Previous month:
March 2007
Next month:
May 2007

Caveat Emptor

One of the big stories in Hong Kong in the last week or so has been about mainland tourists being ripped-off in Hong Kong.  Well, what do they expect?  It's a well-established tradition to take tourists to "special shops" that are specifically designed to part them from their money in return for over-priced merchandise, and it doesn't just happen in Hong Kong.

There have been reports of tourists being forced to go shopping in the approved shops or being abandoned by their tour guides if they fail to spend enough money, so it's clear that the travel industry often relies on this arrangement to subsidise package tours, sometimes down to price levels that simply defy common sense. 

There is a fine line between persuading customers to buy totally legitimate merchanise at inflated prices and deceiving people about what they are buying.  It appears that a couple of shops have been caught out straying quite a long way over that line - in a report on CCTV last week they were accused of selling expensive fakes, and one of them was raided by Customs officers who seized 500 suspected counterfeit watches.

There has been much huffing and puffing about Hong Kong's reputation - from another earlier report in The Standard:

The report has sparked concern that Hong Kong's tourism image is being hurt by dishonest shop operators and traders.

Well, OK, but the key point (as Jake van der Kamp pointed out in the SCMP) is that a city like Hong Kong should not be worrying about tourism - or at least not the low-end type that we are talking about here.  If the package tour industry rips off its customers that is their problem, and they will suffer. 

Of course, if these companies have done something illegal then they should be prosecuted, but not just because they upset a few tourists.

Mr Bean's Holiday

I don't know what's wrong with me, but I didn't hate this film anything like as much as I had expected.

In part, I think it was because my expectations were very low.  Not just because the TV series seems to be aimed at 6 year olds, but because the previous feature film (simply called Bean) was so mis-judged.  Transforming a 25 minute piece of slapstick into a 90 minute feature film is quite a challenge, and in this case they got it spectacularly wrong by changing the character of Mr Bean. In the TV series he is child-like, well-meaning and accident-prone, and the storylines involve minor mishaps from which he somehow recovers.  In the film they turned him into an almost tragic figure, way out of his depth and causing total chaos.  However, I have to admit that I seem to be in a small minority in thinking this, because the film was hugely successful.   

It may also be that I have got used to Mr Bean from repeated exposure to the original TV show and animated series.  I have always thought that Mr Bean was a waste of Rowan Atkinson's talents, but maybe Blackadder was never going to make him an international star, and it certainly wasn't going to make him rich (as Mr Bean has undoubtedly done), so I suppose it would be churlish to complain too much.

I notice that the FT's film critic (subscription required) also seemed not to hate the film:

Rowan Atkinson’s inept Everyman grows on one. Like a carbuncle, Mr Bean is unsightly, incongruous and largely noiseless, save for a few strangulated sounds. In his second feature these are mostly in French. (His voice may have learnt this secret passage through silent knockabout from Monsieur Hulot). Yet in Mr Bean’s Holiday the titular twit has become an almost endearing pal. Winning a church raffle, he takes a trip to Cannes, full of pratfalls, prattishness and panic attacks of ineptitude. The good sight-gags help, including a stay-awake-at-the-wheel driving sequence (appalling but funny), a lesson in how to dispose of oysters in a restaurant while pretending to swallow them, and a clever slapstick climax at the Cannes Film Festival.

Bean’s insularity is the joke. The miracle – also a joke – is that this skit on twerpy Englishness has become a worldwide phenomenon. Bean is global, while Atkinson’s funnier TV creation, Blackadder, never got beyond Dover. Reason: you need to translate the latter’s transports of ornate sarcasm, while Bean needs no interpreter. This Home Counties nitwit, inseparable from his tie, patched-elbows jacket and look of button-bright idiocy, was surely swept off the floor of a minor public school. Bean is so throttled with nerdy diffidence that he has developed its opposite as an antibody. He has become a dangerous lunatic, no less surreally at home – a second home – in his flair for unwitting maladroitness edging into witting malice.

Well, I wouldn't quite go that far, but certainly this is better than the first film and shows a far lighter touch that is more in keeping with the character from the TV series.  There is a storyline of sorts, as Bean travels from London to Cannes, but it's mainly an excuse for a series of set pieces.  The BBFC gave it a U certificate but attached the warning that it "contains irresponsible behaviour".  Well, that's the whole point of Mr Bean, isn't it?  No-one seems to come any harm as a result of Mr Bean's stupidity.

Having said all of that, this is a deeply silly and inconsequential film, and most of the jokes are neither original nor particularly funny.  I certainly wouldn't choose to go and watch this film, but if you find yourself dragged along then there's some very nice French countryside and scenery, and some trains, and, er, that's it.


You may have gathered that I have a love-hate relationship with the South China Morning Post.  On the one hand, I am grateful to have an English language newpaper (and given the number of expats in Hong Kong and the overwhelming use of Chinese by the local population, that isn't something we should take for granted), but on the other hand I think they could do a better job.

Inevitably, the SCMP makes heavy use of syndicated material, which is fine.  Well, up to a point. 

I find it annoying when they publish articles I have already read, but the craziest thing is when they make changes that "improve" the original. 

Take this story in Thursday's paper (not available online for reasons that will become clear).  It's about Boris Johnson, the MP for Henley who is currently shadow minister for higher education.  He has a habit of speaking his mind, which gets him into trouble, but he is probably the only member of the Tory shadow cabinet (apart from David Cameron) who is well-known, and presumably he is good at his job.  He certainly brightens up British politics!   

The story comes from The Independent.  What have they done to do it?  They changed "Portsmouth South" to "local", which seems a bit pointless, clarified that Ken Bigley was a British civil engineer who was in Iraq, and that The Spectator is a magazine, and explained that "Cameron" is David Cameron, leader of the Conservative party.  OK, fair enough. 

