Vietnamese cinema fascinates me, for many reasons.
The films produced in Vietnam are still, for the most part, extraordinarily low-budget affairs, patched together with censored scripts and on-location shoots and frequently embarrassing outcomes. That said, sometimes this enforced economy produces films of some delicacy and artistry, and several times I have seen at festivals and on SBS some really beautiful stuff filmed in Vietnam. Let's face it, as a country it is jam-packed with amazing stories, so occasionally one simply has to rise to the surface. For the most part such films are ignored in Vietnam, where people are much more interested in watching B Grade action flicks from America or Europe, or Korean and Taiwanese Soap Operas. Cinemas are little more than glorified love hotels, so what's showing on-screen is just not important. It is not uncommon to see movie houses screening 1970s Bruce Lee flicks dubbed into Viet, or a marathon screening of the Look Who's Talking films, all dubbed over by a single actor, the English soundtrack barely, but annoyingly, audible.
Then there are Vietnamese film makers working overseas. The most famous is probably Tran Anh Hung, the justly celebrated French-Vietnamese auteur who created a masterpiece with his The Scent of Green Papaya, a film which managed to evoke completely the nostalgic memory of Saigon past while being filmed exclusively on a set in Paris.
Interestingly, almost the entire Vietnamese music industry is based in California, where studios pump out CDs, DVDs and variety concerts consumed slavishly by Vietnamese all over the world - including in Vietnam itself.
The film Spirits seems to be an outcome of this Californian Vietnamese AV industry, featuring American Vietnamese actors and filmed in California, yet telling a subtly spooky series of ghost stories set in Vietnam. It is well done, and for the most part the actors do a good job - I particularly loved Catherine Ai as the shonky middle-aged medium and feng shui expert sent to pacify the ghosts. The movie captures perfectly the Vietnamese conviction about the existence of ghosts, and explores issues of the subjugation of women, the exploitation of grief and, intriguingly, the nature of literature and being a writer. Altogether it is a sophisticated little production that deserves to be better known. See if you can find it.

Tin Hau Temple, Yau Ma Tei

Wonderful Hong Kong always delights - my partner is rather addicted to the place, and spends his days buying clothes while I potter about, going to the movies or visiting temples.

When I am there I visit the gorgeous Tin Hau Temple, almost every day. The temple is a Kowloon institution and a great place to do some people watching. The main temple hall is a mysterious collection of almost unidentifiable deities, but to be on the safe side I always make offerings to all of them.
 The temple appears to be participating in some sort of community service program, because the attendants and cleaners always seem to be heavily muscled and tattooed young men who look like they are on day release. Actually, at the right time of day (and night) the courtyard outside showcases the most wonderful collection of outcasts, addicts, petty criminals and other people of ill-repute. I love to while away an hour or two on a bench there.

Outside the temple is also one of the world's most insane Kwan Yin shrines - a spontaneous collection of donated statues barely kept in order and balancing on an improbable worship cabinet intended for a suburban home.

I love the disorder and fervour of it, and feel its powerful energy each time I pause at it and offer up a prayer or two.

Australia's Spiritual Greats #1 - The Ven. Master Chin Kung

One of the truly monumental figures in contemporary Buddhism, the Venerable Master Chin Kung has probably done more to propagate Buddhism in the West than any other monk in history.
Through the auspices of the Buddha Educational Foundation, Chin Kung has distributed hundreds of thousands of Buddhist books, teachings and sutras throughout the world, all of them for free. Printing and distributing books in dozens of languages, possibly everyone who's ever expressed an interest in Buddhism has stumbled upon a copy of a free book originating from Master Chin Kung's organisation.
More interested in the substance of the Dharma than in the erection of glorious temples, Master Chin Kung also bankrolls a chair in comparative religion at Griffith University.
Hailing from China, by way of Taiwan, the jetsetting Master is now a grand old age and has decided to spend his final years here in Australia - even becoming an Australian citizen. He lives at his humble temple in the suburbs of Brisbane, and it's almost certain that the residents of the surrounding streets aren't even aware that there is a temple in close proximity, let alone one inhabited by such a religious luminary!
The Venerable Master Chin Kung is one of the greatest living exponents of Chinese Pure Land, but he takes a truly Buddhist view of Dharma propagation, and prints and distributes books belonging to all the schools and sects.
Namo Amitabha!
May the Venerable Master continue to inhabit our shores for many years to come and bless us by his presence, wisdom and inspirational example.
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