Saturday, April 17, 2010

His Action Figures Are Bigger than Yours

Forget your vintage 12-inch Luke Skywalker action figure from the late 70's, the other day while walking through the Tai Koo Shing mall in Hong Kong I came across a collection of really huge 'figs.

Apparently, Hong Kong film star Louis Koo is an SF fanboy. And not only does he not care if anyone knows, he's proud of it and quite willing to share his passion. Koo has had life-sized (in some cases slightly larger than life-sized) reproductions of his favourite SF characters created for his private collection, and he's loaned-out some of these mega 'figs to the mall to display for the viewing pleasure of his fellow geeks and other members of the public.

Many of the action figures are Star Wars-related: there are several Yodas, Darth Vader and Darth Maul loom in the display cases, R2 and Threepio are on the scene, and there are others. Koo has also comissioned a number of superheroes, including a couple of Spiderman 'figs, Batman, and Ironman. And let's not forget the variety of bug heads from the installments of the Alien franchise, along with a bust of the Predator and a few of that hunter's masks. Then there were the Lord of the Rings prop reproductions. In addition to the full-sized 'figs under glass, there were also a pair of huge display cases filled with ship replicas (my favourites were the Star Destroyer and the Rebel blockade runner, although it was pretty awesome that one of his Millenium Falcon models included an autograph from Harrison Ford) and closer to normal-sized action figures and statues. And the list goes on.

It was great to see the public turnout too. Obviously, many who stopped to look were just curious passers-by going about their shopping. But there were a fair number of people who were clearly fanboys & fangirls - not because they looked like any hackneyed nerd stereotypes, but because they were the ones taking photos, they were the ones chatting enthusiastically with each other about the displays, and they had the same enthusiastic light in their eyes that I did as we took it all in. We may not have been speaking the same language, but all of us geeks were saying the same thing: this is so cool.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

No Love from The Mouse

You'd think that with Disney investing big money in this winter's Tron Legacy that they'd be starting to work on building a presence for the film among the broad, captive audiences at its theme parks - a way to balance the teasing they've done with the highly-focussed geek market. You'd think part of this would be highlighting the past success of the original film, Tron, even if only with some prime positioning of the 25th anniversary DVD on the racks in their gift shops. You'd be wrong.

As we continue our visit to Hong Kong, two days ago my wife dragged me out to the city's Disney theme park (she's a slave to The Mouse and it doesn't matter how many people have told her this version of the franchise isn't worth while, she was determined to go and pay homage). I wasn't expecting much as we ambled into Tomorrowland. After all, this park is only about a quarter, maybe a third of the size of the California operation, never mind only being a portion of a suburb of the Florida monstrosity. But I was hoping that maybe, just maybe, with Hong Kong being a high-tech Mecca, and with the new film just around the corner, there'd be something of Tron hidden around some corner or other.


The closest I came to any Tron presence in the joint was when we were coming out of the Buzz Lightyear's Star Command ride into the attendant gift shop and the muzak track playing in the background switched at one point to a soft remix of the Tron theme. Then it was onto something else.

But forget about the original's DVD being on the shelves with the other movies. Don't bother considering advanced merchandizing for the new film. And don't even think about a promo poster or two.

Now, you might argue that Disney's theme parks, and especially the small Hong Kong operation, are geared towards kids and that the new sequel isn't something The Mouse would market to them. Think again. Remember when the original film came out in '82? Even as they were running promos in theatres for the adults, Disney was marketing the hell outta that flick to kids. I remember the plastic lightcycle toys they were giving away in boxes of Shreddies. Don't think they won't pull a similar stunt again even as they push the new movie to adults through every channel at their disposal.

I've come to the conclusion that Disney is like a fairweather friend. It dusts off its older properties like Tron when it thinks there's some cool and some cash to be gained, but as soon as the moment in the spotlight has passed, it forgets about them. Kinda like the way the MCP treated the Tower Guardians. And you know what the MCP eventually tried to do to them.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Calling All Fans of Chinese SF - Need Some Help

Since I'm in Hong Kong, I'm wondering if anyone out there who's a fan of Chinese SF can refer me to a bookstore in the area that sells Chinese SF that's been translated into English.

My recent travels around Asia have given me a lot of time to read on airplanes, and as a result I've gone through Dan Simmons' Black Hills fairly quickly, and in short order I'll be done with Douglas Coupland's Generation A.

I was in Kowloon today and went into the Page1 bookstore in the mall near the Star Ferry terminal looking for more to read. They had the usual suspects from the American and British SF scenes (and even a copy of Rob Sawyer's FlashForward to represent the contributions of us Canucks), and I ended up picking up a copy of Neil Gaiman's Fragile Things.

