Archive for September, 2011

Brilliant Legacy or Shining Inheritance or Chanranhan Yusan — episodes 15 to 20

September 14, 2011 Leave a comment

This is a spoiler-rich discussion of what happens in these episodes so do not read this post if you want the experience of watching the serial unfold onscreen. Further, these episode numbers are based on the terrestrial broadcasts I have seen and not on downloaded or DVD episodes. It’s possible that these numbers do not match your experience.

Cinders Ko Eun-seong (Han Hyo-Joo) accuses the Brat Seon Woo-Hwan (Lee Seung-Ki) of being a parasite, living off his Granny Jang Suk-Ja (Ban Hyo-Jeong) and says she’s now prepared to accept the inheritance. To her surprise, she’s immediately summoned to Head Office and then posted to the factory. The other staff at the restaurant speculate as to whether this is a punishment for failing to teach the Brat manners.

Draft Granddaughter Seon Woo-Jeong (Han Ye-Won) is a pathetic performer at the restaurant run by Buttons Park Jun-Se (Bae Soo-Bin). Curiously, she seems to be mooning after Buttons while Waster Daughter-in-law Oh Yeong-Ran (Yu Ji-In) struggles to persuade the loyal retainer Pyo Seong-Cheol (Lee Seung-Hyeong) she doesn’t have to handwash the towels or mop the floor after vacuuming. Life is tough all round except I’m now able to revise the guess made in my first review and confirm the loyal retainer is secretly in love with Waster. Only in Korean drama could this happen. She’s the second most self-centred and unlovable person in the serial after her daft daughter.

Han Hyo-Joo and Moon Chae-Won as loving stepsisters

Cinders cooks for the family to thank them for allowing her to live there for a month. She also spends some of her first month’s pay buying presents for Granny and the loyal retainer. The Brat can’t bring himself to work at the restaurant without Cinders there to tell him what to do so, when he kicks the customers’ shoes out of the way, the Manager sends him to the factory. Joy unconfined for Cinders!

Finally! Granny’s detectives show the photo of Ko Eun-Woo (Yeon Jun-Seok) to the right old couple and they confirm he’s staying with them. Except, of course, by coincidence the boy is passing one of the places where he plays the piano only to find it’s being moved. This distresses him so he stows away with it. Cinders gets the story of his detection in this distant suburb. The boy was abandoned by the gate of the house with a carton of chocolate milk. He said his mother gave it to him. Now Cinders is on the warpath. She confronts the Evil Stepmother Paek Seong-hee (Kim Mi-Suk) but, when put to the test, she has no conclusive evidence of abduction by the mother. Everything about the boy’s disappearance fits but, even if they find the boy, who will take his word against the Evil Stepmother’s denial. So we’re back on the guilt blackmail trail. If Cinders makes unsupported allegations about her that later prove wrong, Ugly Sister Yu Seung-Mi’s (Moon Chae-Won) chance of marrying the Brat will be gone forever.

Han Hyo-Joo and Ban Hyo-Jeong at work

Granny now comes out swinging. She’s decided to perfect the legalities of the transfer of her inheritance to Cinders. The lawyer comes to the house and reads out the new will. The bequest is subject to the condition that Cinders takes over management of the second restaurant and raises its gross take by 20% in two months. Granny is distraught it has come to this. She desperately wanted her useless family to learn some responsibility but they have failed to show any real inclination to change. She believes Cinders will look after all the employees and run the company for their benefit. She explains to Director Park Tae Soo (Choi Jung Woo) why he will not get the shares. He has ambition and skills, but she thinks him too greedy. He wants to expand the business for profit and not for the benefit of the employees. He too is distraught and tries to persuade his son, Buttons, to come into the company. He believes his son will win Granny’s heart and get the inheritance for their family. Buttons, however, decides he’s living for pleasure not money, and refuses to give up the restaurant. This boy is a great disappointment to his father for all the right reasons.

There’s then a wonderfully comic episode where Waster Daughter-in-law and Daft Granddaughter decide to make a grand gesture of defiance and move out of Granny’s house. Unfortunately, they have no plan. Fortunately, Evil Stepmother is there to take them in, planning to make them feel indebted and push forward the Ugly Sister’s marriage with the Brat. Except, when she discovers the Brat may not inherit, she‘s trying to think of a way to blight Cinder’s push for the money. Before the worthless pair move in, Evil Stepmother hides all the photographs she can find, pushing some into one of Ugly Sister’s handbag. Naturally, Daft Granddaughter covets this bag. Both drive Evil up the wall and she immediately starts a campaign to get them back to Granny. Fortunately, they agree to crawl back home when the Brat refuses to join in the jail break — the bag goes with them.

