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Film rewriting: Battle Angel Alita

Comics are sort of the new favorite source for films these days. Of course we have Marvel and DC, but also manga (and anime) have served as inspirations in the past years. With mixed results to say the least.

On the other hand, it seems that production values and budgets increase as well, hopefully leading to better quality films (in any sense of the word). This all leads me to the newest addition in this genre, Battle Angel Alita.

This is actually the first manga-based film, where I actually read the manga. It was about 10 years ago, so not too fresh in my mind but I remember enjoying it quite a lot. The basic premise of the movie is as follows:

“A brilliant scientist finds a broken android in the scrapyard. He rebuilds her and discovers she has a strong appetite for battle and sports (motorball). While (re)discovering herself, she becomes part of a competition to rise above others and literally above the city to the promised land.”

Honestly, the story line is quite straightforward so here are a few things I propose to make it a little bit more interesting.

  1. Can we have more shots of sports training? Motorball is like this intense, extreme competition where people, androids and robots literally completely rebuild themselves and lose their lives. Yet, we only get a mock practice game and Alita’s first real game before we are told at the end that she rose to the top in a few months of beating everyone. Where are the photos of those moments?
  2. Could we get a little more background information as to why certain people like or do not like Alita? The best friend of her main love interest (more on that in my next point) just does not like Alita, for no particular reason than that she beat him at the first game where he cheated, but keeps hanging around and going to places. And then in the end, he still dies for his friend even though he just insulted him of becoming weak because of her. That is just not how friendship works.
  3. I like Disney and hot guys as much as the next person, but it just does not match in a gritty, industrial and serious environment. Please throw the scene where he wakes up without a shirt out of the window immediately. Please do not throw in a cheesy quote such as: “You are the most human person I know”, when it is literally directed to an android. Please do not have the guy thanking the girl for changing his world as he falls to his death. And if possible, just find a less standard hot guy type. They just look too clean, no matter how dirty their environment is.

Apparently, this is only the first film in what is to become a series. As a stand-alone film, it is fine. It does the story enough justice, but could certainly improve in the next films. In any case, at least this was not the next Dragonball disaster.

Animated Animals: birds of a feather talk together

Outdoors, nothing is as easy as it once seemed. There are decibel meters everywhere. It is finally more acceptable to stare at your phone all the time, since it is safer to chat with each other digitally.

However, especially in China many pets and birds in particular serve a distinct social function. These birds of course learn to talk and twitter away quite literally, which is fine as long as they are confined. Some do escape however, which created pockets in the wild where it is allowed to talk out loud.

So after your first work day, you decide to go to such a park. It is so quiet on the streets these days, it is unsettling. At the entrance of the park, there is a large map marking spots where talking is allowed. Another sign reminds you that there are decibel meters and cameras recording, so anyone talking too loudly in any other parts will be fined.

Passing the gates, you follow the path. There are still people dancing and elderly men intensively playing chess. You hear a bunch of different sounds coming from those crowds. Apparently, people have found new ways of communicating, either with clapping in morse, which works especially well if you are trying to make a point while playing chess or dancing the flamenco.

You walk on and arrive at a fork in the road. The path leading to the talking zone, leads into a dense forest. Once you enter it, you suddenly hear something that is quite overwhelming. Everyone is talking. Conversations are being had. People and birds laugh en get merry.

There are some cameras in between the trees, and all the birds are on leashes. This spot is specifically meant to only have birds. After some talks, the others tell you all outside spots are separated as much as possible. Also, everyone needs an outdoors license to be sure only well-behaved pets are taken outdoors.

After taking a look around, you sit down next to an older man who is having an animated conversation with his parakeet. “So today’s grains where definitely not the most tasty you say?” “Nope,” the bird answers “They just come out whole. It is terrible.”

“Do you have a special diet?” You chime in. The bird tilts his head and makes a sound like a sigh. “I just have an incredibly sensitive stomach. You know how some within our bird family will just eat anything of the street? I am not like that. I have standards.” The man scratches the bird’s head. “I have a little side business in luxury bird feed now. We are crossing boundaries.”

“Crossing boundaries,” you think. Would there be any spots where these talking animals meet?

Animated Animals: what the duck?

I was traveling a few weeks ago and while climbing a mountain, I suddenly thought: “What if animals could talk? Surely it would make mountains and forests a much less quiet place.” I also just remembered seeing the headline somewhere that currently most ducks for Chinese dishes are imported from Great Britain. So combining the 2, I imagine it would end up something like this…

It is the same as with humans. If you do not talk to them, they do not learn to speak. Since animals are now able of learning human languages, there have been many new rules, especially at farms and outdoors areas. Everyone there needs to use sign language, to preserve some quietness and order. Sure, monkeys may be able to catch onto that, but that conveniently also scales back the amount of zoos.

