Friday, March 23, 2007

Asian Oscars - Translators Take Your Positions!

The golden invitation says "Black Tie".

I’m not even wearing a black shirt.... and that’s unusual when I’m traveling. Black shirts don’t show the wrinkles as easily, and everything ends up wrinkled after you unpack it. So I pack a bunch of black dress shirts. Basically, I only have black dress shirts, blue dress shirts, and blue stripped dress shirts. Being a heterosexual male, I want to avoid ever thinking about fashion - I want to just reach into my closet and pull out shirt. After it is used, the shirt will end up where used shirts belong - on the floor along with my socks. I am not a domesticated animal.

I am also not dressed for the Asian version of the Oscars. I have on one of a bunch of identical bright blue stripped shirts that I own and a recently purchased pair of Levis.

Richard (also not in black tie) and I take an endless number of escalators down to the ground level of the Convention Center and cross to the main lobby... where there is a full red carpet and every media camera in Asia. Plus a million fans with *neon* signs. I have no idea what the signs say - they are in Chinese. The problem is, the red carpet is blocking our path - we need to get to the escalators on the other side. Now, this isn’t just me and Richard who have to get to the other side of the red carpet, it’s *hundred* of people. These guys in front of us (also not in black tie - but at least they are in suits) are herded out a door to the street and we follow. All hundred or so of us. Including the multi-tattooed girl from Brain Damage Films (not in black tie - but nobody seems to care, she’s hot). On the street we have to walk around the limos pulling up with stars and the crush of screaming fans - it really is like Oscar night - to the other side of the building.

The two guys in front of us somehow get on the red carpet by mistake, and flashbulbs are popping and reporters are asking who they are wearing... and who they are. The two guys smile, wave, and keep walking down the carpet. They are like deer in the headlights. Confused, trying to find a way off the red carpet and away from the reporters and fans... while pretending like they belong.

Richard and I make it the other side of the building - the other side of the crush of screaming fans - and enter the lobby...

In time to see some security guards escort the two guys *off* the red carpet and back to the place that normal people are supposed to be. They seem relieved, and are now at the back of the hundred or so of us... as we go up every escalator we just went down (except in another wing of the Convention Center). After going up a series of escalators in this wing, we hear screaming from the crowd below: "Andy! Andy!" Andy Lau has arrived. From up here, he looks like an ant. I think about THE THIRD MAN for some reason.

They check our golden invitations at the door, make no comment about our clothes, and allow us in to the cocktail party. Waiters and waitresses circulate with trays of drinks - hard to tell what they are. I spot something that looks like a glass of beer and grab it. I hit the food section where they have spinach pastries and crab tarts and spring rolls. I’ve only had a sandwich, so I stock up. But the plates are small, and when I stand in line a second time I get the pleasure of walking past empty food warmers. Richard sees some people he knows - and a few of them even know him. I look at hot Asian women - many in sliced up evening gowns.

Suddenly, I hear xylophone music. Coming from every corner of the room!

Ends up being the "two minute warning" - waiters with xylophones wandering around the room. They want us to pull out our golden invitations and take our seats. Richard splits - I was going to go, too... but when will I ever get to attend an Oscar-like ceremony again?

At the door to the huge theater, they look at my invitation... and there is a blue dot in the corner. They tell me to sit in a blue chair. I’d never noticed the blue dot before. The guys in suits have a green dot and are sent to green chairs - closer to where the movie stars are going to sit (in gold chairs). I wonder if they put the dots on when they checked our invitations at the cocktail party - putting those of us who aren’t black tie closer to the sides or back where they are less likely to show up on camera. The event is going to be televised *tonight* - with a couple hours delay.

I find my blue seat, near the front but off top the side, and settle in. There are bleachers set up at the very back of the house, filled with all of those fans who were lining the red carpet. There are *hundreds* of people here - maybe even a thousand.

Two hosts come out and explain about the awards show... one in English and the other in Chinese. They say the event will begin with a speech from a government arts official... in English and then in Chinese. A middle aged fellow who looks very important steps up to the podium and begins speaking on the importance of the event in English... and it’s translated in Chinese. After maybe ten minutes I realize this *isn’t* the government arts official - this is the guy who *introduces* the government arts official. A second important looking middle aged guy steps up to the podium, thanks the first one for the great introduction, then explains why *he* thinks this is an important event... for half an hour! He talks about how Hong Kong "fillums" have touched the world, like "Internal Affairs" (um, dude, that’s *Infernal*). We get half an hour of this.

When he is finished, they have him press a button to kick off the evening... setting off some fireworks. After the fireworks (indoors - I’m memorizing the nearest emergency exit) the two hosts say this event could not have happened without these dozen government officials, so let’s get them all on stage! In English, and then in Chinese.

The two hosts seem like they are having a conversation - except one speaks in English and the other answers in Chinese.

The two hosts seem like they are having a conversation - except one speaks in English and the other answers in Chinese.

So the dozen officials get up on stage and form a line of middle aged government arts officials - maybe they’ll be scrimmaging against a dozen fans? Anyway, half of them are named "Wong" and one seems to own an equipment house in Hong Kong. They all get to say something, we applaud, then four of the dozen are lead to a globe that they all touch at the same time - starting off even more fireworks. My nearest exit is a hundred yards away. Now I’m thinking about TOWERING INFERNO... meets the Oscars!