Han Hyo-Joo and Lee Seung-Ki as the happy couple at work

Meanwhile the Brat has decided to eat his pride and goes to work at the second restaurant. After he starts greeting and serving the customers properly, all the staff decide to let him work there on probation.

With dire results, we have the coincidences mounting up over Ko Eun-Woo. Having stowed away with the piano (so, conveniently, he could not be found), he’s picked up by the Brat’s hanger-on, Jin Yeong-Seok (Jung Suk-Won). He’s a man with a piano in need of live entertainment which the boy provides free of charge. So when the Brat calls the Ugly Sister to meet him at the bar, he just has time to mutter darkly about an underaged pianist and have the boy removed, literally as the Ugly Sister walks in. That way she only sees her stepbrother’s back. This is just getting silly. There’s enough interest in the underlying situation without having to contrive these pointless moments where people just fail to see something significant.

Bae Soo-Bin really feeling the strain from all sides

Now the Brat has recovered the bag and, intending to return it, finds the key photograph showing the Ko family with the two stepsisters. This puts a completely different complexion on the situation for him. He doesn’t know who to believe. He demands an explanation from the Ugly Sister and she comes up with a convoluted spew of lies, ending with a plea the Brat do not tell anyone else. This places him in a difficult situation because he really wants to know what’s really happening so, when he and Cinders are sent out to promote the second restaurant to the neighborhood, things are tense. However, there are two moments with obviously long-term significance. The Brat finally asks Granny what Cinders did that saved Granny’s life, and Buttons tells Cinders that the Brat was traumatised as a boy by witnessing the death of his father.

Things are active on the the romantic front. Evil Stepmother is buying a shirt for Director Park and suggesting she would take it off for him if he asked. Director Park and Waster Daughter-in-law make an in principle agreement for Daft Daughter to marry Buttons. Boy, is that going to come as a surprise to him! And Cinders goes out for a bicycle ride with Buttons to cheer him up. Naturally, those that only act in these dramas don’t know that Buttons never gets the girl. Yet there are enough people prepared to swear he and Cinders are an item. Boy, is that going to make Daft Granddaughter happy!

For all the reviews, see:

Brilliant Legacy or Shining Inheritance or Chanranhan Yusan — episodes 1 to 4;

Brilliant Legacy or Shining Inheritance or Chanranhan Yusan — episodes 5 to 9;

Brilliant Legacy or Shining Inheritance or Chanranhan Yusan — episodes 10 to 14;

Brilliant Legacy or Shining Inheritance or Chanranhan Yusan — episodes 15 to 20;

Brilliant Legacy or Shining Inheritance or Chanranhan Yusan — episodes 21 to 24;

Brilliant Legacy or Shining Inheritance or Chanranhan Yusan — episodes 25 to 28;

Brilliant Legacy or Shining Inheritance or Chanranhan Yusan — episodes 29 to 33.

Contagion (2011)

September 8, 2011 1 comment

Consider the following list of names: Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Elliott Gould and numerous others you will recognise on sight — and all directed by Steven Soderbergh. Now here come two separate questions: how do you define retirement? how do you define entertainment?


Some months ago, Steven Soderbergh announced he was retiring from filmmaking. Various reasons were suggested, the most recent being that he would like to become a painter. Yet these noises, repeated while he was directing Contagion (2011) (which first appeared at the Venice Film Festival), seem to have meant little or nothing since he’s also mentioned other films he wants to direct and is currently filming Magic Mike.

Gwyneth Paltrow blowing for good luck


An entertainment is an activity or event designed to amuse or provide enjoyment. On the face of it, a film with a stellar cast directed by a top name should provide enough fireworks to keep us interested. Yet, it seems retirement is too strong a lure for Soderbergh. All he’s done is give us a documentary drama and, to be honest, I’ve seen better made for television. There have also been a number of epidemic/pandemic films where we’re given the chance to admire the scientist as hero. It’s an unsubtle form of propaganda designed to lull us into a sufficient sense of security so we can sleep well at nights. When a real world threat like SARS comes around the next time, we’re supposed to feel reasonably safe, stronger in the belief there are protocols in place to keep as many alive as possible. Except this film doesn’t seem intended to serve that purpose. Its too flat and factual to have any kind of inspiring or reassuring effect. It’s a mostly dry step-by-step investigation into how the virus gets started with one or two more dramatic bits thrown in.

