Enhanced Kinetic Patterning

Enhanced Kinetic Patterning is a way of moving and conditioning the body in a mindful way. It’s similar to Pilates, in that it works the body in very much the same way, using stretching and resistance training to tone and condition the fascia and muscles. One main difference is that EKP does not rely on equipment or even lying down on a mat. EKP just uses the ground and gravity for resistance training so you can do it anywhere you can stand or sit.

The purpose of EKP is to move in a better way. Not just when practicing, but when waiting for the bus, when carrying groceries, when playing sports. Ideally you will integrate this in all aspects of your everyday life. A direct result of this practice is thinking about moving in a better way: to be aware of your body and how it works, and be present in it. Both those aspects are worthwhile: as someone who spends hours and hours in front of computers, most of the time my mind is in my head and my hands. EKP takes me out of my head, and that’s good for me.

The core principles of EKP are: working from the ground up, through the core and (optionally) to your extremities; moving in multiple directions at once; keeping your body relaxed in balance and provide natural (gravity) resistance; and, moving “just enough”. That is: to neither overextend nor shrink down your movements, to be neither tense nor limp, but solid and “full”. It’s hard to describe, and best learned hands on with a competent instructor.

The “arm raising” movement (Liu He Ba Fa) is a good starter move when learning EKP. You’ve probably seen it as the opening move of Taiji forms. You move the arms forward, away from your body, and lower them by slowly letting gravity do the work. But when you look at it more closely, you’ll see it embodies all the core EKP principles. Let me walk you through it.

I start by standing. How to stand could be an article by itself. People have talked about holding the feet “shoulder width apart”, though that’s not a useful measure. All I can say here is, do what feels comfortable, and in particular make sure the knees aren’t turned too far in, or too far out. With practice, and by paying attention to what your body is telling you, you’ll discover the best way to stand.

Arms are relaxed at my sides, my chin is up and I’m looking straight ahead. My shoulders are rotated back just a little, and my chest is expanded as well, just a bit. The back is relaxed, with the neck pushed back a bit—an especially important point for anyone working with computers. This is the neutral, beginning stance for most of our moves. No part is expanded more than any other, no tension. Just quiet and aware.

The first move is to sink a bit. It’ll feel pretty close to sitting; however, your butt is not going back but straight down. Your body may involuntarily hunch down, but don’t give in to that reflex. Stay upright, stay open, just let your body weight sink just a little into your feet. Not your legs, your feet. You have to allow your body weight to rest on the ground. Your legs are there to support your body, your core is resting on your legs and the core is holding your arms in place.

To elevate your arms move them away from you, forward and palms down. Focus on extending the upper arms ( elbow to shoulder). Don’t think of it as raising the arms, that will make your body use your shoulders. Send your arms away—and since they’re hinged at the shoulders, they’ll naturally come up.

Here’s the secret to not involving your shoulders: as you press forward with your arms, press back with your shoulderblades—while keeping your torso upright, don’t hunch.

Keep your wrists bent down as far as is comfortable, to stretch the muscles, ligaments, skin and fascia in your arms and hands. You’ll feel tension there, but don’t overdo it.

As you lower your arms, flip your wrists so that your hands are palm forward as your arms come down: now you’ll feel the stretching on the underside of your arms. Bring your arms down, slowly and mindfully, as you sink your body again. Once your arms are down all the way, relax and release all tension.

Then start over.

This is only the most superficial look at the movement. There are many subtleties and refinements that only become obvious after practice and training with a good teacher, and that’s beyond the scope of this article.

A word about breathing: all of these movements are also breathing exercises, where you breathe in harmony with the movements. In general, breathe in when you go up or expand, and breathe out when you go down or compress. Ideally, you should breathe in through your mouth and out through your nose. There are physiological and medical reasons for why this is beneficial, but there’s one very important intellectual reason: it keeps you focused. Deep, steady breaths both calm your mind and keep you anchored in your body. It’s so easy to just go through the motions while tuning out, but deep breaths, and breaths in time with the movement, will keep you grounded and focused.

