PHUKET: Once a decade, Donna Tartt produces a hefty, great novel. At age 28, she published The Secret History, a murder mystery centered on a clique of young classical scholars at Bennington. A decade later, she returned to her Mississippi childhood for The Little Friend. And now she has just won the Pulitzer Prize for her third and best novel, The Goldfinch (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 771pp, 2013).
The title refers to a small masterpiece by Dutch painter Carel Fabritius, student of Rembrandt, teacher of Vermeer. In 1654, when he was just 32, the huge explosion of a gunpowder arsenal in Delft would not only take his life, but destroy almost all of his work. A rare survivor, “The Goldfinch”, painted on wood, the size of A4 paper, shows a bird held captive by a chain at its foot. It is a great favorite of the mother of 13-year-old Theo Docker, a half-Irish, half-Cherokee beauty from Kansas who worked as a catalog model in New York before getting her art history degree from Columbia. Her husband, a failed actor turned alcoholic, has abandoned her and she lives with their only son in an apartment on Sutton Place, facing the East River, where she struggles on her salary at an advertising company.
The novel opens as Theo, writing in an Amsterdam hotel room 14 years later, recalls the last day of her life. On their way to his private school on the West Side, mother and son are caught in a rainstorm and duck for shelter into the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Theo takes notice of an elfin girl – bright red hair, golden brown eyes – accompanied by an elderly misshapen little man. That’s when a terrorist bomb rips through the museum.
When Theo returns to consciousness, “The Goldfinch” in its busted frame lies on the floor next to him. Dying nearby, the little old man exhorts him to save the painting and entrusts him with a ring to deliver to his partner at an antique furniture store in Greenwich Village.
In the aftermath of the bombing, Theo learns that the elfin red-headed girl, Pippa, the old man’s niece, is badly injured. Theo’s mother is dead. Plunged into devastating grief, Theo now dates his life into Before and After. This is all told by Theo in the first 50-page chapter.
So complex is the story of his next 14 years, so compelling and intricate and surprising the plot, that it would be criminal to reveal any more of it. Suffice it to say that the action moves from New York to Las Vegas, back to New York and on to Amsterdam. In high school Theo Docker finds the great friend of his life, Boris, a sly Russian rogue with an Australian accent, overly fond of liquor, drugs and shoplifting. Boris is Huck Finn to Theo’s Tom Sawyer, the Artful Dodger to his Oliver Twist. The pair will be accomplices in the novel’s last desperate caper involving “The Goldfinch”.
Through the years, Theo has kept the painting, worth many millions, as a talisman of his mother. Here he describes the joy of taking the painting out of hiding:
“Quickly I slid it out, and almost immediately its glow enveloped me, something almost musical, an internal sweetness that was inexplicable beyond a deep, blood-rocking harmony of rightness, the way your heart beat slow and sure when you were with a person you felt safe with and loved. A power, a shine came off it, a freshness like the morning light in my old bedroom in New York which was serene yet exhilarating, a light that rendered everything more sharp-edged and lovely than it actually was because it was part of the past and irretrievable…”
So rich are her descriptions, so vivid her characters, so sweeping and majestic the scope of her novel, that Donna Tartt can only be compared to the 19th century giants Tolstoy and Dickens. At the end, when Theo experiences his dark night of the soul in an Amsterdam hotel room and emerges transcendent and redeemed, the reader shares his triumph. There is no higher order of fiction.
— James Eckardt
The K-pop Olympics: performers battle in the K-pop festival
On the streets, in parks and garages, seven Cuban youngsters spent seven months practising K-pop moves to secure a spot on their dream stage: an appearance in South Korea to imitate their idols. 13 final teams from 80 countries are competing in the 2019 event.
At the grandly titled and government-funded Changwon K-pop World Festival contestants from around the globe perform imitation dances or sing cover versions of the genre’s biggest hits, with thousands of fans cheering them on.
In terms of global heft, South Korea is overshadowed by its much larger neighbours China and Japan, but the event is a way for Seoul to derive soft power from one of the country’s biggest cultural exports. In terms of pop-power, South Korea’s K-Pop is now a recognised world-wide music phenomenon with bands like BTS and Blackpink figuring amongst the other big-hitters on the Billboard charts and outselling their western counterparts with millions of albums and downloads.
Finalists for this year
Cuba’s Communist government is one of North Korea’s few remaining allies: when President Miguel Diaz-Canel, successor to the Castro brothers Fidel and Raul, visited Pyongyang last November he was only the third foreign head of state to do so since leader Kim Jong Un inherited power in 2011.
But rather than geopolitics, Havana performer Karel Rodriguez Diaz – whose mannerisms and sleek hairstyle could easily be mistaken for those of a K-pop star – is more motivated by high-tempo beats and superslick dance moves.