Matt Damon as a stoical survivor with a daughter in his wake


I hesitate to start with a spoiler but, to save you waiting for the last frame of the film, I’ll tell you it was the bat wot done it. I hate to spoil murder mysteries by crassly giving away the ending but, in this case, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be long past caring. I suppose you know that, if an epidemic is suspected, the World Health Organization and local medical authorities invest a remarkable amount of effort in trying to identify exactly where the outbreak began. Well, this is no exception and, as the body count rises, we follow the attempts of the WHO and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as they try to work out who first passed the disease to whom. This is more than useful information because, if there are several possible vaccines, knowing how the virus came to infect the first human can swing the decision. Except this is really boring. Worse, the fact we do learn that a bat infected a pig shows the futility of the entire tracking exercise. No-one would ever find out how this virus got started. Soderbergh does his best by casting Gwyneth Paltrow and Matt Damon as the couple of interest but she’s mostly in flashback before she dies, and he’s just stoical. As an aside, it’s not at all clear how this couple could ever have met each other let alone married. They are completely mismatched. The plot is also unclear as to why Matt Damon survives when looters are rampaging through his neighbourhood shooting everyone who might have food.

Jude Law making absolutely sure he does not fall ill


So here goes with a summary which I will do by actor names rather than characters because who everyone is is not very relevant. Gwyneth Paltrow is at ground zero and brings the virus back to the US. She infects her son and both die in short order. Husband Matt Damon proves to have natural immunity. He therefore represents our Everyman who must survive with his daughter until the crisis is over. Laurence Fishburne is still channelling CSI and running the CDC effort to contain the outbreak. Marion Cotillard goes to Hong Kong from the WHO to investigate ground zero. Kate Winslet goes from the CDC to Minneapolis to investigate contacts where Gwyneth landed.


In all this, the only really lively thread is provided by Jude Law who beautifully captures a conspiracy nut with a heart of greed. This is a wonderfully judged performance showing a blogger determined to become a millionaire by promoting a homeopathic cure for the virus. Then, of course, a couple of researchers break the rules and come up with solutions. Strange just how clichéd that’s become. Oh, yes, and Lawrence Fishburne tells his fiancée to get out of Dodge before the National Guard shuts it down. Good to see he has human failings. And not too many millions die.

Steven Soderbergh with a health warning


Don’t get me wrong. This is an impeccably made film but it’s almost completely uninvolving. I really didn’t give a damn about any of the people portrayed in this dry sequence of events. It’s a documentary drama without the drama. It’s a tragedy to see so many talented actors wheeled out in front of the cameras in an episodic narrative sequence that doesn’t require any character development. More or less anyone competent could have done as well. Indeed, it’s probably slightly distracting to keep seeing all these memorable people wander into and out of shots. It would have been better to have a cast of unknowns. So Contagion (2011) is a bit like a real-world disease. You fear its arrival, suffer while you have it, and are profoundly relieved when it goes away.


City of Ruins by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

September 7, 2011 Leave a comment

City of Ruins (PYR, 2011) is a sequel to Diving into the Wreck by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and, as such, it’s continuing the development of the “Diving” universe. The first novel was a fix-up expansion of two novelettes published in Asimov’s and this continues the pattern with a goodly sized chunk of this story being published as “Becoming One With the Ghosts”, also in Asimov’s.

So we’re into a twin-strand narrative with the Boss leading a dive underground and Coop watching events unfold (pun intended) on the bridge of his Dignity Vessel. Although I think this better than Diving into the Wreck, it’s all rather ponderous and slow-moving. The last sequence where the two strands merge feels like an afterthought. It’s somewhat out of character with the rest of the book and not terribly credible as a capital city responds on a policing or military basis to a possible threat. Taking the dive first, I find it frustrating that there’s been no real attempt made to link this to the first fix-up. Although there’s a gesture to confirm a change in the nature of the diving organisation from small- to large-scale, there’s absolutely no description of any fallout from the events of the first book. The dispute over the Dignity Vessel must have produced some political and military responses on both sides. Books in a universe should not be written as if in a vacuum. There are fundamental laws of cause and effect to obey and divorcing events from their context and expecting readers to blindly accept completely independent episodes is insulting. An author should take the time to think through the implications of what has happened in the first episode and then give the readers the benefit of this creativity.

So here we are in Vaycehn on the planet Wyr chasing down speculation there may be stealth technology in operation. Hmmm. So if Ilona thinks there’s a chance of finding old technology to examine, why hasn’t the Empire shut the whole place down? The fact of the inexplicable tunnels and the death holes should be enough to alert their science teams there’s something unusual in play. Yet all this is brushed quietly under the carpet with odd comments that the local government keeps it quiet to avoid damaging their tourist trade. This just makes it worse. If tourists may hear about the weird events, why has the Empire’s sophisticated intelligence service not heard and acted?

