Saturday, 31 January 2009

A Great Birthday Gift

There is no better birthday gift than reading good things about someone whom I love.

Today, despite the lumbar back pain, which earns me two more day-offs on sick leave next week, I received the latest copy of Muse Magazine, in which Rosetta Lui wrote a review of Anita Mui's Faithfully Anita Mui, a three-CD compilation of her popular works.

I can't agree more with what the writer said about Anita's remarkable but underrated singing, which has often been neglected or overlooked by a bunch of visual-driven spectators and industry players who pay little attention to vocals. Just to copy a few words from the two-page review that I can never articulate at the same level of eloquence:

"If Bruce Lee breathes new life into Chinese kung fu by turning it into part psychological drama, part visual spectacle, Anita revolutionises Cantopop by 'externalising' and 'acting out' the feelings and emotions that the melodies and lyrics of the songs only hint at and never fully articulate."

"Anita's stage performances were incomparable. This often eclipses the fact that she was one of the greatest vocalists that have lent their voices to Cantopop. James Wong spoke for many when he said that of all the great songstresses who had covered the classic The Tears of a Lover, only Anita sang it in a way that made him cry."

"Anita regarded herself as a woman who sings for a living, and her greatest talent as a vocalist lay in her ability to turn melancholy into art, primal scream into poetry and sobbing into singing. In that, she should be compared to the great French singer Edith Piaf."

"Anita might have basked in fame in her prime, but she never accumulated power. With each song and each performance, she gave away everything she had. This almost selfless dedication to her chosen profession is what made her final performances, given at the Hong Kong Coliseum in 2003 as Anita Classics Moments Live Concert a couple of months before her death, so heartbreaking and fitting at the same time."

To be honest, I have nothing else to add. This is the best tribute to Anita I have ever read.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

同心到白頭

小時候,總覺得「白頭到老,永結同心」這兩句祝福語老套到不行。在戲文裡看到,還可以當耳邊風;在婚宴上聽了,就覺得俗不可耐。也許是我太偏執,總覺得台上台下多少人只不過為了虛應故事,連小孩子也聽得出來,更覺噁心。尤其是明知道誰跟誰跟誰合不來,還要站起來向對方虛情假意一番,還不如拉倒算了。

長大了,更明白這只能是一廂情願,因為太多事情作不了準。即使是感情,誰也保證不了自己從一而終,更別提待人以嚴,律己以寛。總之,翻臉比翻書還要快的故事,實在罄竹難書。

更何況,永結同心又如何?我們都敵不過自然定律。人生數十年,在洪荒宇宙之中,連滄海一粟也不如。大概只像一顆沙子、一片塵埃,掉進空氣裡,就消失得無影無蹤。說甚麼人生不在乎長短,只在乎有沒有意義,都只是冠冕堂皇的自我排遣。因為得不到天長地久,所以只好自我安慰,說曾經擁有就算了。

如果真的深愛過,曾經擁有就夠了嗎?最近看了《奇幻逆緣》(The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)和中央電視台三年多前的《白蛇傳》,心情仍是混亂不堪,一顆心沉甸甸地,好像有很多話想說,又說不出個所以然來。套用一句內地網友的流行語,就是我給「雷」到了,而且給雷得太厲害,連頭髮也有點燒焦的味道。

如果Benjamin和Daisy的故事,只是俗世間一段稍為不平凡的經歷;那麼,《白蛇傳》可能就是一段凡夫俗子夢寐以求的愛情傳奇。

其實 Benjamin和Daisy,也算得上「白頭到老,永結同心」了,只是Benjamin年老的樣子,跟普通人不一樣。其實初生嬰兒和年邁垂暮之人,與死亡同樣接近,但給人的感覺卻是截然不同。一個充滿喜悅和希望,另一個卻是風中殘燭,隨時都會熄滅。變成嬰兒的Benjamin,在Daisy懷裡閉上眼睛,可能是一種福氣;不過對於Daisy,卻是在錐心之痛當中,再添上一抹無法揮去的遺憾和失落。原以為可以相依到老的臂彎和肩膊,到頭來卻變得那麼脆弱、那麼微小。

