsula

 

For those yearning the path less trodden and would bring brushes to ‘paint the town red’, the North-Western peninsular of Nicoya has survived relatively unscathed from the legions of freaks, surfer-dudes and hippies who have descended upon Costa Rica’s beach scene over the last two decades. To swap a Cuba Libre for a quite beach day, you could do worse than arriving on the doorstep of cosy Nosara.

Governed by a Triumvirate of beaches Nosara is a haven for relaxation, offering serene fishing spots and a unique setting for its popular yoga culture. The area’s natural beauty has been protected devoutly by locals and the beaches’ bordering forests are a picturesque backdrop, as well as being home to a diverse animal population. For elegantly designed rooms that draw you into the ease of Nosara life, The Harmony Hotel pledges alluringly to get you “in tune with your natural rhythm”. With seven kilometres of Playa Guiones’ ivory sand languishing nearby, which also boasts waves that are folklore amongst surfers, the hotel would appear to have the tools to get tuning.

Paridisus found
 

  

  

If your pursuit of luxury is an activity untainted by half-measures then you won’t find much better than the Paridisus Playa Conchal. The vast shrine to lavishness and refined indulgence is an idyllic ride up the Gold Coast from Nosara. The luxury resort has an array of beautifully designed accommodation options, an 18-hole golf course and a pool large enough to fit Tendulkar’s fan mail. Plus, at 2,400 acres, it’s easy to get Lost in Paridisus. You may want to ration your wanderings though, as some room rates clamber over the $1,000 a night mark.

A stone’s throw from the resort stretches the Mecca of Costa Rican beaches, Playa Conchal. With sands as white as a Californian’s teeth and waters with the clarity of their camera phones, Playa Conchal has become the go-to destination for snorkelling. It would be a mortal sin not to slap on the ol’ mask and snorkel for a foray into its glassy tropical waters.

Jungle Fever

A gigantic leap southwards from Nicoya peninsula, over a stretch of Pacific Ocean, another fragment of Costa Rica juts out distinctively. The Osa peninsula may not offer an album of screensaver beaches but it has some of the most striking and diverse natural habitats, personified by the Parque Nacional Corcovado. The park is an eclectic jumble of jungles, rainforests and swamps splayed across 42,000 humid hectares of natural splendour. The range of eco-systems attracts enough furry, feathered and scaly inhabitants to keep the most devoted of wildlife fanatics busy. Whether it’s providing nesting spots for the Harpy Eagle or maintaining the endangered Central American Jaguar, the park has a crucial role in preserving some of Costa Rica’s finest natural assets.

Parque Nacional Corcovado

Going Caribbean

The previously neglected East coast of Costa Rica removes the peel of high-end hotelery to reveal simple lodgings and a marvellously laid back way of life. Hugging the Caribbean sea the coastland yields some breath-taking beaches, crowned by clusters of coconut trees. To surrender yourself to the chillaxed vibes of Afro-Caribbean culture head to Manzanillo, you won’t be getting Swiss chocolates on your hotel bed sheets but the living is authentic and a homage to the charms of a simple life.

East Coast Life

One such hotel, Almonds and Corals, offers palm-roofed tents connected by wooden walkway and is a true exponent of eco-culture. Some of its tours on offer include dolphin-spotting, bicycle tours but the most unique is a trip to visit the Indian villages of the Amubri, Bribari and Cachabri tribes. A fulfilling and culturally-enlightening activity. Staying on the East Coast is a less-refined experience, but what’s an eco-holiday without the dirty fingernails?

 

 

 

Pimp My Movie Theatre


Makeshift inventor Christian Seiersen unveils four innovative ideas to help Hong Kong cinemas do justice to their plethora of cinematic talent.

The year is 2010, Hong Kong is a gleaming palisade of skyscrapers, sophistication billows from the sidewalks and jazz wafts through the alleyways. The city is ruled by businessmen, but oozing through their fists is the seductive taste of culture, a creative alliance of the East and West. As French actress Jeanne Moreau once mused, “cinema is the mirror of the world”. In the bustling metropolis of Hong Kong, movie theatres will need to adapt accordingly.

Pump It Up

The first issue requiring attention can be best described as post-Kung Fu syndrome, or the ‘red mist’ as it’s known on the cinema attendants’ grapevine. It stems from the fact that no human of healthy mind can watch a martial arts flick without feeling the burning desire to re-enact the film’s most intense fight scenes in the cinema foyer afterwards. Be it a hurricane of hits or a half-hearted ‘chicken’ kick, no advertisement cut-out is safe.

Boasting an illustrious cinematic relationship with the Kung Fu genre, Hong Kong is at particular risk from the aforementioned condition. Resident movie-maker Stephen Chow is cultivating a reputation as something of a genre-bender by adding a mischievous dab of comedy to his action films- see Shaolin soccer and Kung Fu Hustle -while fellow countryman Bruce Lee is credited as the father of modern martial arts. It has no mother, it was conceived asexually when Lee windmill kicked himself in the spine. In such fertile fighting grounds, Hong Kong cinemas are in need of a fool-proof plan lest they become slapped by a weighty tome of law suits, cataloguing the destructive misdemeanours of the red mist.  

