Minari / 미나리 (2020) – Movie Mini-Review

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 23mm, f/2.8, 1/100 sec, ISO2000
“Watching Minari” Cedar Park, 2021

Last night we watched the film Minari / 미나리. I was really looking forward to this movie because of all the glowing reviews, and although I enjoyed it, I didn’t connect with it on the level that many others did, mainly because my childhood experience was much different than any of the characters in the movie. It also makes sense because there are probably many nuances in the film that only people of Korean descent would identify with (Korea is not part of my multi-ethnic background).

I thought the family dynamic was interesting and realistic – not over-the-top, but typical of a slice-of-life story, which I enjoy. My favorite character was grandma, and I would have liked to learn more about her story. The rest of the family seemed one-dimensional compared to her. It felt like her age and history shaped her character to a greater extent and there was a lot of mystery to her motivations, whereas the others’ motivations seemed straightforward.

In short, I thought Minari was a good, but unremarkable, movie. As always, YMMV.

My rating of Minari / 미나리 is 7.5 out of 10.

Shout out to the JACL for making tickets to Minari available to members!

Mulan: Rise of a Warrior 花木蘭 (2009) – Movie Review

Today I watched the 2009 film Mulan: Rise of a Warrior / 花木蘭 starring Zhao Wei. I read some good things about this telling of the Mulan story and I like Zhao Wei so I was really looking forward to it.

The story of Mulan is one that most of us are familiar with, but in this version, the plot focuses more on her time as a general in the army, and the romance between her and a fellow soldier who also rises to become a leader. I found this spin on the story somewhat interesting, but I felt they didn’t spend enough time developing the relationship, and kind of left it to the imagination. Lots of tears were shed on-screen, but that emotion didn’t quite connect with me. I often get teary-eyed when watching movies, but not for this one.

Of course, the tale of Mulan has to have a lot of fighting in it, and this movie has its share of battle scenes, however, I was a little disappointed in the quality of them. I guess I was expecting a more epic feel along the lines of Lord of the Rings or Avengers, but that was not to be. I’m sure the budget for Mulan was only a fraction of those blockbusters, so it’s understandable. The fighting here is pretty much all live-action actors and extras as far as I could tell and nothing special or memorable in the martial arts world. It makes sense though since the focus of the story is on Mulan’s emotional struggles rather than the physical battles.

The overall look of the movie is washed-out and gloomy (in contrast to the vibrant colors of the live-action Disney version) and not pretty to look at which is kind of a bummer, because I’ve seen movies where dark and depressing can look slick, polished, and amazing, such as in Shadow 影. I’m pretty sure a touch of CGI could have given Mulan: Rise of a Warrior that extra boost visually that it needed.

On the other hand, you could say the movie had an authentic, historical feel to it (although having a white character in the opening shot was an odd choice). Contributing to the authentic feel were the costumes and armor. I loved looking at them and although I am no expert, they felt accurate to the time… as if I were looking at the real armor from a museum. The colors were muted and not flashy at all. I didn’t once feel like this aspect of the movie was unrealistic. And the clothes that the characters wore in Mulan’s rural village at the beginning of the movie seemed authentic as well. It really establishes that this isn’t a fantasy world, but part of history, even if Mulan was most likely a fictional character.

If you want to watch a wartime romance movie, Mulan: Rise of a Warrior might just be for you. Just don’t expect anything super-epic, which is a shame since the story of Mulan I think deserves that kind of scope. Still, it’s a good re-telling of the story and worth a watch.

My rating of Mulan: Rise of a Warrior is 7 out of 10.

New Kala KA-C Concert Ukulele

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 23mm, f/11, 5 sec, ISO400
“Soprano and Concert Sizes” Cedar Park, 2020

My new Kala KA-C Concert Ukulele arrived, and I couldn’t be more satisfied with it! I knew that the mahogany wood and cream binding would be the same as my Kala pineapple ukulele (which I love), but I was not expecting the metal tuning knobs to feel so nice, and the sealed gears were completely unexpected. Also, the new ukulele comes with a peg to attach a strap… a welcome surprise! I attached a fabric ribbon that I had saved from some packaging and it matches the cream-colored binding perfectly.