Anyway, once Boss is in action, she’s moving with the speed of paint drying to explore inch by inch. Not for her the big picture WOW factor. It’s all meticulous work. Seen by Coop, the team is wearing space suits because of the high levels of nanotech particles in the atmosphere. Now, as one born in a coal mining community, this rings alarm bells. I grew up surrounded by men dying of emphysema because of their exposure to dust. If this vast room is visibly affected by clouds of particulates, atmosphere suits are essential to prevent lung damage. Yet there’s no comment by Boss and her team on the volume of dust piling up on the floor and the equipment. Nobody has to sweep the dust away to read signs written on the floor or to see some of the screens are still working. Or is all this technology self-cleaning given that the tunnels themselves are self-repairing? The crew of the ship take no precautions when they emerge. Apparently, their human lungs can breathe visible concentrations of dust without damage. I could go on but this issue is symptomatic of a general failure to think about the issues and deal with the consequences.

As to Coop, he seems intent on spending endless hours on the bridge without a break. Even Captain Jean-Luc Picard was seen to lie down every now and again. When there’s no obvious threat, the bridge can be slimmed down to a few key officers with instructions to wake the Captain if anything interesting happens. There’s also very little evidence the language department is even vaguely competent. I haven’t read “Becalmed” so I don’t know what Mae and her team did to upset the Quurzod, but their performance in this first-contact situation is less than stellar. It’s completely illogical to leave it to Perkins to work with Al-Nasir. A trained linguist should set out to learn the target language by systematic interrogation of a willing native speaker. Wasting two weeks on this exercise and then insisting on two hours to set up a trip to the surface compounds the illogicality of Coop’s decision-making.

None of these individual problems make this a bad novel, but the general lack of attention to detail prevents this book from being more involving. As it is, we have sexual attraction through mutual observation and probable romance at the end. To me, this is a tiresome distraction. I’m far more interested in the problem solving on both sides and, to be honest, neither side comes out of it well. Boss fails to have any empathy in her explanation of the ship’s situation and the surrounding politics. Coop seems little more than a prop placed on the bridge, left to observe and react to events around him. His passivity for the first two-thirds of the book defuses any tension. Although he does become slightly more rounded when he gets to the surface, it’s all rather artificial and he’s still very much second fiddle to Boss.

City of Ruins can be read as a stand-alone because there’s little continuity between it and Diving into the Wreck. Some of the social dynamics in both teams are reasonably well done but, though an improvement on Diving into the Wreck, the result is still less than impressive.

Dave Seeley produced the jacket art.

City of Ruins won the Endeavor Award 2012.

For reviews of other books by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, see:

A Dangerous Road (writing as Kris Nelscott)
Diving into the Wreck
Duplicate Effort
Recovering Apollo 8

Brilliant Legacy or Shining Inheritance or Chanranhan Yusan — episodes 10 to 14

September 6, 2011 Leave a comment

This is a spoiler-rich discussion of what happens in these episodes so do not read this post if you want the experience of watching the serial unfold onscreen. Further, these episode numbers are based on the terrestrial broadcasts I have seen and not on downloaded or DVD episodes. It’s possible that these numbers do not match your experience.

So Buttons Park Jun-Se (Bae Soo-Bin) is ready to tell Cinders Ko Eun-seong (Han Hyo-Joo) he’s rich, but he doesn’t have the chance as the news is blurted out by Daft Granddaughter Seon Woo-Jeong (Han Ye-Won). Now he’s in the dog house for not telling Cinders immediately the lies became unnecessary. I’m completely lost on this issue. Cinders comes from a rich background that paid for her to study abroad. The whole family lived in relatively luxurious circumstances. How come she’s suddenly so down on a man for pretending to be poor? It seems somewhat hypocritical after only a few days of poverty. I’m also uncertain as to Korean accents and behavioural norms. Does Cinders not speak and act in a way that shows her as being from a privileged background? Could she not equally place both Granny Jang Suk-Ja (Ban Hyo-Jeong) and Buttons as being similarly well-off? The whole set-up feels fake.

Han Hyo-Joo — down but not out

Meanwhile, back at the plot, Buttons has found a part-time job for Dead Dad Ko Pyeong-Joong (Jeon In-Taek). That’s going to count for something when he gets to Heaven’s Gate. In another part of town, the Brat Seon Woo-Hwan (Lee Seung-Ki) is putting up at a hotel without any credit cards and not enough cash. That means a trip to view the inside of a police cell. Granny hardens her heart and refuses any financial help, so Buttons is summoned to bail him out — he’s a useful guy to have at the end of a telephone. Now the Brat is caught between humiliation and pride. Forced to agree to work in the restaurant, he takes a premium cab and arrives without enough money to pay the fare. This means he’s sponging off Cinders again except, this time, he accuses her of knowing she’s going to inherit everything. Wow! That’s a big surprise! He then spends a miserable day finding out just how hard the work is. When Cinders gets back to the ranch, Granny admits the plot to Cinders and gets her to agree to confirm the inheritance to the family. In return, she doubles the number of men searching for the missing brother Ko Eun-Woo (Yeon Jun-Seok).

