My City Is Dying [Series]

Episode #1: Worked To Death

The video below has inspired me. The entire thing is in Cantonese so I will provide translation and commentary at the same time. Although the video specifically refers to those working in the accounting industry for the “big 4” firms in Hong Kong, it speaks to a larger culture of work habits that is ruining office work in the city. This marks the beginning of a series of posts on what I see as the decay of a city I once loved.

The piece begins with ex-“Big 4” accountants talking about how working overtime without* extra pay as considered the norm. Bosses would say to his subordinates “when I was in your position, I worked OT and I didn’t get anything, so why should you?”

It then moves to a soliloquy by an anonymous accountant who reflects upon why he is working to 4 in the morning on a regular basis. The important thing to take away from this is that there is no sympathy on part of the superiors, who think that this kind of life-ruining work style is a fact of life that they just have to deal with. The anonymous accountant goes on to counter the notion that their hardships are compensated by salary with the deterioration of his health and relationships with his families and friends.

The next ridiculous phenomenon that the video talks about is that office people stick around in the office to “OT” even if they don’t have work to do. To paraphrase, “to leave early means that either that person is lazy or isn’t competent enough for more work, therefore everyone just sits in the office, waiting for the boss to leave.”

It doesn’t stop there. It is here that I’d like to remind readers once again that working ethos like this is not limited to just the Big 4 accounting firms in Hong Kong; similar things occur in banks, ad, and property management firms. The video then goes through the lives of some who have since left behind their grueling Big 4 days, and talks about how during busy times, they’d inhale lunches and dinners to save time, eventually leading to stomach issues that cause them to take sick days.

Quoting part of a larger sentence, “if we want to leave early, say, 9PM…”

The ex-accountant then talks about the culture of OT as a given thing, that if a worker leaves on time, that means that he is not given enough work, therefore piling on more work. He also talks about how he used to work until 5am, go home, take a shower, sleep for an hour or two, then hop on a taxi and back to work at 9am. He aptly points out that their big-4 counterparts in the West achieve similar business without its workers working the same number of hours. As the video cuts to a montage of him leaving just after 6 and having dinner with his family, his mom talks about how she worried for not just his physical but mental health as well, that she wanted him to get out of this ‘hell’ of a work place.

The next segment of the video interviews another man who used to work in Big 4 firms, during which 70-80 hour work weeks were commonplace. He currently is working with other accounting firms to address the issue of overworking. This is intercut with the previous interviewee, who now has more time on his hands (in his Big 4 days he’s had to work weekends) to do the things he likes or finds meaningful, such as caring for rescued dogs.

The video ends with some chilling statistics: Hong Kong workers top the world in work hours; concurrently, a university study has found that 83% of those interviewed finds life in Hong Kong difficult.

I have never worked in a Big 4 firm and I have never worked 70 hours in a week (there are 168 hours in a week, IF you count Saturday and Sunday, that’s almost half of your entire week). But I have interned at an ad firm that required me to stay at the office until 2am for a couple nights. This happens, a lot, in Hong Kong. And the people, many of whom lack either the courage or the knowledge to speak up about the wrongness that has been bestowed upon them, suck it up day in and day out, eventually leading to irreparable health and social issues.
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As a lead in to a future post: this type of work culture is not limited to the office work place in Hong Kong; it came from somewhere. The same type of people who run the accounting firms are the same ones who run the local education system. These are the people who believe more work for children means they become better test-scorers, which means better students. More on that later.

On top of shaky politics, mainland influence, a dying Disney (and the larger tourism appeal), a (largely) oblivious expat community, and a ruthless property-developing oligarch, the latter two of which make up the top >1% of the city’s population, the city to which I call home for two-thirds of my life is dying before my very eyes.

Reference:
Feature piece by rthk31. Thanks a million, for you guys made a piece that has finally pushed me over the edge and start a series to talk about this from my perspective.

Movie Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

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I watched this film during its first week of release, and have since watched it again.  For lack of a better term, the film is just flat out awesome. It is a very well executed piece of entertainment with solid storytelling, creating characters that we care about, and seamlessly integrating them into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film is action-packed, funny, and, most importantly, doesn’t take itself too seriously.  When the film opened with Chris Pratt’s character dancing to “Come and Get Your Love” in an otherwise eerie setting, it establishes itself to appeal towards a wide array of audiences: the young and the old, the hipster and the nerd were on board. The casting was also perfect as the chemistry between Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Batista, Bradley Cooper (Rocket), and Groot (Vin Diesel) lit up the screen.  The banter between them never felt forced. I had my doubts about how successful the film would be considering the Guardians of the Galaxy is much less well known than Marvel’s other comic book heroes such as Iron Man or Captain America.  But when this film became the biggest office success this year, surpassing “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” Marvel has proven that it can bring its secondary franchises to the forefront. Barring a tiny bit of dialogue inadequacies, this was the not only the best Marvel film, but one of the best action films in recent years.  This film was a blast; I would recommend it to anyone who is looking to have a good time at the movies.

Movie Review: Dawn Of the Planet of the Apes

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Dear Michael Bay: this is how you make a CGI-heavy action film where the human characters actually matter.  “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” continues the story from “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” a tale that has grown into an epic saga in which layers upon layers of story are added with each passing scene.

You find yourself immersed this post-apocalyptic world (supposedly San Francisco but looks more like Vancouver, neighbour to its North), and more importantly, caring about the human characters.  They play an integral part of the battle against the Apes, and the allegories towards our society are frequent but not overwhelming.