“We never had a place with a mirror or a choreographer who could teach us the steps” but they kept on practising, he said.
His team-mate Elio Gonzalez added: “We are so excited to represent not just Cuba but also the whole of Latin America.”
Some 6,400 teams from more than 80 countries entered the competition, according to organisers, with 13 groups from places as diverse as Kuwait and Madagascar winning through to the final in Changwon, where they appeared on stage waving their national flags.
“This is like watching the Olympics, a K-pop Olympics,” said the event’s host Lia, a member of K-pop group ITZY.
The Korean Wave
K-pop – along with K-drama soap operas – has been one of South Korea’s most successful cultural exports to date. A key part of the “Korean Wave” which has swept Asia and beyond in the last 20 years, the K-pop industry is now estimated to be worth $5 billion, with boyband BTS its latest high-profile exponent, becoming the world’s most successful band in the past 12 months, selling out stadium concerts within minutes, around the world.
The South Korean government has financed a variety of K-pop themed events in what CedarBough Saeji, a visiting professor at Indiana University Bloomington in the US, said was a form of long-term “soft power diplomacy”.
“When you are covering you get to ‘become’ those idols for the three and a half minutes of the song,” she said, adding that performers will go so far as matching their clothing, accessories and hairstyle to their heroes and heroines.
“The cover dancers of today will be diplomats, news reporters, and business leaders in forty years,” she went on.
“And hopefully they’ll still have a soft spot in their heart for Korea. Korea can’t win the world through hard power – armies, economic bullying – but with soft power even a small country like Korea has a chance.”
The music also provides an artistic alternative for overseas fans, especially those in developing countries, Saeji added.
“The West, especially the United States, has been so dominant culturally for so long, and having a different cultural pole to look to provides hope that one’s own country can experience similar success in the future.”
Be who you want
Beneath its glitz and glamour, the K-pop industry is also known for its cutthroat competition, a lack of privacy, online bullying and relentless public pressure to maintain a wholesome image at all times and at any cost.
Sulli, a popular K-pop star and former child actress who had long been the target of abusive online comments was found dead on Monday, with her death sending shockwaves through fans around the world.
“I think a day where (people) would be ashamed of the K-show business will surely come,” a South Korean online user wrote in the wake of the star’s death.
“I think an industry that makes money by (making people) sing, dance, undergo plastic surgeries and go on a diet to please the gaze of others since they are teenagers should really go bankcrupt.”
But for Kenny Pham, a finalist from the US at last week’s contest, K-pop’s diversity – with some tunes having dark themes, while others were “cute” or sensual – is what gives him a sense of liberation.
“I like how expressive you could be,” the 19 year old told AFP last week.
“I feel like it’s a place where you could show the passion you have for music, dance or fashion. No one is bashing you for what your likes are.”
SOURCE: Agence France-Presse
Journey back to Tham Luang in ‘The Cave’ – VIDEO
PHOTO: Tom Waller on site during the filming of The Cave – AFP
Determined divers racing against time. Rising waters threatening lives. 12 teenagers and their soccer coach trapped inside for two weeks. A remote cave that most had never heard of.
The stuff of a Hollywood drama, except that it’s all true and happened in Chiang Rai last year. Now the first of several re-tellings of the story comes to the big screen in The Cave.
The ordeal in late June and early July last year had barely ended when filmmakers began their own race to get the nail-biting drama onto cinema screens. The first of those projects premiered at the start of October, when director Tom Waller’s The Cave showed at the Busan Film Festival in South Korea.
The film was shot over three months earlier this year and has been in post-production since then. The 45 year old Thai-British filmmaker says the epic tale of the Wild Boars (Mu Pa) football team was a story he simply had to tell.
“I took the view that this was going to be a story about the people we didn’t know about, about the cave divers who came all the way from across the planet.”
The 13 young men entered the Tham Luang cave complex after soccer practice and were quickly trapped inside by rising floodwater. The boys were forced to spend nine nights lost in the cave, whilst Navy Seal and other diver searched frantically, before they were spotted by a British diver.
It would take another eight days before they were all safe, against all odds, in a risky mission.
Waller was visiting his father in Ireland when he saw television news accounts of the drama.
“I thought this would be an amazing story to tell on screen.”
But putting the parts together after their dramatic rescue proved to be a challenge. Thailand’s government, led by the military NCPO, became very protective of the story, barring unauthorised access to the Mu Pa team or their parents. Waller often feared his production might be shut down.
His good fortune was that the events at the Tham Luang cave in Chiang Rai province had multiple angles and interesting characters. Especially compelling were the stories of the rescuers, particularly the expert divers who rallied from around the world. He decided to make a film “about the volunteer spirit of the rescue.”
