Monday, 28 May 2012

What Republicans Can Do on the Jubilee

Well that big day is fast approaching, the Jubilee, another day in the calender for Monarchists to celebrate there obsessions popularity. Funny how things seem popular when you only bother to ask about them when they've given you an excuse for a picnic and a Village fate. Lets see if that ratio changes the next time there's another sex scandal or the heir to the throne starts channelling Caligula. But I'm starting to digress from the point, what is to be done by those of us not terminally enamoured with the Windsor's because its "traditional" -another brief aside, what a stupid argument, tradition means nothing more then keeping something going long past its use because you're to lazy or un imaginative to think of something better- well you can join a protest or Republican social event if there's one in your are (best check here) Or you can stay in and listen to this much better Jubilee from Dr Who's Big Finish audio books. I know Dr Who isn't to everyone's tastes and may seem a bit crass comparing an actual State event to an quirky muck about in time and space with a man dressed in a coat seemingly stitched together from fabric found in the waste bin of seamstress whom caters exclusively to clowns.



But honestly Jubilee is really good, its set in an alternate history where the Daleks invaded earth (again) only to have the Doctor show up and lead a band of freedom fighters to Victory over the Daleks and save the earth (again) but that's only the background. After the celebrations ended and the Doctor left, the English army captured Dalek tech and after figuring out how it worked went about rebuilding its Empire eventually conquering the world. That was in 1903 you see, and it appears the Daleks appearance instead of beating them around the heads that humanity should unite if only because we need to defend ourselves against greater cosmic threats it appears to have vindicated the Imperial Leadership that dominating the "lesser races" keeps a race healthy and vigorous so it was time to show Johnny Foreigner what for lads.

Fast forward to 2003 with the Doctor having no memory of his hundred year old adventure the Doctor finds himself the lauded hero of one of the most twisted and brutal regimes he's ever come across. All in time for the Jubilee celebrations! talk about good timing. It seems that once an Empire has done the impossible and actually conquered all the lands to conquer (Alex the Great was just being lazy) its not long before degeneration sets in. Our brave and Glorious Nobility have become a fascinating cross between Roman Imperial excess and Victorian Stoicism. For example Nigel Rochester the "President" (the Presidency is hereditary) frequently indulges in vice but instead of going to orgies or chariot races he instead plays with toy Daleks and contracts his sentences.

He also has the last survivor of the Dalek invasion force imprisoned in the Tower of London, and said Dalek is currently being tortured to get it to speak as Nigel plans to execute it at the Jubilee. If that sounds familiar then you've probably been watching the "New" Dr Who series on the BBC. In particular the early episode Dalek, that episode was loosely based on Jubilee only minus much of the satire and hyper violence.

In between the Byzantine plots and Dalek torture Jubilee also finds time to poke fun at the franchises commercialisation. You may be familiar with the term Dalekmania and how for decades the fascination with the Daleks has enabled the Public broadcaster to rake in millions flogging Dalek toys and stickers and what not. This practice has continued well into the shows revival, I can remember reading a Private Eye article that said the sales of the Remote Control Dalek in Britain Alone covered the cost of the BBC's entire overseas operations. That's the sale of just one toy type, in one country excluding the sales of other Dalek/Dr Who merchandise and sales abroad where Dr Who has a smaller but still quite devoted fan-base.

In this brave new world we have Dalek films, Dalek theme parks, Dalek toys, Dalekade (lemonade with a picture of a Dalek on the bottle) and grossly Dalek Juice which I wish was apple juice with a picture of a Dalek, its real content isn't pleasant but shows just how deep this obsession with the Pepper pot Fascist runs and how unhealthy it is. It also pokes some fun at altering history to make the message more fun and "positive". The Dr is the English Empires hero, but since he's well the Dr his empathy for all living beings, constant attempts to find peaceful compromises and ghastly coat meant certain alterations were needed to make him fit the ideology. For example in popular fiction he wears a soldiers uniform and leads charges against the alien invaders. The very first part of this audio drama is a fictious trailer for Daleks the Ultimate Adventure, with Colin Baker replaced by a Macho 80's action hero "I'm sending you mutated Pepper Pots Straight back to Hell!" with the narrator promising us plenty of "Daleks getting killed in very loud explosions".

And while this was unintentional given that it was recorded back in 2003 there's a bit of dialogue between the Doctor and Nigel that seems oddly appropriate to our current Jubilee festivities. When flying over the city of London the Dr notices that much of it is extremely dilapidated and ruined. It turns out Nigel's dad wanted to redesign the entire city into a metropolis "Fit for Heroes" but lost interest after the demolitions were finished. When asked why he hasn't bothered to finish the project Nigel shrugs, says architecture isn't his thing and besides he is given his people a Jubilee celebration, with bunting and everything, and we all know the people would rather have a mass narcissistic picnic over decent housing right?


