355. Eunice Who?

Tonight I attended a concert. Of sorts. It was the first time I stepped inside The Gardens Theater (I’m sure there’s supposed to be an apostrophe somewhere in there, but I’m not entirely sure), and I walked right past it at first. Only realizing that I had walked past it because there was a signboard pointing the way I came from.

I found the name of the place printed in nondescript letters on an easy-to-miss glass door. I was also late. But good fortunes abound, the concert started later. The first reason I even went for the concert, I must admit, was because it was free. But following close behind the first reason is the second, which is because it was a concert featuring Eunice Hoo.

Eunice Hoo. Where should I begin with the wonderful Eunice Hoo?

We met through a mutual friend. He was recording songs and putting them on YouTube. She was recording songs and putting them on YouTube. I could, to a certain (read: low) capacity, make videos suitable to be put on YouTube.

It was the beginning of 2013, a couple of days before I fell sick with high fever and tonsillitis. I just came out of writing/directing a 5-minute musical to review the church’s journey in 2012. It was a video shoot we have been planning for a while, and sleep-deprived on account of the short musical as I was, I was still excited to be a part of the whole project.

Our friend Stephen was the director of the shoot. We met Eunice for the first time on the first day of the shoot, which was New Year’s Day. She was bubbly and sprightly and all smiles. There was an aura of simple joyousness radiating from her that time and tiredness could not dissipate, which, I think, was what kept us going despite the incredibly tight schedule and the even more incredibly unforgiving weather.

I have never seen anyone so young carrying so much talent and grace at once.

She was a joy to edit, which is more than can be said for the many, many others whose video I edited before. She carried herself through the shots with a silliness only possible in youth, yet her antics were somehow just right for the video. The pieces fell right into place, and no one’s name had to be cursed as I edited the videos.

Being late, I was shooed away from the VIP area and into the second level of the 200-seater hall. Out she came, as charming and as chirpy as could be, dishing out number after number despite her obvious nervousness. Sometime in the middle of the performance, my friend beside me screamed, “I LOVE YOU, EUNICE!”

We all cheered. Because we would have all said the same a thousand times.

When I walked out of The Gardens Theater later that night, I stopped to admire a bunting that the organizers had set up outside: a decidedly unflattering larger-than-life photo of Eunice squatting and looking straight into the camera, a red apple inexplicably in her mouth. Her name was printed somewhere above her head, along with the title of her album.

It was a ridiculous photo, but it was somehow just right. There was joy, pure and simple, emanating from it: one that time and tiredness had not worn away.

And if there’s something our weary world needs, it’s more joyous people spreading it around like Eunice Hoo.

127. Breaking Bad: After the End

I have finally arrived at the explosive conclusion of the legendary series that is Breaking Bad.

When I first heard about the series, I didn’t think much of it. Then when Sir Hopkins’ letter to Mr. Cranston surfaced on the internet, along with the much-publicized fact that the series’ third-to-last episode has a perfect score on IMDB, and that the series has made history by being the highest-rated television series of all time, it became one of the things that I thought I’ll come around to doing next year, just like what I thought about starting this blog.

Then just like how I started this blog way ahead of schedule, there came the day that I thought to myself, “Eh, I’ll just watch one episode as a teaser, and I’ll get around to watching the rest of it come 2014 when I actually have time.”

Now, I’m not known to be a television kind of person. You could call it commitment issues, I guess. I can sit through a 2-hour movie, no problem, as long as it’s even remotely interesting. But to ask me to watch 24 hour-long episodes per season of a series… There had better be a really good reason for me to invest that kind of time into it.

I don’t think I’ve finished a full television series before. I stuck with Glee for about three seasons before dropping it, and I managed to watch about 8 episodes of Matt Smith’s Doctor Who before deciding that the genre and story just wasn’t for me. So the only series I’ve finished were animes, and those don’t really count, because, y’know, they’re not real television.

So in that way, you could also say that Breaking Bad made history as the first (and at the date of writing, the only) television series that Joseph Ng has finished watching from start to end.

To be honest, when I first heard about the premise of “high school teacher diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer turns to meth manufacturer to earn money for his family”, I was expecting a very different kind of show. Probably one with a lot more explosions, gunfights, and chase scenes. Needless to say, I was a little surprised to find that the series was very heavily drama-based, and the show became one that was very unique to me because of that.

