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Rose Flower and Red Lotus 


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Tottering on the verge to becoming one of my favourite films ever, is the 2003 Korean horror film Janghwa, Hongryeon, or A Tale of Two Sisters in English.

Matt first noticed the great cinematography; I loved the eerie story based on a Korean folktale. The original story has a stepmother, a skinned rat, abortion, drownings, and dismemberments. Can't really go wrong in my book.

The story goes something like this (from the DVD cover):
Something strange is happening when Su-mi and her younger sister, Su-yeon, come home to their fathers large but dark and somewhat foreboding house after a stay in the hospital. Their dad is taciturn and burdened, and their stepmother, Eun-joo, greets them with forced enthusiasm and more than a little sense of irritation. But that's nothing compared to what happens when bedtime rolls around.
I intend to delight my friends with personal screenings once I get my copy of the deluxe edition DVD, so I can't give away too much here.

However, I can't hold back from showing off some delightful tidbits from the film.

Let's start with the trail of blood and bare feet walking over it - this is why one should always wear slippers indoors:

Bloody Trail

A bloody sack in the much-dreaded wardrobe - take that CS Lewis and your honking wardrobe filled with bare-chested fauns and biblical allegories:

Bloody Sack

The very atmospheric kitchen, simmering with enough menstrual imagery to sell a hundred thousand tampons:

The Two Sisters' Kitchen

The film's set is also full of dark wallpaper with floral patterns that, instead of giving off a hint of harmless spring, overwhelm with ominous feminity, reminding us of the original tale's two girls, called Rose Flower and Red Lotus, and hammering home the father's passivity in this house of women.

The creepy house where it all takes place:

Korean Goth House

Writer and director Ji-woon Kim says in the commentary that the house was merely a set but that, after shooting ended, the local government requested that it not be torn down. A monument to Korean horror cinema and, if I could find out where the house is, an addition to the top ten list of Asian horror sightseeing.

The DVD cover also has some commenting value. The edition we rented, had the non-bloody version of this poster:

Janghwa, Hongryeon

Everyone in the non-bloody version was in the same position but the girls were clean. When we took our DVD to the counter, the video store clerk flipped open the box to show us the bloody version inside.

Then there is this version of the poster, with Soo-yeon's arm rigidly at her side, making the sisters symmetrical:

Janghwa, Hongryeon Version 2

Finally, a publicity shot of the sisters with their stepmother, Eun-joo, clutching the two girls:

Janghwa, Hongryeon Version 3

The movie twists the original story around into a brilliant psychological thriller, with enough blood and ghosts that Matt and I had to take frequent breaks to recuperate from our fear. The film's many interpretations - not your typical Korean supernatural revenge psychological horror flick - also had us staying up late reading other viewers' theories.

Unfortunately, Hollywood is planning a remake, probably with some vapid blonde again. My recommendation is to see the original before the remake obliterates its freshness.

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Rock Snot 


Thursday, September 14, 2006

Catching up with all the blogs I missed in the last month, I descended upon the Invasive Species Weblog tonight.

Always good for a botanical chuckle or two, I nearly spat out my cherry-flavoured honey toast* when I read that rock snot (Didymosphenia geminate) is now on the Oregon Department of Agriculture's top 100 dangerous invasive species.

How delightfully obscene - a plant called rock snot! The grade two boy in me wanted to know more.

Rock snot, also called didymo, is a diatom. Millions of these single-celled organisms turn fresh-water streams into vats of brown slime by latching on to rocks. Hailing from northern Europe, rock snot starts out as bubble-shaped warts on rocks that feel "like wet cotton wool." In later stages, "streamers turn white at their ends and fragments float downstream similar to clumps of tissue paper". Rock snot is highly invasive; to stop its spread, fishermen must sterilize their clothing and wet pets must be thoroughly dried off for 48 hours before plunging them into new waters.

Also on the list for those of us who like the bizarre are the following:

  • Hazelnut bacteria canker (Pseudomonas avellanae): responsible for the decline of Nutella ingredients in Europe.

  • Potato wart (Synchytrium endobioticum): with a lifespan of about 40 years, spuds become "unmarketable" for the "disease is comparative to a condition resembling elephantiasis, the human deformity suffered by John Merrick and chronicled in the movie The Elephant Man."

  • Dead man's fingers (Codium fragile tomentosoides): also known as green fleece, green sea fingers, oyster thief and Sputnik weed, this algae smothers oysters, mussels and scallops, and makes waterfronts stinky.

  • Yellow floating heart (Nymphoides peltata): a rather pretty type of east Asian waterlily sold in plant stores, this aggressive species chokes out other plants and sometimes stagnates water.

  • Mile-a-minute weed (Polygonum perfoliatum): also known as Devil's tail, tearthumb, tearthumb weed, Asiatic tearthumb, Devil shield, mile-a-minute vine and Chinese tearthumb, this plant grows around six inches a day.

And bonus point to the Inavasive Species Weblog's Dr. Jennifer Forman Orth for more new vocabulary: myrmecologist (a person who studies the life cycles, behavior, ecology, or diversity of ants - which led me to hymenopterist, or a person who studies the life cycles, behavior, ecology, or diversity of wasps and bees) and piscicide (a chemical substance for destroying fish pests).