There are so many subtleties to each movement, so many little variations and connections you can make. Always more to learn if you pay attention. That’s the beauty of this art, it will keep you intellectually and physically engaged for a lifetime. It takes commitment and work, but for me the benefits are absolutely worth it.

Adventures in WooCommerce: rounding

Here’s another fun thing I found recently. It’s definitely a bug, and I do have a solution, but I don’t know if it’s a good one. I’ve been told that these rounding errors are common in e-commerce systems, so there’s got to be a more general solution.

Here’s the setup: a product worth $29.95; a coupon taking 10% off the cart amount; number of decimal places set to 2.

Add one product and the coupon, and here’s what you end up with: a $26.96 cart total, with a $3.00 discount amount. The database has the correct amounts for the line items ($26.955 and $2.995 respectively) but because of how rounding works, you don’t get to see that. PHP by default rounds to the closest value, and .5 will always round up. Even if I set it to always round up or down, the values would still be off by $0.01.

Here’s my solution: adding a function to action ‘woocommerce_after_calculate_totals’. If there are percentage-type discounts, check if the subtotal and total discount discount amount are off. If they are, adjust one of the percentage discounts (if there are more than one). It works, but I’m not happy with it. It seems there should be something better…

WooCommerce customer list report

I’ve been playing around with WooCommerce a lot lately, and twigged on something that I think is a little design flaw.

It all started when I created a duplicate of one of the built-in reports (the Customer List report), with a few bits of different logic which aren’t really important right now. (Incidentally, creating a report is dead easy with just a few action hooks like woocommerce_admin_reports and wc_admin_reports_path, and can be done right in your theme). This new report keeps the same columns as Customer List, including:

  • Orders, the total number of orders for that customer
  • Money Spent, the total money spent by that customer
  • Last Order (date and link to the customer’s last order)

But while testing my report I noticed that some of these numbers weren’t quite right; they weren’t right in the Customer List report as well. What was happening is that some of this client’s customers had submitted orders using their account email but without logging in. This meant that those orders did not get counted against their account totals, even though I think they should have because they have to be the same person.

Here’s how WooCommerce links orders to accounts: if the user is logged in, the order gets a piece of meta data with key ‘_customer_user’, and the value is the user ID. So far so good. But if the order was submitted anonymously, then the best we have is the billing email (meta key ‘_billing_email’). To display the relevant data, the Customer List report uses two built-in functions, wc_get_customer_total_spent() and wc_get_customer_order_count(), defined in file woocommerce/includes/wc-user-functions.php. Both take a user ID as parameter, and run similar SQL queries. For example:

global $wpdb;
$spent = $wpdb->get_var( "SELECT SUM(meta2.meta_value)
  FROM $wpdb->posts as posts

  LEFT JOIN {$wpdb->postmeta} AS meta ON posts.ID = meta.post_id
  LEFT JOIN {$wpdb->postmeta} AS meta2 ON posts.ID = meta2.post_id

  WHERE   meta.meta_key       = '_customer_user'
  AND     meta.meta_value     = $user_id
  AND     posts.post_type     IN ('" . implode( "','", wc_get_order_types( 'reports' ) ) . "')
  AND     posts.post_status   IN ( 'wc-completed', 'wc-processing' )
  AND     meta2.meta_key      = '_order_total'
" );

The logic to get the latest order is defined in woocommerce/includes/admin/reports/class-wc-report-customer-list.php and uses get_posts() with a meta query on key ‘_customer_user’, like so:

$order_ids = get_posts( array(
	'posts_per_page' => 1,
	'post_type'      => 'shop_order',
	'orderby'        => 'date',
	'order'          => 'desc',
	'post_status'    => array( 'wc-completed', 'wc-processing' ),
	'meta_query' => array(
			'key'     => '_customer_user',
			'value'   => $user->ID
	'fields' => 'ids'
) );

So my solution is simply to tweak those three queries. The meta query part should change to:

'meta_query' => array(
  'relation' => 'OR',
    'key'     => '_customer_user',
    'value'   => $user->ID
    'key'     => '_billing_email',
    'value'   => $user->user_email

Both functions wc_get_customer_total_spent() and wc_get_customer_order_count() will need to load the user object, so that we can get the email. So the queries should look like:

