Interview: Jazz Pianist Bob James

In his 45-year career, smooth jazz composer and pianist Bob James has produced more than 40 albums. He may be best known for “Angela”, the theme from the TV sitcom, “Taxi”.

He’s collaborated with musicians from all genres, winning two Grammys in the process.

And he’s a favourite of hip-hop and R&B artists, who have sampled many of his tracks in their works.

“Nautilus” from 1974 is probably the most sampled piece in hip-hop history, having been “borrowed” by Slick Rick and Puff Daddy among many others.

Five years ago, Bob James began collaborating with five students of traditional Chinese instruments that he’d met at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. They became “The Angels of Shanghai”, with whom he performed in Hong Kong last week.

The Works’ Ben Pelletier spoke to him.

Ben Pelletier
We’re here with Bob James who is part of the lineup of the Hong Kong International Jazz Festival. Welcome to the programme, and welcome indeed to Hong Kong.

Bob James
Thank you Ben. Very excited to be here.

Ben Pelletier
I should say welcome back to Hong Kong. You were here with Fourplay earlier.

Bob James
Last year. We had a wonderful time. Unfortunately in the music business we are always in places for too short a time. I was here for one day. Of course you get to see the hotel, the concert hall and the airport, but you don’t really get a chance to do the sightseeing I would love in this beautiful city.

Ben Pelletier
This time, with the Hong Kong International Jazz Festival, you have a project you’ve put together over the past several years, “The Angels of Shanghai”. Can you tell me how the project came about, and what the project entails?

Bob James
It’s been a five year adventure, and this actual trip to China is the culmination a of really wonderful life experience that I have had, that came about almost by accident. I was at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music five years ago with a Japanese friend who was doing some research about opening up a Chinese division of the record company. And I had no plan to get actively involved in any kind of recording because I was very busy with other stuff. But I had a really magical day, first becoming acquainted with traditional Chinese instruments. I humbly admit that I knew nothing about this music prior to that visit. But they had arranged for some of the best of the students to demonstrate some of the instruments to us, and I was supposed to give some advice to my Japanese friend. The bottom line is I just fell in love with the sound and with the fantastic musicians. We bonded. We had one of these incredible examples of music being the universal language. Because they knew nothing about my music, they were meeting me for the first time, I had never performed in China, so there was no advance hype about it. We just sat down and started making music. I couldn’t speak any Chinese. I only found out later that they were quite good with English but they were very shy about it. So we didn’t have any verbal communication at all. But to my amazement they were totally open to my improvising, starting up some new hybrid experiment. And that’s how we started.

Ben Pelletier
Did you end up writing music fresh for this project or adapting previous compositions?

Bob James
It was mostly new music that happened, but I also adapted a few older compositions for instrumentation. I was given some very good advice that I think it would be …  since the project was so different … what I was basically trying to do was combine American jazz and traditional Chinese music and form this hybrid east-west thing. And I didn’t know what it was going to turn out to be, but it was intriguing to me from the very beginning. But some advice that I got was that, in addition to making completely new music, it would be interesting to my fans if I took music that was familiar to them already and rearranged it with this new sound to see how it would sound in the new version.

So I took what was probably my most recognized theme which is a theme from a TV show that was very successful in the States called “Taxi”. The theme song is a piece called “Angela”, which was another coincidence because I ended up calling this group “The Angels..” and the name “Angela” is derived from “angel”. So many, many coincidences. But this “Angela” theme is very well known because of all the exposure it got from the television. So I got a completely new arrangement of that. And actually one of the most exciting times during the project was when I first played that theme for them. I could tell immediately that they responded and loved it, and I thought that was very flattering and very nice. And as I was playing for them, I realized that the entire first part of the melody uses the exactly the same mode or scale that is in their traditional Chinese folk music that they play all the time. So they felt very at home with this theme.

And as I was listening to it, I thought why did I even write it for a TV series that is based on New York City cab drivers? It really has nothing to do with Chinese folk music. But now all of the sudden, this thing unfolds …  and it was as if it was meant to be somehow.

Ben Pelletier
Was it surprising to you how readily these musicians adapted to improvising in a Jazz format?

