The Dystopia of Luxury

As I sit here, at 0400HRS, listening to Vangelis’ Blade Runner score, with only the light of my PC screen to display what I am writing, I realise that a dystopia has arrived.

It wasn’t in some far away future of 2049, distant on some screen directed by a film-maker … it was present and I, unwittingly and subconsciously, willed it into existence.

WAR IS PEACE. FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.

Let us wage war against the pandemic. Let us confine ourselves to be free. Let us believe what we are told.

How did this happen? Why did I allow it happen?

What happened to my anarchist spirit?

Why did I not pick this up sooner?

But that is the thing about dystopias … they have a way of not being real. They can’t happen in reality … humanity has too much goodness in it. Someone would stop it … a hero like William Shatner’s James T. Kirk would make a impassioned speech about how wrong the way of the world was going.

That speech would inspire others.

Change would occur for the better.

The world could continue on its axis, spinning in its’ way into a brighter future.

But what if that hero was twisted with fear. Scared for his life. Afraid of the air itself … Everything he touched and saw was now infected.

Where will this speech come from now? The Hero is choking, coughing and muzzling himself with the crook of his arm. He can no longer serve the people any more. He’s a sickness, a virus, a disease … a plague.

Who will inspire us to be better? To be more free than we were before?

This is the 6th Lockdown that my beautiful home-town of Melbourne is undergoing.

There are empty promises of it ending soon.

Reassurances that the government has our best interest at heart.

People encourage each other to obey, be strong, and suffer together.

Staying Apart Keeps Us Together.

Catchy isn’t it?

But so is Strength Through Unity, Unity Through Faith.

I need not recount the plot of V for Vendetta (2005) for you all to understand the allegory I am making between film and reality. Naturally it is all eerily similar, but then so is the plot for a lot of stories. Nothing is original these days …

What is fascinating to me though, is the sudden realisation I had about the dystopian world I am currently living in and the immediate comparison I’ve made to this film, with the St. Mary’s Virus paving the way for the dystopian society created in Britain.

From curfews, to harsh edicts and penalties, the dystopian elements of my own reality consumed me so much, that I am here now, writing it all out, despite the lateness of the hour.

The idea of a “COVID-Normal” is such a bizarre concept to me. Further lockdowns can be triggered at a moment’s notice … further tracking and surveillance of your movements is now actively encouraged and mandatory. Only being able to leave your house for 5 approved reasons. You are now confined to a 5km/h radius of your home.

What part of that, does not sound like a dystopia?

When did we, the iconic stubborn, free-loving people of Australia, suddenly agree to submit to whatever the government says?

Fear of one another turned all of us into meek sheep or perhaps our infamously laid-back attitude offered an opportunity ripe for zealous policing.

You could no longer trust the people that brushed past you at a crowded party. Ordinary surfaces like the PB/5 tactile button for crosswalks were now tainted with something. Alcohol was now consumed in larger quantities than ever before, to clean hands, tables, hand-rails … anything that transmitted the disease was now scrubbed vigorously.

You can’t even breathe within 1.5m of another person, without a mask on your face.

The media did what it did best in today’s society …. stoke terror further in everyone’s heart.

Numbers are suddenly determination for your mood for the day. You read about how bad other countries or states have it and silently thank everyone else in your home for cooperating. Then minutes later, your heart sinks as you look on enviously at other countries that have opened up again, their carefree attitudes mocking your own stressed state.

Much like Trump’s presidency, the media is fixated on this crisis, unwilling to report on anything else, holding a perpetual gun to everyone’s head to hear their despairing news, because they need to make revenue through fear.

Isn’t it amazing how where once we only used to hear from our illustrious leaders when it was important, we now have daily “reassurances” from politicians who claim to have our best interest at heart.

We all want to tune in to the state news and hear what is their plan, what is their road-map to keeping us safe from each other.

Staying Apart Keeps Us Together.

Repeat that, until you believe in its’ strange juxtaposition.

Repeat that, until you accept the new “normal”, where we are all now monitored.

Repeat that, until you hear the cries of protests, as unlawful and unpatriotic.

Repeat that, until you forget what freedoms you had, because you’ve known no other reality for 2 years.

Repeat that, until you know that the jail you’ve populated with junk is now your home and you are confined to it.

Repeat that, until you walk outside, and are seemingly grateful for the 2 hours of exercise you’ve been granted.

