Embracing Beauty • Day 30 • Hong Kong

 

screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-11-48-30-amFor the past three years, I’ve lived across the water from one of the world’s most vibrant, exciting, living cities. A city where East meets West in the truest sense of the expression. A city that is full of culture, and energy, and music, and the most amazing food (oh, yes. Food in Hong Kong…)…

She is a city that I have grown to love, even after only scratching the surface of who she really is, mostly from a distance. She is beautiful, she is exciting, she is mysterious, and I wish I didn’t just live across the water from her – but within her city limits where I could truly get to know her. I imagine long afternoons, searching for her secrets, teasing out her love, making her my own.

She is Hong Kong, and she is one of the beauties of the world. Would that I knew her better.

Thanks, Karina, for the vid. 😉

Stay tuned for more examples of embracing beauty (just one day left!) and please share this post with your friends! Let’s help spread beauty all over the internet.

Also, if you have an example of beauty that you want to share, drop me a line at info@thimblerigsark.com and I’ll be happy to include it!

Embracing Beauty • The First Week & Some New

Embracing Beauty • The Second Week & Some New

Embracing Beauty • Day 21 • The Third Week in Review

Embracing Beauty • Day 26 • Star Trek

Embracing Beauty • Day 28 • Appalachian Spring

Embracing Beauty • Day 29 • Song of the Sea

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Thimblerig’s Spoilerific Thoughts on Captain America: Civil War

Captain-America-Civil-War-Divided-We-Fall-Poster-Robert-Downey-Jr

One of the benefits of living in China is that every now and then, the Hollywood studios decide to roll out their big films in our corner of the world, rather than in the United States, where you’d think they’d drop first. Of course, there’s quite a bit of irony in the fact that a Captain America movie would not premiere in America, but regardless, it’s still cool for us. And considering the movie has already made $84 million internationally [update: $200.2 mill], and has yet to open in the United States or even in my host country of China, I’d say it’s been cool for a whole lot of people.

So, yesterday my kids and I hopped a ferry from Shenzhen to Hong Kong with the express purpose of eating at McDonald’s Next, and taking in a viewing of Captain America: Civil War. It was a tiring day, but was it worth it?

civil warAbsolutely, it was.

As director Scott Derrickson (Doctor Strange) tweeted yesterday:

I agree wholeheartedly with Derrickson. This is a trilogy where nothing erodes or gets lost from episode to episode. In fact, if anything, each installment builds on and improves on the other. Even my beloved original Star Wars trilogy wasn’t able to accomplish this, with The Empire Strikes Back unarguably the high point of the trilogy.

With Captain America, the films just get better and better, and this last installment is – by far – the high point.

Before I get into my thoughts on the film, I want to discuss the biggest, most glaring lesson that I took from the film. And no, this doesn’t involve spoilers.

The Goodness of Steve Rogers

Captain-America-image-1Ever since Chris Evans and the Russo brothers first suited up, I have been constantly blown away by the unflinchingly goodness of Captain America. This is a character that lives for doing the right thing, even when the forces of the world are arrayed against him. As we saw in Avengers: Age of Ultron, he has a strong moral code, and he tries to elevate his comrades to live by that same code, even as they make fun of him. He would sacrifice everything for the sake of his friends, including friendship when need be. He has such a noble character that he could almost pick up Thor’s hammer, and if he had, we wouldn’t have been surprised.

And while most of the other superheroes we see are tortured about one thing or another, in the Captain America trilogy, Rogers is only tortured by two things: not being able to help is friends in need, and the fact that he is a man out of time, that he was ripped away from all that he knew when he was thawed out in the 21st century.

And yet, Captain America is one of the most popular superheroes to come out of modern superhero films.

chris-evans-shirtless-captain-americaYou could argue that one reason that Cap is so popular lies in the fact that Chris Evans is, as my friend Jasmine said, just so hot. (Yeah, I put that image there just for you, Jasmine. You’re welcome.)

And while that might be the draw for a certain demographic, I don’t think Evans’ hotness has anything to do with the fact that I see kids here in China running around wearing red, white, and blue Captain America t-shirts.

Then what is it? In my mind, it boils down to the truth that Cap is the hero we all wish we had in our lives: someone who will stand up for us, and who will refuse to stay down on our behalf, because it will always be the right thing to do. But not only that, thanks to the Dr. Stark’s Super Soldier Serum, he has the skills to back up the stands that he takes. He’s like the Boy Scout’s Boy Scout, All-American, apple pie, Brooklyn, and all that jazz. Cap proves time and again that in the right hands, our absolutely good characters can be portrayed as absolutely good, and it can work. They don’t always have to go through a dark night of the soul to get there. (Hear that, Zach Snyder?)

