book thoughts: The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa (2003/2009)

In rural Korea, some time ago, young Ehwa lived with her widowed mother.  She is an innocent child, believing everything she is told by her friends and many days she wanders home, deep in thought about their stories.  But soon her mother sets her straight, the rain comes, and Ehwa feels a little older.

The easiest way to describe the story of ‘The Color of the Earth’ would be to say it is the Gilmore Girls in rural Korea.  Ehwa and her mother have this beautiful relationship and while the book mostly focuses on Ehwa’s coming-of-age story, there is a large part devoted to her mother and her life as a widow in a small town. 

But there is a lot more to it than that, as I found by reading last few pages of the U.S. edition.  Originally published in Korea in 2003, Color of the Earth was a groundbreaking manhwa (Korean for graphic novel) because of its focus telling the story of being a woman through female characters, a very feminist comic in a genre that tended to focus on the masculine world. 

The artwork is gorgeous, and it helps that the book is about the size of a normal hardback so the images have plenty of room to breathe.  One page might have a quick succession of panels, the next might be a two page spread of Ehwa wandering through a field with peach blossoms dancing around her in the wind. 

This is the first book in a trilogy – The Color of Water and The Color of Heaven are the next two volumes.  I cannot wait to read the other two stories to see where life takes Ehwa as she matures from child to adult. 

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book thoughts: Too Cool to be Forgotten

Andy has tried everything to quite smoking, but nothing ever seems to work.  In one last desperate attempt to kick the habit, he goes to a hypnotist.  He’s skeptical of her abilities, but tries to go along with the process…and he feels himself getting sleepier, going under, but then wakes up in 1985!  He’s back in high school, his middle-aged brain stuck in his 16 year old body.  But Andy realizes that he’s just moments away from his first cigarette ever.  If he stops himself from taking that first puff, could he keep himself from ever starting – or is there more to Andy’s addiction than he really knows.

Too Cool to be Forgotten by Alex Robinson is a fun graphic novel for adults.  I say “for adults” not because it has violence/sex/nudity or even a lot of swearing – it’s just that most of the humor comes from adult-Andy interacting with his high school friends, his adult mind trying to manage the high school world.  While teens might find it amusing, I think those of us that have survived high school and moved on will end up chuckling and nodding a lot more. 

Playing in the world of classic 80s movies like Back to the Future and Big, Too Cool reminds us of how rough it is being a teenager and how all the little things we did back then are part of the person we are today – even if we have forgotten most of it.  It’s not about nostalgia for those teen years, but more of a look back to say “wtf? I lived like that?”  The book has a great sense of humor about the whole thing, but just the right amount of heart to bring readers back again.  I really enjoyed Robinson’s style and I am looking forward to reading other books by him. 

If you get a chance, definitely give this one a try. 

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movie thoughts: District 9 (2009)

When you take a close look at the story at the very core of ‘District 9’, there is really nothing new there – xenophobia has been a part of our world since the dawn of time.  ‘District 9’ does what any quality science fiction film would do; it takes issues in the real world, issues we have trouble dealing with face to face, and turning it into a story we can handle and process. 

The aliens never landed.  Their ship just hovered.  When humans finally made contact, the creatures inside the ship were ill and trapped.  In an effort to help them, the aliens were transported to the ground to give them a chance to recover.  But what was supposed to be a short-term operation has now lasted 20 years, and the compound has transformed into a slum.  Tensions between the aliens and the humans have reached an all time high, and the government has decided to move them.  Wikus Van De Merwe is in charge of a taskforce to get the “signatures” of the aliens living in District 9, a legal technicality that Multi-National United (MNU) needs to get by to move the aliens to District 10.  Like most humans, he likes to think he is treating the “Prawns” the way they deserved to be treated, but once he is inside the slums and sucked into their world, he slowly begins to rethink the way he has seen this creatures.

This is an intense movie.  I know I spent the last half-hour, maybe even more, sitting on the edge of my seat, ready to cringe/hide/cry/scream/emote at the screen.  The effects were seamless and you never doubt that the aliens are living among these people. 

It’s very smart storytelling too; there is very little handholding from the writer or director.  Either you’re able to keep up with their technique, or you’ll have to watch it again on DVD – they have no time to wait for you.  It’s this great mix of “archival footage”, documentary footage, surveillance footage, and then the movie stuff mixed in.  But I never felt confused by it at all. 

Very well done and worth seeing on the big screen.  

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