Staying Apart Keeps Us Together.

There is no denying in history that police states have arisen thanks to terrifying crises. To name a few ….

Russia (1921) – Famine // United Kingdom (1939) – WWII Blackout // Germany (1930) – Nazi Party // South Africa (1948) – Apartheid // Egypt (2013) – Economic Crisis // Australia (1964) – Vietnam National Service Scheme

Yet despite these warning signs in history, we are all too easily swayed into accepting draconian measures for our safety. Often it is too late when we realise something is wrong, because naturally our fear has been stoked to such a degree that it takes a while to calm ourselves down.

Yet, here I am, sleepless, restless, anxious and paranoid. It isn’t the pandemic that I fear any more, it’s the dystopian world that I have seemingly allowed to manifest itself from film into reality.

The numbers have lost all meaning to me. The cases will always be around, regardless of vaccination. That is just the nature of the virus, just like how you can be vaccinated against the flu and still get the flu.

The endless debates on the pandemic is not of any particular concern to me. Humanity as a whole is far too resilient to be taken down by this one.

The real horror lies in how humanity has turned against itself.

Corporations turning the pandemic to their advantage and making huge profits at the cost of people’s health.

Work at home says the company man, to the initial joy of the drones. The drones content with the idea of operating at home at later hours and in the comfort of their home, suddenly find themselves unable to switch off, because now the work is home.

Their work-life balance is horrible, their health slowly decay at home and what was once a sanctuary is now another soulless room with 4 walls. All identity has sucked away by endless zoom calls and procrastination.

You’ll be subsidised by the government says the manager to the retail staff. The retail worker heads home, happy to take a break. Serving customers all day is a pain in the arse and they can take a holiday of sorts. But when they apply for pandemic aid, they realise that they’re missing 500 dollars that they normally need to make ends meet.

Suddenly they crave going back to work. Home isn’t as exciting. The food is blander than their normal lunches, the lack of social interaction is driving them mad. The 8 hours in a shift, bored at work, is now even more boring at home. Self-destruction awaits.

I’ll take you, but I have to let the rest of you go.says the chef to his casual staff. The once tight-knit group of workers, bonding over the universal suffering of hospitality are now split asunder by the favouritism. Why does that girl get the shift? asks a disgruntled waiter as he heads home, where he throws his towel in the wash.

How the hell am I going to pay rent? wonders a sous-chef as the restaurant that he bled, toiled and slaved away in for years shut down, due to a lack of customers. I can’t enjoy a drink there anymore? queries a long time patron as she stares inside the desolate window of her favourite wine bar, the LEASE sign mocking her nostalgic sadness.

Everywhere, the pandemic and by extension, the government has slowly laid waste to the creative and fun industries.

You can no longer attend events, eat at a fancy restaurant, appreciate the coffee of your favourite barista, pop in to see a movie or even engage in a fun activity with your friends.

We’ve turned against each other now … all the things that used to bind us together, maintain relationships and foster trust in a community has been stripped away from us.

Hugs …. Handshakes … Fist Bumps … Kisses ….

Illegal. Disapproved. Illicit. Disgusting even.

Welcome to the dystopia of 2021, where humanity has sacrificed emotional bonds for complete subjugation.

Enjoy your new prison, continue to make the economy strong with useless purchases that will never satiate you.

Enjoy your new restrictions, continue to exercise with caution and fear, please maintain a safe distance between you and everyone else.

Enjoy your new normal, please check in everywhere so we can track your movements. Failure to do so will result in heavy fines.

Enjoy your new interactions, if you miss your friends, do not visit them in person, just call them via a screen.

Enjoy your new reality. We are a dystopia masquerading as a utopia.

This is London ≠ This is Melbourne.

Good evening, London Melbourne..

Allow me first to apologize for this interruption.

I do, like many of you, appreciate the comforts of every day routine- the security of the familiar, the tranquillity of repetition.

I enjoy them as much as any bloke.

But in the spirit of commemoration, whereby those important events of the past, usually associated with someone’s death or the end of some awful bloody struggle, a celebration of a nice holiday, I thought we could mark this November the 5th, a day that is sadly no longer remembered, by taking some time out of our daily lives to sit down and have a little chat.

There are of course those who do not want us to speak.

I suspect even now, orders are being shouted into telephones, and men with guns will soon be on their way.

Why?

Because while the truncheon may be used in lieu of conversation, words will always retain their power.