Bob James
I think that was the most inspiring thing. And that led me to believe that I could make this into a project that makes sense as a jazz … some kind of a hybrid jazz project. Because I discovered on that first day, that they were totally open and free about the idea of improvising, which is a big deal to me, because that’s at the very root of what I have always loved about the jazz idiom. It’s that it’s unpredictable, you never know what’s going to happen. The most exciting moments are the times when you use your techniques to respond to something that happens instantly. If you have this Chinese sound coming back to it, you try to respond to it and react to it, in a musical way. And they were so fantastic at being able to do that. And I would play something in my jazz style and they would come back to me, with it reinterpreted by them instantly into their Chinese version of it. I was not asking them to play jazz, but I was asking them to enter into that kind of spirit. And they were just great. And we’ve had a wonderful time ever since. Every time I get together with them, it’s more of the same.

Ben Pelletier
You’ve never stood in one place with your career, musically or otherwise. What comes next. And how do you stay motivated to move to new areas?

Bob James
Well, age I guess happens to all of us, and I’m just trying to refuse to let it slow me down. I’ve had the good fortune to have pretty good health. I love what I do. I’m very much unhappy if I am away from my piano too far. It’s just part of my body now. So I’m still always wanting to be doing something. And I’ve had a real basic feeling that jazz, philosophically, is an idiom that needs to keep changing. There are some people in our area of music who believe that there is a more pure way, or more correct way to play jazz and I’m not one of those people. I don’t think there’s any correct way to play it. I think it changes daily because the next day when you play an improvised solo. I believe you should be responding to what’s going on around you. And when it comes to the Far East, my mindset is different from when I’m in New York city. So whatever comes up in 2009 it’s going to be related to that same basic philosophy.

I just ran into an old friend who I think is one of the most brilliant jazz artists in the world, and one of the few jazz artists who have specialized in playing the clarinet in recent years. Back in the swing era, many many years ago, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw – some of the great jazz artists – made the clarinet a very popular jazz instrument, but somehow it’s been usurped by the soprano sax and you rarely hear jazz clarinet anymore. But Eddie Daniels plays it like a dream, and he is just a phenomenal artist and we rediscovered each other. I had known him many many years ago in New York, but I hadn’t seen him for a long time, but we bumped into each other at the Chicago airport about a month ago and almost immediately started talking about collaborating and doing a project.

So that’s one that’s in the back of my mind, but we both understand the fact that the music business is drastically different than it was when I was first making records. And the economy has had a major impact on us, as it has on anybody else, so most record companies, I feel, are very conservative and very reluctant to take on any CD music projects. There’s a major marketing plan, a touring plan. They put so much baggage on the idea of making records that it’s frustrating for me. Because I had a period of time for 15-20 years when I was very fortunate to be in an environment where, when we had any kind of good creative ideas, we’d just go in and make a record. And maybe we’d end up touring, maybe we wouldn’t. But the record would exist, and it flowed economically. Now it’s more complicated than that. So I really don’t know where the support from a company would be next year.

I would for example love to do “Return of Angels of Shanghai”. Now that we know each other so well, it would be fantastic to see what music we can make now that we’ve broken the ice, and gotten through the start up phase. But whether or not we will get support from the record company, we don’t know yet. 

Ben Pelletier
You talked records and touring, and the “Angels of Shanghai” album came out a few years ago. Have you noticed any differences in the way people either react to the album or react live between the West and doing that same material in Asia?

Bob James
The US audience are much more confused, but at the same time, if I get them into the theatre, they are almost without exception, very intrigued. They don’t believe it at first. How can you have these five weird instruments that they’ve never seen before combined with the jazz quartet? When I talk about it, the hardest thing is to publicize this kind of concert and to get the publicity people and concert promoters to imagine that it could work. And yet on the US tour, without exception, when we started performing, I could always tell that the audience are really intrigued when they physically see us on stage and how much fun we are having, and they can begin to understand how similar in many ways the Chinese instruments are to our history.

It was a different experience with the Asian audience. We performed in Japan, we performed in Korea, Thailand, now finally here in China. But throughout Asia, the traditional instruments historically are all kind of similar, so it’s not as much of a surprise for Asian audiences to hear these instruments.

Ben Pelletier
After your all too brief stay with us, you are heading to Shanghai, with the Angels of Shanghai, sort of appropriately bringing this music to the mainland for the first time, but sort of rounding things up, taking things full circle. How do you anticipate it will go down with a Chinese audience?

