Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Friday, September 29, 2006

Middle Age

Below is an except from a newspaper review of two movies, both of which, in their own way, have to do with becoming middle aged. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article.

I never intended to become middle-aged. Or at least, I figured that upon reaching that milestone of maturity, I'd know it and welcome it, and I'd be ready to embrace it with wisdom and grace. I certainly didn't expect to get sideswiped by the passage of time, knocked into a new demographic paradigm without having had the chance to carefully consider its implications. (Like, should I be eating more fiber?)

Fortunately, two movies arrived in Bay Area theaters this past weekend that provide unexpected insights into the process of growing old -- or growing older, anyway. Both center on Chinese men of a certain age who find themselves losing the things that mean most to them -- their self-respect, their sense of purpose, their families. Each flees the domestic disaster of his own making, hoping to leave bittersweet memories behind -- but ultimately returns from self-imposed exile, having learned that the only true solution to his heartache lies not abroad but within.

You might guess that one of these films is Jet Li's latest -- and ostensibly, last -- martial arts epic, "Fearless," which opened over the weekend to a welcoming $11 million at the national box office. The other, however, might not be so instantly obvious. I'm talking about Georgia Lee's poignant and accomplished debut feature, "Red Doors," which premiered at two sold-out New York theaters a few weeks ago and last Friday expanded to L.A. and San Francisco.

"Doors" tells the story of Ed Wong (Tzi Ma), who has entered his golden years burdened by the feeling that he's become irrelevant in his own life and household. With no other hobby to keep him occupied, he spends hours each day copying childhood videos of his three adult daughters to more permanent archives on DVD. But the viewing of these nostalgic tapes only reminds him that the sweetness of those memories has faded from his life, that now he finds himself politely ignored -- or worse, casually dismissed -- by his family's female foursome, a cardinal example of the quaint Japanese slang term for retired men, sodaigomi (literally, "oversized garbage," like a broken refrigerator).

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