至於白素貞,無論其人,還是其名,早就把我給迷得七葷八素。只奇怪怎麼民間傳說裡各位可敬可愛的女主角,挑丈夫的眼光都是那麼差勁。即使到了中央電視台的《白蛇傳》,許仙還是那個哭哭啼啼,沒甚麼丈夫氣概的許仙,果然是「除了愛,便一無是處」。雷到我的當然不是許仙,而是他的娘子。最記得她甘願放棄成仙的機會,只求與丈夫活在同一天空下,她臨行前說:「我會陪著他老,看著他死。」白素貞即使成不了仙,也已是長生不老,許仙愛她一生,最多不過一百年;她愛許仙一生,卻是真正的地老天荒。我知道比較年期沒意義,但我實在不敢想像,在許仙壽終正寢之後,白素貞要怎麼面對無窮無盡的思念。「此恨綿綿無絕期」,說的不是唐玄宗李隆基,應該是白素貞才對。她連死也不能,除非拋卻前塵,重新修練,否則那一丁點兒回憶,就是她活著唯一的生趣。

現在我開始明白,為甚麼「白頭到老,永結同心」是祝福,而不是咒語。這是非常隆重而善意的祝福,等閒不應亂說。只是,又有多少人能有這樣的福分呢?

Saturday, 24 January 2009

《憶舊遊》--偶觀央視《白蛇傳》有感

望湖心蕩漾,皺水輕吹,揉碎餘暉。落日青橋畔,暮雲新柳外,又見春歸。似寒乍暖時節,漁火映眠遲。問十里煙波,聲聲欸乃,幾縷情絲? 癡兒,未參透。縱一往情深,難賦齊眉。不怨分釵劫,恨來生無路,攜手相隨。謝伊一紙油傘,相對共忘機。聽暮鼓昏鴉,空山寂寞連理枝。

Friday, 23 January 2009

Back to the Basics

Three nights ago I stayed up late to watch the inauguration ceremony of the 44th President of the United States live on television.

Quite deservingly, this is probably the most widely watched inauguration in history. At a time when people are losing trust and confidence in one another and even themselves, we all need to look up from someone with a hard-earned success for hope and the motivation to move on.

Barack Obama's inaugural address did not contain as many sound-bites as many supporters and commentators would have expected, but this absence does not prevent his speech from being a great example of the power of the basics - the basic and simple things that define who we are and yet we don't really remember that well, as much as we should do.

Without any subtitles and annoying disturbance of the news anchor, I tried to listen carefully to every single word Mr Obama said very early on Wednesday morning. What impresses me most was his emphasis to return to the traditional values of the United States that define who they are and how they succeed. According to the transcript of CNN, Mr Obama concludes as follows:

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths.

I can't agree with him more. As the old Chinese saying goes, "We should all remember where the water comes from when we drink." Knowing our roots and keep them in mind from time to time is a basic requirement for many generations who wanted to stay confident in the face of challenges and adversities. Confidence comes from our roots, or the strong belief of who we are and what we can always adhere to. Setting aside the scepticism over the Obama administration's capabilities to keep Mr Obama's promises, this timely reminder should at least be sufficient in keeping people's hopes and courage aglow.

Mr Obama's inaugural address that put a great emphasis on tradition also prompted me to think about China. At a time when many people, whether voluntarily or reluctantly, look on to China for economic rescue, China still seems to be faltering at a crossroad, not knowing where it should go and what it wants to be. Some are very proud and complacent about what it has achieved over the past three decades. Some are extremely worried or sceptical of what would happen if the leaders continue to turn a blind eye to the domestic problems we have. But few of them think about our roots, our values and tradition. Understandably, this could be somewhat difficult for many of those currently at the helms because our heritage was almost extinct during the devastating disruption some 40 years ago. More importantly, the heritage that we know of today is mostly the legacy of Ming and Qing dynasties, arguably the most culturally corrupt periods in Chinese history. So much of our culture and heritage had been distorted and misinterpreted during the six centuries of Ming and Qing reigns. Compared with the highly intellectual and sophisticated Song Dynasty, Ming and Qing were embarrassingly deficient in imperial China.