But I was really disappointed to see that the store had no works by Chinese SF authors that had been translated into English. I'd remembered a very interesting discussion of the genre around the world a few months ago on SF Signal, and I went into the store hoping that since Hong Kong has traditionally been the gateway between China and the West that there would be translated versions of local SF available. No luck. At least not at that store. Which is unfortunate because I was hoping to be able to pick up an anthology or a critically-acclaimed novel that would give me a sense of what the Chinese and Hong Kong SF scenes are like.

So we come to my request:

I'm wondering if any of you out there in the blogosphere who are SF fans who live in Hong Kong or China, or who live elsewhere but have travelled to Hong Kong, can recommend a good bookstore here on the island that sells Chinese SF that's been translated into English. Also, are there any particular authors that I should try?

Any suggestions would be much appreciated.

Back in Blade Runner Land

After several days touring Beijing, with a short hop down to Bali to attend a wedding, I'm back in Hong Kong for the rest of my vacation.

Beijing was an experience that frequently felt SF-ish. In my last post, I mentioned the motorized rickshaw/Star Wars asteroid field navigation incident. The Forbidden City put me in mind of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero and all of the other Chinese kung-fu fantasy flicks of recent years. And of course, huffing and puffing along the undulations of the Great Wall, it was hard not to think of all the fantasy stories that have included Asian-inspired cultures in their worldbuilding, including variations on this megaproject. Then there were the walks through the close, dark, occasionally neon-illuminated twists and turns of the hutong neighbourhoods at night, where I was reminded of the opening of Gremlins (although I'm not sure but I think that was supposed to be Shanghai, rather than Beijing). And on our last night there, driving back to the hotel we passed a couple of huge skyscapers, one with every corner and edge highlighted in red neon, another in blue, that made me think of buildings in Tron.

In Bali, there was nothing that made me think of SF. It was just too damn hot and muggy and I couldn't wait for it to be over.

Then there's Hong Kong. On a night like tonight, looking out the window of my hotel room in Causeway Bay past Victoria Park into the urban canyons, I can see how the city inspired Ridley Scott in his creation of the set of Blade Runner (I seem to recall him mentioning this in an interview once or on the commentary track of the DVD). The office and apartment towers rear up into the obscuring darkness of the clouds. They squish close together like old ladies hunting for a bargain in a department store on boxing day. And crowded at their feet are countless tiny, neon-lit restaurants and shops selling, well, everthing, as traffic oozes along the road and legions of pedestrians bustle by in the greasy rain. Blade Runner may have been set in LA of 2019, but Hong Kong is the real deal, here and now. All it needs is hover cars weaving through the maze of concrete & steel titans with Edward James Olmos dragging Harrison Ford away from his noodles... which is seriously not cool - you never drag a man away from his noodles. At least Olmos had the decency to let Ford get take-out. Mmmmm... take out...

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Never Tell Me the Odds

This afternoon I felt a little like I'd been dragged along with the Star Wars gang on Han Solo's mad dash through the asteroid field in The Empire Strikes Back.


Woke up this morning in Hong Kong. The sky was still right outta Neuromancer. Just brighter. Off to the airport for our second attempt to get on a flight to Beijing. The temperature was already 25 degrees by 6:30, with humidity around 90% - and that was inside the HK airport. Climbing the exterior boarding stairs to get on the plane, I looked out across the tarmac and caught the rumour of HK in the distance: mountains hiding behind mist and clouds and smog like postmodern myths. Skyscrapers peering around the corners of air pollution like stone giants playing hide & seek. Then into the air and off to Beijing.


We got into the hotel and phoned the tour guide - last night's flight fiasco had caused us to miss the first leg of the tour this morning. He said we'd missed the Forbidden City but said he could make arrangements for us to link up with the group at the zoo. Um. I'm sure the animals are nice and all, but you don't fly half way around the world to Beijing to not see the Forbidden City. We said we'd go there on our own this afternoon and catch up to the tour group later.


The Forbidden City is everything it's cracked up to be: mind-bogglingly huge yet exquisitely detailed. Even back alleys and servants' walkways are intricately carved and painted. It put me in mind of all of those Chinese kung-fu fantasy movies - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Hero or take your pick of any of dozens of others - except with about a bajillion tourists bumbling through.