Then they changed "Conservatism" to conservatism, but their supreme achievement was managing to mangle the story horribly so that it says that Mike Hancock beat Boris Johnson in the last election.  Clearly he didn't, because if he had then Boris would not be an MP, and if he had been a candidate in Portsmouth then even he wouldn't be saying bad things about the place.      

Later in the Independent's story it refers to Boris as "the Henley-on-Thames MP" but that was also edited out in the SCMP version, though they did leave in a reference to his constituency being in Oxford, which would have been a big clue to anyone who knows their English counties.

Independent articles disappear behind a paywall after a few days, but this is the original if you are quick enough (highlights indicate parts that were randomly removed): 

Mike Hancock, the Liberal Democrat MP for Portsmouth South, went further, demanding he recant publicly, just as he did following comments in The Spectator about Liverpool's grieving in the wake of the murder of Ken Bigley. "He is living up to his reputation of being a buffoon and a prat," said Mr Hancock, who beat the local Tory candidate at the last election by 3,000. "He is talking out of his arse and this is typical of Cameron's Conservatism - it is a pity that someone who aspires to be a minister should make comments like these. It's pathetic. He should walk barefoot to Portsmouth and apologise and even that won't be enough."

Then he got personal. "And for him to talk about people with a weight problem is ridiculous. If you imagine the supreme example of manly fitness, Boris Johnson is not the name that comes to the fore," he said.

But the Conservative Party - despite harbouring reasonable chances in both the city's constituencies at the next election - was standing by its man. A spokesman said: "Boris speaking his mind, in only the way Boris can, is preferable any day to Labour and Lib Dem politicians who try to cover up the truth."

The Safer Portsmouth Partnership, which tackles crime and antisocial behaviour in the city, also responded to the Henley-on-Thames MP's comments. It pointed out that Portsmouth has 1,146 "problem drug users" compared to 1,343 in Southampton, 1,155 in Reading, 3,380 in Brighton & Hove, 3,000 in Bournemouth and 7,648 in Bristol.

And in Oxfordshire, which includes Mr Johnson's constituency, there are between 2,000 and 2,500 problem drug users, according to figures from Eaton Research Associates.

No more Benny Hill from the BBC?

According to The Guardian, the BBC is to drop Benny Hill from its schedules in favour of something a bit more modern.  This seems to mirror the changes made when BBC Prime (in Asia and other parts of the world) became BBC Entertainment.

BBC America is to revamp its schedule to focus on contemporary UK programming including Hollyoaks, dropping older fare including Benny Hill and Keeping Up Appearances.

The channel will also introduce new programmes including the dramas Torchwood and Hotel Babylon, and BBC4 comedy Lead Balloon.

That's the Hotel Babylon that has already been shown on TVB Pearl, I suppose.  Or maybe they mean series 2, which is currently showing in the UK.  Hardly the best of the BBC, but entertaining enough.  Wait, there's more...

Channel 4's long-running teen soap Hollyoaks will also air for the first time on BBC America following the success of its late-night spin-offs on the channel.

Er, a soap made for Channel 4? 

BBC America is also to screen for the first time repeats of Spooks - renamed MI5 in the US - which currently premieres on the A&E network and Doctor Who, which airs first on Sci-Fi.

Even though BBC America has long been the home of contemporary British shows such as The Office and Footballers' Wives, it has also broadcast older shows such as The Benny Hill Show, Keeping Up Appearances and As Time Goes By.

Post Magazine in the S(C)MP had the first series of Spooks as one the highlights of the week's TV (on BBC Entertainment).  For one thing it must be at least 5 years old, but what really made me wonder was when their critic praised it for the excellent acting.  I don't think so - wooden is the best word for it.  I read one review of Hotel Babylon which criticized the acting, but compared to Spooks it is award-winning stuff.  I enjoy Spooks, but some of the acting leaves a great deal to be desired. 

I have to say that BBC Entertainment is a very annoying channel.  It's a definite improvement on BBC Prime, but they repeat stuff endlessly and even the mildest language seems to get cut (and in a very crude way).  I'm still waiting for the BBC to start making programmes available for download

Danny Baker podcast

Rather than wait for the BBC, Danny Baker has started his own podcast (it's also available through iTunes).  And, unlike the current BBC podcasts, it does includes some music, albeit a rather eccentric selection.

So far he's only done one of them , but says that he hopes to do it on a daily basis before too long, and seems to imply that he may give up his daily show on BBC (Radio) London.  He started his radio career there back in the late 80s (when BBC Radio London was called GLR), and always seems to to return there after his spells elsewhere (Radio 5, Radio 1, Virgin, TalkSport - see Wikipedia). 

If I were cynical I might say that he has built his career on being able to take the same material and recycle it endlessly on different stations with slightly different audiences.  So doing a podcast sounds like an inevitable career move.  Or maybe it's just a way to prompt the BBC into doing a podcast of his existing show.

Danny Baker is probably something of an acquired taste - he is loud and brash, and indeed the first time I heard him on the radio I quickly switched over to something else - but I did eventually change my mind.  If you can get through the first 5 minutes then you should be OK - he is a natural broadcaster with a phenomenal knowledge of trivia, so it's worth persevering. 

For the first podcast, his "sidekick" is David Kuo, who apparently lived in Hong Kong during his childhood - and so one of his anecdotes revolved around his family's maid bringing home a live chicken from the wet market.  Needless to say, Baker found almost every element of that tale rather bizarre.  Well, I suppose he would.  I'd rather have fewer sidekicks and more Danny Baker, but maybe that's just me.