Back in 2009, T Ching published my posts, Asian Corridor in Heaven and In Asia Even Tea Cinema Is Action-Packed. While re-reading the latter, I was baffled by the synopsis and my own review of the 2008 movie, Tea Fight!, which just shows how “memorable” the plot was. Time to critique more tea-themed movies and documentaries, but are there any?
Amazon reviewers have used e-book readers to count the number of times the heroine “blushed” and “rolled her eyes” in the bestseller, Fifty Shades of Grey. My full attention led me to ascertain that “tea” was uttered, referenced, or shown exactly four times in the 2004 Japanese movie, The Taste of Tea (茶の味). Including “tea” in the title of a non-tea-themed movie, such as The Taste of Tea, is perhaps audacious, but not all that surprising, especially in Asian countries like Japan where tea represents and adorns a way of life. However, embedding metaphors and symbols in film titles must not be exploited. I can’t help but use Ernest Hemingway’s short story, Hills Like White Elephants, as an example in this discussion. How many readers were aware that the hills symbolized obstacles, predicaments, or a pregnant woman’s belly the first time they read the story without the aid of Cliff Notes or an English class? Did Hemingway so consciously implant metaphors, aiming for posterity to dissect his story? Amusingly, I have yet to find a non-admirer of Hemingway’s works in this country.
Fifteen minutes into The Taste of Tea, I lost interest in deciphering the movie’s hidden messages, or in fathoming its pretentious profoundness, even in being entertained by the illustration of rural life redolent of other cinematic works, such as Hayao Miyazaki’s celebrated 1988 animated feature, My Neighbor Totoro. The production team erred in placing all those quirky, egoistic, artist-wanna-be personalities in the same household. The audience ended up welcoming only the more “natural” behaviors of the supporting cast, for example, the anime cosplay characters on the train, the phenomenal gangster baseball player, or the rowdy teenagers at the café. With its release outside of Japan, more critical viewers might even speculate on the production team’s desire to profit from the “M Butterfly Syndrome” – Westerners’ infatuation with and eventual capitulation to the self-fulfilling allure of the Orient.
If you are interested in symbol-laden cinema, I highly recommended Sally Potter’s 1993 Orlando, based on Virginia Woolf’s novel, and the 2003 Korean movie, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring. Then there is the most mesmerizing 2012 Beasts of the Southern Wild!!! None is tea-themed, though.
The synopsis of the 2003 Chinese movie, Green Tea, reveals a non-tea-themed story, but the opening scene features a gyrating cup of swirling tea leaves. The heroine proceeds to comment on her tea-drinking habit and on tea-leaf reading and fortune-telling. The two main characters meet at traditional tea houses and westernized cafes. The filmmakers should have asked themselves whether the audience wishes to see Chinese people indulging in western-style pleasures, like dimly lit piano bars or women in cocktail dresses – the types of pleasures that really need not be depicted on the big screen again. The movie achieves merely the look-and-feel of a wannabe art house/indie film; otherwise, it is hollow and inconsequential. Only after I read the note in the DVD’s bonus features did I learn of the filmmakers’ overly ardent effort to use tea cups, tea leaves, and water as metaphors; the characters are supposedly tea leaves, thriving in the world inside a tea cup, with water as the external force that provides the rhythm for and metamorphoses their lives. Minor, sub-par cinematic pieces like this are the ones that make Chinese masterpieces such as Zhang Yimu’s To Live even more indelible.
After resisting Netflix for a year, I finally succumbed and became a subscriber. There is really no other way to acquire these DVDs.