This all speaks volumes about the Russo brothers (read their thoughts on Cap here) and Joss Whedon, writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, and Chris Evans. They chose to handle this potentially irritating and absurdly good character with integrity and consistency. Directing, writing and acting tortured characters is not such a challenge. Directing, writing, and acting good characters that maintain their goodness throughout, and doing so in a compelling way is nearly impossible.

But these guys have pulled off the nearly impossible.

But enough Captain America pontification. If you have not seen Captain America: Civil War yet, and you are trying to steer clear of spoilers, then steer way clear of this blog post. Because here there be spoilers.

***SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS***

I’m not going to take the time to summarize the events of the movie, as you can find that just about anywhere, including Wikipedia. Rather, I just want to give my thoughts.

• As anyone would know from watching the trailers, Captain America: Civil War could actually be called Avengers: Civil War. While it focuses most of the attention on Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, the filmmakers would have been hard-pressed to stuff any more Avengers into this film. And the amazing thing is that each Avenger has their moment to shine, and so the film doesn’t come close to feeling overstuffed.

captain-america-civil-war-will-change-the-mcu-even-more-than-the-winter-soldier-say-866418• I loved how both Captain America and Tony Stark are right, in their own way. It’s an interesting metaphor of how wars can really start – with a small disagreement that eventually billows out of control. And in wars, people get hurt. Civil War is no exception. And the fight at the end between the two of them feels earned, as compared to that other big superhero v. superhero film that came out earlier in the year. And I loved that the big issue between them isn’t resolved in the end. It gives us somewhere to go with the characters in the upcoming Infinity War films.

• I’m fascinated that Captain America, who has headlined three movies and been featured prominently in two others, is a character with no arc. Like James Bond or Indiana Jones, Cap changes very little, but rather demands change from those around him. Conversely, Tony Stark has been forced to go through several radical changes since he premiered in the original Iron Man, but with Captain America, this lack of substantial change works.

• The film’s humor is spot on. Considering the destruction of both property and relationships, the film has several laugh out loud moments. The strained relationship between the Falcon and Bucky being a great example, another being the expected quips of Spider-Man (more on him later). But the best example of use of humor in this film was anything that came out of the mouth of Scott Lang, aka Ant Man. If this film accomplished anything, it made me look forward to the next Ant Man film to see more of Lang, who played a decidedly BIG role in one of the best scenes of this, and just about any superhero movie that has come down the pike.

Oh, and while Stan Lee’s cameo was not so impressive, Rhodes’ (War Machine) response to it was priceless and perfect.

• Spider-Man. What can I say? Spidey has always been my favorite superhero, and while I enjoyed Tobey and Andrew’s turns in the red and blue suit, Tom Holland looks to be the perfect choice to carry the mantle. I love that he is actually the age that Spider-Man would be after just receiving his powers, and his immaturity shows. He is skilled, but not as skilled as he will be. And he is immature, just wanting to please Tony Stark, and so starstruck by his new relationship with him that he is unable to think for himself or entertain the notion that Stark might be wrong.

This film (and the end credits scene) are a nice setup to the new Spider-Man franchise, and I look forward to seeing what the filmmakers do with it (especially since we blessedly won’t have to sit through another tired Spider-Man origin story).

My one beef with Spidey in this film was that the CGI wasn’t quite as fluid as I would hope. There were moments that he looked cartoonish, which I hope that they fix when they make the standalone film.

• The trailer bait and switch. As with the trailer for The Force Awakens, the Russos did a great job making a trailer that made you think you knew what would happen, while in actuality, something else entirely was going to happen. Some examples: the almost Luke Skywalkerian Spider-Man trailers made it seem like Spider-Man would play a much smaller role in this film than he actually ended up playing. Also, the trailer made it appear that Bucky shoots down War Machine, when someone else altogether is responsible for that incident. I love when trailers do this, rather than just giving away everything, or not giving enough.