$user    = get_user_by( 'id', $user_id );
global $wpdb;
$spent = $wpdb->get_var( "SELECT SUM(meta2.meta_value)
  FROM $wpdb->posts as posts

  LEFT JOIN {$wpdb->postmeta} AS meta ON posts.ID = meta.post_id
  LEFT JOIN {$wpdb->postmeta} AS meta2 ON posts.ID = meta2.post_id

  WHERE   (
    (meta.meta_key = '_customer_user' AND meta_value = $user_id)
    (meta.meta_key = '_billing_email' AND meta_value = '{$user->user_email}')
  AND posts.post_type     IN ('" . implode( "','", wc_get_order_types( 'reports' ) ) . "')
  AND     posts.post_status   IN ( 'wc-completed', 'wc-processing' )
  AND meta2.meta_key      = '_order_total'
" );

Volunteering for Constance Barnes

It all started with window signs. No, wait, it really started with Bill C-51. When the entire liberal caucus (including my MP, Dr. Hedy Fry) voted in favour of it, at least partly out of politics, I started seriously considering switching my vote to another party. It took me a while to decide, because that’s how I roll. I’m not really a Liberal supporter—my heart is more progressive than that—but C-51 notwithstanding, Fry had done a good job for Vancouver, right? Plus, she seemed a safe bet and there seemed little point in voting for someone else.

Then one day I ran into Constance Barnes, the NDP candidate, schmoozing with the summer crowds at Nelson Park. And I really, really liked her. She seemed super friendly, full of energy, sharp and on the ball. I told her about my feelings, and apparently I wasn’t the only Liberal voter thinking of jumping ship. So hey, maybe voting NDP wouldn’t mean throwing away my vote?

The next small step, once I’d made my decision, was to get a couple of orange window signs. The campaign headquarters was just a few minutes’ walk away, so I swung by there one night on the way from work. They were happy to give me the signs, and asked if I wanted to volunteer as well. I sort of stammered and said I’d think about it.

The truth is, part of me wanted to get involved, and part of me didn’t. On the one hand, partisan political activism was new to me. The most I’d ever done was talk and rant, and repost anti-Harper articles—but who on Facebook hasn’t done that? Actively committing to a candidate was a big step, and kind of a scary one. What if she lost? Then I’d be even more disappointed, having put out all that energy for nothing. And what if I backed the wrong candidate?

On the other hand, this was an important election. Priority #1 was to get Harper out, yes, but Vancouver Centre was a safe non-Conservative riding, so I was free to vote with my conscience. And wouldn’t it be nice to get an NDP government in, to roll back as much of Harper’s crap as we could? As for my other fears, well, sometimes you just have to take a shot. Living in fear of getting hurt or making a mistake is no life at all, and that was a habit I needed to break. If I could make a difference, that was worth a little risk.

So about a month before the election, I signed up to volunteer with Constance’s team. At the first orientation meeting, they asked the new blood to fill out a couple forms, including what tasks they were interested in, and on what days. What did I feel up to doing? Data entry was an easy choice. I had a car, so I could run errands and drive people to the polls. Inside scrutineering sounded super interesting too. What about other stuff, like canvassing (going up to voters in their homes) or mainstreeting (ie: setting up shop in a park or other public place, and letting people come to you)? Part of me wanted to dive in and really push my limits, but part of me wanted to play it safe. Introverted as I am—cue horrible flashbacks of lil’ me as a cub scout selling candy bars—I didn’t feel I’d be much good chatting with voters in person. On the other hand, I have been making a lot of progress in that area, so maybe I should give myself more credit than that? On the other other hand, wouldn’t I be more useful doing things I was actually comfortable with?

In the end I decided I just didn’t feel up to of canvassing or mainstreeting. But there was lots of stuff I ended up doing. Data entry, for one. Gotta keep our list of voters up to date, so that they’re not called twenty times even after they’ve voted! All campaign offices are provided with voter lists (identifying people but not who they voted for). At one point I did a short shift of calling voters to remind them of advance polling dates—a nice break from data entry, but pretty exhausting. Even with prepared scripts, calling up strangers is really not my jam.