The special effects were top-notch; the apes look as real as ever.  And huge props again to Andy Serkis, who portrays Caesar, the leader of the Apes.  His abilities to bring CGI characters to life through his motion censor suit (as he’s done as Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” films and “King Kong”) is absolutely amazing.

Twice now I have been surprised at how good the new saga of “Apes” films are, since the bombastic and confusing Tim Burton / Mark Walhberg version.  I am definitely looking forward to heading to the theatres for the next instalment.

Movie Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction

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Hearing nothing but bad things about the newest instalment (a so-called reboot) of the Transformers franchise from my friends and critics alike, I went to see the film anyway, for reasons that aren’t quiet enough to justify my trip to the theatre:

1. I wanted to see just how bad it was, and whether I can still derive some enjoyment out of it, and;

2. It was late on a Thursday night and my choices were limited.

In lieu of the fact that everyone I know trashed the film, my bar was set so low that it was almost impossible for me to hate it. And I can’t say I did, because at this point, I have lost faith in Michael Bay; to me, he will always be the guy who uses the same technique (that signature low-angle slo-mo shot of a dude stepping out of a car looking like he’s badass? check) and whose movies are always at least 20 minutes too long.

Recently, I have funnelled my hatred towards Michael Bay films into laughter as I was once again in awe of how bad his latest work is.  This film is another instance where Michael Bay and the people who produces these Transformers movies know that people will go to these films no matter how garbage they are.

However, I can’t say I hate this film, per se, because it features my home city of Hong Kong getting destroyed (you see it in the trailer so no spoilers), especially two of the city’s architectural monstrosities.  That, at a personal level, at least, makes this film not a complete waste of money to go to.

If you are ambivalent to seeing Hong Kong get demolished (It was enjoyable for me also because now I can say I’ve walked the same street as Bumblebee and Optimus Prime!), then don’t watch it.

As a side note: some local Hong Kong people are enraged over a line said in the film that promotes mainland Chinese propaganda, in selling its affections towards the city of Hong Kong.  But when you put that in a Michael Bay movie, who cares?

Movie Review: Edge of Tomorrow

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Finding myself stuck on how to begin this review, I will just say, for lack of a better word, that “Edge of Tomorrow” is awesome.

The story, for anyone who hasn’t seen “Groundhog Day,” or read the light-novel on which the film is based (me included), feels quite original and just engaging enough without causing confusion.  As soon as the first ‘rewind’ happens, I was hooked by the twist and eager to find out what happens next.

However, without a strong lead actor to carry the film, a plot like this would have collapsed into a soulless special effects explosion-fest.  This is why Tom Cruise is aptly cast as Major William Cage, a character that goes through unimaginably bizarre events and grows wiser as the film goes on.  Emily Blunt, echoing her performances from “The Adjustment Bureau” and “Looper”, once again plays to perfection a tough character with just a touch of vulnerability.

Witty dialogue, compelling characters, some eye-popping cinematography and well-timed comedic moments made this film a joy to sit through.  I saw this film in normal 3D, and in a rare instance, I found myself wishing I have seen it in IMAX 3D, to experience the sprawling battle sequences.

Tom Cruise might no longer be the biggest draw for blockbuster films, and the film’s theatrical release poster does not do justice to how good the film really is, but “Edge of Tomorrow” is a definite recommendation from me.  Catch it before all the ‘mega’ summer hits come out!

Movie Review: Godzilla

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I had described this film as “glorious” on a few occasions to my friends.  As it ended, the film left me with a smile and wanting for more (in a good way).

I had no expectations heading into this film, barely taking note of the trailer and avoided reviews.  This probably helped me like the film more.

The film certainly takes its time to build up to the debut of the titular character, or the “Alpha Predator”, as the film calls it.  The wait was worth it, as my jaw dropped when Godzilla emerged out of the shadows and declared his presence with a menacing roar.

The epic set pieces and action sequences, particularly those featuring the giant beast, are reminiscent of the fights from “Pacific Rim.”  The movements of the combatants appear slow on screen but that precisely adds gravitas to the scene; each impact reverberates through the theater and the audience echoes the tension.

The casting was decent, although I would have liked to see more of Bryan Cranston.  Amazing special effects and adrenaline-filled battle scenes aside, the film does commit one of the bigger sins of story-telling, and the movie suffers from it.

Nevertheless, “Godzilla” definitely surprised me and blew me away, and it is the perfect way to open the summer movie season (sorry, Captain America, April openings don’t count).

Movie Review: 3 Days to Kill

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Arguably, the advertising campaign for this film falsely represents what the film really is, a daughter-father relationship drama / comedy intermittent with some action.  The film never builds itself up as an action film.  It could have, but it chose not to; an intriguing opening act featuring an international terrorist and a leather-wearing Amber Heard playing a top CIA agent gave way to Kevin Costner’s character trying to rekindle with his daughter, played by Hailee Steinfeld, who he’d barely seen for most of her life.

Halfway into the film I almost forgot about what Costner’s character was supposed to do because it steered too far off course.  That being said, it wasn’t exactly too bad, as Costner, at this stage of his career, excels at playing the middle-aged father figure (as he did in “Man of Steel”, the 2013 Superman reboot).  The relationship between Steinfeld and Coster’s characters is surprisingly heart-warming, to the point where it almost became unnecessary for the action to kick back in.

It’s not a horrible movie.  It just struggled with its identity.  In a movie season that is starting to pick up as early as April, wait for this to come out on DVD.