 Here's a preview if you still need some convincing.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

North Korean Godzilla



Directed by Shin Sang-ok and Chong Gon Jo(1) in North Korea (1985), Pulgasari is quite an odd addition to the "cult film" scene. Its probably the most well known film made in North Korea that isn't a documentary about how awful it is and can be legally purchased in the West. Well sort of actually you have to buy Japanese export DVD's of the film with English subtitles and in the American friendly NTSC format. Also the DVD menu isn't in English (at least not on my copy) so good luck finding the play button if you can't read Japanese. In addition to enjoying a respectable position on most international lists of weird films the Pulgasari is one of those films that's more well known for its behind the scenes on set antics. But unlike in Hollywood were much of the scandal and gossip revolves around the top billing star failing their rehabilitation program, or possibly leaking plot spoilers in an interview, or falling out with the director, Pulgasari's behind the camera antics are much darker as they involve international kidnapping.

If you've heard of Pulgasari before then you're probably already familiar with what I'm about to say, but for those who don't and for reference I'll give a brief recap. One of the two directors of film Shin Sang-ok -perhaps Americans will know him from his work in the 90's under the name Simon Sheen giving the world such classics as the 3 Ninja's sequels and Galgameth which is the same film as Pulgasari only in English and with white people cast- was a South Korean national, and quite well known for the films he made in the Republic of Korea. This was in the 70's decades before the Sunshine policy when both Korea's where Dictatorships and any connections with the other Korea was strictly off limits. So did Shin do a Dresnok and defect? well not quite he along with his ex wife Choi Eun-Hee were kidnap from Hong Kong in 1978, it seems that the pair had quite an influential fan club up North, the President of which was none other then recently deceased Kim "Dear Leader" Jong Il son of the then Kim "Eternal President" Il Sung.

Before taking on the burden of both Party and State, Kim Jong Il spent many years working in the North Korean film industry. Oh and yes North Korea has a film industry, it’s quite active from what I can gather, and they also have a robust animation and comics (Manwha) industry (2).  Kim Jong Il was quite a mystery but one thing known for certain was that he loved films, rumours about him having the largest DVD collection in the world, and to have watched Team America persist but are hard to verify. Though he did work very closely with North Korea's film industry and even wrote several books about its importance in building party ideology (well his name is on the cover anyway) for Pulgasari he's credited as producer (to be fair he at least dressed like one and he would have no problem securing funding or filming permission) and it appears his ability to get a project done extended past his regimes borders as Shin and Choi's kidnappings showed.

Not exactly your typical mugshot from Amnesty Internationals wall of political prisoners is it?

 The pair were abducted help fulfil Kim's dreams of a vibrant and popular film industry to rival Hollywood.  Apparently he also wanted to get them to reconcile as he disproved of their divorce, and to his "credit" they did actually remarry, and then teamed up to escape together in 86 a year after this film was released. So I guess it wasn’t all bad, swings and roundabouts and all that. Before moving on I will say this, the life of Choi and Shin would make for a very interesting film, it already has romance, drama, tension, espionage, international locations and  a 50 ft Monster. The trailer would practically make itself.

Pulgasari (sometimes translated as Bulgasari) is commonly known on the internet as the Korean Godzilla, hence my title.And on the internet it has become something of trend to recap and ridicule the film mostly because its North Korean and was made for and by Kim Jong Il. I personally don't have a problem  with that, the man did hold people against there will and orchestrate and international incident on what amounts to a fans wish fulfilment. But what does irk me is that much of the mockery stems from them completely missing the point. There's a fan theory that the film is not so secretly mocking Kim Jong Il or at least the system his father ran, that doesn't really hold much water if know anything about Marxism, Korean history and the official ideology of North Korea (at the time). But I'll get into that a little later.


 This "fan" interpretation is also hampered by how Kim was clearly very active in this films production. So hopeful was Kim to make this film a success that he actually got the company that did the effects for the Godzilla films Toho studios to do most of the effects work for the monster scenes and Pulgasari (the monster) is played by Kenpachiro Satsuma who was Godzilla (1984- 95). Now  the significance of this co-production may not be obvious now but at the time this was a very big deal. Japan due to its history of brutal colonisation of Korea has become the "old" enemy of the Korean people, in there culture and to this day the relationship between Japan and South Korea are very strained obviously the DPRK's aggressive championing of Korean culture plus Japan's close ties to its other big enemy the USA mean that Pyongyang and Tokyo like each other even less. So to get such an extensive collaboration in 1985 especially when the son of the nations leader was attached to the project is quite an achievement. It also improved the set pieces and effects of the film into the bargain, though it does make the scenes that weren't made with Toho look a bit amateurish and underfunded. There is a rather infamous scene that's supposed to show and army marching side by side with Pulgasari which is accomplished by having the actors march across a screen projection.



