Pee Mak Phrakanong and the changing script of love


This banner sum up everything about the movie… almost.

Movie Info
Title: Pee Mak Phrakanong
Media Type: Movie
Genre: Horror, drama, romance, comedy

Warning: Spoiler-y review… again.

Is there such thing as a movie that deserves to be written about twice? Apparently, there is.

That is because the first time I wrote about Pee Mak Phrakanong, I hadn’t watch the movie yet. The excitement from Thailand, however, was too palpable to ignore, and I devoured all the material there was at the time. The movie turns out to be the highest grossing movie ever in Thailand. While the intentional audience is teenagers and young adults, the movie found fans from all demographic. Let’s just say nobody could have predicted the success of the movie, and I don’t think anybody really understand what happened either.

Part of it was probably luck. Pee Mak came out the same time as Khu Kam, both being beloved stories in the country, so the cinema goers were probably only weighting between these two movies despite having others on show. And more tightly focused the interest is, the more likely it is that either of them got selected rather than, say, G. I. Joe. Moreover, Pee Mak was marketed as romantic-horror-comedy. For people who were stressed out all week, this sounded like a better option than a romantic-tragedy that Khu Kam is.

That being said, the success of the movie didn’t just come from luck. The movie itself is actually pretty good. It is bold in the way it takes a much beloved horror folktale and put a spin to it. What I didn’t expect, though, is how bold it is in the way it discusses love.

Both Khu Kam and Pee Mak are about love. Khu Kam is about a patriotic young woman who becomes involved, unwillingly at first, with a Japanese soldier during Japan occupation of Thailand in WWII. The original novel is a classic in the way it discusses the conflict of the nation and the heart, but it also uses a very particular script for romantic relationship. The girl plays coy about what she thinks or feels and pushes the guy away, making him chase after her like they are playing catch in a forest in a Bollywood movie (cue to the Bollywood music here). In Khu Kam, it is justified because he is an enemy and she was involved with another person before she met him. Still, that script is so old and so overused (The Cather in the Rye anybody?). Sure, there are people whose relationship still follows that script, but the question is how many of us really thinks that is the way to go in this day and age.

Mae Nak, the original story of Pee Mak, uses a script for different stage in the relationship. Mak and Nak are already married when Mak has to go to war and leaves his pregnant wife behind. Nak waits for his return day and night even after she died while giving birth and scared off people who see an apparition of a woman standing on a pier holding a baby in her arms.

Nak, despite being a scary ghost, is always thought of as the symbol of everlasting love. She waits for Mak even when she’s dead. She cares for him when he is back injured. But that love is a selfish kind of love, the one that will not let go even when that love hurts both of them. In the folktale, Nak has to kill people to shut them up, so she can maintain the illusion of a happy family for her husband. Being under Nak’s spell, Mak becomes isolated from the community due to them being threatened by his wife. When the illusion is broken, Mak is overcome with fear and flee to get help so he can be free from Nak.

I have always thought that Mak is a Mary Sue in the story; i.e., that he is a character that does not actually have a character. He reacts to knowing that Nak is a ghost like he has no previous history with her whatsoever. He is also highly objectified, like a trophy that Nak has to keep to make her life complete. And that is a script used for a long, long time since before classic Disney animation came along with their highly objectified princes.

What I like about Pee Mak is that it puts character into Mak. The movie isn’t his story precisely, more of his friends’ watching Mak and Nak together and deciding how to interfere in what is potentially a fatal relationship. I think Banjong Pisanthanakun’s genius is in knowing that his audience has a preconceived notion of the story. But instead of catering to it, he runs with it. Since the beginning, he investigates the detail of the story and turns to question our understanding of it. Is Nak really dead or did something happened that people in the village treated her as an outcast? Did she really kill any of the villagers or was the death a false attribution? Is Nak the one who is dead? It is a pleasant surprise to find a horror movie that is cerebral while making us snicker along with its slapstick jokes.

To me, the biggest punch line comes at the end when Mak is dragged along with his friends to escape Nak who, by then, already shows herself as a ghost. Unlike previous incarnations, he doesn’t run from her right away and seemingly unable to comprehend that she is a ghost. I think that is a more realistic reaction than running for the hills since he wouldn’t really be able to reconcile his loving and seemingly alive wife with a spirit that easily. He still cares about her and does not want her to get hurt but at the same time being absolutely scared and can’t really look at her without crying like a baby. And Nak is scary at that point. She is furious that people destroys her chance at a happy family and now taking Mak away from her. She goes after him, but that is where the parallel to the folklore ends.

And that is about where Banjong challenges the previous script of a romantic relationship.

In the old script, Nak looks as Mak as her object of affection and would do anything to keep him with her. When he runs, she hunts him down despite knowing that she scares the living day light out of him. It is a very unbalanced, unthoughtful relationship. In this version, Nak stops when Mak faces her in tears. Even in the height of her anger, he is not an object to her but a person she deeply cares about. So, without the prompting from the monk she needed in the folklore, she decides to let him go and move on, only to be told by her sobbing husband to stay put and let him talk.

That is when I realize how much more balanced their relationship is in this movie. Mak doesn’t see his dead wife as a scary ghost but as a woman he fell in love with and married to. And he is right, because she is still as intelligent and self-aware as she was when she was alive. She is just able to extend her arms and defy gravity now, which scares him because those are not normal, but doesn’t change who she is to him at all. Mak’s confession that he has known for a while that she’s dead serves as a great tearjerker because we have seen throughout the movie how he tries to keep the status quo without even realizing what he is doing. This Mak might not be the macho soldier like in other incarnations, but he is definitely the strongest in his willingness to fight against social convention for what is important to him.