So, one day you saw an add for a Business Development Manager at a Duck Farm. Such positions are now very unpopular, due to moral considerations. However, that makes for little competition, so you decide to give it a try.

“English is the main language for this task.” Your supervisor says. “We import most of the ducks, so we need fluent speakers. We also have a few English major students interning for us.” No wonder that the level of English suddenly became much higher in China. There are that many more opportunities to practice, although you doubt how in-depth these conversations could go.

“It is no option to let them handle everything by themselves under human supervision?” You ask. Your supervisor shakes his head. “Only some are well-educated enough to communicate with us. Being able to talk does not mean they have consciousness, and many conditions in large-scale facilities are still quite apalling. If you let ducks talk to each other, they will quickly veer off-topic and start complaining about putting on weight, dirty feathers and swollen feet. And in the end, most ducks are slaughtered of course.”

With that in mind, you start working and calling. “Donny speaking here, how can I help you.” You wonder what it looks like on the other side. Is the duck in an office? Is the phone strapped to his body? Is there a human supervising him? After exchanging some polite conversation, you discuss the quality of the newest batch, transport, logistics and some other business.

With the work part of the conversation coming to an end, you decide to delve a little bit deeper. “Donny, does it feel at all strange to be part of this?”

You hear a sigh, obviously you are not the first one asking these questions. “Well, it is certainly a limited life of course. If I could fly and feel fine, I would but our bodies simply are not built like that. In the meantime, instead of just eating all day, it is nice to get a break from that by talking to you guys.”

Truth be told, you never gave a thought about career choices for ducks. “So is it tough to learn how to do this?”

“Nah, not really. We have scripts and cards, so that is the easy part. Also for off-topic conversations, we have a lot of practice. But I imagine that our counterparts living in the wild have some more variety. Stories of the black market do trickle down here, with some of us selling inside knowledge, stuff like that. Another reason not to keep us alive for too long.”

“You can just straight up tell me that?” You ask in amazement.

Donny has a short laugh. “Well, by now it is common knowledge. You guys cannot keep us apart anyway, so there is bound to be some of us able to get away. Anyhow, my feet are hurting so I am hanging up. Looking forward to be in touch again!”

A click and he is gone. You have quite a lot to think about now and decide to go for a stroll. Perhaps that will take your mind off of things.

Hush, hush, hush

Peace and quiet. Two things people definitely do not come to China for. The whole environment here is just plain noisy. From people to pets, from cars to cicadas there is always something happening and you can hear it.

I live in a ‘traditional’ 6-story building in Shanghai and there is always some pipes making a noise, or the airco outside, or my neighbors getting up at 7 to dance to very loud music.

In Shanghai, it is prohibited to honk for the greater part of the city center, but in Beijing that is definitely not the case. The symphony of all the noises sadly do not come together and it can make for quite an overwhelming experience when a bus, a truck, a car and a scooted are all honking at each other at the same time.

Furthermore, the Chinese are sort of famous for letting others ‘enjoy’ the sounds they make. Whether it is playing mobile games (without earphones), watching a drama (without earphones) or plainly calling (without earphones on the toilet), everyone can very clearly hear what they are doing.

It is the same with human comunication. People rather loudly call each other from the other side of the street, than cross it to talk normally. Kids running off are being accompanied by the increasingly louder screams of their parents that they need to come back. It does not work.

So in this environment, I always find it quite funny when people find me being too loud. I think I have been told a bit more above average to be quiet, or that I am loud. To which I can only say: I am a product of my environment. Apparently I sound more Chinese sometimes than the locals around me.

Nothing to be done pt. 3

So being a good tenant, I took the advice of my housing agency and just started up my washing machine. Not even 30 minutes passed when I heard some familiar tapping on the door and saw the same face in a state that combined anger with frustration and a touch of sadness.

“You are using your washing machine!” It sounded as if I had started a war with my unknown neighbors below.  I started explaining that I was just following advice I had gotten, but he started to mumble and walk around as if he could just take up my washing machine and move it around to solve the problem. In the end, he sort of told me that I was violating the rules and since there was no repairmen coming, he would get a guy of his own. He then stormed out of my house again.

So I reached out to my housing agency and asked them to have it repaired again. And the guy said, “Will try tomorrow.”

But the management was of course getting his own guy, so I again had visitors a few minutes later. I do not think I need to tell you what the management’s repairguy did. He walked to the washing machine, looked out of the window, took some pictures and told me I could not use my washing machine. Getting quite a bit frustrated myself I got both of them to hear the full message my housing agency sent me. Told them I am only a sheeple and following orders so if they tell me I could use the washing machine, I would.