Evil Stepmother Paek Seong-hee (Kim Mi-Suk) has persuaded Director Park Tae Soo (Choi Jung Woo) to help by getting her a franchise selling upmarket furniture. She’s doing her best to get him into bed but Ugly Sister Yu Seung-Mi (Moon Chae-Won) is unhappy her mother is so quick to forget Dead Dad. Evil Stepmother bewails she must do all this to keep her daughter in the running to marry the Brat and makes her feel guilty, but Stepmother is having nightmares Dead Dad will ruin everything.

Lee Seung-Ki and Moon Chae-Won — just good friends

Buttons tries to get back into Cinders’ good books by saying he’s angry with himself for not having the courage to tell her he’s the son of a rich father. He feared what actually happened, namely she would reject him for lying. After thought, she agrees to treat him as an elder brother dropped from Heaven. Meanwhile Cinders is acting as a loan shark and demanding repayment of all the Brat owes. She’s started by extracting taxi and bus fare. This is going to be tough for the Brat particularly as she’s told to mentor him at work. Ugly Sister turns up with lunch which makes the Brat feel better. Paranoia infects Evil Stepmother who fears Granny may be trying to make the Brat and Cinders a couple.

Cinders tells the Brat the day he messed her around not returning the bag was the day her father died. She cries for him which penetrates his selfish head. He then hears her talking on the phone and mentioning the Ugly Sister’s name which puzzles him.

To move Cinders out of temptation’s way, Evil Stepmother offers our girl a studio apartment. This is rejected. Cinders explains that Granny is searching for her lost brother as condition of her residence. Naturally Evil Stepmother tries to turn Cinders against Granny, saying her men won’t try hard to find the missing boy. But our girl asserts trust in Granny and refuses to move out. Now Ugly Sister has found out the apartment where they live is in her name. This is a shock. Evil Stepmother is clear. She drove Cinders and her brother away because she won’t sacrifice herself for anyone other than her daughter. After consulting with the Brat, Ugly Sister decides to stop being the obedient daughter. Her decision to put the apartment up for sale is a masterstroke of rebellion. Independently, Evil Stepmother decides she will get her autistic stepson back but, as you expect in Korean dramas, she hits a problem.

Bae Soo-Bin on the right side of the bars

The Brat burns himself at work, inspiring Cinders to help him, an act of kindness he repays by pulling her off a ladder. As a result, Cinders sprains her ankle. Granny uses this as an excuse to force him to drive Cinders to celebrate her mother’s death anniversary. Buttons makes himself useful by helping her buy the food for the death anniversary celebration. Dead Dad is also headed that way, as you would expect in a story relying so heavily on coincidence. At least Dead Dad now knows Cinders is still in the country. This frustrates him because Evil Stepmother promised to email him with news, except there’s been no email. Now if only he hadn’t the defective eyesight evidenced by his continuing failure to see notices reporting his autistic son missing, he could have noted down the licence plate number of the Brat’s car as it drove away from the cemetery and we could have bought this drama to a merciful end. Meanwhile Evil Stepmother is doing well with her franchise selling furniture. More generally, the Brat has no concept of service at the restaurant, splashing kimchi sauce over a customer.

Jeon In-Taek and Kim Mi-Suk — married while hubby is dead

Daft Granddaughter wangles out of working for Granny and lines up for work with Buttons at his restaurant. He’s unsympathetic and offers her less pay than she earned at Granny’s. Cinders’ friend Lee Hye-Ri (Min Yeong-Won) is also working there and will give a good as she gets. Waster daughter-in-law Oh Yeong-Ran (Yu Ji-In) thinks she’s on to a winner when Granny agrees to let her stay home and do the housework. Unfortunately, the loyal retainer Pyo Seong-Cheol (Lee Seung-Hyeong) wants her up at six to set the table for breakfast, and then there’s the vacuuming and washing to do.

Ugly Sister has sold the apartment, proposes to give the proceeds of sale to Cinders, and ask for forgiveness. This is fortuitous timing because Dead Dad has the address and comes to demand information about Cinders. This shocks the Ugly Sister who thought him dead, and all she can do is stand there and listen to her mother lie. Dead Dad has tracked Evil Stepmother down from the car. Fascinating inconsistency that he can’t do the same with the Brat’s car.

The Brat finally sees Cinders as a woman wearing a short dress and high heels. This turns his head. Jin Yeong-Seok (Jung Suk-Won), the closest thing the Brat’s has to a friend among all the hangers-on, opens a bar. By coincidence, it has a piano in the corner that no-one has played for years. Now all we need is the right person to play it.