What I propose, wait for it, is an army of Blow Up Dolls, and not the type found in Hong Kong’s red light district (cue comedy drum roll). No they have a loftier purpose, to dampen the flames of the red mist and soak up the possessed audiences’ flurry of fist blows. As if their buoyant impishness wasn’t enough of an incentive, the dolls will be masqueraded as some of life’s most loathsome characters; a man-sized mosquito, Kim Jong-Il and the human embodiment of rain. Then, aside from comic book hero Superman’s next gang of nemeses, you have a brigade of bash absorbers and a child-friendly antidote to post-Kung Fu syndrome. The Beat Up Doll, coming to a cinema near you.

Whose line is it anyway?

Not many can deny the enchanting mysticism of the movie subtitles that have been translated from Chinese. A rich metaphorical tapestry weaved around the rigid tablet of Chinese grammar. Take recent directing duo the Pang brothers offering Storm Warriors, and the fight talk of its villain, Nameless.  “Today, I will use my immortal body armour to break the myth of your sword skill.” This sounds more like the strained foreplay of a historically-themed porno.

Then you have the risk of buying one  of Hong Kong’s numerous fake foreign language DVDs. The over-zealous middle man. Tasked with writing the subtitles for the pirated films and inspired by six weeks of English lessons in the basement of a brothel, they take it upon themselves to add their own ideas to the lines. An Oscar-worthy script is soon transformed into a rabbit hole of strained similes and misplaced commas. Now Russell Crowe’s heartfelt gladiator speech to Emperor Commodus- “I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next…” -becomes a tad shrewder. “I am able to get you, back right now or, maybe after I die…”

With this abundance of writing talent floundering in the sewers of their movie industry, what better way for Hong Kong to offer the hand of salvation than commission more than one set of subtitles for their films?  Consequently, foreign audiences will be able to vote on what Hong Kong’s movie stars should be saying with a choice of subtitle options. When approaching a gang of hoodlums, will karate king Jackie Chan excrete a cheeky quip or impart some words of wisdom? The outcome is decided, but the possibilities are endless. A sexually-confused Chow-Yun Fat? Bruce Lee the scientologist? You decide.

Let there be light

Housing some of the genre’s finest directional talents, Hong Kong is no stranger to the fields of romance.  One such exponent, Wong Kar Wai, revels in the poetic aspect of cinematography, furnishing his works with characteristically unconventional camera angles and pixelated close-ups. With its walls awash with amour and the scent of passion lingering in the air, movie theatres- as the experienced partisan will tell you- are fertile ground for ‘the sneaky stretch’.   

A worldwide phenomenon, the sneaky stretch is when a male` courter greases the potentially awkward act of putting his arm around a female companion by combining it with a yawn, or an innocuous point. Techniques differ across the lands, a current American sensation is a two-armed device which allows the advocate to keep an arm around his wife while the real one grazes on a food supply the equivalent of Uganda’s agricultural output. Yet still one aspect remains, the stretch dances best to the tune of love.

In the Mood For Love

Imagine, if you will, a screening of Wong’s Palm D’Or nominee, In the Mood for Love, an ultimately tragic story of two star-crossed lovers, their romance thwarted by the fickle nature of chance. As the film unfolds, as if sparked to life by a distant mother ship, male arms will slide cautiously across the chasm of cinema chairs before pouncing at the appropriately amorous on-screen cue. Because of its enticing prospect of a rejection, the audience deserves to be a part of this spectacle. I’m thinking spotlights.

Operated by only the finest talents in lightmanship, many of whom have sharpened their skills in circuses, their job would be to scour the audience and bathe anyone attempting the reach around in cold, piercing light. Good luck explaining that at the job interview. The stakes now raised, the sneaky stretch is catapulted from a nonchalant manoeuvre to a token of affection hotter than Dante’s Inferno. Move over wedding proposals at baseball games, there’s a new sheriff in town.

A game of two halves

Superbowl Half-time show, 2010

Faced with the bludgeoning cinematography and barrage of blasts that constitutes today’s action films, Australian cinemas have struck gold. In order to prevent their audiences’ brains imploding from boundless activity, they have introduced a half-way interlude for a film. During which, the audience can regroup and remind themselves they are not in a Vietnamese POW camp. All to the soundtrack of a tinkling piano. This is a start, but we need to think big here in order to rival the American Superbowl’s legendary half-time shows.

With a vibrant expat population, Hong Kong is a melting pot of cultures meaning that anything, from robot duels to saxophone recitals, is plausible. Much raucous has been made in the West of various talent shows, such as Britain’s Got Talent, which enable the average Joe to show off their hidden talent in spoon-bending to a panel of judges. So why not tap into this abundance of free entertainment and unleash them onto movie theatres. Hell, make a day of it! It can be Hong Kong’s answer to a Roman family outing at the coliseum, but without the Christian slaves.


Foreign filmmakers you should be on the lookout for

When you need a film with ex-plo-sions, who you gonna call? Well, before producers would have Transformer-toting Michael Mann on speed-dial, but nowadays he’s throwing magnesium into Boy Scout’s camp fires to quench his insatiable thirst for destruction. Plus, the audience prefers being made to think while being hoisted onto the edge of their seats.
Enter Brit/American director Christopher Nolan, the mind behind Batman remake The Dark Knight and Freudian thriller Inception. In a Hollywood genre wrought with mindless car crashes and leggy blondes, Nolan succeeded in bringing a touch of class to proceedings, like introducing English gents to wrestle in WWF. Nowadays Nolan has a third Batman film on his radar. As we speak, he is decked in oversized headphones, tracking a flashing red dot that is the caped crusader.