Without a solid knowledge of where we come from and what our roots are, we easily become confused and puzzled. The voice of tradition seems too weak and remote to drive us ahead. Even the much-touted restoration of Han Chinese costumes has yet to become truly influential due to the inability to articulate the basics embraced by the nitty-gritty details of the extravagant costumes. Even more regrettably, few seem to read classics nowadays. Many of those who do are either dependent on second-hand interpretations or adopt a utilitarian point of view to identify bits and pieces to support their personal agenda. These arbitrary actions often misplace our tradition out of context and result in nothing but more confusion and puzzlement, leading us farther away from where we come from.

This is why I find Mr Obama's speech a timely reminder not just for the Americans and many others around the world who have been blinded by short-term economic gains, but also for my fellow citizens who have long lost sight of our valuable tradition and heritage. As we can see in the United States, a cultural paradigm shift starting with the return to our basics is the only way we can sustain our success and avoid repeating the mistakes we had.

The Power of Warm Indifference


I watched the much-awaited The Curious Case of Benjamin Button on the first day of its screening in Hong Kong. I knew it was going to be a good one, but I was still surprised.

What a good surprise.

The duration of 166 minutes can be a deterrent to many, but the film is surprisingly well-structured in the plot and smooth in the story-telling. I didn't even bother to take a glance at my watch to check how much time has lapsed.

Brad Pitt did a great job playing Benjamin Button, and so did the rest of the cast. Taraji P. Henson (Queenie), Jared Harris (Captain Mike) and Tilda Swinton (Elizabeth) all deserve a great credit for their remarkable performance.

Who surprised me most, however, was Cate Blanchett. Like what her character Daisy said in the film, it's all about lines. To me, lines are not just important for a dancer, but also for an actress (or actor). The lines of her face, her nose, her mouth and her lips were strikingly appealing to me that I couldn't help waiting eagerly for her to appear and starring at her when she does, even though when her character became old and lying very ill on the bed. I wonder why she didn't receive any nominations for her minimal and yet profound portrayal of Daisy in the film. Perhaps it is still great, but not great enough to impress anyone who has seen her masterpieces of Queen Elizabeth and The Golden Age, among many others.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is also a story incredibly well told in lines. Nothing is over-done or under. The warmth, calmness and sadness are carefully maintained through an organic synergy of photography and music until the very last second of the film. Although Benjamin is telling his own story in the voice over, he sounds like he is telling someone else's story in a calm manner with some sad and as-a-matter-of-fact overtones. This is the kind of what I would call "warm indifference" that I enjoy most in films and drama. This is a long-lost tradition of Chinese literary works that had served as the basic benchmark for composition and criticism. With this warm indifference, so many emotions can be delivered beyond the words, slowly and yet compellingly and enduringly.

I can't even remember how long ago it was when I came across another comparable piece of work. The film is sad and touching, and yet thought-provoking.

We all know time can never go backwards, and so does our life. Everything happens in a mysteriously programmed sequence that we have no control of. Trying to explain why the sequence works as it is has been the daunting task of countless religious and philosophical thinkers over the centuries. What touches me most is not how Queenie insists to adopt the weird-looking baby Benjamin with his "reversed" sequence of life, but the coincidental and programmed intersections where different people come across with each other during the course of their life.

Even if the right people meet at the right time, there is no guarantee that they will stay together as long as they want. People come and go, and so does life. Nothing lasts, even though we desperately hope something do, especially when we have become so much accustomed to the companionship of our loved ones. What we can do is to enjoy every moment of our existence and relationships, because when bodies decay and memories fail, there is nothing else we can hold on to. Writings are nothing but the artefacts for the mourning of later generations, upon which eternity survives.