The story of Breaking Bad is a complex, dark, and dense one. The drama and intrigue that unfolds within each episode could easily be spread over the course of an arc, or even a full season of another show. But Breaking Bad isn’t that kind of show – it plows on, relentless and fearless, creating believable conflict and realistic tensions between the cast of characters that twists and turns multiple times within a single episode. I found myself, at times, reading the recap of episodes on Wikipedia and going, “Wait, that happened only earlier in this episode?”

The very concept behind the series is an ambitious one: “to turn Mr. Chips into Scarface,” series creator Mr. Gilligan said concerning the story. From the very start, Breaking Bad set out to challenge conventions, the most prominent of which was that while other television series focused on maintaining the status quo, the creators decided that it would be about change; and boy, did it change.

It’s no spoiler by now that our protagonist, the mild-manner high school teacher Walter White, makes his transformation from a pathetic, miserable man in the first episode to a borderline complete monster by the end of the final season; but that’s not the only change that we observe. Over the course of the series, we also get to see unlikeable characters becoming likeable; monstrous villains becoming sympathetic characters not so different from you and I; and even the dynamics of the various characters’ interactions with one another evolves with the story.

Perhaps the biggest change, though, is that which happens within us – the viewers. Most of us would start off the series feeling sorry for Walt and wishing that he could get away from his oppressive environment, and that Jesse Pinkman would just die and get it over with. Towards the end of the series, we realize that the tables have been turned on us – at the end, we feel sorry for Jesse and wish that he could get away from his oppressive environment, and that Walt would just die and get it over with. The process of change that the showrunner, writers, and directors bring us on is one so gradual and subtle that most of us might even fail to notice it – just like how Walt fails to recognize his increasing villainy and decreasing humanity.

When I finally arrived at the third-to-last episode that was awesomely titled Ozymandias, again I was expecting a very different episodes. You know, one with a lot more explosions, gunfights, and chase scenes. But true to its nature so far, the show completely subverted that, and instead handed to me an hour-long drama of Walt’s realization of how far he has fallen, and how irredeemable he has become.

Then the final two episodes came, pulling no punches and hitting as hard as it could, culminating in an explosive conclusion reminiscent of Scarface, the whole time maintaining the self-control necessary to prevent it from spiraling into a bloody self-parody.

If there’s a word to describe the series, it’d be “brave”. Here is a show that was unafraid to be itself, that was strong enough to resist the temptations of pandering to its audiences or following the latest trend. It simply told its story like a hard, bitter truth, and this spirit was reflected in the incredible performances put on by the entire cast.

After the end of a long, tiring, emotionally draining journey that lasted all of about 50 hours in total, I can finally rest easy knowing that I have had the privilege of enjoying a genuinely unique, groundbreaking series. I’ll even go a step further to say that if Mr. Hemingway had been alive to watch this series, he would have been proud.

15. About Gaming, Part 3

The most immersive game I have ever played was BioShock Infinite.

I’ll admit that I did not bother with the first two installations in the BioShock series, despite my friend’s insistence that I tried it out. (It was one of those “the story is so good you just have to try it!” incidences.) I did not think much of BioShock Infinite either, even when the gaming community exploded with excitement over it. What drew my attention to the game in the end, was when I saw Anna Moleva cosplaying as Elizabeth, the girl from the game with a half a pinky missing.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for pretty girls.

So two weeks before the game was released, I started to look more into the game, and found out more about the world in which the game takes place, the different elements the creators have brought together, and also reading reviews written by people who managed to get an advance copy of the game. Invariably, the responses of those who finished the game went something like: “The ending. Speechless.”

In a good way, of course. And all of this only added to my intrigue of what this game was all about. Still, I mainly just wanted to see Elizabeth in action.

About two weeks after the official release of the game, I managed to get it on my home computer. There was a 10-minute prologue of sorts to the game, and then the playable was launched (literally) into Columbia.

(“hallelujah”)

And my jaw dropped at the sight.

The glimmering city in the clouds, sunlight glinting off the white-and-gold surfaces like heaven itself. The music kicks in: a dreamy piano tinkling notes in perfect harmony, preparing the way for the song, and then the choir fades in like a chorus of angels.