We survive, and the *real* host comes out - hot Chinese star Karen Mok (SO CLOSE) who is dressed as a folksinger - the same outfit Joan Baez used to wear. She announces the first of ten awards - Best Composer. The ward will be given out by Maggie Q and some pop singer named "Rain"... and as soon as she mentions his name, the bleachers erupt in loud cheering. "Rain! Rain! Rain!" When Rain comes out, it gets worse! No one can speak for maybe 5 minutes. Then, when they announce the nominees (in English) we get a Chinese translation. The event will take twice as long as the Oscars, because we get everything twice - once in English, once in Chinese.

The winner is from the film OPERA JAVA, and we get a great preview of the rest of the night... because these are the *Asian* Film Awards, and that’s a whole lotta countries and a whole lotta different languages. The host can’t even pronounce the winner’s name, and once he comes up to accept his award, his speech needs to be translated and translated and translated. I admire the translators - they have to know every language in the region. But we get the same speech again and again - and I barely understood it the first time.

After this award, we have a new host - movie star Danny Wu. This guy is slick - like a car salesman. He goes the lounge-lizard MC thing for the rest of the night. Because he speaks English, everything he says has to be translated. Everything anyone says is translated. This makes the show run very long...

Also, the way they have set up the stage makes the show run long. The presenters enter from stage right, climb down a sweeping flight of stairs, and speak from the podium on the left side of the massive stage. We get to hear more "walking music" than multiple translations. After the first few awards (Editing: And A Century, Production Design: The Banquet, Special Effects: The Host) hours have passed and the two guys in suits who walked the red carpet walk out of the doors. The guy sitting next to me is snoring loudly. Imagine how the stars feel (Rain!) Having to sit in the golden seats on camera all night?

I’m hungry. I know when a film isn’t working because I’m thinking about food - and I’ve been thinking bout food since that first middle aged government official took the stage.

They give a special award to Andy Lau... and the bleachers go wild.

We get to hear the acceptance speech in at least two languages.

The next award is Best Screenplay, so I stick around through the host banter... Danny Wu has been joined by some hot young actress and they do that forced scripted banter indigenous to awards shows. I’ve been here almost 3 hours... and I want food.

They announce the winner of Best Screenplay, then Danny Wu says the winner isn’t here tonight, so he will accept the award for him and.. "Hey! I’m here!" The writer of MEN AT WORK is trying to make his way from his seat to the podium. It takes a minute or two to change course, start up that "walking music" and prepare to give the guy the award. Just like Hollywood - they do anything to keep the screenwriter out of the spotlight! The bleachers are silent for a change, as the writer gives his speech, and then it is translated a few times.

Best Cinematography - The Host. From Korea. So we get the speech in Korean, then an English translation, then a Chinese translation. 3 minutes of thank-yous last over 10 minutes!

Even when the speeches were in English they sometimes needed a translator - Andrew Lau (director) has a heavy accent.

After this, there’s a legendary female singer who does medley of songs from famous movies that seems to last forever, and they give a Lifetime Achievement Award to an actress who began as a child star. It’s during the endless clips of her films that I decide to sneak to the doors. I escape the awards show - hearing multiple translations behind me - and starts down the endless escalators to freedom.

I find a place to grab some food, then take a taxi back to Richard’s mother’s house on the other side of Hong Kong...

Where she is watching the Awards show on TV! It’s still going on!

Well, actually it is tape delayed. They are right at the point where the fumbled with the screenwriter... except the fumble is trimmed down for TV. And the endless songs are trimmed to one song before the commercial and one song after. I had been there for 3 hours, and the TV version is, like, an hour and a half including commercials! Maybe the Oscars *shouldn’t* be live? Maybe they should edit the crap out of it?

Anyway, I get to see the last half of the awards show - and THE HOST sweeped. Best Picture, Best Actor, etc. The cool thing about being there was having Michelle Yeoh right there on stage being translated into Chinese, and both of the Andy Laus (actor and director). I’m probably never going to get to the Oscars, so this was my big awards show... and I love HK movies. I watch the rest of the awards in the edited and quick version (but still translated again and again).

The camera shows the movie star section - gold seats - and you can see a bunch of empty seats! Heck, even the movie stars got bored and went home!

Hey, even RAIN! gets hungry.

- Bill


Colin said...

My friend from NYC wrote the english script/banter, that apparently David Wu (who acted a bit, but is now an Asian MTV host) got on stage and didn't use it, choosing to "improv" which I hear was fummbled.

Karen Mok is a talented actress and pop singer, kind of if Jennifer Lopez had more talent. As an actress, Karen has been in Wong Kar Wai films, Stephen Chow films and was the evil dragon princess in Around the World in 80 Days. Plus she speaks Catonese, Mandarian, Italian and English....!

read the blog regualrly and like your perspective on stuff....

Colin said...

oh yeah - was supposed to be at Filmart (was there the last 2 years), but had to cancel the trip as too much was going on here at home. Bummed about missing the awards as another friend was organizing it and 2 months ago asked me who I wanted to sit beside as she was handling the seating!!! boo-hoo!

Glad The Host cleaned up. well deserved.

might want to read these observations on the event:

wcmartell said...

She was in SO CLOSE... one of my favorites. I didn't recognize her name, and they introduced her as a pop star/actress (which made me think more pop star than actress... and since looking her up, she was also in HEAVENLY KINGS which I saw when I was in Hong Kong last year). Thanks!

- Bill

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