But it was after a couple of hours when we had to call it quits and get back to the hotel that the Star Wars experience came into play. When you leave the Forbidden City, if you aren't with a tour group, you're in for quite the undertaking when it comes to finding transportation. Don't feel comfortable taking the bus system, then you're running the gauntlet of cabbies. Most of the ones that hang around don't actually know their way around town that well - if at all, and that includes a profound ignorance of where the major hotels are. There are some who are somewhat honest about this and will say they don't know where your lodgings are, then proceed to ignore you and look for another mark. Others will claim to know the way but do more guessing than navigating. And then there are the rare ones who actually have the map figured out. All of them will try to hose you on the price.


After several failed attempts to find someone who knew how to get to our hotel and who wasn't demanding an emperor's ransom for a flat fee for the trip, we finally found ourselves in one of Beijing's little suicide machines, er, motorized rickshaws: motorbikes configured as tricycles and outfitted with battered aluminum cabins. Luke's words from A New Hope came into my head as I piled in the passenger compartment after my wife: "What a piece of junk!" The driver was pretty proud of his ride though, and claimed he knew the way and could get us there quickly and for an acceptable price, but Han Solo he wasn't. Turns out he didn't have a clue about where to go (he had to stop and ask another rickshaw cabbie for directions) and when he eventually got us to the hotel, he tried to get more money out of us (and failed - we wouldn't budge on the fee). But the Empire flashback came hard after the New Hope memory did - when he first picked us up outside the Forbidden City, as soon as he hit the ignition it was the Falcon careening through the asteroid field. Bike lanes, car lanes, oncoming traffic lanes, all were fair game for this guy's top speed rush. I can't even begin to count the number of times he missed slamming into pedestrians, cyclists or other rickshaws by just centimetres, never mind the constant near-misses where we almost got crushed by buses like a beercan in the Death Star's trash compactor. The ride was fun (at times), frightening (always) and stank like low-quality diesel (I was coughing up the fumes for hours afterwards). I wouldn't go on one of those damn things again, but having done it once, I can say I've taken part in an authentic local experience.


Looking back on the rocket rickshaw trip though, I have a new-found sympathy for what Threepio had to put up with in 'Empire. All of his shouting and flapping away in the back of the cockpit, all of his attempts to reason with Han about choosing another course, it just doesn't seem so annoying anymore. Now, I kind of agree with him.


Saturday, April 03, 2010

A Little Trouble Getting into Big China

William Gibson was right: the sky over Hong Kong is the colour of a TV turned to a dead channel.

Half blind and held up in Hong Kong last night. Our Cathay flight from Vancouver to HK yesterday was delayed by more than an hour, and by the time we got into HK, we couldn't make our connecting flight to Beijing on China Air. Seems a 2-hour layover isn't enough buffer room when your initial flight is an hour overdue and the airline for the next flight closes its boarding gate 40 minutes before their plane is scheduled to leave. Lumbering down the enclosed overhead catwalk connecting the airport with the Regal Aiport Hotel where Cathay was putting us up, I stopped and peered out at the night sky. Gibson was full-on.

The hotel itself gave me another flashback to the first Superman movie: lots of huge, white wannabe-crystal-looking columns in the lobby atrium made it feel a lot like it was trying to be Krypton or the Fortress of Solitude. With the memory of the Olympic cauldron back home still fresh, I found myself again inflicting a bad Marlon Brando impression on my wife:
Be reasonable, Jor-El!
My friend [gotta work the jowels to really get Brando], I have never been otherwise.

This morning, I awoke with the song The Worst Day Since Yesterday running through my mind. (Heard that one when I stumbled past the opening sequence of an episode of Star Gate Universe sometime in the past week. Great song! Had to download it immediately.) Not the best omen for the trek today to Beijing, to link up late with our tour group and maybe salvage a little of today's lost sightseeing.

More from Captain Cyclops' Geeky Travel Log as it happens.

Friday, April 02, 2010

The Adventures of Captain Cyclops

I've been offline for a while because last week I had to go into the hospital for emergency eye surgery. Remember June/July 2008? Same thing, but this time it was the right eye's retina that became partially detached. Recovery is going fine, though vision is still a bit blurry in that eye and the eye itself looks unpleasantly like a maraschino cherry.

What's been really frustrating is that in a week off of work, because of the slow vision recovery, I haven't been able to read, nor have I been able to use the 'net.

Anyhow, no sooner has that been settled, than I'm not off on a 3 week trip to Asia.

Will be missing several episodes of Caprica, Flashforward and V, and will miss the debut of the 11th Doctor Who, but the fun of the trip will make it worth while. Will log on once in a while as I'm able to do the odd post.

Eye'll be seeing you!