Words offer the means to meaning, and for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth.

And the truth is, there is something terribly wrong with this country, isn’t there?

Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression.

And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission.

How did this happen?

Who’s to blame?

Well certainly there are those more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable.

But again truth be told, if you’re looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror.

I know why you did it.

I know you were afraid.

Who wouldn’t be?

War, terror, disease.

There were a myriad of problems which conspired to corrupt your reason and rob you of your common sense.

Fear got the best of you, and in your panic you turned to the now high chancellor, Adam Sutler premier.

He promised you order, he promised you peace, and all he demanded in return was your silent, obedient consent.

(Alan Moore – V for Vendetta (1982) )

Staying Apart Keeps Us Together.

Staying Apart is the Best Way to Stay United.

Stay Home, Save Lives.

Obey the Rules and Stay Home.

OUR UTOPIA IS ONLY THREATENED BY YOU.

V for Vendetta (2005). Strength Through Unity, Unity Through FaithStaying Apart Keeps Us Together.

The Suicide Squad (2021) – Cinema Review

Y/N? Yes.

Director: James Gunn

Stars: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, David Dastmalchian, Daniela Melchior, Viola Davis, Peter Capaldi & Sylvester Stallone.

Review by Damocles.

This is pure unadulterated James Gunn and it’s damn cool that he gets to do the film he wants to, on a big budget, without any restrictions.

Can James Gunn do no wrong?

The Suicide Squad is very much a reaction to the original Suicide Squad (2016). It possesses many of the same elements, from an eclectic mix of pop songs, an army of disposable minions, gratuitous violence and CG and a colourful palette of colours for the film’s visuals.

The irony of it all, is that the Suicide Squad in 2016 was a reaction to Gunn’s work on The Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).

And now, the director has come to showcase what he is capable of with no studio interference.

The result is a fun, touching, violent and zany film that takes full advantage of its premise.

It is genuinely surprising how much Gunn studied the original film and decided to put things right, with his signature style and bombast.

The songs were no longer random and a dime-a-dozen-cuts but instead seamlessly suited the scenes. The villain at the end of the film, had a strange depth to it, and there is a legitimate reason why there is an army of disposable henchmen for our heroes to fight.

The film is bright, colourful and well-lit, in contrast to the original dark, gritty palette. Characters are only introduced once, but with the same style of seeing them twice, as happened in the first film. In addition, the roster of heroes actually have depth and soul, with surprisingly touching scenes of drama for their backstory.

Then there are the actual selection of heroes, who actually perish often enough to warrant the word Suicide in Suicide Squad. Their costumes are a source of visual delight, unlike the first film and all their abilities complement each other, with the team actually working together well.

I mean, there is even the equivalent of the bar scene from the first film, that is echoed here, but fleshed out properly …

In many ways, I managed to draw a strange parallel to Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker because it felt like the director was reacting to a lot of the problems seen in the previous film, only here, it was done much better and with a film-maker who knows how to have fun with the material given to him.

How else would you explain the choices of D-List super-villains like the completely unknown Bloodsport or Polka Dot Man?

This is what James Gunn excels at, making the bottom-of-the-barrel characters become house-hold names. He instinctively understand their tragic back-story and doesn’t cheapen them, but humanise them where he can and poke fun at them when he can’t.

The pacing in the film is excellent, with much of the plot moving along at a cracking pace, emphasized beautifully with creative and extravagant chapter titles. Not once in the film did I feel the length of the film, with a lot of the characters getting their moment to shine both from an action and emotional standpoint.

The film was also aided by humour that land well and never distract from the characters or plot. In particular, I loved the way how Gunn knew how to twist his humour and violence together that made for excellent comedic moments during heavy action sequences.

From a cinematography perspective, this film might be the most James Gunn experience that has ever been given a 100 million budget. The mise-en-scene is graphic, colourful and has standout comic book moments that make you marvel at how beautifully Gunn frames this film.

During action sequences, the film has an energy behind the camera that emphasizes the gruesome kills as well as how ludicrous they can be. Harley Quinn’s solo fight in particular, have a certain pizazz to them that makes for both visually pleasing and psychologically insightful viewing.

In so many scenes, Gunn loved being creative with his shots, even with simpler flashback sequences. Bus windows became mirrors to the past, toilet seats being scrubbed down with soap was an opportunity for amusing text and 360 pans became punchlines for jokes. There are so many fun tweaks that Gunn put in the film and only showcases his talent as a film-maker and interpreter for these characters.