I also drove several elderly NDP supporters to the polls, which was a different kind of challenging. See, I’ve hardly ever driven in the West End; all those one-way streets, traffic-calmed intersections and resident-only street parking are great for pedestrians and cyclists, but not so great for drivers. Maybe I should have practised a bit beforehand? It all worked out fine in the end, though, and now I have a better idea of how to get around and park as close as possible to my destinations. For King George High School, park either on the street or under the West End Community Centre. For the Stanley Park Golf Club, try to squeeze into the little driveway thing off Beach Avenue and hope that’s close enough. Just as importantly, it opened my eyes to whole different ways of perceiving my neighborhood: a single block can be a tedious loop taking five minutes, plus five more minutes looking for a parking spot, Or, then again it could be an intimidatingly long trek especially if you then have to wait in line for an hour.

The really interesting job, though, was inside scrutineering. As I said, it was totally new to me, but it makes perfect sense it invites participation to the election process (both voting and counting). Just like scientific inquiry, the more eyes you have the better; everyone has the opportunity to learn and help make the whole thing go as smoothly and fairly as possible. I am proud to live in a country that allows this, and I intend to keep giving back in future elections.

Sadly Constance Barnes did not win, as Hedy Fry handily kept her seat with about 50% of the votes. And yes, I was disappointed. But you know what? This isn’t the end. I still believe in the NDP, I still believe in Constance, and I’ll do my best to help her if and when she runs again. This won’t be new territory for me; I have new skills, new confidence, and I’ll be able to do a lot more next time.

On that topic, I had the most amazing revelation at the post-election party. I’d been feeling vaguely guilty about the volunteering I’d done, wondering if maybe I should have pushed my envelope a bit more. If I had, if I’d committed more, maybe that would have put Constance over the top? There’s no satisfying answer to that question, but here’s the thing: when I spoke to some other volunteers at the party, they all felt the same way! It just goes to show: we’re not alone in our fears. And that makes me feel a whole lot better about mine.

This post has been a long time percolating, and I considered abandoning it a few times, thinking it Old News. But no, it’s never too late. And with the new year coming, it seems like a good time to post it. Though I’m still digesting the lessons it taught me, I feel this volunteering gig was the first step towards something new. I’m eager to see what 2016 will bring me, and what I will bring to it.

Queer Film Fest 2015: Final Thoughts

Number of shows I saw: 13 (10 feature-length movies, 3 short film collections). Huh. I thought I was scaling back, but I’ve ended up seeing more movies than last year. How’d that happen?

Number of non-English-language films I saw: 5 feature films counting Sand Dollars and What We Have though those were really bi/tri-lingual; plus 3 short films (in Spanish and French). Not a bad mix!

Favourite blogging addiction: mine. I honestly wasn’t planning to write a bunch of full reviews, but during the opening gala, the spirit moved me. Oh, Queer Film Fest, I wish I could quit you. Nah, that’s a lie, I totally don’t.

Favourite feature film: A Girl At My Door / Dohee-Ya

Favourite short films: Kiss & Tell (featured in The Coast is Queer ); The Future Perfect (featured in The Coast is Queer and Queer Best Of), Cornet at Night (featured in Still Not Over It).

Movies I would have liked to see but didn’t:

  • In The Turn because it sounds sweet and inspirational;
  • Cuatro Lunas sounds like a lovely gay tapestry;
  • Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party because who doesn’t like another meditation on gayness and faith by the guy who brought us The Wise Kids?
  • Oh, and those two horror flicks, especially The Blue Hour

Favourite outgoing executive director: The one, the only, the magnificent Drew Dennis. You know, I think Drew’s presided over my whole VQFF-going life… or at least most of it. I do remember getting the 1997 (I think) festival poster, but I’m pretty sure I was just dabbling at that point. I didn’t become a semi-regular festival goer until around the mid-00’s.

Favourite eldritch abomination: this year’s festival logo. Oh come on, I can’t be the only one thinking it. Seriously, that logo looks very cool, but I did a slightly creeped-out double-take the first time I saw it. With the four-faced head and disembodied limb things floating around it, I have to wonder: is this what Lady Gaga will look like when the stars are right and she ascends into her true form, ready to devour us all in order of fabulousness? And is it a coincidence that last Thursday was HP Lovecraft’s 125th birthday?