Other people proposed telling the story from the point of view of the boys, and Netflix nailed down those rights in a deal brokered by the Thai government.
“I took the view that this was going to be a story about the people we didn’t know about, about the cave divers who came all the way from across the planet. They literally dropped everything to go and help, and I just felt that that was more of an exciting story to tell, to find out how these boys were brought out and what they did to get them out.”
Waller even had more than a dozen key rescue personnel play themselves.
Waller said they were natural actors, blending in almost seamlessly with the professionals around them, and helped by the accuracy of the settings and the production’s close attention to detail.
“What you are really doing is asking them to remember what they did and to show us what they were doing and what they were feeling like at the time. That was really very emotional for some of them because it was absolutely real.”
Waller says his film is likely to have a visceral effect on some viewers, evoking a measure of claustrophobia.
“It’s a sort of immersive experience with the sound of the environment, you know, the fact that is very dark and murky, that the water is not clear.”
“In Hollywood films, when they do underwater scenes, everything is crystal clear. But in this film it’s murky and I think that’s the big difference. This film lends itself to being more of a realistic portrayal of what happened.”
Some scenes were filmed on location at the entrance to the actual Tham Luang cave, but most of the action was shot elsewhere.
“We filmed in real water caves that were flooded, all year-round. It is very authentic in terms of real caves, real flooded tunnels, real divers and real creepy-crawlies in there. So it was no mean feat trying to get a crew to go and film in these caves.”
The Cave goes on general release in Thailand on November 28.
ORIGINAL ARTICE: Associated Press | Time.com
PHOTO: Tom Waller – Associated Press/Sakchai Lalit
BTS first foreign artists to perform solo concert in Saudi Arabia tonight
PHOTO: BTS performing in front of 60,000 fans during their “Love Yourself” tour in Hong Kong – SCMP
No band has ever commanded a concert stage, alone, in Saudi Arabia. Remarkable but true. But South Korea’s BTS is breaking down yet another barrier with tonight’s stadium concert in the Kingdom.
Aside from being their first ever concert in Saudi Arabia, it will be Saudi Arabia’s first ever solo stadium concert by a foreign act. BTS, debuting in South Korea in 2013, have since been breaking records and the ‘Bamboo Ceiling’ to become the biggest band in the world.
In Nam-sik, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy who specialises in the Middle East says that Saudi Arabia is a very conservative country and it is trying to open up more in recent years.
“Until recently, concerts were forbidden, but the country started to acknowledge that people want cultural events. Saudi Arabia wants to show the world that it is changing. Allowing BTS to perform in the country is a significant step in its reform endeavour.”
The leader of South Korean boy band BTS has spoken out about their upcoming concert in Saudi Arabia, saying it wasn’t an easy decision to play in the kingdom which has been criticised over its human rights abuses.
“I wouldn’t say it was easy,” said 25 year old group leader and rapper RM, who also speaks perfect English he said he learned watching the sitcom ‘Friends’.
“But we were officially invited. It’s been a while since we’ve performed in the Middle East.”
“If there’s a place where people want to see us, we’ll go there. That’s really how we feel,” added 23 year old singer Jimin.
Industry pundits see this as an important milestone that signifies BTS’ phenomenal world popularity. And if successful, it could open up many more opportunities for K-pop and Korean culture as a whole.
In Saudi Arabia, which still enforces gender segregation based on a strict interpretation of Islamic law, it was only in the past two years that women were given the right to drive, as well as enter stadiums to watch sports games and concerts. BTS’ concert venue King Fahd International Stadium only allowed women to enter for the first time in September 2017.
In July, BTS attracted criticism after they announced tonight’s show in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. Some fans pointed out the apparent contradiction between BTS’s tour message,”Love Yourself”, and Saudi Arabia’s criminalisation of same-sex relationships.
Though none of BTS’s members are openly LGBTQ, the group has been seen as sympathetic towards the LGBTQ community, especially compared with other K-pop groups who tend to stay silent on controversial topics.
“BTS will be the first foreign artist to have a solo stadium concert in Saudi Arabia. Things are changing in the Kingdom. The success of this show could open doors to endless opportunities and possibilities,” said film producer Tanuj Garg on his Twitter.
But there’s also been social media backlash against the septet’s concert tour in the Kingdom.
“Artists have been boycotting Saudi Arabia due to flagrant human rights abuses against women activists and the LGBTQ+ community,” one Twitter user said.
“BTS are UN representatives and everyone involved here should have known better.”
BTS has sold out stadiums around the world in a record breaking “Love Yourself” tour in the US, Brazil, the UK, Germany, France, Netherlands, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand and Korea during their sold-out world tour, to a total live audience of over a million (1,044,320 to be precise).
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