It left an impression. Being direct still is a good way to get people to back off in China. But they would still be coming back again soon.

Nothing to be done pt. 1

*BOOM BOOM BOOM*

I took a look at my phone. It was 6:50. Also, my alarm did not sound like a cannon. I tried to picture myself sleeping and dreaming that sound, but it was a little bit too real.

*BOOM BOOM BOOM*

“Hello anybwody hwome? Wopen de doowr!”

Note: this is not too make the person sound drunk, rather it was quite a heavy Shanghainese accent and I was not being very diligent in my listening.

Why was this person so confident that people are happy to open their doors at 6:50 for strangers? Now it happens to be that the walls in my building are very thin. Not that I actually know my neighbors (they were lighting up a fire in the hallway a few days ago. It did not make me want to befriend them more), but I was still a bit concerned that this might go on for too long to be comfortable.

So i put on some clothes, slowly got out of bed and opened the door. A 50/60-year old man, of about my height (1.60 cm) looked me suspiciously in the eyes. “Something is leaking.” he said bluntly. Or, to be fair he might have said a bit more, but that was lost on me. I looked back quite dumbfounded, as there was not anything leaking in my house for the past month.

He barged through the door, walked to the balcony where my washing machine was and looked out of the window. “Here” he said, “You need to move this washing machine.” Now I am quite a strong and healthy person, but I am not too confident in my washing machine-moving skills. Nor was I quite sure why this guy, who certainly did not look very professional, would be the right person to tell me so. “I am the management of this building, your washing machine is causing a leak further downstairs.”

The good thing about China is that times are very flexible. You can eat at any hour of the day, go to the bank in the weekend (or more like spend the weekend there) and arrange a housing tour on the same day. Truly, I think this was the first time I found that this timing was working against me.

So naturally I did something quite logical. Of course I should not have.

We take your time

So time is money and it is often said that there is nothing more valuable than time. At the same time, we spend too much of our day on the phone, behind screens and with way too many triggers that ask our attention. Well, I have the perfect solution for you to relive a feeling of utter boredom and frustration.

It is called: waiting. Specifically at many official or large institutions. Think of governmental organisations, banks, hospitals, mobile providers etc. The wonderful thing in China is, you can do this on the weekends, in your own time. Although, I would also like to mention it is great that everything is open 7 days a week here. I am happy that I do not need to work during the weekends regularly, but luckily others are sacrificing themselves for me.

So you wake up on Saturday and think to yourself: “I am just simply going to open a bank account.” Well, the unwritten rule is that if you enter at any time after 9.15, you need to wait at least 1 hour. Why? What is the case with all these official-looking people walking around, but not actually doing anything? Only a single counter open for all these people? Why does it seem like they spend at least 2 hours helping every client? These are great questions to ponder over when you waited so long that your phone is dead.

What often makes me agitated as a Dutch person (we value money) is that for many services you need to pay upfront. When I went to the pet hospital for my cat’s veterinary examination, I needed to hand over quite some money for a relatively mundane service. And of course you ask them after you paid what comes next, to which the answer is: “Just sit there and wait, we will call you soon.” Well, with the amount of time that passes, you can be sure that the staff want you to have enough time to think over your day, life or why you actually wanted a pet.

It works wonders, really.

You have a funny sense of humor

Truly, how many times do we say that we like or do not like someone because of her or his humor? Certainly, there are those among my friends and other people I know with whom I share my jokes or do not. And then there are of course those who just laugh about anything anyway (you know who you are!).

But to be honest, humor is something that is really culturally specific. I have often said things in an ironic or sarcastic manner, such as “Why would it be that way, huh?” or “We know what they are doing with that…” Having an honest answer or receiving honest questions to these rhetoric sayings always puts me off a little.

At the same time, I have watched some Chinese television where I either find most jokes not funny or plainly do not understand. The last situation expecially occur when it is traditional Chinese cabaret (相声) or something related to traditional opera etc. I have literally watched twenty minutes of this programme where whole comedy troupes compete, are allegedly very funny, but it does not really come across.

A thing that is quite funny, are Chinese puns. I was going on a trip with some friends recently and saw a Chinese shop called 非常稻, the English translation being Very Rice. Where the English version is literally a wordplay, the Chinese spoke a bit deeper to me. It reminded me of the first sentences of the Daodejing, the sacred text of Daoism. This sentence in Chinese is道可道非常道, which in a way can be translated as “The Way that can be expressed is not the everlasting way.” Although this does not have a direct link to rice bowls (which is really what the restaurant sold), it is still quite clever.