I particularly loved how they interpreted Bloodshot’s comic ability to teleport weapons to his person, as modular nanotechnology that makes a bigger stick to go boom. The costume of Bloodsport, has one of the coolest masks I’ve seen on film.

But of equal noteworthiness was John Cena’s Peacemaker, whose goofy costume only served to enhance the sheer size of the man himself. There is a hilarious comic-book strong-man vibe to Peacemaker that always made me smile when I saw him on screen. John Cena is finally allowed to be the huge, muscular goof-ball on screen and it is refreshing to see a director acknowledge his talent and natural comic timing.

I must also give a mention to Polka Dot Man, whose worn, lame and affectionate suit will always bring out a smile. He is such a bedraggled character, but he is perfectly portrayed in this film and played with aplomb.

As with many Gunn films, the mixtape used to punctuate key moments in this film is excellent. It ranges from old school rock’n’roll to modern pop-synth and it blends seamlessly with the visuals. Even thought John Murphy’s score is taking a back-seat to Gunn’s soundtrack, it is there enough to accompany the scene well and ramps up appropriately enough to steal moments like Harley & Javelin or the big fight at the end.

Perhaps where the score worked best though, were the scenes between Ratcatcher 2 and her father, with both actors putting in excellent performances to flesh out the emotional heart of the film. At the end of the day, it is Ratcatcher’s story that reflects the theme of the Suicide Squad and how they can all be greater, despite their lowly status.

Overall, The Suicide Squad is a fun, creative romp that shows that the DCEU is on an upward trend. Film-makers are allowed to make their chosen IP their own, like James Wan’s Aquaman, Todd Phillips’ Joker and David F. Sandberg’s Shazam!

This is such a refreshing attitude of trust granted to these talented directors and I think that these films now have the power to rival Marvel’s output.

It will be interesting to see how much DC’s growth can continue after the reception to The Suicide Squad.

Fun, ridiculous, subversive and a little bit grind-house, The Suicide Squad is James Gunn at his best and is a fiendishly good film to while away lockdown hours.

A scene to recall: When the squad infiltrates the camp in the forest and they’re showcasing their powers … that was old-fashioned jungle camp massacre, and I thoroughly enjoyed it for the throwback it was.

F9 – The Fast Saga (2021) – Cinema Review

Y/N? No

Director: Justin Lin

Stars: Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Nathalie Emmanuel, John Cena, Sung Kang, Charlize Theron & John Cena.

Review by Damocles

Why didn’t they end this on 7?

One of the big things you should be aware about me, as a film reviewer, is that I am a Fast & Furious apologist.

Having grown up with the series, F&F to me, hold the same level of reverence in my heart, as Star Wars, Star Trek, the Sam Raimi’s Spiderman trilogy, Drew/Lucy/Cameron’s Charlie’s Angels and Michael Bay’s Bad Boys.

If that isn’t a clue, as to what a 90s poster-child I am, I don’t know what is.

Thus, it is difficult for my mind to wrap around watching a bad F&F installment.

Granted, this film is still more fun than most, but when compared to previous entries in this huge franchise, it is probably one of the weakest, if not the weakest.

How is that the case though? They have the zaniest car chase through the jungle … there are magnets flipping cars, zip-lining assassins and they go to space.

The question, that I have always asked my action films, is so what? If I don’t care about the characters, then none of this means shit.

And much like the franchise, a lot of the characters are a little washed out.

The core issue plaguing this film, are the retcons.

From the introduction of Dom’s mystery brother, Jakob to the resurrection of Han, there are just too many revisions to the existing lore, that don’t really get the proper explanation as to why they occur or how they happen.

As such, a lot of the big emotional moments end up feeling hollow and unearned.

John Cena’s Jakob was wasted, considering his massive presence and normally excellent charisma. As Dom’s brother, there were many ramifications to his actual appearance, but none of them were truly touched upon in a meaningful way. The flashbacks that set up the divide between Dom and Jakob lack proper emotional nuance and his eventual turn to family is becoming a far too predictable trope in this franchise.

In addition, there wasn’t enough oomph to his actual abilities, as normally seen with the previous antagonists. Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) was a consistent menace to the team, throughout the entirety of Furious 7. His younger brother, Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) had the incredible flip car and Cipher’s (Charlize Theron) hacking wizardry and atrocious hair-style really sold her character as someone to despise for the big bad of the entire franchise.

