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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
Club Notice - 03/19/99 -- Vol. 17, No. 38
Table of Contents
Chair/Librarian: Mark Leeper, 732-957-5619, firstname.lastname@example.org Factotum: Evelyn Leeper, 732-957-2070, email@example.com Distinguished Heinlein Apologist: Rob Mitchell, firstname.lastname@example.org HO Chair Emeritus: John Jetzt, email@example.com HO Librarian Emeritus: Nick Sauer, firstname.lastname@example.org Back issues at http://www.geocities.com/evelynleeper. All material copyright by author unless otherwise noted.
Some of you may have noticed the new colophon last week. (Then again, maybe not.) There have been quite a few changes lately, and we wanted to get up-to-date with them.
First, our previously listed Holmdel chair hasn't been in Holmdel for years. Though he is returning soon, so is our Middletown chair, who is the real chair.
Our long-time Holmdel librarian has moved to Crawford Hill. The books, however, will remain in Holmdel, where they will be merged with the Middletown library when it moves over in a couple of months. At that point, everything will be available for check-out for Lucent members (via inter-office mail to those members not in Holmdel). A list of our holdings will be put on a web page for easier browsing. Thanks to Nick Sauer for many years of service (including boxing up the books at the end!).
And finally, the New Jersey Science Fiction Association appears to be relatively defunct and I have no current contact information for it. [-ecl]
I may be admitting my age here, but when I was just a young lad almost all public air travel was on propeller planes. I guess the military had jets, but the commercial airlines did not have them yet. I would see jets on TV in programs like "Captain Midnight" and my mouth would water. Then little by little the airlines started getting planes with jet engines. I remember my father would go on business trips and my mother would take him to the airport. I was still too young to be left at home, so my mother would take me along while she was taking him. I saw the early jets taking off and voraciously wolfing down the altitude. I mean propeller aircraft did not have a very steep ascent. They just did not have the power for it. I seem to remember these early jets going up at about a 30-degree angle. My jaw just dropped. "Boy, I'd sure love to be in one of those jets," I thought. This was what the future would be like with people flying around in these graceful, powerful planes. It was the low end of what it would be like to ride spaceships. "Commando Cody" had me wanting to fly spaceships. But flying jets was something I dearly hoped I would be doing in my lifetime. And you know I was right, at least about the fact many of us would be riding jet aircraft. And I suppose my first ride in a jet aircraft was pretty exciting to me. That first time seeing the ground drop away so quickly was fairly exciting.
I flew again a couple weeks ago. I could not see out the windows of the plane. The windows are a lot smaller these days because most people don't want to be reminded that they are off the ground and there is nothing below them but air. Basically you are betting your life that aerodynamics work and will keep a really heavy plane up in the air. (Side thought: I wonder if birds ever get acrophobia. Do they ever worry about the fact that they are waving their wings to keep aloft because if they stop they will plow into the ground at terminal velocity leaving a large bird-shaped hole in the ground. Does a bird ever think the bird equivalent of "what the heck am I doing up here?")
But I was flying United Airlines. I will even name the airline. United used to be one of the leading airlines. These days it is still a leader, but mostly in how effectively can they can sacrifice customer comfort for their own profit. (I am not even talking about the food.) As I was saying I strapped myself into my seat. The seats you get riding coach these days are designed to be about six inches narrower than the average width of a human being. And they pack in more rows. You are playing elbows with the person beside you while the person ahead of you has his head in your lap. It gives new meaning to "Fly the friendly skies of United." It wouldn't be me if I wasn't using hyperbole slightly, but I challenge anyone who has recently flown coach on a United 757 to say I am misrepresenting the situation. I was flying the Redeye back from San Francisco to Newark and United had combined two redeye flights for fear that anyone could stretch into an unsold seat, get some rest, and not leave the plane with red eyes.
Well, we got off the plane at the end, sighed with relief, got to our car, and drove home. In the car on our cassette player we are listening to episodes of "X Minus One." That is a science fiction radio show from the 1950s. Every show they start "Countdown to blast-off. X minus five, four, three, two, X minus one, blast off." And I always listen with awe and think to myself, "boy, I'd sure love to be in one of those spaceships." But what am I really saying? Boy, I would love to be confined to a small, uncomfortable room for months or years on end. Maybe at the beginning and end of the flight there might be a nice view, but other than that there would be not much to see but a dark sky. Like flying the jets, or going down in a submarine, or riding the Orient Express these things always look a heck of a lot better from the outside than they do on the inside.
I guess the dreams I had as a kid are a lot nicer than the reality. So if I got the offer would I really choose to fly in a spaceship? Would I be willing to go through all that discomfort just because it was sexy-looking from the outside to fly a real rocket ship. Would I really choose to go? You bet I would. Like a shot. When I start answering that question with a "no," I will know I am getting old. [-mrl]
THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
Capsule: THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR is a Chinese folk tale moved to the 1600s to resonate with the fall of the Ming Dynasty and the rise of the Manchus. The cinematography is terrific, the story is okay, but the dialog and the fighting scenes are the usual Hong Kong hokum. This would have been a better film if it had been more about the history. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4) (Also included are comments about THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR II)
The historic backdrop for THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR by itself would have made a better film than THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR did. What makes this an interesting film is something that will be missed by viewers of the film with little knowledge of Chinese history. The fantasy is the story of Yi-Hang who appears in the film as a friend of Wu San-kuei. They are two men who will react very similarly in different but parallel struggles. Each will betray people who depend on him and in each case it will be for the love of a woman. Supposedly the story of the film is an old folktale, but to play up the thematic similarities to actual history it is set in the 1640s with only a few brief references to what was happening with Wu San-kuei. Here is a quick summary of what was happening.