To be honest I personally don't mind if a film with limited funding has limited and cheap effects, and lets be honest this may not have been the famine years but North Korea still wasn't swimming in money. Though if a film cost a lot of money I do expect to see evidence of the budget on the screen. Anyway despite being a film about a man in a rubber suit stomping on miniature cities Pulgasari has a pretty interesting storyline to justify the miniature stomping and extra chasing. Pulgasari is about a a monster from Korean folk lore whom grows when he eats Iron and befriends a poor daughter (Ami) of the deceased Blacksmith that created him out of rice (naturally). I quite like the part were Pulgasari is discovered by Ami and her brother, in lazy films with a magical companion the creature befriends our heroes straight away for no reason, here he eats there tools till his the size of a small child then leaves and ignores them when they try to talk it into coming back. It only returns because its hungry and it only fights the villainous army because they have iron and keep rudely attacking it. After a few minutes of this it does start bonding with Ami and her ragtag rebel friends.

Much of the confusion with the films message and believe in hidden satire comes from the fight scenes between Pulgasari and the armies of the King. A lot of the reviews/humorous recaps for some reason believe that the King represent Capitalism and Pulgasari is the KWP/Revolution. This is despite the fact that we are clearly in Feudal Korea and the "capitalists" are clearly given Feudal titles like King. In fact given the time period not only does Capitalism not exist on the Korean peninsula it doesn't exist anywhere in the world. Capitalism didn't start becoming globally dominant until the late 1700's when the American and the French Revolutions encouraged uprisings and movements that weakened and pushed aside the old Aristocracies whom ruled because they were born to rule, and replaced them with the "social climbing Merchants" you know industrialists and productive land owners, Marx called the Capitalist ruling class Bourgeoisie (hint its French) for a reason. You know who is a representation of Capitalism? Pulgasari yes I'm serious the giant rubber lizard with bull horns is the Monopoly man. This becomes abundantly clear at the end of the film.

Unfortunately while the concept of the film aimed high its costuming and choreography department either failed to deliver or took the easy way out and aimed low. Costumes sometimes look plasticky, the swords and spears wobble a bit and the human on human fights are terrible, confusing and ridiculously quick. Though they do improve as the film goes on and some of the fire and cannon effects impress. Though to be honest I'm not here for the Peasants Revolt, this is after all a Kaiju film, no one watches Godzilla vs King Kong to watch the Japanese Self Defence Force mill about in Tokyo's suburbs  so why should Pulgasrai be any different? Fortunately Toho did a very good job on there end making the stomping and growling look..... well not realistic obviously but quite exciting too watch. I also liked how despite using 16th century weapons technology the King's Generals are able to catch out the rebels and come close to destroying Pulgasari by clever planning.



 But not quite, SPOILER ALERT!!! the 50 ft monster kicks the kings arse, destroys his palace and leads the people to Victory! and then the credits stubbornly refuse to roll. This is were that Pulgasari=Capitalism symbolism is made abundantly clear. Instead of leaving an awaiting to be summoned again when needed as other "good" Kaiju stars did like Gamera (the giant fire breathing tortoise, who also defends the earth from aliens) no instead he demands that his newly freed serf friends get back to work giving him tributes of Iron to feed. This means the serfs are now the free Proletariat and they've exchanged status oppression for just economic oppression. This leaves the new socially down trodden a choice either give up all there Iron they need for tools and thus starve or go out an Imperialist crusade against the world to take other peoples iron to feed there new master. And yes they do outright say that is there choice in the subtitles so I don't see why so many are confused about the films message, this is as blatant as Battleship Potemkin. Pulgasari was an ally of Revolution only to become a new form of tyranny only somewhat  improved on the old order. This is how Marxism views history, the enlightenment period saw an alliance of "the Productive classes, against the unproductive" Peasants and workers fighting side by side with factory owners and merchants against Nobles, Bishops and Landlords. Of course it wasn't to long before the financial clout and education put the merchants and factory owners firmly in charge and they proved quick to forget about there old friends.

The possibility of going to war to steal foreign Iron comes straight from Lenin, "Imperialism is the highest stage of Capitalism" his 1917 work is just an in depth explanation why all these strong Capitalist nations were desperate to gobble up land all over the globe. Pulgasari's existence itself is a representation of the unsustainability of the Capitalist system. He will just eat Iron only to grow larger and demand more Iron over and over. It doesn't take an economics degree to know that isn't sustainable and will only be a matter of time before it breaks down.