Okay, guys. Stop being adorable together already. Like, seriously.

And I think that reflects a lot of how we see love in this day and age. Before this, the ideal love has to fit the social convention and the underlying script of a romantic relationship. The ideal love in Pee Mak is more about being thoughtful to one another, which is itself a new kind of script but a much more flexible one. The end credit scenes from Pee Mak also hint at what thoughtful love can do in a larger context. When Mak is able to get over the fact that his wife is no longer human, he starts to appreciate her and even be proud of her for what she is. Nak walking the ceiling to fix the leaks while Mak chats away with the monk is one of the more adorable moments in the movie and also shows that accepting the differences is a source of power not decline. Mak’s openness is also infectious to his friends who witness their exchange and come to accept Nak as well. Of course, it is not that the whole village is suddenly 100% okay with a ghost living among them. She is still ‘the Other’, the outcast, and their love is viewed as ‘unnatural’ because it doesn’t fit the usual boundary of love. However, the movie doesn’t portray Nak as the tragic heroine who fights for and loses love but acknowledge her as having the right to love and happiness like anyone else. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie that touches on marriage equality in such a powerful and convincing way. That is, of course, if anybody reads that much into it as I do, although I don’t think the message is subtle at all.

I like to think that if money can vote, the grossing of this movie shows that the people of Thailand is ready to acknowledge the right to love.


Silver Diamond: Divine Providence vs. Human’s Willpower

Shiho Sugiura's

Rakan Sawa and Chigusa Senrou in their best surrounding: flowers.

Manga Info
Title: Silver Diamond
Author/Creator: Shiho Sugiura
Media Type: Manga
Genre: Fantasy, drama

Warning: Major spoiler for Silver Diamond, especially for the story of Chigusa Senrou. I recommend not reading this if you are a fan but haven’t already discovered who or what Chigusa is. If you have, you’ll probably already know the rest of the stuffs mention here.

Also a lot of babbling, just so you know.

Honestly, I had a really hard time trying to figure out what to write about Silver Diamond. Should I write about the purpose of life? Should I write about conflict resolution and reconciliation? Should I write about fideism and humanism? Should I discuss evolution and intellectual design? Or should it be about soul, self, and free will?

My biggest problem is that Silver Diamond is all that and then some. Choosing to talk about one of them seems like a disservice to this long, complex, and exposition-ridden manga. The series didn’t start out that way, though. The first few volumes is pretty simple, like the start of any alternative universe story. The protagonist is somehow sent to an another world or another time and becomes somewhat of a savior to that world. This plot device is used over and over in so many manga and anime from the shojo side (e.g., Fushigi Yugi, Magic Knight Rayearth) to the shonen side (e.g., Inuyasha, Escaflowne). It is even prevailing in literatures (e.g., Narnia, The Neverending Story, Neverwhere, The Wizard of Oz). Surely, Silver Diamond isn’t different, is it?

Well, yes and no. If you say the devil is in the detail, you would be absolutely right.

Silver Diamond tells a story of a seventeen-year-old Rakan Sawa, a Japanese highschool student who lives alone after his family, his mother and grandfather, passed away. People in his community know him as a temperate and polite young man who lives virtuously and earnestly. Girls in his school and other schools in the area know him as a somewhat aloof cutie who looks his best with a bouquet of beautiful flowers he picks from his garden. He isn’t the school’s sport star or an outsider, just a normal school boy getting on with his life.

That is, until a man by the name Chigusa Senrou appears out of nowhere in his garden and point a strange looking gun at his face.

Chigusa is a rebel and an outcast who is ousted from his world after he tries to assassinate the Prince who, by the way, have the same face as Rakan. After they establish that Rakan is definitely not the Prince and that Chigusa is definitely in the wrong universe, they sit down and have a chat over a home-cooked dinner like civilized people.

Chigusa’s adventure with Rakan in the strange new world that is ours is hilarious, awkward, and adorable. At first, Chigusa’s behavior seems to be because the two worlds are very different down to how life operates. If you say Chigusa is a humanoid alien, it wouldn’t be too far off. However, once two more newcomers from that world arrive in Rakan’s garden, both of whom are clearly human, it is pretty obvious that even by that world’s standard Chigusa is an outlier.

Actually, he is called a monster, a man born to a clan that brings death and destruction to people in that world. Chigusa’s awkwardness isn’t only because his world is vastly different from ours, but he is physically and mentally different as well. His body contains cells of plants that help him heal quickly when he is injured, so he does not feel pain and he cannot die. His emotional response is limited to a small smile when he is content and a serious face when concentrating. Chigusa has only twelve years worth of memory when he looks as if he has reached his thirties, all of which he spent alone, so he barely knows how to interact with people around him without being a creep.

Knowing Rakan and being treated like a human being for the first time starts Chigusa’s growth as a person. And that is not exactly a one-way street. Rakan, by knowing Chigusa, discovers many things about himself. First, he discovers that he actually has something of a superpower. He is what people in Chigusa’s world called a Sanome (pronounced saa-no-may), the tree-growers, a precious being in a world that largely consisted of deserts. Having Chigusa helping out around the house also reminds Rakan of the loneliness that he refuses to acknowledge since his mother and grandfather died. Upon learning of the situation in Chigusa’s world and having that view confirmed by actually coming face to face with the Prince himself, Rakan is forced to accept his desire to leave his normal life behind and agree to help save Chigusa’s world.