For all the reviews, see:

Brilliant Legacy or Shining Inheritance or Chanranhan Yusan — episodes 1 to 4;

Brilliant Legacy or Shining Inheritance or Chanranhan Yusan — episodes 5 to 9;

Brilliant Legacy or Shining Inheritance or Chanranhan Yusan — episodes 10 to 14;

Brilliant Legacy or Shining Inheritance or Chanranhan Yusan — episodes 15 to 20;

Brilliant Legacy or Shining Inheritance or Chanranhan Yusan — episodes 21 to 24;

Brilliant Legacy or Shining Inheritance or Chanranhan Yusan — episodes 25 to 28;

Brilliant Legacy or Shining Inheritance or Chanranhan Yusan — episodes 29 to 33.

The King of Snooker or Zhuo Qiu Tian Wang or Cheuk Kau Tin Wong

September 4, 2011 2 comments

The King of Snooker or Zhuo Qiu Tian Wang or Cheuk Kau Tin Wong from TVB is a fascinating appropriation of the game to feature in a routine romantic drama from Hong Kong. This is the Chinese version of the Japanese anime serial The Prince of Tennis which takes a perfectly good story about a young tennis player struggling to emerge from the shadow of his father, and implies tennis is a game enhanced by supernatural powers. The animation shows kung fu shots either making the ball move in unpredictable ways, or physically attacking the opponent(s) in some way. It’s the same with this version of snooker. The serial takes the reality that the winners in any sport are those who combine technique with the right mental outlook, and physically shows ball control that defies reality. Worse, key matches are played as a single frame, a format no professional players accept unless in specially defined competitions such as the British Pot Black competition or the new Power Snooker format which is limited by time, irrespective of the number of frames played. No professional player of any quality would agree to put a major title on the line in a single frame competition. Luck might play too big a part as one player could fluke a ball or get an unfortunate kick. Over a reasonable number of frames, luck evens out and produces a fairer way of producing a champion.

Patrick Tang and Adam Cheng summon the chi for the final match

So, as a young man, super-cool Yau Yat Kiu (Adam Cheng) plays a game of snooker with a girl as the stake. The winner of the one-frame match is to be allowed a free run to court her. Unfortunately, the girl finds out and our previously all-conquering hero is so embarrassed by playing the game for such a purpose, he retires. Trading on his reputation as the “King of Snooker”, he opens a cafe called Cue Power with the support of his brother Yau Yee Bo (Benz Hui). He marries and produces a daughter, Yau Ka Kan (Niki Chow). We have the usual family problems with the brother, Yee Bo, essentially played for laughs as the shy, bumbling innocent. Part of the drama comes from Yee Bo’s inability to cope with his brother’s success. Ka Kan also loves the game of snooker but lacks confidence. Supercool Dad doesn’t know how best to teach her and ends up upsetting her.

Our girl is loved from afar by Kan Tze Him (Patrick Tang). He’s a talented player and is taken on by Supercool as his disciple (this is the shifu concept borrowed from kung fu serials). Him’s aunt, Chin To To (Joyce Tang) manages a successful marketing company and, as one of its ventures, represents the new King of Snooker called Lui Kin Chung (Derek Kwok) who’s a flashy player but socially unimpressive. His manager is Tong Ting (Wilson Tsui) who was rejected by Yat Kiu when young and is out for revenge. He will do everything he can to humiliate Yat Kiu, whether it’s provoking him into a snooker competition, spying on him to understand his training methods, hypnotising Ka Kan to make her forget her father and then, in the match itself, drugging Yat Kiu’s water. Fortunately, Lui Kin sees the light and fires the crooked agent. This should make everything right with the world of snooker with only righteous players and agents. Except now he’s had another taste of the big time, Yat Kiu is in the mood to keep playing in public. Can he really follow the comeback trail and win consistently enough to prove he’s still the Supercool King of Snooker?

Benz Hui and Niki Chow as uncle and niece

Now we’re into subplots. What will happen to Joyce Tang’s cousin? She’s unhappily married to a rich businessman who sponsors snooker. And how will our girl, Ka Kan, end up with Him? This is the usual convoluted on-off situation with two shy young people unable to say anything meaningful to each other. And just when it looks as though Him has mustered the courage to tell Her he’s in love, Him’s uncle tells the story of Supercool’s original bet and that the stake was Him’s mother. Him is now cooling rapidly, remembering an argument between his parents where his father blamed his mother’s continuing feelings for Supercool as the reason for the marriage’s failure. With the wedge now between them, Tong Ting puts pushes in as agent, telling Him more about his father and the way he played. Him even pushes our girl away. And after all that effort to buy her a bracelet. What a waste!

Yee Bo annoys the rich guy who sponsors the snooker competitions, disapproving the latter’s dalliance with his secretary and blaming Joyce Tang for not defending her cousin. Eventually, the rich guy is pushed into a divorce with Yee Bo agreeing to admit he committed adultery with Joyce’s cousin. Supercool defends Joyce for failing to intervene and you can see them edging towards each other.

