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October 24th, 2005

Lost in Hong Kong Part 4:
Sorry, I can't go to the movie
because I have a site to update

     I bitch a lot.
     At the last update, I used's "Bi-Weekly Nonsense" section to complain once more about my lack of time, lack of motivation, and dwindling hope for the Hong Kong film industry. It's something I do a lot, and here's the reason why: I usually write those notes mere minutes before I upload site changes to the Internet. Generally speaking, the time I update the site is around 3am, and usually I have work the next day. Obviously I'm cranky and annoyed, so the grouchiness seeps into the site update. These recent complaints set off a flurry of e-mails from readers, some of whom told me, "Please don't quit!" Others said, "Shut up!" Somewhere in between I got, "I like your site, but get a grip already." I also got one calling me a "miserable piece of %$!#", but I deleted it.
     The general message, however, is I should quit my bitching. I honestly should, though it's easier said than done. For one thing, it still feels like I'm by myself when I write for, so I don't always consider the consequences of my webmaster mood swings. The Internet isn't very personal; sometimes it's hard to realize that there are people on the other side of that computer screen. If I had an exact clue as to how many people read my decidedly personal ramblings, I might A) be more responsible, B) be more self-destructive, or C) sign an endorsement contract with the Hong Kong Tourist Association and use the space to plug group tours to Lamma Island. It is, after all, the birthplace of Chow Yun-Fat, plus if you go to a certain seafood restaurant, you can get a free ferry ride from Hong Kong Island. But I digress.
     I shouldn't bitch, I know. Not everyone is as lucky as I am, i.e. they don't get moved halfway across the globe on someone else's dime simply to chase their cinema obsessions. I got that opportunity close to nine months ago, and it still feels a bit odd. Sadly, for most of that time, the cinema has been in a quality-impaired rut. Basically, the movies haven't been so hot. Through September, the best film of the year was Crazy 'N The City, which is a fine film, but nothing truly earth-shattering. Johnnie To's Election did arrive to salvage some of 2005, but let's face it: 2005 has been one lousy year for Hong Kong Cinema. And yes, Initial D really isn't that good.
    My pragmatic side tells me to switch the site's focus to the trendier Asian regions (Hello Korea!), or to simply start getting very picky about my Hong Kong movie choices. Basically, if it looks bad, walk away and watch something else. That would be a fine idea, because I have a pile of reportedly good movies (many Korean, Chinese, or Japanese) waiting to be watched. I've had some for months, but for some reason I don't watch them. Instead, I crack open my DVD copy of Demoniac Flash or The Unusual Youth and give those a spin. I have a Special Edition DVD of the Korean hit A Bittersweet Life, but of higher priority are my cheapo DVDs of Set Up, Set To Kill, and the latest Leung Hung-Wah masterpiece A Wondrous Bet. Yep, those sound like incredibly bad movies. Either I'm very dedicated or certifiably insane.
     Here's another thought: what if I'm the problem? A couple of months ago, someone said to me that my reviews have gotten increasingly negative, and even suggested something disturbing. I may be completely misrepresenting this person's words, but the impression I received was that they think I actually try to dislike films. Running with this idea, the thought is that I really don't want to like movies anymore, and actually prefer to dislike them instead. If that's the case, then it's not the cinema that's at fault, but me, and my attachment to Hong Kong Cinema is hurting more than helping it. Look at it this way, a season ticket holder to Golden State Warrior games shouldn't be heckling the home team. I should be cheering on even the crappiest films, because as everyone who's ever read a self-help book knows, positive reinforcement is wonderful thing. Shouldn't I be Hong Kong Cinema's greatest cheerleader and not its perpetually grumpy uncle?
     I can't say that I agree or disagree with what this person said because hey, they're just calling it as they see it. But they're right about one thing: it's not fun anymore. Once upon a time, I got into Hong Kong Cinema because it was fun. Fun to immerse myself in a different culture, fun to escape the confines of Hollywood, and simply fun to check out the unknown. Becoming a fan of Hong Kong Cinema felt like freedom, because I could pick and choose from hundreds of films, and sometimes I would have no idea what to expect. Years ago, I used to attend a weekly double feature of Hong Kong Cinema in San Jose, California. Back then, there were enough movies - and I had enough time - to simply watch whatever the cinema dished out. Not all those movies were good, but most felt fresh and new enough to make them worthwhile. It was a tremendous learning experience, and it was also some of the best times I've ever had at the movies. I miss those days.
     Now I feel trapped. Trapped by self-imposed expectations of what I should and should not be doing. I think I should watch every Hong Kong movie that comes down the pipeline, regardless of perceived or actual quality. I think I should update this site fairly frequently because that's what readers expect. I know some of these readers through letters or actual meetings, but most are numbers to me, measured in hits, pageviews, or the almighty Alexa ranking. As some people may have figured out, the site now carries banner advertising, which is actually pretty okay dollar-wise, but comes with its own headaches. On the plus side, I can now pay for the long-planned Version 2, coming to the World Wide Web in 2006 (I hope). On the negative side, I wouldn't be surprised if having banner ads has caused some readers to leave for greener, and less commercially-obvious pastures.