Fortunately for the world the downtrodden Koreans reject both options and thanks to Ami's sacrifice and the magic of..... well magic Pulgasari is vanquished leaving the Korean people truly free hurray! And there we have it, I think if you're intrigued by the oddity of North Korea you should see this film, it is very strange a Godzilla film about Historical Materialism and Leninist theory. Its a bit dated and I don't just mean the special effects, after the Cold War and North Korea no longer had the USSR to get "friendship deals" North Korea has slowly but surely been editing out its Marxist past in favour of blatant Korean nationalism and military worship still it is at least a unique piece of cinematic history, and not a bad film considering some of its brothers in its "genre".




1: In North Korea all media is controlled by the State and expected to run in accordance with its ideology, which favours collaboration over individual gain. Apparently all fiction is written by committee.
2: In fact it’s quite likely that you’ve seen a film animated at least in part in North Korea and not realised it as many European animation companies have outsourced to China and North Korea.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Chomsky on Occupy Wall Street

Noted rabble rouser and sayer of things that make you nod your head Noam Chomsky has come out with a new book on the development of the Occupy Movement and its effect on political discourse in America and the world. I have yet to read it but I have listened to this short interview with Chomsky about the book and his additional thoughts on the Occupy movement and I found it to be quite interesting.
From FSRN "Whether focusing on indefinite detention and military spending or fighting foreclosures and financial abuse, protesters from the Occupy movement have redirected the political dialogue in the US and around the globe. Campaigns and actions continue today despite a crackdown from police and city officials on the encampments that first drew nationwide attention. In Noam Chomsky’s new book, Occupy, from Zuccotti Park Press, the renowned historian, linguist and activist uses his decades of experience to analyze the social movement. The book examines what gave rise to direct action last year and what could come ahead as a mass movement takes aim at social and economic inequality and political power. For more, Noam Chomsky joins us from Boston."

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

May Day 2012

Its that time of year again, Happy International Workers day, or May day to give it its common title. Official days to respect and acknowledge societies down trodden and oppressed stretch back quite a ways, feudal Europe had Fool festivals and Pauper parades, where for a day (and only a day) the mass of serfs and free peasants could frolic and play pretend nobility. Sort of like the Sword of Damocles set in a fairground. Those however were drawn up by the nobility (actually there learned advisor's) as a clever way to defuse tensions between the rich and poor. The whole festivals where nothing but propaganda that said "see, the Duke/King/Crown Prince/Emperor ain't such a bad sort after all". May Day is of course different it was a Day demanded by Workers to Commemorate Workers and its date was chosen to remember a great injustice by the rich and powerful too ordinary workers. By which I refer to the bloody suppression of a demonstration in Chicago in 1886. For a bit of a recap, on the 4th of May local workers staged a demonstration for better working conditions, most prominently an 8 hour work day. In a curious quirk of history the police decided to violently break up the demonstration, such unprecedneted behaviour is no doubt shocking to you I'm sure. During the head cracking another rarity occurred, an Anarchist throw a bomb into the police lines*, this gave the police the excuse to start firing and when the smoke had cleared seven policemen and four demonstrators had been killed and dozens where injured. In the trial that followed eight Anarchists where found guilty, however they were unable to prove which of them (if any) threw the bomb, in fact the prosecution had to admit there was no evidence that these eight were the bomb men. But the court decided not to split hairs and have seven them hung anyway, with the remaining defendant getting fifteen years. But thats not the end of the story, two of the seven were commuted to life in prison and one other Louis Lingg committed suicide on the eve of his execution. The rest where hung on the 11th of November 1887, they sang the Marseillaise as that was the Anthem of the Revolutionary movement at the time. One of the executed August Spies reportedly said this as his final words "The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today!". After the executions the surviving men where pardoned and the investigating officer was relived of duty under allegations as serious as forging evidence.
The events of Haymarket demonstrate both the challenges facing working people, police violence, possible infiltration, biased courts and demonisation in media, and the supreme importance of solidarity and organisation needed if we are to defend ourselves and change the world for the better. My own personal tribute to those men. *Since the real culprit was never identified a number of potential perpetrators have been looked at by historians several of which where known police informants. Personally I think it could easily have been either, this was the same time period that Anarchists where trying out the infamous "propaganda of the deed" and police and soldiers where quite trigger happy when faced with picket lines. Though if it was the Anarchists they probably would have took credit for it, which they didn't, in fact several Anarchist suspects publicly stated they didn't do it but wished they had.

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