Sand Dollars / Dólares de arena

Meet Noeli, a beautiful young Black woman from the Dominican Republic. By day she spends time on the beach with rich white tourists, flirting and angling for gifts which she promptly resells. The nights she spends dancing up a storm in clubs with her boyfriend—or, in a remote little hotel with one very special tourist. Anne, a much older white French woman has been visiting the country on and off for years, and has fallen in love with Noeli. Noeli is quite fond of Anne too, but keeps her distance emotionally, and isn’t above lying and asking for money.

It’s a fascinating look at the intersections of race, class, gender, colonialism and unequal relationships. Noeli may seem mercenary and heartless, but she’s doing what she can to survive and support her boyfriend who can’t seem to find a job. Besides, you could say she’s only taking a little money from people who already have too much. It’s not really clear what Anne is looking for; she does love Noeli, but it’s a blind and naive love. She doesn’t care to know anything about Noeli’s life away from her, and though her Spanish is good she hasn’t tried to integrate in Dominican society at all. She adores the country, the scenery, the ocean to swim in, but doesn’t know anything about the details. I think, at least at first (and even now, to an extent) Noeli is just part of that scenery, just a piece she could enjoy up close.

Which is still pretty benign compared to some. Halfway through the movie she discover Noeli has a boyfriend and breaks up with her. She’s devastated, but fortunately gets support from some of her rich jet-setting pals. It was our first look at Anne in her own world, and it’s quite a revelation. She’s more talkative, more confident, smiles a lot more. She’s free to talk to anyone about anything, even her own affairs, and trust nobody will judge her—mostly because they’ve seen it all too. But as lovely and open-minded and cosmopolitan as these folks are, they don’t really think about anybody outside their world. We overhear one guy talking about the economics of resource extraction in the Dominican Republic. Though he has also enjoyed individual locals over the years, the country as a whole is just numbers to him and he doesn’t even conceive of what it means to be the one cutting down sugar canes or burning down fields and still have to feel grateful because there are just no other jobs available—as Noeli’s boyfriend briefly did.

Noeli and Anne get back together, and Anne starts to seriously talk about bringing Noeli to visit Paris—with the hope, maybe, of making it a permanent arrangement. Noeli is torn. She does enjoy shopping for clothes, but she’s not looking forward to experiencing this whole “winter” thing, plus she would lose everything she knows.

She makes a decision: one morning while Anne still sleeps, she steals as much cash as she can, and slips away with her boyfriend.

So… a few thoughts:

This is a movie adaptation of a book: Jean-Noël Pancrazi’s Les Dollars des sables. It’s a far better one than last year’s Salvation Army, but the editing is still a bit choppy in parts, and Noeli is a bit of a cipher. That’s possibly intentional: she’s been leading a double life, keeping secrets from both her loved ones, but we the audience shouldn’t be left wondering what makes her tick.

The ending was quite abrupt too, though again, not nearly as bad as Salvation Army’s. I wish we’d seen more of Noeli’s inner conflict, but in hindsight she made the best decision she could—or maybe the least bad one. Either way she’d lose people and cause a lot of pain, but it’s not clear what she would gain from moving to France. Medical care, education and opportunities for her unborn child? Maybe, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. But Noeli herself would be cut off from her community, entirely dependent on Anne for everything. I don’t remember hearing her speak French, so what kind of job could she even get? She’d be a kept woman, whose only companionship would be Anne’s rich peers and their kept men/women.

This movie strikes me as somewhat similar to Xenia; though the people of the Dominican Republic aren’t migrants, the end result isn’t too different since they are kept largely poor and unemployed by economic forces beyond their control.

Finally, what does the title refer to? We never see or hear about any actual sand dollars. The consensus, based on a couple of Twitter conversations, is that “sand dollar” is local slang for money spent by tourists, who mostly hang around the beaches. Any thoughts?


This is a movie about home and lack of home, about ruins and dreams, about hate and poverty and the struggle for survival. It’s by far the most challenging film I’ve seen in the festival this year, and I’m very glad I did.