But what is there to Jakob? There simply weren’t enough scenes where he and Dom went head to head, much like we were promised in Fast Five, between Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Dom. Not seeing enough fight scenes between them, meant that there was little to care about when it came to Jakob.

In addition, his lackey, Otto, was merely there as a plot convenience to explain Jakob’s eventual turn and to insert bizarre Star Wars dialogue, which was so incredibly left-field that it warranted a lot of questions towards the script-writers.

The strange wordplay was a consistent issue throughout the entire film, from Roman’s observation about his supposed invincibility, which was an immersion breaker, rather than an amusing joke, to Ramsey’s literal techno-babble that reduced her character rather than add any dimension.

F9 might also be responsible for creating another buzzword, heart, with its’ consistently non-subtle father-son moments that were more preachy than touching.

So much of the film lacked the heartfelt dialogue between characters that solidified their connections as seen in previous films, which I suppose is an apt analogy considering how corporate these films have become, with their departure from humble modded import/muscle cars to only displaying exotics on screen.

It should also be noted that the usual F&F cinematography has also been toned down massively, with less glory shots of the cars set to the bass of throbbing electronic rap and the iconic tight dresses and arses shots removed.

These changes make F9 seem like it is a bit ashamed of its’ own history and I found myself missing what made this franchise memorable, and wincing at the CG mess I was witnessing on screen. It did not help that the songs chosen for this film, did not quite seem the usual fun rap/street mix-tape, which normally suit the visuals perfectly, but for some odd reason, lack a je ne sais quoi.

F9’s score also shows how much Brian Tyler is struggling to reinvent his work for the franchise, with a lot of the soundtrack going unnoticed throughout the film, which is a shame, as I believe his best work was in Furious 7, a bombastic score that really emphasised the action well. Here in F9, beyond the common motifs heard in the previous films, there is very little in way of original songs.

Overall, F9 suffers from a lot of stop-starts, with a lot of flashbacks that could have been condensed into one scene and a weak antagonist that doesn’t really contribute heavily to the lore. Having swapped the laws of physics for metahuman abilities inspired by family, I do not have any real issue with the bombastic action set pieces, but I do miss the touching emotional moments to anchor these crazier moments.

Much like other franchises that have gone on for too long, I wish companies would learn when is a natural ending point for these beloved characters and this one, should have concluded with the passing of Paul Walker, in Furious 7.

A scene to recall: When they actually raced cars. Somehow it got me nostalgic ….just seeing 2 muscle cars go head to head on the actual streets of LA, to the beat of Prodigy’s techno made me miss the old F&F.

Rurouni Kenshin: The Beginning (2021) – Cinema Review

Y/N? No

Director: Keishi Otomo

Stars: Takeru Satoh, Kasumi Arimura, Issey Takahashi, Yosuke Eguchi & Kazuki Kitamura

Review by Damocles

It’s not good enough as a romance, nor as an action film.

The last hurrah for the cinematic adaptation of Rurouni Kenshin is ultimately a drama, not an action film.

Centered around Himura Kenshin’s tragic past and the story of how he received his iconic cross shaped scar, The Beginning is a bloody deep dive into the character, before he became a wanderer.

And it is … decidedly average.

This is a difficult review for me to write, because I inherently love the characters and the world it is set in. But unlike The Final, which has incredible choreography to make-up for thin characters and motivations, in The Beginning, I felt a lot of the drama lacked chemistry and proper nuance.

It is difficult to recall last, when a romance left me feeling so empty, but for some reason I was reminded of Spectre’s James Bond and Madeline Swann’s relationship, where the film is telling you that they are in love, but your mind is arguing with the images portrayed on screen.

Chemistry isn’t just the wordplay between characters, it is also present in body language, gestures and meaningful looks.

There just seemed to be a real lack of chemistry between Tomoe and Kenshin. Regardless of the circumstances in which they found themselves in, I couldn’t really discern a noticeable shift in behaviour between the two leads.

Granted, I was not sure if they are going for a realistic, cultural approach to their relationship. In early Japan, the cultural norm did not allow for much physical contact, which I will also note happened with Kenshin and Kaoru’s romance.