I obviously loved this film, but as I rode the ferry home writing notes, I realized that I had several questions:

  1. How did Zemo know that blowing up Vienna would help him to achieve his actual goal of tearing apart the Avengers? I know that he had studied the Avengers, and he apparently knew that Cap would go off to help Bucky after he framed him for the destruction, but how did he know that Iron Man wouldn’t support his teammate?
  2. Also, Zemo kept referring to December 16, 1991, the night that Stark’s parents were killed. How did he know that the Winter Soldier had something to do with it? Why did he even suspect it?
  3. How did Cap know that the Winter Soldier killed Stark’s parents, and when did he find it out? I didn’t take any bathroom breaks, but I don’t remember this being explained.
  4. Where did the Black Panther get his powers? I know the comic books explain this, but I felt like the film just wanted you to accept that he had them. That wasn’t quite good enough for me.
  5. How did Stark know that Spider-Man was Peter Parker?

These are minor issues, and perhaps some intrepid reader can help explain the answers to me.

So, in conclusion, this film just continues to build on the fantastic MCU that is being developed with such incredible deftness and consistent balls-out-of-the-park by Marvel. It makes me that much more interested and even excited to see what Scott Derrickson and Benedict Cumberbatch do with Dr. Strange, where Guardians 2 takes us, and what will happen with Thor and Hulk in Thor 3. Not to mention Avengers: Infinity Wars.

Let me know your thoughts!

Visiting the Dinosaur Zoo in Hong Kong

IMG_5373The final event of our Chinese New Year trip to Hong Kong was a trip to the Udderbelly Festival‘s Dinosaur Zoo, and it was a great way to top off our trip, especially for our two and half year old dinosaur fan, Noah.

The Dinosaur Zoo folks are from an Australian company called Erth, and they put on a great show! The audience was filled with kids of all ages, and they really responded enthusiastically to the entire production.

The show runs from February 10 to 14th, with shows in English and Cantonese. Go here for more information, and plan to take the kids! They’ll love it!

McDonald’s Next • Hong Kong

mcdWant to know what McDonald’s of the future might look like? You just have to go no further than Hong Kong’s Admiralty Center and the McDonald’s Next Concept Restaurant. This is a one-in-the-world McD’s dining experience, and has both the traditional menu as well as healthier options that you build for yourself.

The fancy new McDonald’s was a hit for my kids. While my daughter went the traditional double cheeseburger route, my son ordered a hamburger that you built to order, and he said it tasted better than a typical McDonald’s burger. I had the build your own salad with grilled chicken and asparagus (!), and it was quite tasty, and I didn’t leave McDonald’s feeling like I needed to take a few Lipitor for my trouble.

The food was brought to our table by nice McDonald’s employees, and was pretty quick in arriving. And while you can tell that it was a crowded place, we very quickly found seats, and they even had cell phone chargers on every table – which in Hong Kong is a pretty big deal.

I didn’t try the McCafe options, but the baked goods and coffee looked like an upgrade from the typical McCafes that you find in McDonald’s all over China.

It was a pretty cool experience, eating in this McDonald’s from the future. If you’re in Hong Kong, give it a try!

Can a Christian Film Play in China?

Last fall, filmmaker Jon Erwin (October Baby, Mom’s Night Out, Woodlawn) issued a video challenge to the church to embrace filmmaking as the new Roman Road – a new way to reach the world with the Gospel. The video was well-made, and hit on many important issues for Christians to consider as we move ahead with our attempts to impact culture with our cinematic art. You can watch the video below, and pay attention to Erwin’s arguments at 1:54.

 

One of the questions this video raises, “Can a Christian film play in China?” grabbed me for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve lived in China for the past four years, and while here I’ve enjoyed several Hollywood blockbusters on the big screen. Second, I’ve learned about the incredibly stringent guidelines that China places on the western films it allows to be shown in domestic cinemas.

Bottom line? A Christian blockbuster, as Erwin proposes, would have an incredibly difficult time showing up on a Chinese screen for a multitude of reasons. And considering that China is set to be the biggest film market by 2020, this is something that Christian filmmakers need to be considering as we become more and more serious about the films we are producing.

Which brings me to the point of this blog post. Considering China’s enormous untapped film market, and considering that Christians typically want their films to be a positive force in the world for the sake of the Gospel, what can filmmakers of faith do to try and ensure that their film stands at least a chance, however small, of being seen on Chinese screens?

I have three ideas, and unfortunately, none of them are easy.

1. We need to create true blockbusters.

Transformers 4: The number two highest grossing foreign film in China history.

Transformers 4: The number two highest grossing foreign film in China history.