With a CV including the likes of cult sci-fi movie The Fifth Element and Léon , Frenchman Luc Besson is no newcomer to film. I think hitman Leon’s signature phrase, “No women, no children” should replace the chocolate bar Yorkie’s marketing slogan, ‘It’s not for girls,’ merely to enforce Yorkie’s brute masculinity.

However, it is in the role of writer and producer that Besson has found success in recent offerings District 13 and District 13: Ultimatum. The films catapult parkour, the French-originated discipline of street-running, from a YouTube sensation to the big screen. Set in a future where a crime-riddled district of Paris is walled-off from society, Besson strikes a political chord, as Parisian ghettos are often ostracised by the French media for their abundance of drugs and high-levels of unrest. Look out for Besson’s signature stunt sequences, which are untainted by CGI and gift the films a raw edge, exhibited in Besson-written thriller Taken.

The Pang Brothers

As films such as Hero prove, East-Asian cinema is never short of imagination and in Hong-Kong born directing-duo the Pang brothers, the genre has found a rising talent. Comprising Danny Pang and Oxide Pang Chun, which sounds like a chemically enhanced dish served to Chinese Olympic athletes, the pair’s recent martial arts epic Storm Warriors broke Hong Kong box office records on first day.
With cult-horror flick The Eye and Hollywood flop Bangkok Dangerous under their belts, the brothers explored elemental magic such as wind and fire to craft Storm Warriors as a homage to traditional Chinese folklore. With help from special effects and imaginative costumes, it is a truly unique spectacle. Asian legend has it the only way to replicate such levels of creativity is to give the entire Jedi council from Star Wars LSD and lock them in a room full of bendy mirrors.


Into the fray

Our plan was to hone our biking skills in the Mekong Delta before embarking on the 1150 km ride up to Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi. The delta is a vast stretch of sparsely populated grassland south of Ho Chi Minh, flayed by rivers surging to the Eastern Vietnamese coast. Its most prestigious inhabitant, the Mekong river, is the largest in South-East Asia and is responsible for the livelihood of millions through industries such as agriculture and fishing.

The Minsk can be best described as an enigmatic bike. I had put the difficulties we had faced in Ho Chi Minh down to teething problems but, as we stuttered into the innocuous town of Tan An on our last vapour of patience, I realised our bikes’ mechanical problems were more deep-rooted. We had only managed 30km and the journey had been disrupted by a host of engine problems, over the next week we would visit repair shops as frequently as we would restaurants.

We commenced this tradition of repair shop visits with a grand opening ceremony, involving the rousing of a portly mechanic from his hammock in a flourish of hand gestures, directed at the motorised underbelly of our bikes. That evening, in the musky sanctitude of a local shack, we deliberated over a steaming bowl of the local cuisine Pho noodle soup, a bubbling broth which can contain anything from lemongrass to chicken’s feet, before deciding on the riverside town of Ben Tre as our next port of call.

Looks familiar?

As we set off with renewed optimism and the strained directions of a local fruit seller behind us, the scenery morphed into a mosaic of rice fields. The presence of farmers was betrayed by conical straw hats that bobbed rhythmically from the depths of the reeds. The government had clearly been busy, and at regular intervals communist flags billowed defiantly, even on the most rural of roads.

Under intense physiological pressure from our group, willing them onwards, our bikes survived all the pebbles and dips the rustic roads had to throw at them and we rolled into the next town like crusaders entering Jerusalem. During the triumphal entrance into the centre our cries of ecstasy soon turned to anguish as we began to recognise the buildings we had become acquainted with the day before. The paper lanterns that had greeted us so gracefully now sneered from their lofty perch.

Besides the cardinal error of not carrying a map, we had failed to account for the sizeable river blocking our path to Ben Tre. The road we had taken had skirted along the river nonchalantly before looping round and depositing us at our origin, all without a hint of rancour. When providing directions, the imperial sweep of the hand that locals would offer failed to account for small frivolities on the proposed route, such as crossing a 100-foot wide river. They saw their role more as compasses and pointed us in the general direction of our destination rather than consider the various obstacles we would inevitably encounter or the curvaceous nature of roads.

The Ferryman

The next day we found a gutsy villager who was willing to pit the rotting timbers of her fishing boat against our iron-hided Minsks and take us across the river. Using a small wooden plank we herded our bikes onto the creaking vessel and crossed our fingers as, sensing the magnitude of the situation, she yanked the starter chord with the ferocity of a leopard. Local ferries are the more popular option in these circumstances, but we didn’t trust our directional prowess to go on the search just yet.

Having negotiated our bikes onto the other side, we soon found ourselves in the tourist outpost of Ben Tre.  Besides a smattering of restaurants, it is a popular place to arrange homestays in local villages, where tourists stay in a villager’s house to experience the unique culture of rural life. Whilst slurping our celebratory noodle soup, we met a Vietnamese war veteran who filled our evening with tales of jungle warfare with the Vietcong before departing to sing karaoke with his wife.