Derek Kwok is sadly underused as Lui Kin

Now we’re into a Pot Black competition in Hong Kong with sixteen snooker players and our girl as one of eight pool players. Everyone’s winning but Him’s making waves because he’s showing off by creating unbeatable snookers. For Supercool, this is dangerous. His protégé is getting arrogant and playing tricks to win rather than playing in the spirit of the game, aiming to humiliate rather than win fairly. Ka Kan is through to the final of the pool so girl-power is set up as the winner. She may not be a winner at snooker, but pool’s definitely her game

So with Tong Ting taking Him in hand, he tricks Lui Kin into teaching Him how to play with his left hand. This gets his man through to the finals to play shifu. But now Supercool has bad news about his eyesight. Will he be able to see well enough to play the last match? He tries to give his Heavenly Cue to Him and retire gracefully. When Him refuses, he’s forced to play on. Daffy Brother Yee Bo and Joyce’s cousin are getting closer. Tong Ting is teaching Him to be ruthless. Except, of course, Tong Ting is betting on the outcome of the Pot Black final and wants a particular result.

Supercool and Lui Kin exchange pointers about yoga and other spiritual matters as training for the final. While it’s laudable to see the implication of sports psychology raised, the training devolves into cod spirituality. Worse Lui Kin suggests Supercool memorise the position of the balls so that, if vision is disrupted, he will know the colours of all the balls. Even more laughable is the suggestion a blind Supercool could pot balls. As a final gesture at humour, Joyce gives Supercool a pair of underwater goggles that massage the acupuncture points of his eyes.

As predicted, Daughter Ka Kan wins the pool competition which is the first to seven frames — a sensible basis for deciding the winner. Now we come into the final frame of the snooker between shifu and his disciple. Both are holding magic cues as Lui Kin hands over his “dragon” cue to ensure a “fair” match. Him has also set up Tong Ting to make the wrong bet and so bankrupt himself. Ironically, whether winner or loser, Him should win the girl. Shifu will retire having played the last match to his best and in honour. The arithmetic of the scoring in the final game makes no sense with everything subordinated to the need to create a dramatic climax where shifu can win if he pots the black. His eyesight fails at this critical moment and Him doubles the black into the middle pocket. Perhaps Supercool’s eyesight will be cured. Either way, he ends up with Joyce Tang. Him gets Her, and Yee Bo and Joyce’s cousin win the night’s prize for being the most unlikely couple of the year.

The only thing that saves this serial from disaster is the performance of Adam Cheng as Supercool Yau Yat Kiu. He brings a genuine sincerity to the role of an arrogant boy who learned the need for humility. He manages to spout the nonsense of age-old wisdom as the shifu and make it feel like good advice. It’s also interesting to see Derek Kwok evolve as a character from annoying jerk to a loyal friend to Supercool. More on this front would have improved the show. Unfortunately, featured Patrick Tan produces a flat, one-note performance that fails to convince, Niki Chow is wimpy, and the other characters are in the script to make up the numbers. So The King of Snooker or Zhuo Qiu Tian Wang or Cheuk Kau Tin Wong is potentially interesting if you don’t know anything about snooker and want to see Adam Cheng as the Old Master teaching everyone around him how to lead better lives. Otherwise, don’t bother.

Eclipse Four edited by Jonathan Strahan

September 3, 2011 Leave a comment

I suppose the question for discussion is what we should expect when we pick up an anthology. Of course, the answer is easy when there’s a theme clearly announced on the cover. Here be vampires, zombies and other divers monsters. Or the marketers can stick a genre label on the front and so reassure us a steady diet of primary colours like science fiction, fantasy, etc. or secondary shades of urban fantasy, noir, etc. Yet here we have an evolving series where the content seems somewhat unpredictable. In a sense, the only thing we can rely on is the name of the editor. Regardless of genre, do we trust his taste? Although the front cover proudly proclaims, Eclipse Four (Night Shade Books, 2011), edited by Jonathan Strahan, “New science fiction and fantasy”, Strahan says in his introduction, “. . .it is the strangest and most eldritch volume yet.” Apropos of nothing, he uses “eldritch” twice on the same page to describe the volumes in the Eclipse series. You can’t get more strange than that.

“Slow as a Bullet” by Andy Duncan is an engaging folksy fantasy based on the notion a work-shy good-fer-nothing could transfer his own laziness to a bullet. The result is a genuinely pleasing story about life in small-town America. “Tidal Forces” by Caitlin R Kiernan then follows up with a weird story in which an unknown supernatural force “wounds” one of a couple. Fortunately, the other partner is able to take matters in hand and this could resolve the problem favourably — only time will tell. “The Beancounter’s Cat” by Damien Broderick introduces us to the idea that, in a far future where space has been conquered, the only adventure worth having is going into the future as a family. “Story Kit” by Kij Johnson is a somewhat experimental piece in which we explore the nature of a story that happens to be about people in the situation of Dido and Aeneas. I’m not wholly convinced by it, but did find it interesting.