So, unlike a lot of protagonists in this subgenre who are sent to the other world by accident, Rakan goes with Chigusa to his world voluntarily although probably with less thought given than someone who is going to switch universe should have. But Rakan is nothing if not optimistic. His can-do attitude and innate curiosity allow Rakan to survive and thrive in the strange new world. Not to mention that his honesty, earnestness, and exceptional empathy make it impossible for people to distrust or dislike him even though he is clearly different from them.

The most distinct characteristic of Rakan is his humanistic belief. In Chigusa’s world, there is an undertone of belief in universal order or divine providence. People don’t seem to have a strong belief in an omnipotent god that is a separate being from the universe, but rather the universe is god. When they use the word god, it is often used as somewhat of a synonym to divinity. The Prince is dubbed ‘the Child of God’ with his ability to prophesize and miraculously heal or save his believers, but, unlike religious figures in our history, he commands faith to himself and not to other supernatural beings.

Is it possible, though, for a medieval kind of understanding to have no strong belief in the existence of a god as a conscious entity but still have the belief in a divine providence? I think it derives largely from a view in East Asia that the universe has its own order separated from any supernatural beings and without any kind of conscious intention. One can say there is no omnipotent god in that system since nothing can disrupt the universal order. Since the Chigusa’s world is somewhat of a East Asian medieval fantasy written by a Japanese manga writer, I think it is safe to say that the view is translated into the story as well.

We only need to turn to the creatures in that world to see the presence of universal order. Aside from humans and Sanome, there are giant serpents trapped in rocks fed with human sacrifices that become rivers once they die. There are plants that can perform certain functions like providing shelters, keeping time of day, digging wells, or turn into weapons. There are stone-eating giant animals and animal-eating stone plants. Some humans can also create creatures of stones for their own use. The most vicious of the creatures is the Ayame (pronounced aa-yaa-may), creatures of the desert who feed on plants and humans, making them wither and die.

The Prince of this world, unknown to most people, is in fact a human Ayame.

The setup in the beginning pitches Sanome against Ayame, greenery against technology, and life against death — sort of like The Lord of the Rings if you think about it. That is actually true for the first ten volumes or so until something uncanny happens. Somehow, there are creatures that are both greenery and technology, creatures that seem to combine both life and death and transcend into immortality. I wouldn’t be surprised if some readers find this development unsettling like myself since Shiho Sugiura is clearly breaking the rules she has painstakingly established for the first thousand pages.

The thing is the characters’ understanding, and by extension our understanding, of that world is flawed, like our understanding of our own world is flawed. Greenery and technology are not polar opposites, just like life and death might not be two opposite concepts either. If so, are Sanome and Ayame really nemeses or is there something else at work here?

The answer is, spoiler alert, yes, there is. The specific functions of the plants should have given it away right at the beginning but we, the readers, didn’t have enough information or the inclination to connect the dots until much later where everything is getting twisted on its head. The plants have functions because they were designed to have functions. These are living things that specifically serve the needs of human, so would it be such a shock that the world is designed for human and that there is actually a god as a separate being who is a creator in that world (although not the universe). Everything that has happened in that world for the past thousand years at least is really according to the divine providence.

Him being a god doesn’t guarantee that his providence is necessarily ‘good’, though.

The social structure, for one, is established by this god and designed to maintain the order of the world. Clans have roles and serve different functions in the larger society, much like the creatures serving larger functions in the natural world. Kingen clan, for instant, is the Mouth of God, the family guided closely by god to lead the people. However, the role of divine providence affects the culture more deeply than that. People in the clan have duties to their clan which is understandable in a desert world where resources are scarce. People prioritize their family’s survival by having parents judging the usefulness of their child at birth, a custom in which many societies in our world also followed. But since their society is very squeamish about killing their children, they give the ones with birth defects, taboo characteristics, or just unwanted numbered names. Hence born the caste of the ‘Numbered Children’, outcasts and slaves subjected to mistreatment, poverty, and starvation who are products of a pro-life belief in a world that cannot afford that belief. The ugliest part is that this caste system runs so deeply across all demographic that even when starvation isn’t an issue, children are still cast out and left to die because they cannot serve the interest of the family.

The biggest outcast in the grand scheme of things is the Senrou clan which the entire family is abhorred. Chigusa is constantly called a monster, a sinner, or a demon by people who come across him and know who he is. Of course, Chigusa as we know him is anything but a monster. He might be different, but we learn pretty quickly that he is not bad. Like ‘demons’ in East-Asian mythology, he is more chaotic than malign. The prejudice seems hasty and unjustified, and Rakan fights consistently to thwart that belief whenever it becomes an issue.

But if there is divine providence that guides this society, then the Senrou has to have a role. Chigusa thought he is meant to eradicate the Ayame as it was the only thing he remembered aside from his name when he woke up twelve years ago. But as he delves deeper, trying to regain his memory, he soon realize that something is amiss, especially after he discovers that his body also contains the cells of the Ayame. Amidst the confusion after the revelation, Chigusa’s body stops working like it used to and he knows he is about to go mad and die like every Senrou before him.

Not for the first time, though.