The curse of Ben Tre

Our cruise from Ben Tre was cut short when we encountered a giant pond which had flooded the dirt road, its murky waters had been supplied by the decadence of nearby construction work. Spurred by the enthusiasm of local drivers, and a sizeable run up, the most audacious member of our group flew into this artificial marshland with the careless abandon of a toddler learning to ride a bike. Despite making good progress, the wheels soon became engulfed by the sand and by the halfway point he began sinking at an agonisingly slow rate. With the aid of every able bicep within a kilometre, we were able to hoist him out, but not before the sand had sabotaged the bike’s engine. From now on, in order to start that particular motorcycle, we would all have to push it along for ten metres for a running start, in the chaotic manner of a bobsleigh team.

This was the final crack that opened a floodgate of problems and, for the next five days, a series of seemingly implausible break downs to each motorcycle left our group stranded in one of Ben Tre’s spangled high rise hotels, wallowing in self-pity and the senility of our bikes. I took the opportunity to repaint my bike; it was now decked in bright red and bore the archaic hammer and sickle of communism. The steed of an officer, I told myself as we drove through wafts of innocent Vietnamese laughter, pressing onwards to Tra Vinh.

Tearing the chains

In order to escape the supernatural clutches of Ben Tre we knew it would require a Herculean effort, we roared our way towards the coast but knowing at some point that we would face the tempestuous waters of another river. As night descended our bikes started to concede to the constant strain of the journey and one broke down. With no mechanic in miles, one of our group elected to push the bike along with his foot, whilst still driving himself. By supporting his foot on the incapacitated bike’s exhaust pipe, and trusting its riders’ steering capabilities, he was able to push it tentatively along the motorway. With no working headlamps between us, I drove behind the duo to illuminate this eerie procession with a torch strapped around my helmet like a coal miner. Meanwhile the final member gallivanted ahead, searching for comprehensible, and frustratingly elusive, directions.

Our convoy crept through the mystical silence of the South Vietnamese night, and it was into the miniscule hours of the morning when we found a farmer showering naked besides his crop but, more importantly, in knowledge of a ferry crossing down the road. Because of the obvious language barrier we didn’t know if the crossing was still in operation or, for that matter, an actual crossing and not just his favourite fishing spot. Nevertheless, we were hardly in a position of strength and welcomed the rest, even if it was interrupted by the maniacal yapping of a posse of village dogs.

An hour into the wait, I began eyeing up the surrounding scenery for potential camping spots. I may have even hallucinated, seeing the flickering mirage of a Holiday Inn in the shadowy depths of a forest. Mercifully, an eternally optimistic member, who had been perched expectantly on the landing since we arrived, spotted the hulking leviathan of a ferry boat skulking through the blackened waters and we boarded it with the relief of soldiers who were being evacuated from the fiery recesses of hell.

Reassessing the journey

Whilst in the safety of Tra Vinh, and with our battered Minsks collapsed guiltily besides us, we were forced to re-evaluate the itinerary. In one week we had barely travelled 100km and what was meant to be a training exercise had turned into an epic journey comparable to Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps. Despite the obvious disappointment we wanted to go out in one last flourish, our Asian testament to the charge of the light brigade- practically suicidal but a necessity as far as preserving honour was concerned. So it was then, in the smoky backroom of a local cafe that we decided upon the beach resort of Ba Dong as our final destination. This was to the crowning moment of our Mekong foray, the holy grail.

One last hurrah

And so we embarked on our symbolic dash for the coast. The rustic air somehow tasted sweeter and the rumble of our Minsks’ had an almost melodious tone. The guidebook had been sparing in its compliments for Ba Dong but I ignored this, believing there were far greater forces at work here. Unfortunately, my divine assumptions proved incorrect. The Swedish volleyball team we had imagined playing on the beach was replaced by an old man staggering through the shallows, whilst the wafts of freshly barbequed prawns was instead the stench of faeces, radiating from the cage of a dejected-looking monkey.

Without doubt, Ba Dong was the most depressing beach I had ever been to. The so-called resort was a cluster of wooden shacks facing the sea and the only attraction was a primate who had been cruelly displayed in a cage twice its size. As the only tourists ever to have been so wholly lost, it was almost like another dimension, we were regarded by the iota of other visitors with intense curiosity. However, as soon as their engines were loud enough to convince us they could tackle the journey back to Ho Chi Minh we readied our bikes for departure. We had a 150km slug ahead of us and the thankless task of selling the bikes to someone with enough patience to even attempt to drive them. Jesus perhaps.

Clouds gathered ominously in the sky and the now serpentine road wound through paddy fields and into the horizon. I had no idea if there were enough mechanics in the world to facilitate our return journey, but this had been our salvation. The glinting hands of our Minsks had plucked our band from the tediousness of a typical holiday and placed us amongst the wispy mirages of celebrated journey makers such as Che Guevarra and Jack Kerouac.  At least that is what I would tell my parents when they asked me why I wasted $400 on a lumbering death trap which would have more chance of killing me than delivering me to a destination.


What do Guy Ritchie and raw salmon have in common? Find out when Christian Seiersen delves into his metaphorical pouch to present four film themes that are indistinguishable in likeness to Sushi, Japan’s national dish. 

Chicken Katsu- Chronicles of Narnia 

 

There is something eerily unnatural about sushi restaurants serving the fried chicken dish of Chicken Katsu, it’s like displaying the Beano comic strip at the Louvre. Don’t get me wrong, I love fried chicken as much as the next mechanic. I just want it served in its natural habitat, resting in a bucket and presented by someone wearing a hair net. When it’s served in unfamiliar surroundings where the accompanying sauce is not made by Heinz, and to the serene twanging of the Shamisen- a traditional three-stringed instrument- you feel a cat has just rested a mauled pigeon at your feet. It could have been done so much better.   

