Changing Times

If you’ve been a reader of my columns for years, then you know that every once in awhile, I’ll turn on the look-back machine to find some song, movie, or era that I can connect to something here in the present. About 46 years ago, in October of 1963, a young singer-songwriter, poet-musician sat down and created a memorable song. His name was Bob Dylan. The song was The Times They Are A-Changin’.

This song became an anthem of change and hope. It has been called the archetypal protest song. It seemed to touch many people in many walks of life-  from parents to politicians, and from young people to old timers. The lyrics resonated through so many people who wanted to live as they wished.

For the leaders of our country –

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall.

For those who had brought forth children –

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand

And generally for all thoughtful people who cared about themselves as well as others, and would take the time to listen as well act:

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

This song has been covered by many artists like Joan Baez and the Beach Boys. Folk singer Odetta and Bruce SpringsteenBilly JoelThe Byrds, and Phil Collins.

As recently as September 2008, John Mellencamp made a web-cam recording of the song and posted it on the internet as a statement about changes that might come to America after the 2008 Presidential Election of Barack Obama.

So we know that the song, penned by the young Bob Dylan years ago, has enjoyed both longevity as well as impact. And certainly since the fall of 1963 the times have indeed changed.

For Asian actresses, for most of the late 20th century, they were locked into playing just exotic women of the night, or mistresses, or victims, along with roles in which they were asked to swing a sword.

Since the times are still changing, we’ll have a look at a film without martial arts and wire-work but with two Asian actresses. Michelle Yeoh andMichelle Krusiec have the lead roles in a movie that is called Far North (released in 2007).

Yeoh (below), from Malaysia, has long been a headliner in Asian cinema. I guess the acme of her acting career and world wide fame can be best illustrated in her three most famous roles.  First, her role of Yu Shu Lien inAng Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2003), then her role as Wai Lin in the James Bond thriller Tomorrow Never Dies (1997). Finally she starred as Mameha in Memoirs of a Geisha (2005).

Krusiec (below) is a American/Chinese actress who hails from Nevada. This 35 year old beauty has had a very successful career in American television. She’s made guest appearances in such series as NCISGrey’s Anatomy,Without A TraceCold CaseMonk, and ER. And she’s had a few film appearances.

Well both of these ladies must have packed an ample supply of long johns and other accouterments of winter clothing for their work in Far North. Filmed in part in Svalbord, one of Norway’s least hospitable areas in terms of climate,  this film was no walk in the park for either the onscreen actors nor the production crew. It would not be stretching the truth to say that ice wasn’t needed in your drinks in that part of the world.

In fact nearly all of this movie was shot out of doors or in a tent. The landscape is foreboding. Ice, rocks, snow, sky, and on occasion – some body of water that isn’t frozen. I read that the crew and cast had to take an ice-breaking Russian trawler to get to some of the locations.

Yeoh plays Saiva, a forty-something who at birth, we are told in a voice-over, was decreed by a shaman to be an evil presence. Consequently she has carried this thought around with her for her entire life. People are frightened of her and she distrusts everyone; hence she lives far away from others preferring isolation to neighbors.

We are never informed specifically as to where we are, or when the story takes place. In flashbacks we are shown that Saiva’s community was over-run by an invading army, or rather a band of soldiers. Her man was tortured and killed, then she was raped. Some how after this ordeal she is able to rescue an infant which may or may not be her own child.

In the present, Saiva and Anja (Michelle Krusiec) are on the move again. They’ve set up their tent on the shore of an desolate island, not only far from the madding crowds, but far from anyplace as well as anyone. They live by hunting and or fishing. Their relationship might be mother/daughter but we aren’t told that either.

One day, Saiva spots a walking wounded man named Loki (Sean Bean) on the frozen arctic tundra. With about one hundred meters separating the two of them, this man collapses. Against her better judgement, Saiva decides to save this man. So they bring him back to their dwelling.

He recovers and proves to be an asset by repairing the outboard motor on their small boat, meaning they no longer had to paddle to get anyplace.

He is proficient at hunting so they have more to eat. But when a man lives in close quarters with two attractive women sparks are bound to fly.

And they do. At first somewhat furtively…

…then openly and much closer to home. When Loki and Anja announce that they are leaving to start a life together, there are consequences. Shocking consequences. Tragic consequences.

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While far from being an ideal movie, this film does have a lot going for it with Krusiec and Yeoh being marvelous to look at even with their arctic clothing. The elements of nature play a huge part in the film from the barren frozen tundra to the extreme cold, to the sense of complete and utter isolation which makes for life being extremely difficult.

The film does have elements that are both unspoken and unspecified. We have to do a lot of guessing and even then, we get no answers. Which may add to your enjoyment of the film, as you must put in a lot of thought as you watch.

We also don’t get a lot of character development but since we didn’t get much in the way of where and the when, it isn’t that important. Also there’s not a lot of dialogue either. This movie is a wonderful example of show not tell.

I thought this film was worth seeing for Michelle Yeoh, Michelle Krusiec and the very effective turn by Sean Bean. One more thing, if you will allow me this – the location is another reason to watch this drama. While the setting is world’s apart from the idyllic island and beaches that you usually see on my pages, this change is all for the good as DirectorAsifKapadia does a marvelous job, despite the obvious obstacles of working in this environment, in bringing this cold and desolate location onscreen for we viewers.

Beyond that, it is nice to see Michelle Yeoh in a role where her martial arts skillset is set aside. For Krusiec we can say she does look very good on the big screen representing a change from her TV work. So, I do recommend the DVD.

Like Dylan said so many years ago, the times they are a-changing, and for Asian performers, we hope this change continues so we may see more new and varied roles offered to them and how they deal with the concurrent challenges to their skills as actors and actresses.

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  1. Pingback: For the love of Asian cinema: “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000) « Feminéma

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