Fifteen-year-old Dany has a mission: now that his Albanian mother is dead, he will go to Athens and reunite with his older brother Odysseas; together they will find their long-lost Greek father, get a DNA test thereby obtaining Greek citizenship and all sorts of freedoms, including the freedom to leave this godforsaken country with a Greek passport. Oh, and golden-voiced Ody will compete in “Greek Star”, a singing reality show that’s sure to win him fame and fortune, with Dany tagging along.

This is a bit of an odd movie. Yes, most of it is about the harsh realities of present-day Greece—grinding poverty, rampant fascism, the struggle to do whatever it takes to survive—but it has a number of surprisingly lighthearted scenes, most of them involving Ody. The gruff, scruffy, down-to-earth ultra-straight boy who’s easily embarrassed by his queer little brother? He’s got a voice that makes angels weep, and if you give him a spotlight or enough wine he’ll turn into a fabulous diva and prance along with Dany. It’s amazing to watch.

Then you’ve got Dany’s dream/fantasy sequences, which seemed so jarringly off-key compared to the rest of the movie. I’m still not sure how they fit in, to be honest. When his pet rabbit Dido “died”, it looked like a hilariously bad special effects failure, but the truth is that Dido was always a plush toy that Dany had carried around for who knows how long. What does it mean, though? That Dany is growing up? But then why does he see visions of the bunny walking around and talking to him? I’m confused.

(Incidentally, that revelation was a relief, because I couldn’t help wondering how a real rabbit ate, drank and pooped, and how stressed it must be, carried around in that stuffy bag all day. But hey! Never a problem.)

Does Dany even need growing up, though? he’s a kid of weird contrasts: sometimes such a child, impulsive and thoughtless and hopped up on sweets, carrying all sorts of pretty sparkly shit in his bag. But he also shacks up with sugar daddies and carries a gun around to aim at fascists. Taking care of a dying drug-addicted mother and living in this hard world will do that to you, I guess. What does growing up mean for him? Getting a regular job, living day to day? That’s what Ody did in Athens until Dany swooped in and infected him with his crazy dreams. And suddenly, survival was not enough.

Because survival will just lead to things getting worse; if people just worry about their own problems they won’t see the big picture, care about the future, reverse the erosion of society. Already the economic downtown has caused hotels in Thessaloniki to be completely abandoned and overrun with wildlife. Compare that with the swanky villa belonging to the brothers’ biological father, all pristine and white with security up the wazoo. Greece needs more than fascist politicians living in swanky gated neighbourhoods while migrants and the chronically poor eke out a living.

But maybe not forever. Just like the Odysseus of myth, the brothers (along with many, many others) are cursed to wander, with no homeland they really want to call their own. Odysseus eventually made it home, after many terrible adventures. Let’s hope that things will likewise get better for Greece.

What We Have / Ce qu’on a

What’s interesting about this film is that the basic story is pretty similar to A Girl At My Door‘s: the protagonist is a prickly, standoffish loner with an embarrassing history (an actual criminal record, in this case, exact details unspecified but it involved molesting a minor); they are exiled to a small town (self-exiled, in this case, to North Bay, ON); befriends a troubled teen who is suffering abuse (only bullying, in this case); goes beyond the call of duty and tries to help, and in the process gets a little too involved and opens himself up to serious problems. The main difference is that What We Have is a personal journey; everything that Maurice goes through, even his relationship with Allan, is linked only to his own issues.

Which is not a bad thing. I really enjoyed What We Have, except for one highly problematic scene at the very end: when Maurice finally opens up to Michael and explains all those flashbacks to the audience. He had been molested by his stepfather, who seemed to love him more than his mother. But Maurice was also in love with him, evidently enjoyed the experience, but it messed him up enough to make him prone to do the same, because part of him didn’t see anything wrong with it. Though I appreciate that this wasn’t the intent, it still comes way too close to old harmful stereotypes linking homosexuality and pedophilia, or homosexuality and past sexual abuse. The worst thing is, it was unnecessary: there were so many other ways you could have justified both Maurice’s isolation and his overinvolvement in Allan’s life without impacting the story at all.