Bob James
I’m smiling as you even bring this up because you are absolutely right, it is full circle. I am very proud of this project. I went from being totally naïve about Chinese traditional music and in many ways about China in general, because I’d never visited here, I’ve never performed in China. I just feel that we are in this new global community and it’s so important for us to get to know each other better. And if, even in a small way, I can be a good will ambassador … I didn’t set out to do it that way, it certainly wasn’t anything pretentious like that. I just love the idea of making this music. But over the five years I’ve done it I’ve had the chance to meet, and become good friends with, extremely talented young, fresh Chinese musicians that have taught me much more than I know I have taught them. But we bonded. We learned from each other’s cultures. It’s been a fantastic experience. And I’m so excited to go to Shanghai, their home, and I know it will be a friendly audience because I have a feeling that many of their family and friends are going to be there to celebrate this great occasion, that after five years I am finally having the opportunity to perform in mainland China.

Ben Pelletier
Well, all the best with that and I look forward to your next project as well.

Bob James
Thank you Ben. It’s been a pleasure.

Interview: Laurent Cantet, director of “The Class” (Entre Les Murs)

Laurent Cantet’s movie “The Class” or “Entre Les Murs” (“Between the Walls”) looks at a group of French  students as they go through a year of high school.

It was filmed with three digital cameras over the course of a school year. Most of it takes place in a classroom in a secondary school in the 20th arrondissement, a multi-ethnic neighbourhood of Paris, but the story the movie tells reaches beyond the walls of the classroom, into French society itself.

the-class

The movie stars real students and teachers, including François Bégaudeau, who wrote the autobiographical book on which it is based.

Laurent Cantet was in Hong Kong during this year’s French Cinepanorama. The Works interviewed him.

The Works
“The Class” is the first French movie to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes since 1987? How did you feel taking the stage with your group of young actors?

Laurent Cantet
Getting this award in Cannes was a big surprise for all of us. This film was made in a very particular way of production, a very experimenting way. We don’t have any stars or any professional actors, and the script was always being rewritten during the shooting. It was a real experiment for all of us. The fact this kind of film can find its place in a festival like the Cannes festival is very important for me and we are all very The second thing that made me feel very happy was that we shared this moment with the children that played in the film, with the teacher that played in the film, with the two co-writers in the film. I think this film is a collective work and I feel myself like, how you say, the conductor in music who choose what the best point of view in the situation. But I always tried to involve the people I am working with in the process of creating.

The Works
Why did you choose a docu-drama approach?

Laurent Cantet
I think we have a more and more important part of the cinema that deals with reality, with what’s happening in the world, because the world is getting more and more complex. It’s always more difficult to live in it, and the cinema is showing that more and more precisely. This award also says that the public is able to feel involved in a film that shows the world as it is.

The Works
The school comes across as a microcosm of French society?

Laurent Cantet
We entered the school just to see what’s happening behind those walls, and nobody knows what exactly except the teachers and students, if you were not students or teachers you don’t know what exactly happened between those walls. And the film stays here. It’s important for me that through this littlie microcosmos we could describe the whole world, that those walls are not cutting the school from the world, and all the problems the society has to deal with can enter the school too.

The Works
Were there special challenges or advantages in filming “The Class” as docudrama, with just a small crew and a cast of non-professional actors?

Laurent Cantet
I’m used to working with non-professional actors because I always try to enrich the film by their life experience. And I always listen to what they have to say about their own lives, and to put it into the film. That’s important for me, and that’s the best part of the work for me because I learned a lot from it and I tried to introduce that in my point of view. I also like to work with a small crew, as small as possible, because when there are not too many people around in filming you can feel you are all involved in the same story. And everybody wants to fight for the film for the same film. That’s partly why I have worked with the same producer for 15 years, and had the same cinematographer for all my films. Now we can understand each other almost without speaking.

The Works
The film is based on François Bégaudeau’s book and filmed through the academic year with the students. How close is it to the book and how much is it following the reality unfolding in the classroom?

Laurent Cantet
The film is not a real adaptation of the book. It’s more an extension of the book. It means that I use a lot of things coming from the book, all the documentary aspect of the film. François Bégaudeau, the writer of the book, has been teacher for 10 years. He knew that world much better than I do. He had a point of view from  inside that I would never get. Even though I stayed in the classroom watching lessons I wouldn’t get this kind of insight. So it was important for me to get this image. But I also wrote part of the film that is not in the book, which is all the narrative story. The story of Suleyman comes out of the book progressively in the film. And we followed his story and it becomes the story of the film which is not in the book. François accepted that there would be two aspects of the film: his book and the part of the film that I wrote without him. I think the two aspects really mix together quite well.