Here’s where Erwin and I agree. Christian filmmakers, producers, investors, all need to be purposeful about creating real, true blockbusters, and this is not an enterprise to enter lightly. China typically only accepts blockbusters in the list of 34 foreign films that they permit to be shown each year, and the foreign movies that have done well in China share the following qualities of a blockbuster: they are four-quadrant, they have lots of big action set pieces (films aren’t typically dubbed into Mandarin, so the action has to keep the audience’s attention), they star big name actors and/or directors, they are parts of successful franchises, they have eye-popping SFX, and…

well… muscle cars and giant fighting robots are always a plus.

The typical small Christian-made dramas will not make a dent in things in China when produced as foreign-made films. In fact, they would never get chosen.

And so, we do need to attempt our own blockbusters, if we want our films to play onscreen in China.

Of course, the argument could be made that attempting a Christian-made blockbuster could very easily lead to our own Christian version of Battlefield Earth (one of the most horrid films ever made, in John Travolta’s attempt to make a Scientology blockbuster), but if done well, it could be also be pretty amazing.

If done well.

2) We Need To Take the “Christian” out of “Christian Blockbuster”.

Yeah, I know. This would be a deal-breaker to many Christian investors. I can hear the rich Christian businessman now: “What’s the use in dropping millions into a picture that won’t have a Gospel message?”

1-20My response to that question would be simple: Romans 1:20.

God reveals Himself in the artistry of creation. Why can’t we attempt to reveal Him in the artistry of our creation, too? There may be a time for being obvious, but as Jesus proved in his parables, there is also a time for just telling good stories and trusting God to do the rest, to make the audience work for their dinner – as Andrew Stanton said about storytelling.

For a film made by Christians to be big in China, the message would need to be shifted from preachy to artistry, or it would it would never be accepted. Christian filmmakers need to become more skilled in the use of imagery to convey our messages: metaphor, imagination, beauty, awe, wonder… these are aspects of artistry that are consistently missing from our films. Learning how to use these tools could not only make the films agreeable to the censors in China, but possibly to the unchurched in America as well.

Can you imagine a non-didactic film made by Christians that people around the world wanted to see because of the excellent storytelling and artistry? In fact, I posit that if we were to do this well, trying to make a film that would play in China could actually help save Christian filmmaking from itself.

[Just a note: Noah and Exodus, two very mainstream Hollywood Bible epics, weren’t accepted as one of the 34 foreign films allowed in China during the year they were produced. And these were big movies with big names made by big studios. But they didn’t stand a chance. Why? Because they were too biblical.]

3) We Need To Find Partners

Having said there is no place for the small dramas, another way to get the opportunity to tell our stories in China is by partnering in co-productions with Chinese companies. Any film producer who is truly interested in learning how to take advantage of the growing Chinese market should be in Hong Kong and/or the Mainland forging alliances and friendships with filmmakers, producers, and investors. The good thing about these sorts of films is that they can be smaller, which might help take care of the problem that making blockbusters is the only solution. Such films might not get the same financial returns, but they stand a better chance of actually being made, and would have the added benefit of getting the filmmaker’s feet in the door.

Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 3.59.51 PM

British actor Joseph Fiennes (R) and Chinese actor Dou Xiao attend the press conference of the movie “The Last Race” in Tianjin, north China, June 24, 2015.

A perfect example of this can be seen in an upcoming film, The Last Race, an unofficial sequel to the Academy Award winning film, Chariots of Fire. The film, which is due to be released this year, tells the true story of Eric Liddell (played by Joseph Fiennes of the upcoming Risen), the Olympic runner who went to China as a missionary after the 1924 Olympics and who died in a Japanese internment camp in 1945.

The Last Race was written and directed by Hong Kong filmmaker Stephen Shin, produced by Canadian Michael Parker, and distributed by Hong Kong powerhouse Alibaba Pictures Group (Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation). It’s hard to say how much the film will bring out Liddell’s faith story, but it seems to be a step in the right direction.
So, what do you say, Christians filmmakers, producers, writers, investors? Are you serious about making films that can have a worldwide impact or are you just satisfied to see your name on a marquee at the local cineplex after your church rented the space for the night?
Screen Shot 2016-01-02 at 4.15.35 PMAre you willing to undertake the hard work, step out of your area of comfort, and for many of you – risk everything to try? Yes, you may fail. Unless your name is Spielberg or Cruise, you probably will fail. After all, as Erwin says in the video quoting an unnamed filmmaker, “If we knew how to make hit films that’s all we’d make,” and so even making the attempt is a gamble of epic proportions.
But this sounds like what filmmakers all around the world do every day.
So why not go for it?