Because criminal record or no, Maurice’s situation is extremely delicate. He has to be a good role model and build trust while keeping good boundaries, give advice without projecting his own crap on Allan’s situation or making things worse, etc… It’s a tough job for anyone. Maurice did try his best to keep the right balance, but his best wasn’t good enough.

Everything else was lovely, though. Maxime Desmons has a great touch with symbols, and they mostly felt organic to the story: Maurice as an actor (ie: a professional liar) playing the Miser (hoarding his gold, hoarding his feelings, driving everybody away): Allan’s gift of the little diorama, with its secret photos, which Maurice locks away in a cupboard, secrets within secrets. It did get heavy-handed near the end, such as when Maurice is running down the main street, then stops running (hint hint) and looks back.

The closing scene, with Maurice stripping naked and swimming in the open water of Lake Nipissing, also felt a bit clumsy at first, but in hindsight works on multiple levels. The sea is a common symbol of birth or rebirth, but here it’s also contrasted with the constrained indoor swimming pool where Maurice always swims. You could see it as the freedom of a new life lived without walls and secrets: much scarier, but ultimately more fulfilling. Honestly, I’m suspicious of any epiphany that supposedly makes one’s hangups magically disappear, but hey: this is fiction, it’s got to end somehow, so why not do it in an optimistic way?

A Girl At My Door / Dohee-Ya

This Korean movie, directed by July Jung, is challenging but not dark, and never gets bogged down by the hard questions it asks: about justice, about evil, following the law vs doing what’s right, the rights of individuals vs the needs of the group.

Police officer Young-Nam (played by the amazing Doona Bae) has been assigned to be chief of a small fishing town in the country. She used to live in Seoul, but an affair with a woman (or an underage girl? that part is never made clear) led to her superiors getting her out of the way for a bit until things blew over. Young-Nam settles in well enough, though she remains quite distant from the locals, even the local cops, and we learn she drinks like a fish. Seriously, one scene has her buying dozens of bottles of booze which she repeatedly gulps down like it was water.

Soon she gets caught up in the life of Dohee, a local schoolgirl who not only is bullied by her schoolmates, but also beaten by her father and grandmother. Almost every night she runs through the town’s back alleys near Young-Nam’s place, which is how she saw her. The bullying is easy to take care of: a little chat with the culprits while in full uniform is enough to put the fear of God in them, but the abuse is a different story.

After a few days Young-Nam manages to catch the father in the act; she knocks him away from Dohee, and then—while pinning him down and fending off the grandmother’s clumsy attacks—calls in backup. It was a fucking awesome scene. I cheered. The whole audience cheered. But it wasn’t the end. Dohee’s dad still has custody, still drinks, and still threatens to beat her up. On his first night back, Dohee shows up at Young-Nam’s doorstep. Not really having any options, Young-Nam lets her stay the night. This turns into a regular thing; Young-Nam is not happy with her space being invaded like this, and very uncomfortable with her new role of caregiver, but she really wants to help and protect the girl. And so eventually, Dohee wants to stay permanently. The father doesn’t really argue, but Young-Nam at least puts her foot down a little: Dohee will stay for about a month, until the end of summer vacation.

Two problems: first, Dohee has been living with abuse most of her life and while most of the time she’s fine, she tends to act out in very disturbing ways that Young-Nam is absolutely not prepared to deal with. Second, Young-Nam’s ex rolls into town, and they have dinner together. And argue, like they must have argued many times before: about Young-Nam’s drinking, her standoffishness, etc… that still doesn’t keep them from being seen by some locals including Dohee’s father, who puts 2 and 2 together.

Before you know it, Young-Nam is taken in for questioning about having improper relations with Dohee, and it doesn’t look good. Did she ever undress her? Yes (because she was soaking wet from hours in the rain). Did she ever touch her at all? Yes (to comfort her, and feel the nasty bruises on her back). Young-Nam protests that she did nothing wrong, but the other officers retort that her being gay puts a different spin on things. Dohee is also questioned, and it looks even worse: she’s clearly infatuated with Young-Nam, admits to being touched, and even points out where on a doll.