 

I felt similarly after seeing The Chronicles of Narnia. When it comes to translating children’s literature into the ‘Twilight’ Zone of films- yes, even rugged vampires aren’t safe-it’s a case of counting the casualties. So who’s the ringleader, who’s responsible for deep-frying the metaphorical chicken? A mastermind, perhaps, propped by an empire of cartoons, loved by millions. A certain Walt Disney, a man obsessed with drawing racist mice. I digress, we’ll leave such matters to Cartoon Network. 

 

Granted, Walt himself wasn’t single-handedly responsible for the butchery of Narnia, he didn’t personally slip fake tan vouchers under the fabled Prince Caspian’s door. And, to be fair to Mickey Mouse, he straightened out when he met Minnie, but you get the idea. 

Think of classic children’s literature as No Man’s Land, venture too far and you risk a deadly salvo from entrenched film critics. Like the Somme, you may get the results on paper, but at what cost? Stick instead with films like Inspector Gadget where casualties are minimised or, in the case of strained political analogy, the Falklands War. 

Nigiri- Hugh Grant’s rom-coms  

 

With only a slab of rice and assorted topping to its name, Nigiri sushi was never the shiniest bauble on the Christmas tree. It’s more an innocuous red one, used to make up numbers. That’s not to say Nigiri doesn’t have its uses, it’s a steady winch to lower newcomers into the realms of Sushi or the reliable mule for Sushiites, whose adventurousness has been curbed by a recent bout of food poisoning. In movie terms, a Hugh Grant rom-com. Done so many times it could morph into a soap opera, even with the same name. 

 

With his inane politeness, “Oh Golly, I may have piddled on your lavatory seat” and elegant plume of floppy hair, he would be more at home on the Discovery Channel. A treacherous gibbon, perhaps, that charms the feathers off a bird before stealing their eggs. 

In fact David Attenborough should do a documentary on the untamed lion that is Hugh Grant’s acting career. Nomadic, he has roamed the Hollywood plains searching for the spectral oases of a thriller film or, dare I say, an Oscar nominee, only to plod dejectedly back to the Bridget Jones’ pride. 

Though I mock him, Hugh has been a cornerstone of the romantic comedy sector. If you will, the equivalent of a lift operator who has worked, unquestioning, for 50 years. When he bows out there will be many a thirty-something, saluting him with their Haagen-Dazs ice cream tub while watching a pimple-faced alternative. Something with Michael Cera.

  

Sashimi- Guy Ritchie gangster films 

Well ‘ard

 

On a sushi menu where flavours are often intertwined to achieve the supreme combination, the raw fish that is Sashimi holds no alliances. Like a renegade cop it doesn’t need partners; rice would slow it down, ask too many questions and seaweed would smother it. Sashimi works alone.

But such brash characterisation is not enough these days. Unlike the flickering era of black and white films, it is no longer sufficient to dress a bad guy in a blackened cape and have someone appear beforehand, wearing glasses to bolster the veneer of intelligence and saying, “trust me, this guy is well evil.” Nowadays Sashimi needs a genial cockney accent, a sharp tailor and a drinking spot in South London. It needs a part in a Guy Ritchie gangster film.

Some wonton destruction and sharp one-liners later, and Ritchie would have late night crime thrillers from Bravo queuing up to get a piece of this Sashimi, the new, raw talent from the wrong side of the tracks. Just look at what the director did for British footballer-cum-actor Vinnie Jones’ career or Hollywood hardman Jason Statham.

In the films Snatch and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Ritchie succeeds on a well-trodden path, making criminals likeable. Lock Stock saw his depiction of London’s largest marijuana dealers as a gaggle of hippies, who defend against intruders with air rifles. Now tell me Sashimi doesn’t need some Ritchie magic to accompany its stab at being professionally ‘well ‘ard’.

Maki- Shutter Island

 

Comprising raw fish wrapped in a layer of rice and then seaweed paper, Maki is a product of meticulous preparation. I like to imagine that each responsible chef is fresh from learning the trade in a Japanese training montage, packed with close-ups of their master raising his eyebrow quizzically and stroking a swan. Outlawed by the fast food nation, the band is forced to meet in abandoned houses that double as a fight club for Brad Pitt.

Although not conceived in similar circumstances, for a film constructed with equal flourishes of skill see recent blockbuster Shutter Island. The opening scene is a cinematic omen for things to come. Waves lash furiously against the island’s rocks, an atmospheric score is carved over the backdrop; we’re in thriller country and director Martin Scorsese is in his element. The Johnny Depp to Scorsese’s Tim Burton, the ever-prolific accomplice Leonardo DiCaprio is along for the ride and together they engineer a blitzkrieg of shocks, scares and anything else needed to convince you that investigating a lunatic asylum is a really poor idea.

With an increasingly raucous entourage of successful films and a respectable South African accent on his CV- accents can be the graveyard of stars, just ask John Wayne when he played Genghis Khan in The Conqueror- it would take a brave man to bet against DiCaprio not getting an Oscar soon. Especially after previous winner Adrien Brody bore the thespian torch for his compatriots by fronting the recent remake of Arnie classic Predator, hardly screen-shattering.