Like other Kala ukuleles, this one comes with Aquila Super-Nylgut strings which are good quality so I will not have to replace them. It’s fun to go through the new ukulele tuning process which can take several days as the new strings stretch out. I noticed that Kala included a note in the box to explain that it could take a few week or so to hold tune… I’m sure many ukulele beginners aren’t aware of this and might think they got a poor-quality ukulele, which isn’t the case. I bet this little note prevents many potential bad reviews or calls to customer service. 😀

Anyways, the ukulele sounds wonderful. The longer neck and more widely-spaced frets force me to stretch my fingers a bit more. With my small hands, it’s more challenging to play the concert size vs soprano size, but when I switch back to the smaller ukulele, it’s a lot easier! I suppose it’s like when baseball batters put the donut weight on their bats while warming up in the on-deck circle. When they go up to bat without the donut, the bat must feel super-light.

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 23mm, f/4, 1/25 sec, ISO800
“Soprano and Concert Sizes” Cedar Park, 2020

I knew the soprano size fits me much better, but I wanted the concert size so I could play the notes higher up on the fretboard that the the soprano ukulele’s smaller fretboard cannot provide. The sound that the concert-size ukulele is supposed to be louder and fuller, and I’m sure that’s the case, but honestly my ears can’t tell that drastic a difference between that and the smaller ukulele.

Overall, I’m very pleased with the Kala KA-C Concert Ukulele. It’s certainly an upgrade over my old Hilo brand concert ukulele, and a great addition to my ukulele collection, which is now dominated by the three Kala ukuleles.

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 23mm, f/2.8, 1/100 sec, ISO1600
“Kala Concert Ukulele” Cedar Park, 2020

Here’s a bonus photo of the cats enjoying the shape of the ukulele box:

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 23mm, f/2.8, 1/40 sec, ISO3200
“In the Boxes” Cedar Park, 2020

Last Letter / ラストレター (2020) – Movie Mini-Review

Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 19mm, f/5, 1/75 sec, ISO6400
“Last Letter” Cedar Park, 2020

I watched Shunji Iwai‘s latest movie Last Letter (ラストレター) this afternoon and loved it. I’m a huge fan of both Matsu Takako and Hirose Suzu, so I knew that even if the story wasn’t so good, I could at least enjoy their acting. But I was captivated by the plot, which unfolded beautifully and culminated in a satisfying and emotional ending. (Have the tissue box ready 😭)

And I found the cinematography to be fantastic… a lovely film to look at just for the visuals, but combine that with a great plot and incredible actors, and Last Letter is a winner.

I love melodramatic movies, and this one fits the bill for sure. Recommended if you can find it! My rating is 8.5 out of 10.

Life (1982) – Book Review

Yu Lao’s Life is the story of Gao Jialin, a young man in his 20s who recently lost his job as a teacher and has to move back to his rural village and peasant life. From there, the story explores the relationship with his elders, his romantic relationship with the peasant girl Qiaozheng, and the city girl Yaping. Although he makes some big decisions that affect his personal life, Jialin’s (and everyone else) fortunes and future are greatly dependent on the government of 1980 China and the bureaucracies it creates. This social structure combined with family connections can give you advantages and also take them away, as we witness as the story plays out. Jialin deals with conflicting motivations and pressures that shift with his job situation, which take him between rural and city settings, and also between the groups of people who live in each.

Some things about the characters that resonated with me (SPOILER ALERT in the bullets):

  • Jialin’s spirit and talent even in the face of challenges. His conflicted feelings towards Qiaozhen versus Yaping were palpable, and the ultimate decision he made was certainly understandable, even if the results are somewhat heartbreaking.
  • Qioazhen’s pure heart and devotion. Even though she knows the limits that her illiteracy places on her, she takes the chance to spend her life with Jialin. I found Qiaozhen the most interesting and admirable person in Life.
  • Yaping’s prudent and opportunistic nature. She realizes her love for Jialin, and how he fits in with her future life. However, when situations change, she’s not afraid to re-evaluate.

I watched the movie version of Life / 人生 (1984) right after finishing the book, and believe that it’s best viewed as a support for the book. As a stand-alone movie, I don’t think it’s very good because events just seem to happen one after another, but you won’t know the motivations or the relationships between the people. It’s a classic case of the book having much more detail and insight than the movie. However, for me, the film added welcomed color to the book. As someone not familiar with the setting, it was great to see what the village looked like, as well as the city and the people. Lao describes the clothing they work, like the Dacron pants or patterns on Qiaozhen’s shirts and voila – there they are on the screen! Not only that, but the dialog in the movie was pretty much exactly like the book (the translations, at least). The scenes were like little visual depictions of the book’s chapters. I thought it was very helpful!

“Qiaozhen and Jialin”

I give the book my rating of 8.5, and the movie a rating of 7.

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