But upon learning that this all means Young-Nam will be taken away, Dohee hatches a plan: she gets her father drunk, and sets things up so the police catches him in the middle of molesting her. Later, after he’s taken away, she “confesses” that he’d made her say all those incriminating things about Young-Nam. Eventually realising that Dohee has nowhere to go except foster care, Young-Nam decides to take her in, and they ride out town together.

Now let’s talk about monsters.

Near the end, a junior police officer told Young-Nam that there was something wrong with Dohee, that she was “a monster” (and then quickly apologised for speaking out of turn). He may be right, but if so, she was made into one, by the constant abuse and bullying she suffered. In turn, was her father a monster? He did physically and emotionally abuse his daughter, and kept the town’s economy going by hiring illegal immigrants that he cheated out of their wages, but I’m willing to bet he suffered similar abuse at the hands of his bigoted mother. And so it goes.

Are the townspeople monsters? They mostly didn’t care about the foreigners’ welfare, only that they kept on catching fish; resident police officers definitely knew the truth and tried to keep Young-Nam from interfering. They felt bad about it, for what that’s worth.

Come to that, is Young-Nam a monster? She is a dedicated officer, who believes in justice and fairness… but some will see her as intrinsically bad just because she’s a lesbian. And what drives her to drink like she does? What pain does she hide? What demons is she trying to suppress?

What I’m getting from this is that no one is born a “monster”, but the potential to hurt others is in everybody, and that can be either nurtured or discouraged. Which is a lifelong process that can go either way. We don’t see Young-Nam drinking any less by the end of the movie, but her relationship with Dohee will hopefully help both of them in the long run. And even if it doesn’t… well, sometimes you just have to do what’s right and hope for the best. Take in the terrified girl at your door, because right this second you’re all she has.

I could talk about justice as well: Young-Nam is a police officer, but most of the plot happens outside her official role. She seems to be the only officer around who really cares about doing good in the community, not just enforcing law, not just about keeping the peace—deceptive peace, when beatings occur in people’s back yards that nobody does anything about. She believes the law is there to help the community as a whole, but not at the expense of individuals’ rights or happiness. Keeping the town’s economy afloat is not worth it if it means enslaving undocumented immigrants, or letting one girl be abused.

And did Dohee find justice in the end? No: getting her father jailed wasn’t justice. Possibly-maybe getting her grandmother killed wasn’t justice either. But it was the closest thing she’ll get get, since the law wouldn’t help her or the only woman who cared about her.

I’m trying to decide if this an idealist movie. Is the moral that we should try to change the world? Is it worth fighting the monsters? Apathetic cops let Dohee’s father’s abuses go for years, and they’re clearly portrayed as wrong. The world is a slightly better place now that her two people are dead or gone. But fighting monsters is hard, and they don’t go down in just one round. Try to change the world, and it’s liable to fuck you right back.

Is it worth the struggle? For Young-Nam, I think it was. I guess we all have to decide for ourselves.

Game Face

This is a documentary about two people: trans MMA fighter Fallon Fox, and college basketball player Terrence Clemens. Two very different people who deal with similar problems: deciding when and how to come out and whether or not it will affect their careers; dealing with prejudice.

It’s a story about role models, too. Terrence had a few, most notably Jason Collins who he reached out to on Twitter. Fallon, though, had no one. She’s the first openly trans MMA fighter. But she’s happy being a role model and voice for others, now and after she retires.

This was a very inspiring movie. Even heavily gendered and reactionary sports like MMA have come such a long way in the last few years, and it’s people like Fallon who are paving the way for the next generation. There’s still a long way to go, but the future’s in good hands.

My only complaint about Game Face is that it’s really two separate movies: the events they portray happen at around the same time, but Terrence and Fallon only met briefly once. Same themes, very different stories, and the whole is a bit disjointed.

After the movie, they brought out Terrence and director Michiel Thomas for a little Q&A. Unfortunately Fallon couldn’t make it due to her training schedule. Terrence has a wicked sense of humour, very dry and deadpan. I wish we’d seen more of that in the movie, though I guess there wasn’t much room for levity.