A Hedonist’s Guide to South East Asia

 

The infamous bucket cocktails

 Whether you’re ‘soul searching’ on a year off, cultivating a plume of dreadlocks, or an accountant-gone-wild, South-East Asia holds an endless banquet of hedonism, stuffed with marathon happy-hours and non-existent safety regulations. Here are some highlights.

Beach life. Nha Trang, Vietnam

Sailing club by day

If Shanghai is deemed the Paris of the East then surely the Vietnamese beach town of Nha Trang’s spangled high-rise hotels and riotous nightlife render it the Magaluf of the East? Nha Trang earned its debauched stripes during the Vietnam War where it was a stop-off for American soldiers on leave. It has since evolved and the Sailing Club, situated on the town’s prized 4km beach, is a launching pad for banana boating, paragliding and more.

By day an innocent sailing establishment, but come night the stabilizers are removed and Sailing Club becomes a popular nightspot with beach parties every Saturday. Elsewhere the backpacker hub Red Apple Bar serves up an imperial sized cocktail simply titled ‘the Bucket’, a multi-litre shrine to spirits. Pending a recovery, you can visit the nearby Vinpearl amusement park which, like Dr.Evil’s volcano lair, has its own island.

If you ever need to resurge from  the swirls of hedonism and add some culture to your diet, rent a motorcycle and head inland to experience the rugged Ho Chi Minh Highway, made famous by James ‘I wanna be forever young’ May and assorted Top Gear cronies. Alternatively, get your grill on at local hot-spot Lac Canh Restaurant which serves raw meat and fish marinated in traditional spices to be tossed onto your table-top bbq.

Hedonist rating: ***

In the tube. Vang Vieng, Laos

In the Tube

The four hour bus ride from Lao’s capital, Vientiane, to the hedonistic outpost of Vang Vieng is treacherous; the road winds tipsily through mountains while branches scrape against the bus like the gnarled limbs of the undead. Why is it then that I count myself more fortunate to have survived the tubing itself than this near-suicidal crusade?

For those not acquainted, tubing constitutes perching on an inflatable ring and offering yourself to the mercy of the river. As you float downstream clusters of flimsy wooden bars jut out, seemingly constructed by Ewoks because of the rope swings and zip-wires hanging menacingly from their skeletal rafters. Each ready to ensnare the drunken traveller.

Besides the $1 cocktail buckets and free shots of local whiskey, every bar has a unique feature, from beer pong to mud wrestling, to attract people. Sceptical? Then you can look forward to being roped in by the bartenders’ homemade lassos.

Staggeringly, this marathon bender is merely the warm up and night time sees the unveiling of bingeing establishments like the Bucket Bar. Where, with such slogans as “Get Bucked at the Fucket Bar,’ you know it’s not going to be an evening aperitif at the Grand Hyatt.

Hedonist rating: *****

Rambo Returns. Phonm Penh, Cambodia

Menus have a funny knack of legitimising things. In Cambodia’s capital, Phonm Penh, when you are confronted by a laminated sheet of paper in a cafe, offering opium tea, magic mushroom milkshakes and marijuana pizzas you feel like Pablo Escobar quantifying amounts for a drug run. Similarly, the nearby Air Borne shooting range has a menu wrought with guns ranging from Ak47s ($40 for 30 bullets) to the bone-shaking RPG Rocket Launcher($200 for 1 RPG), all available to shoot. Suddenly you become Rambo, equipping yourself for a solo mission to depose a sinister Asian dictator.

 A claustrophobic half-hour tuk-tuk drive from the city centre, the firing range is owned by the Cambodian military, meaning your gratuitous pumping of a 12-gauge shotgun is occasionally interrupted by camouflaged regiments marching past. Although you shoot at paper targets, off-menu requests can see the targets being replaced by livestock such as geese($10), cows($100) and even alligators. Well, it is one alternative to the zoo.

Back in the city, you can drown such memories in Sharky’s Bar, the expat den of decadence has a long-standing drinking challenge to sink your teeth into. To finish three hollowed-out mortar rounds, each containing 12 separate shots, in one night. Side-effects may vary.

Hedonist rating: ****

 

Lunar gathering .Koh Phangan, Thailand

Worshipped by witches, a friend of the werewolves and, in the case of Koh Phangan, the full moon is an excuse to get biblically drunk. Its imminent arrival heralds the trafficking of face-pounding sound systems and an exodus of 20,000 intrepid travellers to the small Thai island. With local hotels capacity touching 5,000 book months ahead for accommodation, the ever-fashionable Cocohut is a good starting bet. Otherwise be prepared for a night on the sand, where the morning aftermath is the stuff of Omaha Landing, Dunkirk.

On the hallowed ground of Haad Rin beach, professional partiers gather around the paint stations to get kitted out before entering the melee, money strapped to their chests like grenades. Besides the mandatory team of international DJs, you can expect some blazing entertainment in the form of professional fire-twirlers, jugglers and a barrage from an old acquaintance, the cheap cocktail bucket.  Anyone looking to dabble in the realm of narcotics be wary, all is not as it seems and the ‘happy pill’ you’re taking could be bovine steroids or, even worse, the red pill from the Matrix- then you’d be in all kinds of shit.

Hedonist rating: ****


Buying a motorcycle in Vietnam’s industrial capital 

On the road

  Every day hordes of motorcycles migrate across the concrete plains of Ho Chi Minh city, writhing in a demonic waltz with regal plumes of exhaust  and carrying anything from extended families to scores of live geese.       