Okay, another big spoiler coming: there isn’t a Senrou clan. There has always been the one and the only Senrou, the Death God, sent to eradicate any potential harm to the world at large be it overpopulation or epidemics. This society, after all, places such high value on life that they would not destroy their own. But when the society decides to be virtuous at the peril of its own existence, god has to intervene, and Senrou is his hand of destruction as much as the Kingens is his hand of guidance. The prejudice of the people comes precisely from the fact that the presence of Senrou means many people are going to die and they do not understand why.

In the grand scheme of things, Senrou’s existence is a necessity. At a personal level, however, it is a catastrophe. Senrou has no way of coping the emotional consequence of the deeds he has done, a severe PTSD if you will. At the intellectual level, I think he understands the importance of his role, but that does not mean he has to like it. Being the hand of god and created by god means that he doesn’t have a choice. He is just a doll created for a single purpose. That realization is what drives Senrou to madness and suicide just to be revived and start the cycle over and over and over again.

And still, Chigusa freely admits that this god is good, that people has lived and thrived in this world because of him. The problem, Chigusa thinks, is with himself and not with god.

If that thought is not sad, I don’t know what is.

But Chigusa is right in a sense. The problem is not really with this god but with the notion that a sentient being that is created and artificial does not have rights over its body and decision, that it doesn’t have a soul so to speak. Rakan, of course, vehemently opposes this idea. To Rakan, a soul is not given but acquired through interaction with the world and experience with others that share it, again an idea that is prevailing in East Asian mythology. In Japan, there are the Tsukumogami, referring to spirits of tools or objects that have been around for so long they become self-aware. Ancient Chinese literature are full of demons, conscious beings that are born from objects or animals that exist for such a long time that they become conscious.

In a way, Rakan has been taming the demon Chigusa by teaching him empathy and the value of life in the same way that the monk Xuanzang tames Sun Wokung in Journey to the West. Wokung is a monkey demon born from a giant boulder high on a mountain. Although he has wrecked havoc on earth, heaven, and the underworld, Wukong is always treated as an individual with personality and needs by everyone he encounters including the gods. Chigusa never was, not even by his own creator. To say Rakan is pissed with this god would put it rather mildly.

So, as the story goes on, Silver Diamond becomes a tale about the battle between two belief systems. It pitches the belief in the individual against the belief in the divine and the belief in willpower against the universal order. Rakan’s enemy is no longer the Prince, but the idea that the individual is defined by their duties in the grand scheme of things rather than who they are as a person. And if Rakan has to take down god, the greatest offender there is, then he is going to do it.

And it is pretty clear which side of this argument Sugiura is in. She has been, since her first long-running fantasy series The Ice-cold Demon’s Tale, a believer in the potential of individuals and our ability to control what we become. Chigusa might start out being no better than the Terminator, but he comes to understand beauty, compassion, and sadness. He learns to see people for more than their functions and capabilities. Although the understanding of what it is to be human coupled with returning memories might have been the trigger to his deterioration, he is able to fight against his conditioning to become more than what he was designed and be free from his creator, like Wokung’s going from being a demon to being a god.

I can gush over Chigusa’s evolution for a long while, but I should point out Rakan’s role in this. Rakan’s persistent belief that Chigusa is good and that he is a person worthy of a sincere connection is what allows Chigusa to bear the burden of his memories as they return in full. Rakan is also a great inspiration for Chigusa. Rakan objects god for Chigusa. He is firm in his belief but never tries to impose them on others. Rakan gives his time and energy freely and sincerely and takes great satisfactory in helping others. I think over time Rakan becomes Chigusa’s reference to what being ‘good’ really is instead of an idea of a benevolent god.

That is all good and dandy if not for the fact that this development is pretty one-sided between Rakan and Chigusa. Rakan doesn’t change in a dramatic way that Chigusa does. He is so well-balanced and level-headed that usually he can always sort things out himself. Up until volume 19, I haven’t seen Rakan really struggle emotionally yet aside from when Chigusa is dying. And that is boring from a reader’s perspective. Call me a sadist, but even Ishuca, the most level-headed character in The Ice-cold Demon’s Tale, has his fair share of emotional turmoil and self-discovery. What makes Ice-cold very compelling is that no one in the story is static despite the humongous cast. With Silver Diamond, I have a feeling that most characters are static with only a few that actually show any growth.

The problem might be that Sugiura tries to grapple with too many big ideas in Silver Diamond that she doesn’t have the chance to really develop her characters in the way she did in Ice-cold. Since she ends this series at volume 27, there is still some space for Rakan’s character arc. Rakan still has to face his evil twin the Prince although the objective of his quest has been changed. There are also many unanswered questions like what role does the Ayame have in that world, what role really is of the Prince in the divine providence, who is Rakan’s father, can the world be saved, and is this god redeemable. Hopefully, in the process of getting those answers, we will get to see Rakan grows as a character as well.

It’s not that I don’t like Rakan as he is. I love both him and Chigusa dearly. I love the ideas he is behind like compassion, collaboration, respect, and empathy; I just can’t quite connect with him. I really want to see what is at stake personally for Rakan aside from his firmly held belief in a world where the living creatures choose their own fate, or what would it be for him to have that very belief challenged. After all, the free-world shaped by the individuals for the individuals is not guaranteed to be any better than the old one if it means overpopulation and fatal conflicts. The kind of willpower require to change that is enormous, but if there is anybody who is going to do it, it is Rakan. I am really looking forward to how the story in the last 8 volumes is going to play out. From what I know of Sugiura’s style, it is most likely a happy ending all around, but then the devil is always in the detail, isn’t it?

