Friday, October 01, 2004

Kerry wins, Kerry wins!

Notwithstanding my personal disappointment with Kerry's various missed opportunities, which are best summarized by (again!) Noam Scheiber here and Josh Marshall instant reaction here -- basically less UN talk and "summits," more "I would've gotten bin Laden by now" -- he did win the expectations game and the presentation game. He looked commanding and presidential. By my own pre-debate yardstick for Kerry, he certainly was up to the task and then some. It was just that Bush was so clearly wobbling and dazed that he could've completely melted down with more shots of the "Where's bin Laden?" variety. Bush never had a response to Kerry's first Tora Bora jab. I kept thinking, man, if Clinton or Blair were in there, they would've seized the opening and just demolished Dubya. But as Brent notes in the comments below, Kerry did what he had to do. He was fine, and I suppose that summit and UN thing is really just Kerry being his own multi-lateralist self.

What's great is that Kerry's dominating the post-debate spin. Check out three of the latest AP political headlines:

"Kerry Seen as Debate Winner Around the World."

"Democrats Celebrate Kerry Win in Debate."

"Kerry Lures Persuadable Voters in Debate."

You can't ask for better headlines. And as the week wears on, the commentariat, being what they are, will continue to focus on Bush's bizarre chimp-y expressions (instead of delving into the contrast on North Korea, for example. Speaking of which, why does Bush want to bank our security on the whims of the Chinese? I don't get it.). I watched a bit of a debate re-run with split-screens, and Bush looked like a spazzing monkey. Capitalizing on Bush's "gaffes" the DNC has quickly produced a video of Dubya's most petulant and annoyed-lookings moments. Style over substance, 'twas ever so.

I remain frustrated that Kerry missed the opportunity to deal a knockdown blow, but it looks like he really helped himself. (Check out this excellent breakdown of last night's insta-poll internals on Kerry's gains.) Let's just hope he doesn't get overconfident for Round 2 -- the Town Hall format -- where Bush will likely perform much better.

Now the Democrats need to pound away at Bush's biggest mistake in this debate: his "who's gonna pay for it?" response to Kerry's list of ways to protect homeland security.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Dropped ball

Quick impression:

Honestly, I thought Kerry dropped the ball. He meandered, and he kept talking only about international alliances and UN resolutions. That's not what you do. You talk about Osama bin Laden, which Kerry did, but not effectively. You talk about Bush's fantasy world. You connect his inability to accept facts to poor judgment, and you pound away relentlessly on both bad judgment and misleading comments. He was tossed a softball by Lehrer ("What would you say about truth and this president"), and he squibbed an infield single, if that.

[Pause for a quick glimpse of the reaction on the blogosphere.]

Sure, Bush looked defensive, and he said the same thing over and over again. But Bush's campaign is savvy. He has one game plan: make the charge that criticizing the Iraq war is a "mixed message" that makes America less safe. Over and over and over and over, stopping only to smirk. I'm not sure he has a "multi-pronged" strategy on the War on Terror, but he sure has one in this campaign: his ads, his surrogates, and Bush himself all repeat endlessly the same message. It sure works.

I should add that substantively Bush is full of shit. but we already knew that. Kerry needed to stay on message and be disciplined. Instead he unleashed Kerryisms by the spoonful.

Still, Kerry had the benefit of low expectations. And if his only goal is to show that he can be presidential, he at least looked more presidential than Bush. S0 call it a minor advantage for Kerry on the debate, but a squandered opportunity. Bush's performance may not look good now, but it helps him in the larger picture.

Kerry needs to rebut this "mixed message" meme. Tomorrow. He should've done it today, and it really isn't that hard. "When I was in Vietnam, my crew resented leaders who didn't tell us the truth. We were there. We know what it's like. And we didn't want the mixed messages of statements from my commanders that weren't true." My god, it just isn't that hard!

Down to the wire

Season's down to its last weekend, with one spot open for each league. In the NL, the Astros appear to be in the driver's seat. They're up a game, and they go against the pathetic Rockies at Minute Maid Park. The hard-luck Cubs play Atlanta at Wrigley, while the Giants play at Dodgers Stadium, possibly aiming for the division with a sweep.

Hard to decide who to root for here. The Giants are probably my 2nd favorite NL team, after the D.C. Expos, and I'd love to see Bonds on the postseason stage. But the Giants appear to be the weakest team of the bunch, and Bonds is liable to be walked every time up anyway. Why GM Brian Sabean continues to resis springing for some protection behind Bonds is something I'll never get. The Cubs always make a great story, and they've got an awesome pitching staff for a postseason run. With Prior getting it together (16Ks today), and Zambrano tough, they'd be a tough matchup for anybody. Only trouble is their serious offensive woes. With the Astros, there's the enduring greatness of the Rocket. And Bagwell deserves to make it just once. The 'Stros have a strong lineup and two top frontline starters, but they're probably the third best "story." In the end, I'll probably root for the G-men.

