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futuristic shanghai

'Code 46', Michael Winterbottom's thoughtful dystopian drama, treats such themes as the divide between haves and have-nots, genetic cloning and the nature of memory (which 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind' further elaborated on).

It is set primarily in Shanghai (along with Dubai), where no CGI or setbuilding is needed to create a futuristic backdrop. Many of Shanghai's architectural landmarks can be spotted: the Pudong and Bund skylines, the Jin Mao Tower and its spiral atrium, the neon orgy of Nanjing Road, the Nanpu Bridge ramps and Shanghai airport - to name the most recognizable.

At the same time, the film avoids being a moving postcard by 'using' the city sparingly and anonymously, to create a surreal kind of alienation reminiscent of 'Lost in Translation' - though more noirish...

Code 46

Official site @ www.code46movie.net

the machine stops

E.M. Forster, not exactly known for science fiction, wrote an interesting short story called 'The Machine Stops' (first published in 1909), depicting a future society eerily like our own Internet age.

Humankind has moved underground, where everybody lives in isolation but in constant contact with one another through a kind of lo-fi videoconferencing. Meanwhile, the Machine takes care of all creature comforts.

...of course she had studied the civilization that had immediately preceded her own - the civilization that had mistaken the functions of the system, and had used it for bringing people to things, instead of for bringing things to people. Those funny old days, when men went for change of air instead of changing the air in their rooms!

Instead, man's highest aspiration is to have ideas, though preferably not original ones.

'Beware of first-hand ideas!' exclaimed one of the most advanced of [the lecturers]. 'First-hand ideas do not really exist. They are but the physical impressions produced by live and fear, and on this gross foundation who could erect a philosophy? Let your ideas be second-hand, and if possible tenth-hand, for then they will be far removed from that disturbing element - direct observation.'

And soon, people start to worship the Machine. But as the title foreshadows, the Machine does not last. When it stops, mankind has become so decadent by generations of its pampering presence that few survive...

She had never known silence, and the coming of it nearly killed her - it did kill many thousands of people outright. Ever since her birth she had been surrounded by the steady hum. It was to the ear what artificial air was to the lungs, and agonizing pains shot across her head. And scarcely knowing what she did, she stumbled forward and pressed the unfamiliar button, the one that opened the door of her cell.

Complete text available here.

Update: There's a 1966 British television adaptation of 'The Machine Stops', the full video is online. It's very oldschool sci-fi, but it contains some interesting imagery...

The Machine Stops - 1

The Machine Stops - 2

The Machine Stops - 3

shi jing

Some more on China... A sample from the 'Shi Jing' ('Book of Songs' or 'Book of Odes'), the oldest collection of poetry from ancient China and one of the Five Classics.

The original of the poem below is composed of four character lines, giving it a 4x4x4 shape (in stark contrast to the number of words English needs).

The Fierce Wind

Fierce is the wind with a heavy rain.
You look at me, grinning,
And bantering with dissolute words in your arrogance.
Indeed, you often make me feel sad.

Fierce is the wind with clouds of dust.
You have kindly come to me at last.
But do not hurry to leave as you have just come --
Into miserable lovesickness you would throw me!

Fierce is the wind across the cloudy sky;
Frequently there are dark clouds piled upon the horizon.
At times I am kept awakening;
I wish my yearning could make you sneeze!

The sky becomes overcast with dark clouds;
Rumbling and rolling are the thunders.
At times I am kept awakening;
I hope you can as lovingly think of me!