*I prefer my toast rare. If you should ever need to win favour with me by offering me toast, keep this in mind.

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The Swastika in Canadian Hockey 


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

While looking up the Latvian Thunder Cross mittens, I came across the Wikipedia swastika entry. It turns out that one of the small towns in the Rockies, Fernie had a women's hockey team in the twenties called the Swastikas.

This is significant because I lived in Fernie for a very brief part of my childhood. And one of my oldest extent sculptures - a construction of Fernie found objects - is still in my kitchen, in front of me, in fact, as I type this.

The Swastikas was obviously quite a common name for hockey teams in the early twentieth century as Windsor, Nova Scotia also claimed the Swastikas (from 1905 to 1916) for its high-scoring men's team and Edmonton used the name for its own women's hockey team around 1916.

The Fernie and District Historical Society Museum has more to say about the team: "In 1923, 1924 and 1926, the Swastikas advanced to compete in Banff for the Alpine Cup, then the highest award given to any such team in Alberta and British Columbia. In 1923, they defeated the Calgary Regents to win the coveted award."

According to the History of Hockey in British Columbia, the Fernie Swastikas "also defeated the the Vancouver Amazons who had won the Rocky Mountain Park Trophy the year before."


(Cross-posted from Metroblogging Vancouver)

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Latvian Swastika Mittens 


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

From Scotsman.com:
[300 Latvian craftspeople] knitting 4500 pairs of woollen mittens as gifts for November's NATO summit have been told not to incorporate the lucky Latvian Thunder Cross symbol into their designs, as it looks like a swastika.
An interesting site with other Latvian symbols says of the Thunder Cross: "this sign was popular to cut into the beds of children and to interweave into belts for newborn children to wrap them."

Unfortunately the Thunder Cross, despite its traditional use for hundreds of years and its use by Latvian Air Force (from 1918 to 1934), in insignias of other military units and other non-political groups, was tainted by its relationship with Perkonkrusts, a Latvian fascist group in the thirties.

NATO dignitaries will instead get mittens with other designs and "a jar of honey, a CD of local folk music, Latvian tea and a bottle of the national spirit – a 45% abv concoction of at least 25 different ingredients, known as Black Balzam."

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A+ 


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A mystery has been solved!

In my nerdsome youth, I collected a number of penpals from around the world. One penpal that I had for purely aesthetic reasons was a beauty from South Africa who, originally from Zaïre (now the Congo), wrote in a mixture of French and English. Her theory was that the French would improve my Canadian school system French*.

Thus my penpal always signed off her letters with bisous and A+.

A few trips to France later and I got my bisous down. Little kisses. According to BellaOnline's French Culture Editor, Melissa Demiguel, "it is quite versatile as it can be used to finish conversations, sign letters and demand kisses." There's also plein de bisous and plein de petits bisous.

A+ is weirder and has remained a mystery despite my penpal's explanation.

Now Le Meg of Le Blagueur à Paris has solved my mystery.

In her conversation with Le Mec - ha! I remembered that one! The colloquial for guy! - the revelation that A+ = à plus, or à plus tard, struck me with the force of finally getting it after fifteen + years of wondering. Ha ha ha ha ha ha.

It was a good joke.


*For the bilingualism naysayers, I contribute my poor French not to the inadequacies of the Canadian school system but to bilingualism naysayers themselves and to my own debilitating shyness.

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The Death of the Duc de Brissac 


Monday, September 11, 2006

The poor Duc de Brissac. Louis Hercule Timolon de Cossé seemed like a nice enough guy.

As related in the Joan Haslip Madame du Barry biography, this last patron of the last royal favourite and one of Louis XVI's most loyal courtiers suffered a gruesome death during the September Massacres on September 9, 1792:

...Hostile crowds had gathered along the route before they had reached [Versailles]...The convoy was brought to a halt at the corner of the rue de l'Orangerie, opposite the house which the Comte de Provence had brought from Madame du Barry, where in the days of her splendour she had given the most fabulous of balls...Then suddenly there was a mad rush - the horses were unharnessed and the mob fell on the prisoners attacking them with sabres, scythes and knives. The guards made no attempts to defend them...Sezing a stick from one of his assailants, Brissac put up a heroic defence till, blinded and mutilated, he was thrown to the ground. Three young boys fought with one another over his mangled remains, cutting off his head in triumph and transfixing it on a pike.
Wait, it gets better:
Yelling with a fearful joy, they paraded [the head] through the streets of Versailles, forcing an unfortunate woman who later died of the shock to kiss the bleeding mouth.
Blinded? I am picturing something along the lines of Gloucester in King Lear, only a thousand times better with the detail about the poor woman being made to kiss the head and dying from it.

At that point, the Duc's head was a dishevelled version of the one painted below:

Old Duc de Brissac

It was not unheard of to force friends or relatives of the decapitated to kiss the head during the French Revolution, or at least in its earlier days. On my sixth French Revolution book this summer and at least four heads got some post-mortem romance, if not lip action. The Duc de Brissac's anonymous kisser is one of two women who died after encountering a head; however, the other woman, three years earlier, at the very beginning of the Revolution, may or may not have been forced to kiss the head.

Though the Madame du Barry fainted before she could see her lover's head, she may have seen it later. Rumour has it that she buried the head in her garden. A skull was indeed found there many years later.

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