Jonathan Strahan demonstrating the Australian version of the Vulcan mind meld

“The Man in Grey” by Michael Swanwick is a simple, elegant story about the reality of life as we know it. While the idea itself is not entirely original, the execution is beautifully stage-managed with free will demonstrated in a slightly unexpected way. When you consider the extraordinary revelation our acting heroine experiences, her response is credible and understandable (to anyone other than a mere stagehand, that is). “Old Habits” by Nalo Hopkinson follows on, thematically, to present us with a different view of how life after death might end (forgive the apparent paradox). This is another example of a slightly tired trope of everyday ghosts elevated to a different level by the excellence of the writing. In this case, it’s a provocative idea that guilt might combine with a final appreciation of what has been lost, to provide new motivation. Continuing in this rich vein, “The Vicar of Mars” by Gwyneth Jones suggests there’s a thin line between what we imagine and what exists. Many years ago in the cinema, Morbius inadvertently resurrected the Monsters from the Id. In this future, aliens might be haunted by monsters from the void. Whether there’s any real threat depends on who might invoke them and who might confront them on the threshold. “Fields of Gold” by Rachel Swirsky has a spirit materialising at the party to welcome him to the afterlife. Once he has adjusted to the idea of his death, there’s some navel-gazing on everything he did to endear himself to others while alive. Fortunately, before he gets too depressed, he remembers how it felt to be eleven years old and this might just convert an alcohol-fueled afterlife into something approaching heaven. Swirsky produces a highly enjoyable romp that tramples on expectations, beautifully capturing the death of relationships and the guilt people feel when they’re being honest with themselves.

“Thought Experiment” by Eileen Gunn is a wonderful time travel story where each traveller needs a backstory and fills in the gaps of his or her own existence. These intrepid individuals prove that, if you travel enough, your own story moves from the back to the front burner. There’s a pleasingly wry sense of humour at work in this exploration of cause and effect, with the humour morphing into a slightly manic phase as we continue with “The Double of My Double Is Not My Double” by Jeffrey Ford. This takes the idea of doppelgängers and gives it group therapy. If nothing else, it confirms how inventive people can be when it comes to dipping things in chocolate. “Nine Oracles” by Emma Bull is elegant and to the point. Naturally, I predicted the outcome but don’t want to boast about it. “Dying Young” by Peter M Ball takes us to a distant post-war future where bodies and minds have been modified for the war effort but must now survive the peace. This is an impressive rumination on the effect of free will on predestination. What if two people with the ability to see into the future have to decide how it will all turn out.

“The Panda Coin” by Jo Walton takes that old detective cliché, “follow the money”, and gives it a pleasing twist through the structure of the narrative. The guided tour of the space facility is fascinating. Finally, “Tourists” by James Patrick Kelly tells us something about relationships. When you have no stake in a place, you come and go as a tourist. You see but are indifferent about what you see and what you will leave behind. Although we would like to limit tourism to its more literal meaning, there are people who never feel they belong in a time or place. For them, the only thing to do is move on when the time is right.

Going back to my introduction, I think Jonathan Strahan is wrong to apply “eldritch” to this particular anthology. It smacks too much of Lovecraft in this context and is wholly inappropriate to the editorial choices actually made. None of the story have visible or implied Cthulu tentacle prints. In the spirit of honesty, I admit Eclipse Four took me quite a long time to read. This is a compliment. These stories deserve to be savoured. This means I’m damning the book by labelling it potentially literary. This refers to the obvious intelligence and sensibility that pervades every story. Some of you might take this as distinguishing the work from the populist end of the market. So, yes, if you are a fan only interested in stories about spaceships and dragons, you may be disappointed (even though there are spaceships and a dragon — not in the same story, of course). Further, I note a trend in the so-called top-end reviewers to come up with clever phrases to hype the book. Such phrases then appear on websites or, better still on the jackets of the books themselves. I’m not going to play that game for this anthology. I’m simply going to say this is a very good book. You should make a point of buying and enjoying it. No special trumpeting is required when the rewards of reading it are so great.

For reviews of other anthologies edited by Jonathan Strahan, see: Eclipse Two and Eclipse Three. There’s also a new website, Eclipse Online.

Eclipse Four was shortlisted for the 2012 Locus Award for Best Anthology. “Fields of Gold” by Rachel Swirsky has been shortlisted for the Nebula Award for Best Novelette 2011 and for the 2012 Hugo Awards for Best Novelette.

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