I Buried My Love in a Tomb

This poem (I guess it’s a poem) actually comes from a character I’ve been working on for the past couple of months. It’s not inspired by him so much as he wrote it himself, which is a bit creepy, but I guess there is a first time for everything.

‘I Buried My Love In A Tomb’

Because you were so beautiful,
I don’t know how I could’ve forgotten you,
Trapped and buried deep in my memory
Enclosed in a tomb.

I did not intend to dig you up today.
It is too late, I know. The light has been long out,
And you aren’t lying there anymore
Where I last left you.

Now you are simply a ghost,
As I am definitely to many other.
As I lie in your empty grave, I wonder
If I belong here.

I’d love to know whose painting this is.

Of Narrative and Fact

When I tell people I do science as my day job and creative writing as a hobby, the reaction is usually of dismay. And that’s understandable. Science is about facts, hard-earned data, equations, and numbers. Creative writing is about telling stories, emotionalizing them, and, most distinctively, making things up. A creative pursuit like fiction writing doesn’t seem compatible with the dry, confusing facts of science.

While I believe that science is as much a creative pursuit as any form of art, I have to admit that in this case the observation is right, sort of, but not in the way you’re probably thinking.

I believe that the fundamental mode of human communication is always telling of stories. I believe that when scientific textbooks fail, it is because they are so focused on the facts that they lose the readers in the complexity of those facts. The exercise in creative writing is an exercise in telling stories and a space to learn how stories affect readers. By knowing how to tell stories, we can communicate facts better, right?

I went to Royal Ontario Museum a while back and it got me thinking a bit about narratives and facts. It seems to me that every museum old enough to have extensive collection of historical artifacts display them similarly: group them according to the culture they belong and label every single piece with a tag. Those artifacts are bullet points, pieces of history, facts. They are scattered and disconnected and never enough to give anybody a good idea about the culture they came from or the people behind them.

Where is the man behind the mask?
Where is the man behind the mask?

On the other hand, recent exhibitions display artifacts sparingly but with great details about the people, the culture, the lives they lived. Those exhibitions made a lot more sense and encourage people to reflect on the diversity of ideas and their manifestations. These exhibitions are narratives. They don’t have all the (arti)facts, but they have enough to make you understand.

Or do they?

The problem with telling a story is that you can only ever tell it from one point of view. If you’re lucky, you might be able to fit in a few more perspectives, but that is about it. A story needs a POV regardless of whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, whether it’s based on true story or is completely made up. Having a POV restricts the facts that are used to support it. Stories can really be compelling and true, but it can’t be the truth. The truth is always too large for a POV to contain. The only thing that ever contains the truth are the large extensive collection of facts.

The problem with facts are that they are so dry and often seemingly irrelevant. Facts require so much time to absorb, digest, and connect. Facts don’t appeal to the mind because they lack emotion and context. Hence, facts become the playground of the specialized and not so much of the general population.

And that is okay. There are millions of bullet points about our world, our population, and our knowledge that are probably of no use to me, and I am okay not knowing them. What we need is an honest way to get to understand the things that matters, probably in narrative form, so we have an idea of what is going on around us.

The key word is honest. Considering that every person wielding pens and papers, tablets, and everything that can put thoughts to words have their own beliefs and agendas, there is a good chance that the narratives are in some way dishonest. I am not saying journalists are not honest people, they are, but their POV’s and needs will distort the stories no matter how much they try to keep the facts straight.

That is why we have disproportionately sensationalized stories in the news, documentaries, political statements, and history books (not all of them, of course, thank goodness). That is why sometimes the things that needed attention most are not recognized. We are hardwired for good stories not important ones, and it is often hard to distinguish between the two. And that is probably why I like fiction so much. Because no matter how good the stories are, they are honest in their dishonesty. They don’t pretend to matter where they do not. That creates a refreshing level of truthfulness that I feel non-fiction writings sometimes lack.

While I think non-fictions are pretty much doomed to incompleteness, I don’t think it is necessary a bad thing especially in this time and age. Stories have limitations, sure, but facts are out there and we can find them. We just need to remember that they are the ones that are true, narratives not so much. And if the facts can’t form a single coherent narrative, it is just how it is.

Shinji Ikari Must Die (But Not for the Reason You’re Probably Thinking)

This post from Vrai is probably one of the most insightful analysis of the psychology and plight of Shinji Ikari, both in NGE series and the Rebuild movies, I have found so far. I haven’t watched the three Rebuild movies yet as I am waiting for the Forth movie to come out before I invest my time, emotion, and energy into analyzing what Hideaki Anno has done. If you know this man and NGE, you’ll know that NOTHING can be taken at face-value, so I want to see the whole thing first before making any conclusion. I’m only sure that it is going to be an emotional and intellectual mind-f like you wouldn’t believe.

But before the day of the apocalypse comes to pass, let’s get into the head of the infamous protagonist.

Fashionable Tinfoil accessories

It would seem that the Rebuild of Evangelion is determined to be a mirror reflection of its parent series. Now, I know what you’re saying. ‘An action packed, visually impressive series that builds up traditional expectations only to blindside the audience three quarters of the way through with depression and subversions? I’m not even sure whether you’re describing Evangelion or Rebuild!’ And after a fashion, you’d be right. Like the Mirror verse Spock, it can be pretty hard to differentiate until you hit upon the obvious beard of thematic difference (and isn’t that a muddled simile). As the lead in might suggest, be aware of spoilers for 3.0 and beyond.