This different use of the first sentence of the Daodejing also reminds me of a short play I did while in university. But that is something to be told another time.

Hot as hell

The sun has been here longer than we have. It is also burning hot. The sun itself is, but also here on earth. Yes, of course we created this ourselves. With all the conveniences, low costs and high risks we want and take, this was bound to happen.

Everyone here already got around mostly covered when the sun shone. Large visors, long sleeves and pants, gloves, masks and hats. There are also images of other countries, basking in sunlight. Men and women in long, wide gowns. Most of us here wear pants. Seemingly the only difference would be that the sweat touches your thighs instead of the fabric in between.

Moving outside in broad daylight is becoming increasingly dangerous. The sun is literally scorching these days. The pavement is so hot that water literally instantly turns into steam and you could actually bake anything on it. That is, if it would be kept clean.

And even in these circumstances, there are more than enough people still working outside. Shuffling leaves together in the shade so that they do not start a fire. Watering the plants in the shadow or keeping an eye on the traffic from under a parasol. That is just as effective as it sounds.

It is said that several cities with extremely hot summers exist which were called ‘ovens’ before. Currently, all cities are real ovens. The concrete sucks up the heat and it permeates every structure. Steel pots and pans do not even need to be put on the gas anymore. We can just cook in them on the balcony if we wear fireproof gloves.

The well-of, rich people leave the city en mass during this time of the year. Pictures of luscious green fields, wide blue seas and bare skin flood the social media. But even outside the cities, temperatures are still at an all-time high. It makes censoring for nudity very easy, showing that much bare skin can simply lead to burns and is thus very rare.

Windows have since long been covered. It is still strange to wake up in the morning, seemingly at dusk. Before, you still had commercials where people opened their windows in the morning and let the sunlight in. Half of my stuff would directly catch on fire if you would do that in my room now.

There also used to be a buzz of insects outside when it was really hot. Old series on television would have that playing on the background to symbolize how hot it is. Apparently, if you go even hotter it turns quiet. Eerily quiet. Everyone seems to move in slow motion. The weight of the heat is instant whenever you go outside. Life is slowly turning into a real child’s play. Only move from shadow to shadow, step into the light and it is game over…

Dagboek van Moek: 19/20/21 mei

19 mei: WAAR BEN IK??? Ik ruik hier allemaal rare beesten en onbekende geluiden. Vanuit het raam wat in deze kamer is kan ik mens wel zien. Er staan allemaal vreemde dingen in deze kamer. En van die geuren gaat mijn haar gelijk overeind staan brrr…

Een klik en de deur gaat open. Het is mens maar, maar wie neemt ze mee? Een onbekende zwarte kat die totaal geen herkenning bij mij oproept. Bovendien ruikt ze helemaal niet als kat, maar als hond. En het eet van mijn voer! En poept in mijn bak! Een beetje geblaas houdt het tenminste op afstand. Hier zit een luchtje aan…

20 mei: Mens ruikt iedere keer weer raar en anders als ik haar zie. Hoe moet ik haar dan herkennen? Langzaam kom ik een beetje mijn kamer uit, maar het is nog steeds sluipen over de grond en terug sprinten voordat een grote boze hond mij kan opslokken. Gelukkig zijn er in deze kamers geen spullen waar ik niet op mag of niet mee mag spelen van mens.

Als ik naar beneden kijk zie ik daar ook vreemde vormen bewegen. Zolang het vrij rustig en stil is, kan ik ongehoord naar beneden sluipen. Maar die engerds beneden zijn haast net zo groot als ik in het geheel ben. Ze kennen vast hun eigen krachten niet. En ik kwam ook nog een andere katachtige tegen op de gang laatst. Die rook ook niet normaal, dus heb ik ook even direct duidelijk gemaakt. Hij loopt echter zonder problemen zo naar beneden, dus dat heeft hij wel voor op mij.

21 mei: Toen mens net thuiskwam dook ze weer een andere kamer in. Een witte en gladde kamer waaruit ineens een keihard geluid kwam. Het bleek water te zijn, dat in een grote kom ging waar mens toen hij vol zat gewoon in ging liggen. Geheel vrijwillig. En haar ogen sloot. Waarom? Ik zou het niet weten.

Dus toen ze er toch wel een tijdje langer in bleef liggen ging ik eens polshoogte nemen. Met mijn achterpoten tegen de rand en mijn voorpoten op de rand kon ik precies met mijn oogjes haar zien. En ik zette grote ogen op. Mens moest lachen, dus ik liet haar dan maar met rust. Als ze zelfs naakt en geheel ondergedompeld in water blij kan zijn, heeft ze duidelijk andere dingen die haar blij maken dan ik.