Benjamin's life isn't really reversed, so to speak. It's just different. He still goes through the same stages of life as everyone else does. He is different only because he was born old and died young as an infant. This unusual difference, however, defines his life and sad story. I refrain from using the word "tragedy" simply because he enjoys much more love than the ordinary person, from his mother who adopts him, Daisy and others. Compared with an ordinary man, he might have come across too many deaths in his life. It simply outnumbers what an ordinary man can possibly deal with. He was born at the expense of his mother, and he was abandoned at an elderly home where people come and go more frequently than anywhere else. But what he receives in compensation is also quite generous, at least from the people who truly love him from their hearts.

The difference that Benjamin involuntarily has also explains why I was struck by an overwhelming wave of grief seeing the aging Daisy holding Benjamin's hands and teach him, then a toddler, to walk, and cradling the baby Benjamin in her arms when he closed his eyes forever. Many years ago I came to know that it is a privilege to grow old together with one's partner and companions, but it is still irresistibly sad to witness the contrary, especially when it is so gently and yet profoundly presented.

All those buzz about awards aside, this film shall be remembered for its power of warm indifference in touching the human heart and reflections on life and death.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

年宵記

今晚和Shirley即興相約去逛年宵市場,很開心。

平生只逛過一次年宵市場,早已是大學時代的陳年舊事了。素來不喜人潮洶湧的場合,但想今天仍是周日,假期尚未開始,人群不會太多;而且終於開始了難得的假期,可以好好休息一下,所以也想湊湊熱鬧,感受一下節日氣氛。

今年年宵市場的規模不比以前,攤位不算多,但尚算熱鬧。我們八點鐘左右入場,逛到九點多,扶老攜幼的人潮就湧進來了,寸步難行。

那些賣擺設和玩具的攤位,幾乎都是中學生和貌似大學生的年輕人開設的,而且不少貨品設計頗見心思,例如內藏充氣墊、外包可拆洗毛毛軟套的牛型矮櫈,水果造型的毛毛座墊,表面看來是蘋果或西瓜,拉開拉鍊就看到裡面的「果肉」,而且裡外都是座墊的造型。另外還有牛角包型的頸枕、諧音「牛市」的牛屎型充氣帽子、仿一千元鈔票摺紙造型的小風車等。不過最可怖的卻是塑膠造的母雞玩偶,光看造型就想起街市裡吊起一隻隻已宰殺的雞,脖子給拉得長長的;捏一下玩偶的身子就會發出一聲聲淒厲的怪叫,嚇得我渾身汗毛直豎,想起也覺得今晚會做惡夢。

逛了兩個小時,沒想到自己也忍不住買了兩個不同笑臉的座墊,還有一盆可以循環再用、顏色鮮艷的布造桔子。笑臉座墊的設計很不錯,還有一款是紅唇和長睫毛的「性感」造型,不過我還是喜歡這兩個頑皮促狹的笑臉,一個閉上雙眼、嘴角微翹,看起來一臉得意,又有點不懷好意。另一個則笑得見牙不見眼,而且同樣有點笑裡藏刀的頑皮意味,看見了就很喜歡。看來我骨子裡也是一個頑皮的傢伙。嘿嘿嘿……

那盆布造桔子我也很喜歡,顏色鮮艷明亮,很有喜氣洋洋的氣氛,而且附有一個很精致的圓桶型、有手柄的塑膠容器,日後可以收藏起來,留待明年再用。把這盤桔子放在几上,正好為素淡平實的蝸居增添一點色彩。

希望這兩份新年小禮物,可以在新的一年帶來好運。

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Staying Afresh

Since the New Year began I have been stressed out by hectic work schedules and enormous pressure to stay sharp and alert, and of course awake. Too many things caught me by surprise that I found myself almost drowned in the tides of work. The more the work dumped on me, the more restless and impatient I became as my personal time shrank to almost zero. Not to mention the regretful skips of my Korean class and the absence of revisions. Restlessness has become so irresistible that I feel myself on the brink of killing anyone I come across on the street any time.