The glittering legions

  Thanks, in part, to its  simplistic design cues, Honda enjoys a decisive monopoly over the motorcycle  industry, if such a term as industry can be gifted to the underground warren of wheeler-dealing that constitutes  buying a motorcycle. In the midst of such unadulterated chaos, our group would have some difficulty tracking down a band of suitably iconic bikes to serve on our proposed motorcycle trip around Vietnam, let alone ones whose exhaust pipes were not attached with blu-tack.       

The fallout from the Vietnamese war had birthed a litter of seedy bars which had been reared in grubby clumps across the city, the most prestigious of which is the aptly named Apocalypse Now, the seemingly ideal starting ground for the search.       

Between the practiced gaze of the resident working staff, I spotted a wizened veteran occupying a corner table with the pseudo-magnitude of a failed sea-captain. Having heard our predicament, he took a dramatic sip of his umbrella-enamoured cocktail before uttering a name whose very mention sent local motorcycle dealers scurrying to the road-side noodle bars from whence they came. Kevin, something of a spectre in the city’s motorcycle industry but undoubtedly the Mcdaddy and someone who would resurface later in our travels .      

With no direct access into the bowels of Kevin’s operation, we instead met a sprightly American duo who were willing to sell and had returned from leading a group of seven Minsk motorcycles up the fabled Ho Chi Minh Highway, a popular war-time route running up the spine of the country and one made famous in an episode of Top Gear. One of the duo’s carefully sculpted pony tail and ample girth were a nostalgic nod to his home country’s iconic cartoon character, the Comic Book Guy. 

A king amongst men

However, whilst such apparel would have condemned him to a nomadic life of certain ridicule back in the states, his exodus to Vietnam had bore fresh pastures. Now, rather than been viewed as an accessory for an unemployed addict of Warcraft, his hair was the garb of Greek mythology and he posed confidently on the street before us, a champion, a king amongst men.   

We assembled in a small cafe to do business and, as the duo’s Vietnamese attaché paced outside like an attack dog, I considered our options. Fortunately mandatory insurance for vehicles was a concept as unfamiliar to the Vietnamese as multi-party elections, but what we were doing was undoubtedly illegal and the fact none of our group had ever set foot on a motorcycle’s gear lever rendered our inevitable task of evading policemen an arduous one. What’s more, a recent visit to Vietnamese A&E and some painful stitches from a scooter accident had taught me that Vietnamese drivers are a ruthless bunch, Vietnam clocks four motorcycle fatalities a day, and riding through a city is not as easy as the video game Grand Theft Auto would have you believe.  

But none of this mattered now, there were four Minsks slumbering in the cavernous dark of a subterranean parking lot, waiting for us. 

Sleeping beauties

For those not acquainted with such testosterone-fuelled biking jargon as ‘Minsk,’ (essentially our position five minutes before purchasing the aforementioned vehicles) the Minsk is a bulky throwback to the glory days of communist Russia, when commissars roamed the countryside on them, herding peasants.  Years later, a wall collapsed, a Macdonald’s opened in Moscow and the Minsks found themselves exiled to the sculpted hills of Northern Vietnam where they were adopted by the communist-resilient North Vietnamese as a sentimental reminder of the ideology they had fought so bitterly for… and to carry grain. 

The sculpted hills of Sapa, North Vietnam

 When we were introduced, I noticed our bikes had been stripped to near skeletal remains, no doubt by the frugal innovation of some of Ho Chi Minh’s most dedicated mechanics, and crucial parts like wing mirrors and headlamps had been whored out to Honda Wave motorcycles across the city. My bike had been further castrated by a smothering of sickly pink paint and now lay shivering next to the phallic shrines of motorcycles that crowned the garage. 

It took a further four days and endless crusades across the city in search of mechanics before our bikes all started at the same time. Without functioning mufflers the occasion was a sonic recreation of the eruption of Krakota, the engines’ roars spewed across the road, easily drowning out the insectile drone of passing traffic. With our worldly possessions strapped hastily to the back like refugees, we fastened our $5, and undoubtedly polystyrene, helmets and readjusted our goggles. 

 

  The open road stretched before us. Well, that and the glittering legions of Vietnamese motorcyclists, polishing their headlights in anticipation having scented fresh meat on the early morning haze.


 
Now peddling his trade beneath the neon lights of Shanghai,  Christian Seiersen uncovers five reasons why local cinemas may never show a Latin American film.
 
1. They Are Thirty Times Cheaper on DVD
Being a traditionally tech-savy nation, China is more than acquainted with the art of knock-off DVDs. Should a LatAm film breach Chinese screens, you can guarantee the cinema owner’s cousin is in the audience, sporting a camera and waving on the late-comers as they cling guiltily to their popcorn. This is only required if the film survives being passed around the production office like a cheap bottle of Scotch. Sometimes temptation proves too great and said film makes its way into the realms of DVD prematurely, courtesy an entrepreneurial employee.
These films can be identified by the occasional flash of writing, threatening, evidently unsuccessfully, any employee who leaks the movie with crucifixion, or whatever it is they do in China. Being able to buy such films as La Cienaga, a cutting insight into middle-class Argentinian life, for the princely sum of 60 rupees is a cheaper option than visiting one of Shanghai’s cinemas, which can cost as much as 1800 rupees. The only snag is the powers that be have recently outlawed fake DVDs, as the Shanghai World Expo approaches, forcing them underground. Nowadays, to come by such services you have to enter into hidden chambers, which are located in rebel shops and concealed behind a row of unassuming shelves like a haunted mansion. Alternatively, resembling a recession-hit businessman in 1930s America, nomadic salesmen flog their wares from leather briefcases.
2. They Are Food and Drink for the Censors

In a country where Facebook and Youtube have fallen to the axe of restriction, it would be a coup d’etat to see the likes of the sexually-explicit Mexican film Y Tu Mamá También saunter onto the screen. Due to the Chinese quota of 20 foreign films a year and a ban on any sexual content.

