Best Bar in The World

My favorite bar in Beijing is Ichikura – Japanese Cocktail Bar. It’s basically just a room with a long bar and about 12-15 bar stools by it. It does have two small private rooms for the occasional American tourists or Japanese Business Men, the American tourists being the one’s that usually need a room – since they all travel in groups. Anyway, it’s a tiny bar with three staff. The main bartender, who’s an expert on Whiskey and is Japanese, he’ll talk about anything if that’s what the customer wants, so basically a good bartender. Then there’s the two waitresses on either side of the bar, there’s usually the ugly one and then the pretty one. Sometimes it’s two Chinese girls and sometimes it’s two Japanese girls. The great thing about this bar is that very few people know about it, you can usually be certain that apart from you the only other customer is usually either the lonely Japanese businessman falling asleep over the bar or the lonely Japanese businessman and his mistress about to leave for something more private. There’s no music, the walls are black, the lighting is dim, there’s a carpet on the floor – everything is as minimalistic and quiet as it can possibly get… They have probably the largest whiskey collection in Beijing and they do make the best Mojitos in town also. Before the Olympics the whole surrounding area was being re-built, so you actually had to walk trough the living quarters of migrant workers and up scaffolding before entering the bar… that made the the experience of Ichikura even more remote and unique, now the surrounding are has been cleaned up – but it’s still not that easy to find. Of course – this being a High Class Japanese Cocktail bar – for businessmen – there is a Japanese massage parlor upstairs, thankfully though … there’s no Kareoki to be seen anywhere. I can’t comment on the massage place upstairs since I haven’t been there but I assume it’s of the same standard as the bar itself. Being in Ichikura often feels like an art-house movie, where you sit and sip an expensive whiskey while talking your troubles away to the bartender – it’s more Lost in Translation than James Bond.


China Syndrome

Everybody has the same idea here in China, I’m talking specifically about ex-pats or westerners living and working in China. Film directors, writers or anybody vaguely connected to the arts. In many ways, this is the land to have one brilliant idea and have everybody else copy it, if it works then why change it? But one of the main reasons why nearly every brilliant idea you come up with for a film or a documentary subject or even a novel is old the moment you’ve thought of it, is because most ex-pats have a very very shared experience here. Just when you thought that the documentary about everyday life’s of Beijing people would be something people would want to see … you hear about the amateur video movie maker that’s been doing that for the last 5 years, and he’s become a celebrity in the process. Just when you thought that making a movie about modern Beijing girls and their Gucci bags was an original idea – you see the bookshelf’s lined with such novels, mostly written by either ex-pat women or ABC’s (American Born Chinese). There’s so many bad books going around, bad documentary’s – all made by ex-pats, western, abc’s etc… one or two ideas and then everybody writes or directs that defining work about “the real china”. Bullshit all of it. I’ve had my fair share of that one idea – like documenting the “real” life of towns and villages across the Great Wall. Or doing a portrait of Beijing through a Taxi Driver or some other typical ignorant and dumb person. Most of these ideas, most of these stories, most of these western portraits all share one thing in common, a smug – I know better than you – condescending tone and attitude of a writing style. It’s a huge country, with billions of people and many faces… why do the ex-pat writers try and cover all those voices in their one China book? I have no idea – it is of course one of the reasons why most authors in the world have only written one book, most directors have only directed one movie. You try and put all your ideas, all your life, all your opinions into that one piece. For your second work, you’ve got nothing left.

For my China movie or China novel or China whatever I choose to do… because, despite my misgivings, I like the rest of them, really need to write something down, to either write or shoot something about something here in China.

I think I’ll stick with what I know best, Scandinavians. I don’t really know or care about the ex-pat community that I belong to here in Beijing, so that does not interest me. But who says you can’t make a bleak, dark, Bergman drama in Beijing? It’s what we do best and it’s what I will stick to for now. So watch out for another Scandinavian movie trying to be Bergman, but this time it’s set in Beijing.

Stuck in China

Since nobody reads the filmdouglas “news” on this blog, I think I have 0 subscribers. I might as well just start blogging about anything and everything. I’ll keep it movie related so that this still feels like the official news site, or something.

It’s getting close to the one year mark since we first delayed the movie BALDUR. We originally intended to shoot the film in February 2008 but have still not shot a single frame. I’ve been close to firing my producer on a number of occasions, closest when for 3 months last summer, when we were supposedly going to shoot in August, she went missing. After a meeting with Irish co-producers and The Irish Film Fund in Cannes that did not go so well, my producer left and nobody heard anything for 3 months. So, my co-producers in Iceland … who originally had about 30% stake in the movie were left as the main producers. Thankfully, even if they are slow – painfully slow, they’ve still gotten us closer to shooting the movie than we have been before. My producer has reappeared and is still on board. It will take more than my entry on this blog today to explain why she’s still on board. Anyway, our co-producers still have a project of mine that was written in 2005 that is lying somewhere in their office being processed. Now I’ve got another film, Baldur that seems to be heading the same way. Hopefully we’ll start soon – at least being slow is better than being a criminal, but stories of my ex producers from my first three films will also have to wait a better day. Right now I’m stuck in China, economy crisis in Iceland – I’d be a mad man to use my credit card or ATM machines over here – buying a beer in Beijing has doubled in price for me – yet the price remains the same for people who earn their money here, of course. I can still not completely commit to anything in China and start to earn some real RMB – because we’re always a month or two away from shooting… but that month or two has now been nearly a year.

I’ve been offered a directing job on some ultra low Chinese exploitation movies – Kung Fu Soap Opera films with no budget. It’s a 7 man crew, 7 day’s shoot and a 90 min movie … straight to the Pirated DVD market I would guess. Of course all the big “legal” distributors in China are the same people who do all the pirating, just in case nobody knew that. Yeah, the budget of the movie would be around 50.000 dollars and the director would get about 5000 dollars for his trouble of showing up and directing for 7 days… it’s all in Chinese, but it doesn’t seem that language would be a problem on these sets. At least I was told that I’d just need to direct and maybe I’d get a translator… it’s not really the dialogue that’s the selling point of the films anyway, or the acting for that matter. Let’s see how it goes in the next few months. I might be in Iceland making an expensive Scandinavian dark humored drama with some aspirations for film festival prizes or I might be in Beijing doing a straight to DVD kung fu crapper with some aspirations towards making us semi rich… well making the producers rich.

(the photo is from one of these “cheap” movies. The director who is holding the walkie-talkie never stood up from his monitor and only directed through this device.)