In the Mood for Love – A Mini Review

Saw In the Mood for Love [2] today morning. I really liked the movie, especially the tone, atmosphere and music of the film. This is an attempt at a mini review, spoilers follow.

In the Mood for Love

There’s something to be said about the color tone of the movie before I delve into the story. It’s not quite technicolor, not quite sepia, but it’s quite close to all these and somehow gives off the feeling of being “oriental” – the British Oriental/Hong Kong look. This, which is slightly exaggerated in the poster above, but nevertheless true, along with the Chinese dialogue, makes the movie feel otherwordly.

The movie is about Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow, whose families we see moving in as neighbors when the film starts. The initial scenes (and indeed much of the later ones) are deployed as cutscenes, so action never flows but in fits and starts. In one fragment we see the confusion of the move, in another a polite exchange between the couple, in another a conversation between Mr. Chow and the Mrs. Chan’s landlady, and so forth. I don’t mean to give the impression that it’s confusing – not really, but it feels like we jump directly into the meat of the tale, there’s no background or backstory.

A particularly poignant moment in the initial scenes is the depiction of a card game where both the families (and their flat owners) meet in a social setting. Accompanied to the lovely music which has the same name as the movie (I’m in the Mood for Love), we see the relationships between the people in the room move around like drift currents in the sea, changing subtly when they interact through a game. Mrs. Chow seems to linger around Mr. Chan (and gets in between Mrs. Chan and her husband) when she makes her way to her table, and Mr. Chow bows slightly to Mrs. Chan as he leaves his table – the whole scene is amazingly well woven with the tenor of the music.

Another thing to note, and this is ingenuous and crafted cleverly: never in the whole movie are the couple’s counterparts shown, we only hear their voices. This lends itself to a make-believe that Mrs. Chan and Mr. Chow are the only two people of importance around, but of course their actions revolve around what happens between their spouses. This is readily supported again by Mrs. Chow’s and Mr. Chan’s frequent absences – they often go on long trips, traveling as part of their work.

What does happen is that their spouses start an affair. This is not immediately apparent and is revealed slowly, but as the movie progresses into the first half, it becomes depressingly obvious. What happens next is what sets the movie apart – Mr. Chow invites Mrs. Chan to dinner and asks casually about her new purse. In turn, Mrs. Chan asks him about his tie. It seems their spouses have a carbon-copy of the items mentioned. A depressing silence follows and they admit to each other that their husband and wife are having an affair. What we see next is them walking back to the flat and Mr. Chow making an outrageous advance. Instead of slapping him (or as we might think, accepting it), she shrinks away and says, “My husband would never have done that!” The next flash scene shows her trying to make a coquettish advance but failing miserably. “You don’t know your wife well!” she says, and walks away from him.

They start a casual, more platonic than not acquaintance, the purpose of which is initially a mystery, until we suddenly remember the title. And yet, this is not a classic revenge-sex story, where a neglected wife has her pump primed by a neglected husband. Much later in the movie, Mr. Chow’s comments are revelatory. “I just wanted to find out how it could have started,” he says. An odd way certainly, but one in which they drift closer.

Initially they meet on the pretense of working together on a comic, and then absurd rehearsals of how their spouses might react when confronted. For Mrs. Chan, Mr. Chow becomes a shoulder to cry on, and they soon realize that what initially was just two helpless people reaching out to each other have bloomed to become love.

There are so many scenes in this movie that I remember that it’s impossible to describe them all. The couple intersecting in a crowded corridor, in a narrow alley, in the rain, together with that oh-so-impossible music – it makes for a heady experience. Noir comes to mind, but it’s more than that, sweetly-sick romantic too.

And oh the music – from the haunting title theme to the clever and bouncy Quizás, Quizás, Quizás (which reminds me of “Baabuji Dhire Chalna, Pyaar Mein Zara Sambhalna” [Aar Paar) it fits the movie perfectly in a way I’ve seen few other soundtracks do. Awesome!

The ending is bittersweet, but not entirely unexpected. There’s the cliche “Oh it could have happened another way” moment, but it’s overshadowed by the poignancy of Mrs. Chow’s heartbroken tears in the rehearsal of their parting. Wikipedia tells me this is part two of an informal trilogy. I do hope to see the other ones some time.