Thank God that I could finally jog for a while and practise two sessions of tai chi in a row over this weekend. Working out is certainly the most effective way of keeping me afresh. But time has become so much of a privilege that I can't do as much as I want to. And this weekend I noticed how much my physical condition has dropped for skipping proper workout and tai chi class for two weekends. Last week my body issued so many warnings that I can no longer ignore them. Fatigue struck me so hard that I almost felt like four and a half years ago when I got Hepatitis A. I just don't want to give any chance for the nightmare to haunt me once again.

While working out is addictively fun and refreshing, there is a strong voice inside me that I need something more than physiological satisfaction. Since Christmas, I haven't been able to sit quietly in my haven to read and write for a meaningful period of time. My plan to study the history of Song Dynasty has been deferred involuntarily to an infinite. Only my bookshelves are rewarded by my conscious efforts to buy a large collection of history books last year. Not to forget my Korean learning reaching a new level that requires much more attention and study time. I don't know what to do with these plans, simply because my schedule is often out of my control. I can only keep these plans afresh in my mind from time to time, but again these may drive me nuts and restless when so much is being dumped on me.

I don't know if the recent happenings indicate some sort of hints or reminders for a change. And I really don't know what kind of change I should opt for. But I do hope everything will start afresh with a much better balance of life and work with the Chinese New Year. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

My New Year Wish

I never thought the New Year started with so many unpredictable and unforeseen happenings that have been dragging my feet over the past two weeks.

I felt like a steel statue melting inches by inches, like the Happy Prince of Oscar Wilde. I get nervous or stressed out so easily these days that I can't even sleep well. Despite the long-awaited chill, I wake up early in the morning before dawn when the alarm clock rings.

The absence of quality sleep, along with the lack of spiritual cultivation over the last couple of months, simply drives me crazy. I feel my brain power and self-control draining out fast like a drop of water in the desert. My soul is even drier than the skin of a mummy.

Colleagues keep teasing me with pitiful and empathetic tones. I know they didn't mean to be rude, but I just can't help feeling angry and annoyed. I am just too fed up with those babbles that are by no means funny. I mean, it is never funny if you become a laughing stock or an object for sympathy.

those occasions which I don't really want to remember, this is the first time over the past five years or so that the idea of a move has ever popped up in my mind. This may not be a good time, but I will certainly devote myself full time to pursue my second dream if I got the first prize of Mark Six tomorrow.

But I'm not sure if I still have the privilege of going to the betting centre to buy a ticket.

Monday, 5 January 2009

滄海拾遺--幾多個幾多

我試過幾多個裝扮?
著過了幾多套衫?
我偶爾想到,那一點界限
我會試變做平淡
我試過幾多次失敗?
我怨過幾多次天?
我太了解,到某一點界限
我原來軟弱無限

莫問我,失去了幾多
終於我卻留住更多
好聽的說話,聽過了幾多
方知假話背後更加多

我有過幾多個心願?
我怨過幾多次天?
誰能明白到了一點界限
我與你一起變遷

莫問我,舊情人幾多
當初我確期望太多
天真的歲月,經過了幾多
終於今天悔恨這麼多

朦朧長夜
留下幾多追憶、幾多追惜
化作這聲聲嘆息
閉上眼睛
無論幾多珍惜、幾多心跡
要再說已是無力

作曲、編曲:郭小霖
填詞:潘源良
專輯:淑女/黑夜的豹

很多人知道郭小霖,是因為《從不知》,或者多年前G2000的電視廣告主題曲《迷惘》。我不太認識郭小霖的作品,印象中他的曲風偏向文靜溫柔,有點陳百強少年十五二十時的況味。但這首《幾多個幾多》,無論旋律和編曲也相當豪邁,翻看資料時,也不禁微感詫異。

節奏豪邁的旋律,配以強勁有力的電結他,正好配合Anita的個性;或者,至少符合她在《淑女/黑夜的豹》的野性形象。不過,《淑女/黑夜的豹》專輯裡最好聽的,並不是點題的兩首快歌,而是與這個「錯覺」南轅北轍的另一首作品。詳情容後細表。