In my opinion, in order to strike up a cordial relationship with the local government, LatAm films should take a leaf out of recent blockbuster 2012’s book. It cast China as humanity’s last hope against a barrage of worldwide floods and even showed an American officer saying that only China could build the arks fast enough. Take that Google, and the Chinese box office—2012 broke the Chinese record for highest-grossing film.

Unfortunately, Latin America has yet to incorporate such political shrewdness into their cinematic game. It would be difficult to see a China-friendly ending to Brazilian slum movie Cidade de Deus that pictures the Triads entering the favelas through a flurry of doves, restoring political and moral order. There is the possibility of Cuban leader Fidel Castro rediscovering his international insolence and seeing China as the new phoenix of communism, having emerged from Russia’s ashes. However, this time—due to trivial matters of world security—he would not be offering Cuba’s golden beaches to store missiles, but as exotic sets for communist propaganda films. It’s cinematic guerrilla warfare!

3. The Government would be left red-faced

Having lived in China for two months, I have arrived at the conclusion that it is a land of closet communists. Where, I ask, are the ranks of villagers partaking in synchronized exercise routines, or the Stalinist propaganda posters depicting a muscular worker with a sickle? Nowhere. The political gears are remarkably lethargic; there’s the odd policeman being accosted by old women about fronting a municipal crack down on chicken theft, but beyond that, not a lot.

 Though I gloat of my immunity, I have probably made a gross misjudgment, and, as I poke fun at their country, three of the CCP’s finest menfolk are tunneling beneath my desk to burst dramatically from the floorboards the moment I make another unsubtle communist reference.

 In Shanghai, the only political incitement I have experienced first-hand is a crazed cyclist, wielding a megaphone and campaigning down side streets, hollering political slogans. Therefore, I question what reception politically-charged films such as the Argentinean Diarios de Motocicleta, an insight into the early life of communist pin-up Che Guevara, would have in China. (I can feel the floorboards shuddering.) Though it was born out of brimstone and fire, Chinese communism nowadays is more discreet, and to show the unwashed masses, all 1.3 billion of them, stirring scenes of Che cruising through the South American countryside? Well, that’s asking for a revolution.

4. They’d Threaten the Peace

Shanghai is in the enviable position of being one of the safest cities in the world. Gang members here prefer to sing Bryan Adams in one of the city’s many karaoke bars than deal with trifling matters like extortion. It is a remarkably peaceful city. Unlike in India, you would have to literally put your foot through a Chinese cab driver’s windscreen to rouse him into beeping his horn.

 So, we have this peaceful and zen setting, comparable to a rural British town. Then throw onto this a Latin American movie like, oh I don’t know, Elite Squad. This Brazilian bash-up follows a specialist police squad who are tasked with fighting crime in Rio de Janeiro’s slums. There isn’t just a spray of bullets, it’s a monsoon! Suddenly the previously-mentioned crazed cyclist will trade in his megaphone for an AK-47 and the police will have more on their hands than karaoke bar rap battles.

No, I think playing it safe with national icon Jackie Chan being thrown into side-splitting movie scenarios is a safer option. One such sortie is the The Spy Next Door, where Chan plays an ex-CIA officer who has to babysit his girlfriend’s kids. Hilarity most certainly does not ensue.

5. They’d Scare the People

Despite becoming officially atheist in 2002, China has retained a strong sense of superstition. Because the number eight is lucky, phone numbers that are well-endowed with the lucky digit sell for ten times the price of unlucky numbers. Not that anyone would, but if, as a guest, you brought the gift of a clock to a Chinese family it is deemed a catastrophic insult, as clocks are associated with death. Perhaps the popular story of Peter Pan, and its prophetic inclusion of a ticking clock for Captain Hook, had more of a profound effect than had first been imagined.

Therefore, it is difficult to see such an audience taking kindly to Mexican-directed film El Laberinto del Fauno, which is wrought with fantasy scenes of talking fawns and a creature that holds its eyeballs in its palms. Sure, the film does portray the Spanish dictator General Franco’s right-wing Nationalist government as being ruthless, nice start, but an eyeball-palmed monster? That’s going to cause a riot, or really good business for opticians.

Having said that, a LatAm film which could have success challenging Chinese culture is another Mexican offering Amores Perros, and specifically one of its stories about dog fighting in Mexico. Having possibly the most effeminate taste in pet dogs, Chinese men could benefit from the idea that dogs can be larger than a ferret and have other appeals than be dressed-up to look like Paris Hilton’s canine entourage.

For the next two months, Christian Seiersen will be MIA as he travels around South-East Asia. Catch up with his travels on www.christianseiersen.wordpress.com.