If the Cubbies make it, that Cubs-Cards NLCS matchup will be awesome. If not, I expect the Cards to roll through the NL competition. I can't see the Braves (sorry, Scott) or the Dodgers prevailing.

In the AL, it's the A's v. Angels, 3 game series for all the marbles. Both teams have been mediocre lately, and I've no strong preference either way. What I really prefer is the Sox play the A's and Yankees play Minnesota (Santana twice in a 5 game series will be tough), but a good alternative will be Sox v. Twins and Yanks v. Angels. The Halos are always tough on the Pinstripes, so I'll be rooting for the Angels. With their Big 3 pitchers struggling, the A's don't have the offense to make a big impact in the postseason.

Pre-debate babble

Quick thoughts:

* Folks are advising that Kerry should break the stupid debate rules and directly question Bush. Good idea, except there's a line between aggressive questioning and desperate-looking attacks. Can we count on Kerry to strike the right tone? Or more importantly, can we trust the feckless Democratic surrogates to spin Kerry's aggressiveness in his favor? I'm doubtful, but I agree he's gotta go after Bush.

* Conventional wisdom says Kerry needs a knock out punch. I disagree. Given the latest poll numbers and the data on the persuadables, it's clear his recent troubles have to do with the GOP's relentless flip-flop/weak meme taking hold. How to counter? By appearing to be a strong man of conviction. Kerry simply needs to be assertive, concise and presidential. In past debates in the primaries, Kerry surprised me with his commanding, authoritative presence. If he can evoke that Kerry, he'll be fine. (And I see that Noam Scheiber of TNR just made the same point here.)

* How to answer the million dollar "Would you rather have Saddam still in power?" question. Last week, I wrote a Daily Kos diary on this, and now, we have Scheiber making the same point (great minds, etc.). The answer should be: "I would've caught bin Laden because I would've concentrated on eliminating al Qaida. I would've been tougher on North Korea and Iran, so that they wouldn't be developing a nuclear weapon. Etc."

The ever-cautious Kerry hadn't played the bin Laden card, likely for fear of an October surprise. But at this stage in the game, it's clear that, if bin Laden's captured, Bush wins, so it really makes no difference whether Kerry brings it up or not. In that case, why not make the biggest post-9/11 blunder on the War on Terror (switching enemies in mid-stream) be a focal point of attacks?

* Also, JFK, I know you've been doing better, but please do not pander to idiotic swing voters. Just be aggressive and spend your energies trying to win the spin war, and swing voters will naturally gravitate towards where conventional wisdom lies.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Movies from the LA Korean Film Fest

Hi. My name is Ryan Wu. You can call me something of a cinephile. You can also call me a Korean fetishist. Well, not so much Korean culture (though I enjoy soju and karaoke as much as the next Asian guy). What I am really into are Korean movies and (moreso) females of Korean ancestry. I am not proud of the last part. In fact, I'm rather ashamed of it. Being a good liberal, I've always wanted to embrace diversity as widely as possible. But forgive me, fellow libs, I have chosen a narrower path. The saving grace is that I also have a special fondness for females of Indian (Asian-sub-continent), Irish (especially redheads), and Jewish descent -- if Jewishness can be passed on, if not let's just call it a fetish for Jewesses. In other words, I am not just an exclusive fetishist. However, I think that my attraction to females of a certain ethnicity, as loathsome as it clearly is, is still more respectable than the tendencies of exclusive fetishists, especially my white friends who can't get aroused except when in the midst of an Asian female. So do not scorn me, many people are worse and they live amongst you. And in any case, my actual girlfriend is none of the above, so I think I'm very healthy, sexual psychology-wise.

But this entry is not about Korean women but about Korean movies. Or rather, they are about Korean movies that often feature hot Korean women, sometimes in the nude, and often in the sexual act. These movies played at the Korean International Film Fest (not sure why the "international" is there) which screened at the Egyptian last weekend. On second thought, because I clearly cannot be trusted to discuss Korean movies featuring naked Korean women, I will hand the reins over to the respective director of each movie, so you can get each movie's merits (or lack thereof) from the horse's mouth. That's probably better.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance -- B/B-

Hi. My name is Park Chan-wook, and I am a sadistic Korean psycho. However, I dress like a harmless Asian businessman and talk in a calm manner which bely my inner Leatherface. This was a picture I made after watching Kurosawa's High and Low 200 times. I thought, what if I re-made High and Low except add some nice Korean touches, like killing children, slashing achilles' heels, raping unconscious women in the midst of selling their body organs, electro-shock torture, and random retard humor. Wouldn't that be awesome? This guy Ryan has branded my kind of movie "the Korean Theater of Cruelty" but I think it just realistically reflects life, where there is no mercy, only pointless vengeance and death. Also, wouldn't it be funny if you could hynotize and anesthetize my viewers during the movie and remove one of their kidneys secretly? I would love to see their reaction when they go home and find out a kidney is missing!