     Then again, running a website can sometimes be incredibly cynical. Recent experiences have taught me that hard work and relative success are not always going to be respected by everyone out there. When I started this whole shebang, my attitude was "What the hell...I'll start a web site!" I had no idea it would lead me to where I am now: living in Hong Kong, clinging to a slowly disintegrating readership, and watching my stats like it matters somehow. In the beginning it was fun to spread around my opinions because hey, they're my opinions! Woo hoo! Then it got complex, with people asking me about search engine optimization and affiliate dollars, or challenging my integrity. It's all a bit much for one guy (yes, only one guy runs this site), especially a guy who got into this whole mess because he just happens to like movies. Now there's dollars, reputations, expectations, and sometimes resentment wrapped up in my chosen hobby. How weird is this?
     In truth, the movies matter more to me than my opinion. I'm glad that I never wrote a review for Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, or Farewell My Concubine, or Rouge, because sometimes I really don't feel the need to tell people why I liked something. Sometimes I just want to watch something without worrying about how I'm going to represent it in seven days when I have to write a review and upload it to the site. Ever since the idea popped into my head that I might be doing the cinema a disservice, I've wondered if perhaps it's too late for me. Maybe the business of writing reviews has killed any joy I might have when watching a movie.
     A month or so ago I purchased two tickets to a movie called Three Times, starring Shu Qi and Chang Chen, and directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien. The film was showing as a part of a local fest, and I promised the site's sometime web designer and personal friend Computer Angel (don't ask) to take her with me. I thought the film was being screened the day after I updated I was wrong. In actuality, it was being shown the night of my update - but for some reason I thought that was impossible because I believed I would never, ever schedule something on a night when I had to update the site. Well, it wasn't, and Computer Angel and I missed the movie! I bought two tickets to a film and then missed the screening time, and it happened because I assumed I wouldn't schedule a movie for the same night as the all-important update. When I actually went to the theater the next day with my (now useless) tickets, it was not pretty. Computer Angel was not happy either.
     So obviously, something has got to change. Assuming it's not too late for me, perhaps I can do something to salvage my once-strong love for the movies. Maybe I have to change my update schedule, hire some help, or simply look at the whole mess differently. If it's possible, I should try to chuck the whole "website as responsibility" thing and simply try to have fun with it again. I'm not sure how I'll be able to do it. Maybe I should just watch the movies I want to, or maybe I should simply take a break and ignore things like site traffic and commercial requests. I've occasionally thought of chucking it all, but it's hard to do that, especially with so many dollars and so much time tied up in's present and future. Keeping it up will be difficult too, because I also have a regular job. One day, I'd like to get a life too.
     But I really don't want to stop. My website may mean more to me than my actual job - a tough admission, but one I can't deny. I like my job a lot, and the people are great, but it's still a job. And like every job, you need a vacation sometimes or you'll simply drive yourself insane. has also become a job, but it wasn't always one. Sometimes I go back and read some of my old reviews, and oddly enough, I have a good time doing it. It's not because the writing is always good. Indeed, sometimes I read old reviews and wonder what the hell I was smoking when I wrote it - or if I even knew how to write back then. Given my present packed schedule, it's a waste of time to read my old work, but I have fun doing it because sometimes I can see that the person who wrote those reviews is a person who just happens to like movies. He may bitch about them a lot, but I can tell that he likes them.
     Honestly, I just want to be that guy again.

-- Kozo, 10/24/2005


Life with Kozo

  The Featured Photos
Life in Hong Kong is full of many adventures. At top, the Webmaster literally gets lost in Hong Kong (photo credit goes to the all-powerful Team A). The second photo depicts a massive billboard of the Webmaster's once-upon-a-time favorite Hong Kong actress. Picture three is an obviously essential photo of the Cheung Chau Pig Raising Co-Operative Society Limited. And finally, picture four is one corner of the Webmaster's Hong Kong apartment. Clearly, it's all fun and games over here.

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The opinions expressed within are merely the musings of the Webmaster, and as such should be taken with the requisite grain of salt. If you disagree with an expressed opinion please feel free to contact him here. If you feel he has insulted your favorite popstar, you can still contact him. However, your chances of receiving a reply will be reduced by half.
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