The Works
So is it more documentary or drama?

Laurent Cantet
I think the film is a documented film, I want the reality to exist and appear in the film. I want to describe the word as it is, but I never try to be a representative of the whole world. I just try to show a little part of the world, thinking that after that viewers can think by themselves about what it means. My films always ask a lot of questions but never answer them precisely because I don’t have any answers.  The world is too complex and everybody tries to find his place in this world, tries to find his role in the world. But there is no true answer, there is no unique answer to all the questions.

The Works
What do you really want people to take away from “The Class”?

Laurent Cantet
I think the film tries to show that the diversity of our society and culture make them richer, and our teachers have to deal with the mix of all the cultures in the town in their schools. I think what people usually consider as a problem: immigration, integration of all the people coming from all over the world trying to live together, is more like something very good for our society and for our culture. It’s not a problem. That’s the main idea I want to show. I also want to show the school system is very complex. You don’t have one answer to it. There is a lot of contradiction in the system, and this system helps people to live together but at the same time excludes a lot of people because they don’t find their place in the system. The situation shown in the film is not always very comfortable. It’s always very tense between the children and teachers and between the children themselves. But at the same time I think it’s important this kind of space exists just to make them learn to become citizens. You can test things here in the classroom. You can test what it means to be a citizen. You can argue to find a good argument, to impose your way of thinking. And it’s a place where you can really think about what you are becoming.

The Works
How did you choose your actors?

Laurent Cantet
I don’t have the feeling that I chose them. I think they chose to be part of the story. At the beginning of the school year they organised workshops in the school and all the volunteers were welcomed. At the beginning when they came, about 15 students came to see what it was. After a few weeks a lot of them left the workshop because they have many things to do better than this one. So the 25 that stayed are the 25 that are in the film, I never had to say: “You, yes. You, no”. We just made the film with those that are involved in the process.

The Works
Your previous films such as “Time Out”, “Heading South” and now “The Class” tackle social and political issues. Are these what concern you most as a filmmaker?

Laurent Cantet
I am very involved in what’s happening around me when I am making a film. I like to give a view of the world to people that are watching it. It’s important for me because the films I like are the films that ask questions about our society. I’m trying to do the same when I am making films. But I always try to avoid very dogmatic film. I always try to speak of the world through the experience of the characters through the feelings of characters, through the stories, because I like to write stories. That approach makes films that don’t’ say: “Here is what you have to think,” but let people just think with the film, and draw from the film, and not to tell them what to think.

Interview: Wei Te-sheng, director and writer of “Cape No. 7”

The Taiwanese film “Cape No 7” has broken box office records in Taiwan and is also set to be a success in Hong Kong. The first feature film by director Wei Te-sheng, it’s a romantic comedy, with music, set mostly in Hengchun, a small town in the southernmost part of Taiwan.

The protagonist of the main story is Aga, a failed rock-star who returns to his hometown from Taipei and becomes a postal worker.

His interest in music is reawakened when the town decides to put together a local band hastily as the opening act to a beach concert by a famous Japanese singer.

A relationship develops between Aga and the Japanese woman who is helping to organise the band. It’s mirrored by seven love letters written by a Japanese teacher to the Taiwanese woman he is leaving, as the Japanese left Taiwan after the Second World War.

cape-7

During the making of the film, director Wei ran into many obstacles, from a string of typhoons at the beginning of the shoot to serious financial difficulties. To make the film, he refinanced his home, initially with his wife’s full support, but got himself heavily into debt as the production went on.

He spoke to The Works’ Diana Wan.

(This interview was conducted in Chinese, and translated)

Diana Wan
When did you first come up with the idea for “Cape No. 7”?

Wei Te-sheng
It was back in 2006. At that time I couldn’t get finance for my previous project. I remember thinking that I wanted to make a film that could move the hearts of people, which was about our local culture, but which could at the same time be commercially successful. So I spent a year in preparation and research and took about a month to write the script.

Diana Wan
You took a lot of personal risks financially to make the film.