Well, this will be interesting

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โพสต์นี้เป็นแบบฝึกหัดเพื่อให้มองโลกในหลายมิติและไม่กล่าวโทษผู้คนด้วยข้อหาใดๆ(โดยเฉพาะข้อหาที่กว้าง ไม่มีความหมาย และไม่สร้างสรรค์ เช่น’โง่’หรือ’เลว’) อย่างง่ายดายจนเกินไป ไว้สำหรับแก้อาการเส้นขาดง่ายในช่วงการประท้วงอันรุ่มร้อนและเต็มไปด้วยผู้คนที่ทำให้เราคันปากคันเท้าในหลายๆที โพสต์นี้ไม่ได้พยายามบอกว่าสิ่งนี่คือสิ่งที่เกิดขึ้น เป็นเพียงการมองโลกในมุมหนึ่งเท่านั้น

ข้อกำหนดที่เราให้ตัวเองคือให้เริ่มด้วยการขอบคุณต่อสิ่งที่เค้าทำหรือเป็น ซึ่งยากกว่าที่คิดในบางที แล้วตามด้วยสิ่งที่เราอยากให้เค้าทำต่างออกไปบอกกล่าวอย่างเพื่อนต่อเพื่อน



สำหรับคนที่ทำงาน จะบอกว่าขอบคุณที่พยายามทำให้ชีวิตไม่ชะงักงันและเศรษฐกิจรวมทั้งชีวิตของคนอื่นๆยังดำเนินต่อไปได้ ขอบคุณที่ทำหน้าที่ของท่านต่อเพื่อนร่วมประเทศอย่างแข็งขัน ทราบว่าพวกท่านก็มีจุดยืนของตนเองที่ตอนนี้อาจยังไม่ได้แสดงออกแต่อยากแสดงออก ขอให้ระลึกว่าการเดินขบวนไม่ใช่ทางเดียว อินเตอร์เน็ตก็ไม่ใช่ทางเดียว เราเชื่อว่าท่านสามารถหาทางได้

สำหรับคนที่ไปม็อบ ขอบคุณที่แสดงพลังเพื่อให้ผู้อื่นได้ทราบจุดยืนของท่าน หลายคนบอกม็อบวุ่นวาย แต่ม็อบเป็นสิ่งจำเป็นเมื่อระบบเพิกเฉยต่อผู้คน แต่ให้ระลึกไว้ว่าระบบของประเทศไทยล้มเหลวเกินกว่าที่เพียงการแสดงออกจะแก้ปัญหาได้ ท่านได้พบผู้คนมากมาย อย่าฟังแต่แกนนำ เขาเป็นแค่คนๆเดียว อย่าเพียงบุกยึดสถานที่เพราะอย่างมากท่านก็แค่สร้างความเดือดร้อนต่อผู้คนที่พยายามดำเนินชีวิตต่อไปเท่านั้น หันไปคุยกันคนข้างๆท่าน เริ่มการสนทนาว่าพวกท่านเห็นสถานการณ์นี้อย่างไร รอบข้างอาจเร้าร้อน แต่ขอให้ท่านใจเย็น ท่านได้แสดงแล้วว่าท่านต้องการการเปลี่ยนแปลง สิ่งที่รัฐบาลอาจแก้ปัญหาให้ท่านไม่ได้ แต่ท่านอาจจะสามารถทำอะไรมากกว่าแค่ประท้วงก็เป็นได้

สำหรับทหารตำรวจ ขอบคุณที่ทำหน้าที่เพื่อควบคุมความวุ่นวายไม่ให้บานปลาย เรารู้ว่าท่านไม่อยากอยู่ที่นั่น ท่านอยู่ในฐานะลำบากเพราะหน้าที่อาจทำให้ท่านเสียหายทั้งขึ้นทั้งล่อง ถ้ายิงก็เป็นผู้ร้าย ถ้าไม่ยิงก็อาจเป็นการขัดคำสั่งหรือโดนทำร้าย เราเพียงขอให้ท่านและผู้บังคับบัญชาของท่านอย่าตกเป็นเหยื่อการยุยง อย่าพลั้งเผลอ สติคือเพื่อนของท่าน ในหลายครั้งสถานการณ์ไม่ให้ทางเลือกท่านมากนักแต่ของให้เลือกสิ่งที่รุนแรงน้อยที่สุดเสียหายน้อยที่สุด ท่านอาจไม่มีทางเป็นพระเอกได้แต่ขอให้รู้ว่ามีคนที่เข้าใจความซับซ้อนของสถานการณ์และพร้อมจะเข้าใจท่านอยู่

สำหรับนักการเมือง ขอบคุณที่พยายามให้ระบบการเมืองยังคงดำเนินต่อไปแม้จะชัดเจนแล้วว่าระบบนั้นล้มเหลวและตัวท่านเองก็ล้มเหลวในการดึงเสียงของประชาชนเข้าสู่กระบวนการที่มากกว่าแค่การออกนโยบายประชานิยม แต่ในความล้มเหลวท่านได้แสดงแล้วว่าอำนาจนั้นแท้จริงอยู่ที่ประชาชน เมื่อประชาชนพร้อมจะเป็นเจ้าของประเทศและเป็นผู้ใหญ่ในการตัดสินใจและการใช้อารมณ์เท่านั้นที่ระบบจะไปต่อได้ และมันชัดเจนว่าเรายังไม่ถึงจุดนั้น ขอให้เข้าใจว่าท่านต้องเปลี่ยนทัศนคติและวิธีการดำเนินงานเดิมๆทิ้งไปโดยเร็วเพื่อเอื้ออำนวยให้ประชาชนสามารถดูแลประเทศของตนเองได้ เรารู้ว่าหน้าที่นี้ลำบาก เราจักขอบคุณมากหากท่านพร้อมจะรับหน้าที่นี้