One quick word of appreciation to the Cochin Film Society and to @binnyva and @fsiyavud, who gives me company for these movies. A salute to kindred souls!

Safaribooksonline DRM vulnerability

There’s a bit of a DRM vulnerability in how the new m.safaribooksonline.com is implemented. Disable javascript and set your user agent to MobileSafari (very easy to do in Safari once you get the Develop menu enabled) and you can copy blocks of text from the books on your shelf. They do go to reasonable lengths to convince you not to do this though: first there’s a user agent check and second there’s a decent javascript check which measures screen width and height.

The Way Home – A Mini Review

I saw The Way Home last Sunday (again thanks to Binny), and it was a really good movie. This is an attempt at a review, and what I found most interesting.

The movie is paced slow, but I usually love slower (and good) movies, so I found it no trouble watching through it all. The slowness of the pace is however, very deliberate and seems like it serves a definite purpose – every time the grandma is shown, the movie slows down. But I’m getting ahead of myself! (As usual, spoilers ahead, so do not read if you are planning to watch!)

The Way Home is about a grandma and her grandson. Sang-woo’s mom is out of a job and she leaves her son at her grandma’s for a few months until she can return and pick him up. The kid is from the city and he finds it really difficult to adjust to his new situation. The grandmom (who cannot speak) tries her best to help. Simple premise, but extremely good execution.

The Way Home

The initial scenes of the movie where Sang-woo is intentionally cruel would’ve been tragic and hard to watch if it had come from a grown son. But somehow we immediately forgive him for he is a kid and does not understand what he’s doing. He continues in this vein, ignoring his grandmother’s efforts to please him, eating food he brought from home, abusing her at every opportunity, and not caring at all about the lengths she goes to care for him. The grandmother’s hardship is subtle and not really emphasized in this part of the movie, perhaps correlating with how Sang-woo views the scene.

Sang-woo’s belligerence and aloofness extends to the other kids too. He looks down upon them and plays a joke on an elder kid that results in him getting hurt.

The turning point comes about when he goes on a trip to buy batteries for his depleted game machine and then gets lost. A neighbor brings him home, but he’s crying, has realized that he’s helpless without an adult, and somehow starts to understand his grandmother more.

She takes him to the city to buy his favorite food in a restaurant and he watches as she spends almost her entire earnings to buy him just a single meal. She saves up money to buy him batteries, goes on a long trip in the rain (and then falls sick) to cook him “Kentucky Chicken”, makes an outhouse so that he can go to the loo without her watching, and slowly he starts to understand her sacrifices and comes to love her.

The most interesting bit of the movie for me was the point when he finally understands what his grandmother is trying to say when she rubs her hands over her chest – a frequent action during the earlier parts of the movie. She was trying to say “I’m sorry” and this releases a burst of shame in Sang-woo that culminates in him loving her a lot.

Towards the end, Sang-woo is desperate to remain in contact with his grandmom. She can’t write, so he tries to teach her to write two sentences: “I miss you” and “I’m sick”. She doesn’t seem to be able to form words, so he converts his drawing pad into endless repetitions of these two words with his address printed on the back. “Just post these”, he says and I’ll come see you.

The ending is bittersweet. We realize that Sang-woo’s experience has changed him a lot, but he still cannot hug his grandmother for fear of crying. He refuses to stare at her as his mom comes to pick him up and the bus starts up, but we see him towards the end rubbing his hand over his chest.

Why I'd like to study HCI

HCI expands to Human-Computer Interaction. Since the definition of a ‘computer’ is sufficiently blurry nowadays – the cellphone in your hand is one for example – it’s more a study of how we interact with machines, and what can be done to make that interaction simpler and more pleasant.