For too long the Ming Dynasty had ruled selfishly and had sown the seeds of their own destruction. A whole class of hangers-on-- 60,000 people all claiming to be part of the royal family--were supported at public expense, impoverishing the peasants. They did little for their keep but collect taxes. Whole families would go first into debt and then into slavery in their own villages. Public suicides were common. In 1628 there was a famine in the Northwest and out of it rose a rebel leader, Li Tzu-ch'eng. The people could take no more, and a peasant army rose up under the leadership of Li Tzu-ch'eng and captured Northern China in 1642 and Beijing in 1644. The Ming Emperor committed suicide, but his army for the most part stayed loyal to the Mings.
Both Wu San-Kuei and his father had been military commanders for the dying Ming Dynasty. They had been charged with repelling the powerful Manchus, the descendents of the Mongols, wanting to sweep back into China. What was stopping the Manchus was the Great Wall and the tactical difficulty of getting past its army defenses.
But Li's rebel army had captured Wu's father to hold as a hostage. Then adding to Wu's pain they captured his favorite concubine. So the peasants, the Manchus, and the Mings were each trying to take control of China. Li offered a Wu San-kuei a truce with the Mings and an alliance to push back the Manchus. But Wu's hatred was so great now he wanted no part of an alliance the peasant army. Li attacked Wu. Wu made his alliance with the Manchus. He opened the Great Wall gates at Shanhaikuan and allowed the Manchus to enter China on the promise they would help defeat Li's rebellion and if they had power would allow the elite to retain their privileges. Perhaps Li felt he could control the Manchus or perhaps his hatred of the peasants who captured two people he loved was just too great. But he let the Manchus into China, and it was like ringing the dinner bell. The peasants held Beijing for just a month before they were crushed by the combined might of the Mings and the Manchus. Then suddenly it was just the Mings and the Manchus vying for the country. Soon the Ch'ing Dynasty of Manchus were China and they remained China for 267 years until 1911. Wu San-kuei had indeed changed the course of history, but only to open the door for one dynasty to defeat another.
THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR is purportedly based on an older folktale, but is retold against the backdrop of the falling of the Ming. Wu San-kuei shows up briefly in both THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR and its sequel, THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR II. His story runs simultaneously and parallel to that of Yi-Hang who would be called a traitor to the eight good clans who form the Wu Tang. He would be accused of unleashing the forces of a very different evil.
Yi-Hang was just a young boy, but already a student of martial arts, when he was chased and nearly killed by wolves. What saved his life was a girl about his own age who seemed to have the ability to command the wolves. For years she remained just a memory. In typical martial arts film fashion Yi-Hang (Leslie Cheung as an adult) grows up frequently getting into trouble usually through no fault of his own. But his virtue and his martial arts skill get him out of any problem. He becomes the best fighter of the eight Wu Tang clans. But there is trouble for the eight clans coming from an evil rival clan, the Chi Wu Shuang, led by a somewhat unique pair of evil sorcerers. What they are I will not describe, but clearly magic was involved in their origins since it is a biological impossibility. But their secret weapon is a third and powerful sorcerer, the beautiful woman, Lian Nichang (played by Brigitte Lin) who uses her hair to entangle her enemies. Yi-hang finds Lian bathing in the woods and recognizes her as the wolf-girl of his youth. He falls in love with her, or realizes that he has loved her since she was a child. But she is of the rival clan threatening to destroy the Wu Tang. We have a sort of Romeo and Juliet story of the love between these two martial artists.
The story does not have a lot to offer that we have not seen before. And the martial arts fighting is augmented by special effects and by modifying the camera speed. So the fighting we see is about as believable as the story. What makes this film worth going out of ones way to see is the photography. In spite of the fighting and the blood, this is something of an art film just for the stunning visuals. Director Ronny Yu apparently wanted to give this film a unique look that is a visual feast. The film's rich use of colors, the beautiful costuming, and the art direction are just terrific and make up for a multitude of other sins. The cinematographer is Peter Pau and he did more to create this mythic film than anyone else involved. THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR really deserves to be seen for the rich visual imagery. I rate it a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale.
THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR II continues the story ten years later. But the relationship it bears to its predecessor is a lot like SON OF FRANKENSTEIN bore to THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. It has the same director, it even has the same actors, but the creativity is all gone. Instead of being about mythic characters, the film is about people who know the mythic characters. Lian Nichang is no longer a three-dimensional character but has been reduced effectively to being a monster (again parallel to the FRANKENSTEIN films). I do not know who the cinematographer was but I could bet that it was not Peter Pau. Blue filters are over-used to try and recapture some of the look of the first film, but too much of the magic has gone out of the story. I rate THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR II a 4 on the 0 to 10 scale and a low 0 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper MT 3E-433 732-957-5619 email@example.com
Quote of the Week:
It is one of the capital tragedies of youth--and youth is a time of tragedy--that the young are thrown mainly with adults they do not quite respect. -- H. L. Mencken