Wei Te-sheng
Yes. It was very tough when we first got the film together. When we started filming in the southern part of Taiwan we had only NT$5 million to make the film. The reason we still went ahead with the shooting was that we had applied for a guarantee fund from the government to insure any bank that would give us a loan. But I couldn’t believe it. No bank wanted to lend us the money. We had the guarantee fund from the government but we still couldn’t get a loan. We had thought we’d definitely get it. So as we started filming we were waiting for a loan to come but no bank would help out. In the end, finally, one bank turned up that was willing to lend us the money and we had to overcome so many obstacles. Before we got that loan I was really worried and scared. It was so terrible! What could we do? In the end the film was made and it was quite something. I made this film with NT$50 million and it took in NT$500 million at the box office in Taipei.

Diana Wan
Your wife was very supportive of the risks you were taking.

Wei Te-sheng
That was a long time ago. Towards the end of the film project she lost faith in me totally. It was true very early on. Five years ago she said to me, “Go ahead and do it. Don’t wait till you get old and complain that you didn’t do this because of this and that. If you want to do it, do it.” We were talking about NT$2 million back then, which was something we could afford at the time. But at a later stage, when we were making Cape No. 7 she had to sign off on a loan for NT$15 million, and she thought I was actually going crazy. She thought I didn’t know what I was doing and our lives were going to be ruined once we signed for this loan. But I still wanted to do it, and she lost faith in me.

Diana Wan
You weren’t tempted to give up?

Wei Te-sheng
There was no turning back. Money had been spent. You can’t quit in the middle of filming. If you quit you’ll be in debt and you won’t have made your film. I couldn’t afford to lose in this, and the only way I could win in the circumstances was to finish this film. I couldn’t compromise on even one frame. I could only say okay when it really was okay. If it was not okay it was not okay. Even when I was just half way through I knew I had to finish it. I couldn’t spend the money and come back empty handed. There should be no regrets. I realised my vision to the best of my ability and if that failed there was nothing more I could to. And if it turned out to be successful, it’s something we achieved. There was no turning back because we were already so much in debt, We had to continue, take the gamble.

Diana Wan
So you felt exonerated in the end?

Wei Te-sheng
It was totally out of my expectations. In the end I realised that if you do something honestly and with sincerity, the result can be overwhelming. It went far beyond what we considered to be commercially successful. What is successful with our audience is sometimes not the kind of commercially successful films we expect. What makes a movie commercially successful for the audience is to have a story that’s close to their hearts, close to their language and thinking, something that they would like to see. It’s not always about using a star-studded cast or expensive sets. Of course, those things could be of commercial value, but what is the real value in all of this? Can they relate to the film? Can it say what they have always wanted to say in their heart? Is it the dream they have that they can’t bring to life? Could it make them think again about the dreams they had when they were young?

In everyone’s life, no matter how ordinary he or she is, there should be one thing that you can talk proudly about, that one thing. Even though you can maybe tell it in ten minutes, it’s good enough. An old man should have a story to tell. “Grandad or grandma, what did you do when you were young that you could tell me about?” Nothing? How can you tell your grandson or granddaughter that your life is a blank? Nothing. It’s what you achieved that matters. People nowadays give up their dreams very early. At most they allow themselves ten years to realise their dreams. If you live to 100, spending just 10 years to realise your dream is too short. People give up too soon and too easily these days.

Diana Wan
What’s the role of the music in the film?

Wei Te-sheng
A film about music is a method, it can easily provoke an audience’s emotions. But what the film actually talks about is dreams and the value of love. A romance is filled with regrets. After 60 years can this love take on a new set of values? It’s about the realisation of dreams, and the regrets of romance and dream, but told through the use of music.

Diana Wan
Some people praise the film for it’s “local” sensibility. Will it sell worldwide?

Wei Te-sheng
When we are blindly chasing the so-called world trends and trying hard to make ourselves fit into this global perspective do we notice how much we give up in the process? We try hard to chase these things and at the same time we are losing our own values. I want to look at this from another perspective, and to show people around the world our own unique culture. I think things can coexist: we can have new things but at the same time not forget our existing culture. Of course new culture and old traditions can conflict with each other. I also look into this in the film to see whether the new and old can work together. What I’ve always advocates is that we shouldn’t be scared of new culture but at the same time we shouldn’t forget our heritage because the two are closely related. So when we try to become internationally recognised or take on this global perspective can we use a local perspective to do so? Or should we lose ourselves totally to pursue this? Can we look at this from our own perspective and create something new from it?

Diana Wan
You have plans for another epic movie on Taiwan’s indigenous people. Is the global economic downturn going to make it hard to finance an epic?