My first exposure to the term HCI came about a couple of years ago when I was thinking about what to do after my undergraduate life. I am a reasonably capable programmer, but I wanted to somehow commingle my interest in writing and web design with my training as an engineer (admittedly, it’s not much – four years of a Bachelor out here doesn’t count for much. The programming skills are very much a product of earlier times). So I did a Google search and somehow ended up with HCI. What I liked most was how interdisciplinary it was – everything from cognitive science to classical design and of course, computer science. I wanted to learn this because I thought it was a genuine fit: I have a good interest in every one of those topics. Of course, time will tell, but since I have a rigorous policy of zero-self-regret, I expect things would turn out good.

Another tangent is my fascination with products designed by Apple. So yes, I was the first amongst my circle of friends to own a Mac. Everywhere I went, I’ve spread the word and have seen lots of people responding to good design. But what makes good design? There is of course, Steve Job’s quote, but that’s barely a teaser. And perhaps not even the whole picture. HCI, I hope will let me learn a lot more about this. Why people respond to aesthetically pleasing well-designed applications that work with a minimum of fuss. Nowadays, I can’t sit at a Windows PC without feeling pangs of withdrawal every other minute, my stock new EeePC remains unused because Linux just doesn’t work well enough.

A third part of the equation is how forgetful and clumsy I am, and this seems to escalate around devices which do not resemble a computer. ATM machine? I’m bound to forget my card. Photocopy machine? I will forget the piece of paper inside its internals. Bikes? I’ll forget to turn on the ignition and kick-start a dead engine away to glory. However, there was this wonderful book by Don Norman that changed how I think about myself – most often, it is not my fault (or, our fault), but a problem with how things are designed – they may look good, but they fail to take into account our foibles or the way humans are wired. I probably did subscribe to Norman because it allowed me to excuse how forgetful I am (nowadays when I forget an ATM card, I blame the machine), but there is indeed a good amount of research going on into what can be done to make machines which reduce human error. So ATM machines could beep after dispatching money to alert the user that his card is still in there, photocopy machines could blink yellow to notify the user that he’s forgotten the source book or paper, and bikes could make a distinctive sound when kick-started without the ignition being turned on. Easy ways to reduce our error and frustration.

(As an aside, what I love about Apple computers is just this quality – it makes me look less stupid. Principle of Least Surprise, consistent design, allowing a user to make an error and still recover with grace …)

HCI

I’m an engineer by training and it’s in my nature to quantify things, extract scenarios and then try to explain them. In HCI, since humans are involved, the science is in-exact – much in the vein of psychology (which for some is pseudo-science) – and this presents an interesting challenge. Often, people behave in a counter-intuitive fashion, and studying these behavior and quantifying them needs an interdisciplinary bent. I think that’s what I want out of an HCI course – enough of a background in everything important so I’ll be able to think intelligently about the sort of problems I described above.

I’m joining UCLIC for an MSc. HCI this September. We’ll see what comes of that!

Okay, now a quick question: does the picture above irritate your eyes?

The Sea Inside – A Mini Review

Saw The Sea Inside today – Binny told me about a screening at the Ernakulam Public Library by the Cochin Film Society and I went to see it. Found it to be a really good experience, so here’s a mini review of the movie.

The Sea Inside

The movie is about euthanasia and how a quadriplegic man fights to make it legal for a person unable to kill himself to be helped to die. That sentence makes the film sound very dry, but it’s anything but. The man himself (Javier Bardem playing Ramón Sampedro) is astoundingly well cast, and his expressions make up for his lack of gestures, animation and movement. He’s very well taken care of by his brother’s family and it’s evident that they love him and that that love is returned. In spite of being bedridden, Ramón is active in his own way – writing poems, being visited by his friends and actively arguing his case in the court. His scenes with his lawyer and with Rosa (a local RJ who takes a fancy to him) makes for a very interesting watch – especially the one in which his lawyer asks him if he’s been kissed by a girl for the past 28 years. His pat reply (“Why, are you going to give me a demonstration?”) sets the tone for the movie.

Why this man who’s very special in his own way – who has people loving him and willing to take care of him – wants to die is what the story revolves around in the end. It is about the helplessness of a permanently bedridden man, but that theme is so subtly woven into the fabric of the story that other things take prominence. Even at the very end, the vibrant cinematography contrasts with the dreary end so that even while we feel sad, we somehow feel joyous. And I thought the end was very fitting, sad and poignant.