A Tale of Two Sisters -- A-/B+

Hi. My name is Kim something or another. I am hitherto an obscure Korean director. But soon, the name Kim will be known from Pusan to Seoul, as my new movie is a smash hit, soon to be remade by Hollywood. So how have I come to make this great movie? What it is is that I was on my 200th viewing of the awesome ghost story The Others, when I thought, "What if I remade The Others but use an old Korean folktale instead?" My movie will be scarier because everyone knows lanky, long-haired Asian girl ghosts like the Ringu girl are scarier than Nicole Kidman and some perpetually frightened-looking British boy. But I will retain the claustrophobic feel and oppressive mother figure, so that you have "subtext." Also, I will add cheap visceral thrils to the creepy, atmospheric gothic style that that Spanish guy used. So my movie will be a triumphant merging of the English gothic and the J-horror genres. Anyway, my movie is elegant, stylish and scary, and with a psychological subtext so that suckers like Ryan the blogger, who loves gothic ghost stories and J-horror tropes, will eat it up and shrug off the story contrivances. So what if it makes little sense, when it is so well done?

Woman is the Future of Man -- B

Hi. My name is Hong Sang-soo. I am a reknowned Korean pervert. I am also one of the most acclaimed Asian directors on the film festival circuit. My latest movie made it to the competition at Cannes, where it was promptly dismissed by American critics who know nothing about art. I have news for American critics: I know about art. Also, I know all about shallow, self-centered Korean men, the kind who drift along and do little but score chicks and drink soju and smack their lips when they eat. They're centerless, taking whatever comes to them without heed of conviction or commitment. Some people wonder why I keep making the same movie about these clueless, unlikeable Korean rakes. My answer is, why does Eric Rohmer keep making movies about fussy, overly self-conscious French people? That is the nature of the Frog, Eric Rohmer would probably say, and so naturally I am investigating the nature of the Korean tool. In fact, some have called me the Korean Rohmer, since my droll comedies (yes, they are comedies) are alert to the psychology of desire the way Rohmer's movies are. That is true. And I think the main difference between us is one of national characteristics: my characters are "very Korean," lacking the self-awareness of the French. So I have the more difficult task: my movies seek to examine the unexamined life. It is a neat trick, I think. Anyway, to do this, I like to focus on embarrassing situations or people's banal conversations to explore the hidden power struggle, like the scene when the two clueless Korean dudes in this movie decide to go see the chick they were both into and play passive-aggressive games along the way to try to get rid of the other. Also, I like to probe my characters to locate human weakness, to find the existential drift of the urban soul. Okay, that part is for wankers like Ryan, who like "comedies and proverbs" about flawed people in complicated romantic relationships and will predictably give any movie that pairs "existential x" with "urban y" a good grade on his blog.

To tell you the truth, I make these movies so I can shoot long, realistic sex scenes with pretty-hot-in-an-approachable-way kind of actresses. Look at the girl in that picture. Not bad, eh? And I got to see her full-frontal many times during the shoot! It is too bad the sex scenes in this one aren't as steamy as the ones in Turning Gate, but that is a calculated decision, this movie is deliberately meant to feel minor. More blow jobs and less fucking here -- that is an indication of the less ambitious scope of this picture. I think I am actually transitioning to a more straightfoward approach, with an emphasis on observation rather than structural gameplaying. So unlike my other movies, I have only played with structure and symmetries a little here, and I didn't do it in a very inspired way (just a couple of flashbacks and parallel staging). But on the plus side, this movie is more accessible as well as funny and well-observed as any. Now that I have gotten the transition movie out of the way, the next movie I make will be a masterpiece, I promise you that. And it will feature hotter sex, I swear on my ancestors' grave.

Samaritan Girl -- B

Hi. My name is Kim Ki-duk and I am a sadistic Korean psycho. In my earlier incarnation, I am known for my creative ways with the fish hook. Lately, however, I have also found religion, and so now I make peaceful movies about Buddhism, like Spring Summer Fall Winter...and Spring, but with perversions and acts of unexpected violence. To prepare for this movie I have studied many "ABC Afterschool Specials" and also Lilya 4-Ever. I thought what if I used the Afterschool Special tone to tell a story like the one in Lilya, about a young girl's descent in the world of prostitution. That would be one awesome picture! So besides Satie's beautiful but now overused "Gymnopedie", I have scored this movie with the most saccharine music possible. And the shots and cutting are very crisp and clean and conventionally beautiful. It is a very nice and cheerful-looking movie. However, it is also about cleansing, about how to wash away a vile act. To explore this theme, I've shot many scenes involving cute naked schoolgirls bathing one another. But I have also used Buddhism and Catholicism in an obvious, but film festival-approved way -- by way of allegory-- to get my points across. Get it, one girl is Vasumitra, the other is in Samaria? Okay, I don't either, but it sounds profound, doesn't it? Anyway, if you want to know how you can atone for bashing people's heads in with cement blocks or sleeping with random pathetic men, watch my movie.

Also, is it possible to make a movie about child prostitution and not judge the girl or girls? I don't know if that is even worthwhile to try, but here it is. Perhaps Buddha will be proud.