也許因為Anita的際遇比戲劇更傳奇、對愛情的憧憬比任何女子都強烈,所以擬寫她的心態,成為很多填詞人樂此不疲的題材。潘源良這首詞也未能免俗,頗有讓Anita自我安慰的意味。難得的是,這首《幾多個幾多》頗有一點看破世情的玲瓏剔透,在無奈中仍有一點積極向前的希望,不像後來一九九八年的國語專輯《床前明月光》的作品《女兒紅》、《我看著寂寞長大》、《飄零》等,悲苦太甚,教人不忍卒聽。

不知道為甚麼,八十年代的填詞人,總會有意無意之間流露一點久經世情的智慧,令歌詞更堪玩味。他們用字大都比較淺白,通篇沒一個字要查字典、要考典故,但寫來餘韻無窮,深得言簡意賅的要旨。比較起來,即使才華橫溢如林夕,壓卷之作《似是故人來》也不免斧鑿痕跡太露,《神話.情話》、《難唸的經》、《相愛很難》那些刻意求工,更不在話下。

Anita演繹的時候,也充分把握到三分不平、三分無奈、三分豁達的感覺。她從頭到尾沒有放鬆,每個字唱來鏗鏘有力,尤其是副歌裡幾個「多」字,從輕描淡寫到憤怒的呼喊,極具層次感。即使來到最後一句「要再說已是無力」,也只是比前面稍為放輕一點。最後一字「力」是入聲字,本音短促,但偏偏音節悠長,不容易唱得好,她就捲起舌頭以lei音拉長,遲遲不把最後的k音吐出,更能表達那份無能為力的感覺。這種唱法大概與粵劇裡「問字拿腔」有點淵源,自小司空見慣,如今卻變成了瀕危品種。

滄海拾遺--序

聖誕節前,買了Anita的精選CD和DVD套裝,在她的忌日仔細看了一遍。螢幕上掩映著那熟悉的臉孔、那迷人的舞步、那宛轉自如的歌聲,忍不住陪她唱了一個晚上。

關掉DVD機,心情還是無法平靜。沒有澎湃洶湧的波濤,只有蠢蠢欲動的暗湧。就像默默流淌的溪水,清澈見底,綿綿不絕,流向那不辨南北的遠方。

驀然想起一首不太流行而又百聽不厭的舊歌,於是把那一張CD翻出來,仔細再聽一遍。

一聽之下,乖乖不得了。

即使喝掉半瓶紅酒,也比不上那甜絲絲、暖洋洋的醉意,溢滿心胸。

忙不迭翻出幾張最喜愛的CD,挑了一些久違了的好歌,再轉錄到iPod上,隨時隨地隨身聽。

從此,上班和回家的路,又增添了幾分明亮旖旎的色彩。

回頭再看那精選CD的歌曲,又是那些耳熟能詳的。不是說唱得街知巷聞的不好,而是對於資深粉絲而言,實在沒有甚麼吸引力。選曲者也不見得對Anita的歌曲有多熟悉,一切決定,也敵不過香港奉若圭臬的遊戲規則。買這套裝,原不過是為了那些湮沒在記憶裡的片段;為了在腦袋也變得不可靠的時候,好歹也有件東西抓在手裡。

其實,那些不太流行的歌,可能比流行的更好聽、更耐聽。只是因為各種各樣不為人知的原因,給遺落在某個角落,再也沒有人提起。俗語說:「禾稈蓋珍珠」,不是珍珠的錯,也不會令珍珠減色,只是有人不識抬舉而已。

為了不讓崑山良璧托浮萍,為了不讓人家以為Anita唱來唱去就只有那幾首膾炙人口的歌,不自量力地介紹幾首我認為很好聽而又不太流行的歌曲,算是給Anita的一點薄禮。

畢竟,她是一位歌手,不是甚麼模特兒。記得她的歌,比記得她的形象和臺風更重要。