ท้ายที่สุดนี้ขอให้ทุกคนนึกถึงเสมอว่าไม่ว่าสิ่งใดจะเกิดขึ้น มันไม่ได้เกิดขึ้นเพียงเพราะใครบางดีหรือเลว หรือเพียงเพราะรัฐบาลผิดพลาด ปัญหานั้นซับซ้อน หนทางแก้ปัญหาก็เช่นกัน อย่ายอมต่อความต้องการจะเข้าใจปัญหานี้อย่างง่ายๆ อย่ายอมต่อความต้องการจะชึ้นิ้วเอาผิดใครคนใดคนหนึ่ง อย่ายอมต่อความต้องการจะให้มันจบอย่างรวดเร็ว อย่ายินยอมต่อการแก้ปัญหาฉาบฉวย หนทางเรียนรู้ของเรายังยาวไกล และเราต้องเข้าใจว่ามันจำเป็น

Pacific Rim as a celebration of nerds

Let's take a moment to appreciate the awesomeness of those robot and Mako Mori.

Let’s take a moment to appreciate the awesomeness of those robots and our darling Mako Mori.

Movie Info
Title: Pacific Rim
Author/Creator: Guillermo del Toro (director, screenplay co-writer)
Media Type: Movie
Genre: Sci-fi, action

Warning: Potential spoiler. Proceed at own risk.

I got a chance to watch Pacific Rim in cinema recently, mostly to celebrate part of my childhood but partly out of curiosity of what del Toro might have done to one of my once favorite past time — by which I mean the genre not that I owned any robot, fought any monster, or owned their figurine… Okay, I might have had a Godzilla toy, satisfied?

In general, Pacific Rim did okay. The storyline isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. Our protagonist, Raleigh Becket, is psychologically wounded by the lost of his brother on one of their missions to stop the monsters, the Kaijus (nice nod right there, Mr. del Toro). He lives many years as a construction worker in Alaska until he is recruited back to be a part of the last stand against the Kaijus. There he pairs up with a young recruit, Mako Mori, to pilot a giant robot, or Jaeger, and tries one last time to ‘cancel the apocalypse’.

The story of Pacific Rim is dense, too dense for a two-hours film in fact, but very rich and vibrant. I would love to see this story as a series rather than a movie so to make justice to all the characters and intricate detail del Toro has created for this universe. Unfortunately, the complexity is the movie’s biggest problem. If its purpose is to intrigue, then it has done its job superbly. I am properly intrigued by every being in the film be it the Kaijus, the Jaegers — okay, especially the Jaegers — the pilots, and just how this world comes to be what it is in the movie. But Pacific Rim doesn’t quite satisfy that intrigue. The script for Raleigh is pretty sloppy. I get that he is an uncomplicated character, which is good for this already complicated world, but the script just doesn’t convey his internal life as well as it did other characters like Stacker Pentecost or Herc Hansen, his commanding officers. But because of the attention given to complexity of the story, I don’t feel offended by the sloppy parts of the scripts as much as I usually do with blockbuster movies. The writers just bit off more than they can chew not that they are particularly sloppy. I just feel… sad, mostly, because it has so much potential that isn’t fully explored.

That is not to say I don’t like Raleigh. He is a good guy. He might be insubordinate, nosy, and a bit annoying at times, but he isn’t a jerk like Herc’s son Chuck. A part of him is almost like a regency gentleman, upholding other people’s honor and such, which is not something we celebrate in the media quite enough in my opinion. I also like Mako who isn’t either femme fatale or damsel-in-distress. She is just a young Asian woman on a mission. I stress the word Asian not to emphasize her ethnic background but for the fact that she behaves according to the Asian values which she was raised in. This is a commendable attempt at true multiculturalism that I don’t think a lot of films that try to be multicultural do very often or very well. I like how del Toro intentionally clashes her value with Raleigh’s in one scene, although, unfortunately, it isn’t as satisfying as I would have liked.

But is Pacific Rim all unsatisfying executions of very awesome concepts? Not really. There is a very good part in the film that stands out even with the grand spectacles of the Jaegers and Kaijus going at each other.

It is the nerds: Kaiju biologist Newton “Newt” Geiszler, and theoretical physicist (at least I think he is) Hermann Gottlieb.

Newton Geiszler, the hipster nerd. Let's spend a moment to appreciate that tattoo.

Newton Geiszler, the hipster nerd. Let’s spend a moment to appreciate that tattoo.

Hermann Gottlieb, stereotypical nerd who talks a mile a second.

Hermann Gottlieb, stereotypical nerd who talks a mile a second.

… Okay, it’s mostly Newt and to a lesser extend Hermann. Sorry, Hermann.

Some people say they are too cartoony, too over the top for being scientists. But as a scientist, I think I can safely say those opinions comes from people’s expectation of what being a scientist is like: dry and uninteresting. And let’s be honest, most people don’t get science. They are intrigue by it and its products, A.K.A. technologies, but they are equally intimidated by it which I think is the doing of science education in the system rather than anything else. There is glass wall between the scientific community and the general public which, as usual, leads to stereotyping based on people’s perception of the subject. Scientists are perceived as dry because they deal mostly with dry stuffs like facts, theories, calculation, and experiments which require a lot of time to study and are not generally consider as fun. It is unavoidable that people would picture scientists as nerds with huge glasses who are socially awkward (in other words, not in their social group), talk funny (not behaving according to their social group), and just no fun (because science isn’t for them).