I was instantly won over by the spectacle. It was the closest thing to perfection I have ever seen or heard in the visual and sound departments. All of this, before I even got to stab anyone or rescue the pretty girl from the tower!

The game only got better from there onwards.

It was one of the very few games where I felt personally connected to the story. I wanted to know what was the story behind the working replica of heaven. What was up with the girl locked away in the tower. What will become of these characters I have come across. I fought each battle with all the desperation of a man trying to stay alive; I felt his terror as I walked through the empty halls of bedlam house, footsteps echoing off the walls; and I unleashed some unspeakable rage when anyone DARED to lay a finger on Elizabeth.

Then at the end of the game, my mind was promptly blown together with the playable character’s, as every mystery in the game came crashing down to the reveal of the horrible truth.

Bam. Gameplay, visual, sound, and the fourth element – storytelling thrown into the mix. It was the finest thing I have ever seen, and probably will see in a long time.

I looked all over the internet in the weeks following my completion of the game, and I saw the journey of the crew that made the game happen. The months and years spend brainstorming ideas, re-imagining ideas, modeling, animating, acting, voicing, directing – and it was incredible to see how much love has been put into the project, that it was able to turn out the way it did.

(I guess I was also suffering from awesomeness withdrawal)

What can we learn out of this? That a delayed masterpiece is invariably superior to a rushed half-job. That love is essential to creating good art. That it takes a team full of committed, passionate people to create something great.

And that it never hurts to have a pretty girl around.

13. Dinner and a Movie

(I’ll get back to continuing that post on gaming after this one)

I had the opportunity today to spend some time with some of my favorite people on earth. Over 4 hours or so between 8P.M. and midnight, we talked, laughed, ate, and learned how to roll sushi together. And just like what we do with anything we’ve just learned, we took it to the logical extreme, just to test the boundaries of weirdness. This is what we ended up with:

Chicken sausage and a banana fritter wrapped with Japanese rice in a sheet of seaweed, covered in mayonnaise.

Needless to say, it was the strangest thing I have tasted all week; but far from the strangest thing I have ever tasted in my life. But that is one memory to be shared another day, in another post.

We all gathered around the TV area, tummies full of oddities, and watched Hugo – the one directed by Martin Scorsese – from start to finish, and it was beautiful.

I could talk about the amazing performances delivered by Asa Butterfield, Chloƫ Moretz, and Sir Ben Kingsley; or the intricately-designed sets that planted us right in the middle of a train station in 1930s Paris; or even about how every frame of the movie was so beautifully shot, every detail so perfectly saturated and textured.

More than all the above, however, was the sense of wonder it inspired. The storytelling, if you may. It was a simple, clean movie – no line of dialogue was wasted, no single shot that seemed unnecessary. It wasn’t a movie that tried too hard; neither was it one that was unambitious. But by the pure virtue of it being so honest to what it was, the film’s message resonated in me in a way that few other things could have.

Brilliantly executed, with performances as natural as breathing in the air around you – it’s not too far a stretch to call Hugo a masterpiece, delivered by master craftsmen and craftswomen.

(I sound like I’m fanboying here; but really, go and watch the film if you haven’t It’s wondrous)

I’m not the kind of person you’d want to watch a movie with. Not alone, at least.

Especially after watching movies as insightful and as well made as Hugo, I tend to lapse into a super-INTP state where I begin picking the movie apart and examining it in my head, to appreciate the whole for each of its individual parts. Watch a crappy movie with me, and I’ll laugh with you about how ridiculous it was after it has ended. Watch one that is beautifully made with me, and I’ll retreat so far from the real world that you may begin to think that I was offended by the movie or something.

After contemplating upon Hugo, I guess there will always be an innate part of us that appreciates beauty – not just visually, but also on deeper, emotional levels, whether we admit to it or not. As much as some of us may embrace the darkness in life and the harsh edges of reality, I believe these things only serve to highlight the things that make life beautiful.

We appreciate the light because we have seen the dark. We have come to love the thing that is good because we have seen the face of evil. The shadows we see are what helps us perceive depth – and really, what beautiful thing has ever existed that was without depth?