Wei Te-sheng
Filmmakers shouldn’t have this mindset and say: “Oh, the financial situation is bad, so let’s forget about making this film.” It should be the other way around: “How can we make this film or project a reality despite the financial difficulties?” The first lesson in making films is problem solving. Isn’t this the first thing we learn in film school?

Diana Wan
How do you think audiences outside of Taiwan will receive it?

Wei Te-sheng
I think they will understand. Music, love and dreams are universal themes. Which places on this planet don’t have love? Don’t talk about music or dreams? These are all universally accepted. I just focused on the culture of Taiwan in talking about these themes.

Diana Wan
You used mostly non actors?

Wei Te-sheng
Our actors are all very real and natural. People found them funny not because they said something funny but because they act like people you know. For instance, the village political representatives do talk like that. People’s uncles and aunts do talk like that. Their friends’ children do talk like that. So the audience feels that these people do live around them. They won’t treat them as actors. It’s like watching people they know on screen. These ordinary people realising their dreams, the group of losers trying to put their first music performance together, these things happen around the world. There is no language barrier and it’s a common value we all share.

Diana Wan
For a long time the Taiwanese commercial movie scene hasn’t been very competitive.

Wei Te-sheng
Maybe noodle shop A sells a bowl of noodles for $100, and noodle shop B also sells it for $100. But one bowl has noodles, beef, egg and vegetables for $100, while the other has just noodles and soup and still charges $100. This is the dilemma the Taiwan film industry faces at the moment. Our budgets have dwindled but you have to try to give the same value for money, so how do you attract the audience?

Maybe the soup I made the bowl of noodles with was brewed for more than 20 hours. Do we want to spend the time to make this 20-hour soup? You can’t say I don’t want to spend the time and effort. If you do, why should the audience want to come to see this film if they could spend the same amount of money somewhere else? Maybe I don’t have the beef or all the other extra condiments but my soup has to be worth the money. This is the area we need to work on. That’s what I’m trying to do and I’m not quite sure whether I can do it. At that time I took a big risk. I was encouraged and ridiculed at pretty much the same rate. They encouraged me because they knew how tough it was and they laughed at me because they thought I was heading to my doom. But we made it, we made it and proved we were right.

I think whether it’s a Taiwanese film, or a Hong Kong film, or a movie from other parts of Asia, we lack the spirit of risk-taking. Not many people want to risk testing the potential of the market or wanting to do something good. We compromise because of the market situation. We encourage others to follow their dreams but we don’t actually make our own dreams come true.

In the Show – 25th November 2008

Tonight’s show is mostly, although not exclusively about movies and TV.

Wei Te-Sheng is the writer and director of “Cape No. 7”, a 2008 Taiwanese romance comedic music drama. The film was world premiered at the 2008 Taipei Film Festival on June 20, 2008 as its opening film and later won 3 awards in the festival. It has become so popular in Taiwan that on November 1st, 2008 it became the 2nd top grossing film in the island’s cinematic history

In 2004 producer/director Sue Williams and her small team began to follow nine young Chinese in their 20s and 30s for what would become the documentary “Young & Restless in China”. She returned each year since then to see how their jobs and personal relationships were unfolding, how they were changing and how they saw themselves.

Laurent Cantet’s “The Class” won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. It’s a docu-drama adaptation of an autobiographical novel by Fran??ois Bégaudeau, a young French teacher in a tough junior high school. Cantet spoke to The Works while visiting hong Kong recently.

In town for the Hong Kong Jazz Festival is Bob James, whose newest project, “Angels of Shanghai”, blends both Western jazz and traditional Chinese musical traditions. We spoke to him.

If you want to see a streaming video of tonights show, please click here.

In the Show – 18th November 2008

Asia’s independent films provide a view of the world often quite different from that of the mainstream. The Hong Kong Asian Independent Film Festival, which runs until the end of this month at the Grand Cinema, is featuring 45 of the most recent indie productions from the region.

In the first of our studio performances we have an unconventional mixture of electronica and erh-hu from Vasco Paiva and Yin John, as they perform Gershwin’s “Summertime”.

Tickets for the 37th Hong Kong Arts Festival are on sale right now. Buy them before the 28th November and you can get up to a 15% discount. But you may be having problems trying to decide just what to see. With us to give a little help in making that decision is the festival’s executive director, Tisa Ho.