I will say now that while there are people like that doing science, that stereotype is just not true no matter what The Big Bang Theory makes you believe.

A scientist is just someone who absolutely geeks out about science so much that they want to spend their lives just geek out about it. If they don’t party as much, let’s just say that they have something more interesting to attend to.

And I think nerds in general are like that. There is just something they love so much they are okay spending time doing it than watching reality TV, or partying with so much people they don’t even know, or keeping up with the Kardashians, or whatever people who think they are not nerds or geeks do. It is called prioritizing and not necessary anti-social behaviour. Although, if they start to not make sense when they talk, you might want to make them sleep or watch international news for a while just to get their perspective straight.

I like Newt and Hermann in Pacific Rim because of their unhinged, unconcealed enthusiasm. They are both eccentric because they just don’t care what other people think about them personally. They are both extremely passionate about their work not because it might prevent world’s end but because they simply enjoy doing it. And only about their work would they care about criticism especially from each other. That is why they collide spectacularly on screen but at the same time they are destined to be best friends. Hermann is all hard math, simulations, fast talk, and cutting remarks. He likes things neat and safe and is a bit aloof like what people think stereotypical nerds are. Newt is all specimens, experiments, hand-on data, and witty comments. Newt can deal with risky and complicated stuffs like mind-melding with Kaiju’s brain and dealing with Hong Kong mafia. He is a hipster nerd, but he is still socially awkward at times because he tends to forget that his love, the Kaijus, that he couldn’t quite stop babbling about have killed people, lots of them.

Those would probably be just character’s quirk in other movies because, at the end of it, the action hero is the one who runs the show and nerds are generally in a supporting role away from limelight. But that is not exactly true in Pacific Rim. While Raleigh and Mako struggles to get their Jaeger going, Newt has been sent to secure more Kaiju brain for his experiment. That part of the movie turns into an arc of its own. Newt is tested all around. First, he is shaken by the mind-meld experiment that nearly kills him. Then, he is intimidated by the mafia, frightened into shock by an encounter with a Kaiju, frightened again by another short but terrifying encounter with another Kaiju, but Newt is relentless. He is terribly afraid, sure, but he is there for something, and he will get it no matter what.

His crazy dedication to his work earns him the respect and friendship from Hermann who, up to that point, never openly admit the sentiment. Together they manage to obtain necessary information for the mission and effectively help save the world without having to get on a Jaeger themselves. Oh, beautiful, nerdy friendship.

To me, they have stolen the show from Raleigh before Stacker and Mako steal it again in the later part which is sort of unfair to Raleigh since he is supposed to be the hero of the film. And Raleigh is a secret nerd, too. He basically drools over his Jeager inside and out and is totally a Mako fanboy (yes, the fans’ Raleigh the golden-retriever meme is 100% accurate where Mako is concerned). I find it pretty cool that del Toro creates a leading man who is super enthusiastic about the thing he does and not just consistently being cool for the girl he has his eyes on, but he falls flat in front of Newton’s much better story arc. There are times when I wonder why don’t they just make Newt the leading man when he is so obviously better written than Raleigh, funnier as a character, and his story arc much more inspiring, intense, and personal. Pacific Rim could have been about two nerdy scientists having to find a way to work together despite their differences and defeat the unbeatable, and I don’t think it is going to be too different from the Pacific Rim we’ve seen, just a bit more focused and a lot nerdier.

Considering that del Toro is pretty nerdy himself, I don’t think he would mind going in that direction so much.

But ultimately Pacific Rim is about giant robots, so the climax has to be about the pilots of the giant robots going on one last mission to defeat the Kaijuu for good. I think this is where the many vaguely connected pieces come together. The success of this mission is not solely because of Newt’s experiment, or Hermann’s calculations, or the Jaegers’ pilots awesome fighting skills, or Raleigh and Mako being great partners, it’s all of that put together. It is about coming together, respecting each other, doing their respective parts, and making something spectacular happen. I think that is the beauty of this movie. I don’t think we have seen an emphasize on collaboration quite enough on screen, and I am going to blame it mostly on the format. Movies have very limited time, three hours the longest, so only one story can ever be effectively told. Pacific Rim with its amazing vision and complex storyline could have done so much better using another format that allows us to explore, expand, and connect to those pieces. It can be a franchise that rivals other sci-fi franchises if someone gives it a try.

Now to the last big question, did del Toro do justice to the Kaiju movies of old? Well, classic Kaijus are allegories for something that is too big for human, an impending doom that is too much for any single one of us to counter alone. The original Godzilla (not the American one) is the metaphor for nuclear power, mostly for its misuse after the Second World War, but Godzilla is not the villain. On occasions, Godzilla has fought alongside human in order to protect Earth from doom-bearing space Kaijus. The stories in Kaiju movies are about fighting that impending doom by working together with our fellow human and sometimes with something that we are afraid of. I think Pacific Rim has the spirit of collaboration in it, so I’ll have to say that del Toro did fine with this movie. I may not like the execution and I won’t label it as a good movie, but I love its heart. I have no reservation in revisiting this universe again if a sequel happens.

And better yet, make the next one about the nerds.