The previous film from co-writers and co-directors Joel and Ethan Coen was the extremely serious and often bleak “No Country for Old Men”. Their new movie “Burn After Reading” is on the surface at least much more whimsical, and looks very much like a screwball comedy. But looks can be deceiving, as reviewer Gary Pollard is here to tell us. toku

Finally we have the mellow sound of Japanese flugelhorn player and singer , Toku (seen at right in The Works’ studio).

Tonight, with pianist Bob Mocarsky, he sings and plays “Fly Me to the Moon”.

Toku has previously worked with Japanese superstars like Ken Hirai, Skoop on Somebody, Paris Match, Miki Imai, Mariko Takahashi and m-flo. His work has been featured in various Japanese ads including those for Honda and Hitachi.

To see a streaming video of the show, please click here.

In the Show – 11th November 2008

guangzhou-opera-houseWhile Hong Kong is still arguing over the West Kowloon Cultural District, Guangzhou’s arts infrastructure, unhindered by the need to take public opinion into consideration, seems to be leaping ahead with such buildings as the Zaha Hadid-designed Guangzhou Opera House (above).

However, there is usually a driving force behind major urban development in China. For Beijing, it was the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Currently, for Guangzhou it is the 2010 Asia Games, which thecity is to host. Like Beijing, Guangzhou is undergoing a massive facelift in the run-up to the games. But not all Guangzhou’s artists are convinced cultural success can be measured by high-profile top-down projects that may be unsustainable.

Liu Sola’s “Fantasy of the The Red Queen” is an avant-garde theatrical fable, jointly interpreted by Germany’s Ensemble Modern and the Liu Sola & Friends Ensemble. In the show traditional Peking Opera, revolutionary songs and 1930s Shanghai pop are brought together with modern-day Mandopop, blues and hip-hop. All these elements are woven into the story of the trenchcoat-clad Red Queen who comes to power by seducing the nation’s most powerful man.

On its opening weekend “High School Musical 3 – Senior Year” took in US$42 million in the United States alone, the best box-office opening ever for a movie musical. Viewers in their twenties or above may be very much in the dark about the “High School Musical” phenomenon, at least unless they have children. But beginning as TV movies, this trilogy has introduced a whole new generation to the delights of the movie musical. In the studio to tell us more is reviewer Gary Pollard.

violinistViolinist Yao Jue has just been chosen to participate in the Hong Kong University Artists Scheme, in which she will work on three projects with staff and students of the university. Tonight she’s on our show with accompanist pianist Cheng Wai to tell us more about the scheme and play for us Fritz Kreisler’s “Schon Rosemarin”.

To see a streaming video of tonight’s show, please click here.

In the Show – 4th November 2008

The Third Guangzhou Triennial aims to be an international platform of research and artistic creativity, on which artists and scholars may exchange their special experiences. The basic concept behind this year’s festival is “Farewell to Post-Colonialism”, but it’s a lofty idea. Does it have meaning for Guangzhou’s ordinary citizens? Does it need to?

Among the pieces on show at the Third Guangzhou Triennial is the work of Beijing-based artist Qui Zhijie. Qiu was trained in printmaking, and although he has since expanded into other areas such as photography, video installations and performance art, the arts of printmaking and calligraphy are still at the root of much of his work. Even if you can’t make it to Guangzhou to see his pieces, you can still take a look at some of his work here in Hong Kong. Qiu has an exhibition at Hong Kong’s Hanart Gallery until November 23rd.

“Quantum of Solace” which opens this Thursday in Hong Kong is the 22nd James Bond film in EON Productions” long-running series. It’s become one of the most successful franchises in cinema history, but it’s fair to say that it has been through its lacklustre periods. For many “Casino Royale”, in which Daniel Craig took on the role of James Bond for the first time brought a new life to the series, rehumanising the character and making him vulnerable. Producer Michael G. Wilson came up with the plot for “Quantum of Solace” while “Casino Royale” was still shooting, and it’s supposed to be a continuation of that earlier film. Gary Pollard reviews it.

lea2

Lea Salonga, seen above with our presenters Ben Pelletier and Ben Tse, is a multi-awarded American singer and actress who is best known for originating the role of Kim in the musical Miss Saigon. She was also the first Asian to play Eponine in the musical Les Misérables on Broadway. Salonga is the singing voice of Princess Jasmine from Aladdin in 1992 and Fa Mulan in Mulan and Mulan II. She’s in Hong Kong to appear in “Cinderella”. Tonight she’s in our studio, to talk to us and to sing.

Please click here to see a streaming video of the show