But unlike Kaoru, who expressed more, Tomoe’s demeanour came across as stiff and unconvincing, and I was unable to properly chart her character development from beginning to end.

Perhaps I am overlooking something in the performance, but Kasumi Arimura’s portrayal never truly sold to me a woman who went from grieving to in love over the span of the film.

It also did not help much, that Kenshin’s character was an archetype of a moody emo, with Satoh being forced to resort to hunching his shoulders a lot, throughout the film and never truly exploring the actual impacts that Tomoe had on him.

Pacing wise, the film meanders a bit too long, with unnecessary flashbacks, something that The Final also suffered from, and I felt like a lot of the script was underdeveloped, with too many scenes repeating the same stage that the characters have been stuck in for the past couple of scenes.

In regards to the iconic action, that the film series is renowned for, there is too little devoted to Satoh’s impressive physicality, with only a few standout scenes at the beginning of the film.

These are note-worthy, simply because of how bloody they are, which is a definite departure from the more bloodless violence seen in the franchise before.

However the climatic battle sequence is a let-down, because Otomo continues to slavishly repeat his mistakes, of introducing a character who had little development and connection to the main lead, with a long monologue justifying his actions.

Thus, when the, (random I might add) antagonist appears at the end, there are no real stakes involved between the two and again, the fight is more dramatic than choreography-based.

I don’t have an big issue with that approach per se, but when the previous 4 films have had such epic showdowns and satisfying fights for their conclusions, this one stands out as a bit of a weak link.

To be honest, this film proved frustrating to me, because I felt so much of it could be excised out, and reconfigured to be tighter, leaner and more detailed oriented on other elements that I considered important to the lore.

As much as I appreciated the film’s attempts to stay true to the iconic OVA anime, (a lot of the best imagery seen in this film reference the OVAs heavily i.e. the shot of Tomoe and Kenshin in robes together), I felt like a lot more tweaking should have been done from a plot and pacing perspective.

Too much of the dialogue is exposition heavy and clunk. The chemistry and romance is underdeveloped for such an important chapter in Kenshin’s life. Too many random characters have no real bearing on the plot and are introduced without any real fanfare or importance, then dismissed entirely out of the film.

And … far too many emotional scenes only carry weight, because of the excellent score by Naoki Sato, whose work is much more distinctive and unique for this film than the others in the series.

A lot of my dissatisfaction with this film, mainly stems from the endless in and out characters, whose presence never obey the simple film rule of Chekhov’s Gun. If you are in the film, you, as a plot device, should be expected to be tied up at some point down the line.

However there are some small positives. I thought that the cinematography was good in this film, with a lot of attention paying homage to the attractiveness of Japanese natural landscapes. Care was clearly taken in regards to the bloody splatter effects, so that they melded with the environments well and added extra emphasis on Kenshin’s bloodthirsty work.

Tomoe’s constantly evolving kimonos as well as some of the combat uniforms that Kenshin wears were of particular interest to me, another hold-over I am glad they retained from The Final. For much of the film, I spent time marvelling at some of the costumes and colours and wishing I could try something similar on as a fashion statement.

To cap off, Rurouni KenshinThe Beginning suffers from a lot of the franchise’s issues but without the redeeming quality of beautifully intricate choreographed sword fights.

The drama felt weak, for such an important moment in Kenshin’s life and overall motivations and whilst I appreciated how neatly this film tied into the first instalment back in 2014, I left the film bereft of the sadness I was expecting from this tragic chapter.

I honestly, do wish, this film was a lot more tragic than it ended up being. What a pity tears never ran my cheeks.

A scene to recall: Basically any shot that is set in the countryside. Watching these slower sequences make me realise that cinematographers have the easiest job in the world, when operating in Japan. The absolute picturesque nature of Japanese natural scenery is so easy to capture on film and can make moods tragic and melancholy just … like … that.

The Death of Stalin (2017) – Cinema Review

Y/N? Yes.

Director: Armando Iannucci

Stars: Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor, Andrew Riseborough, Michael Palin, Olga Kurylenko & Adrian McLoughlin.

Review by Damocles

Ensemble Cast, Dark Comedy & Modern Historical Setting? This film never puts a single foot wrong.

A rather avid student of history, particularly the modern era, the moment I saw the trailer for this film, I knew I was going to like it.

The Death of Stalin, is a darkly comedic film, that centres around the actions of Stalin’s Committee directly in the aftermath of his death. What ensues is a scathing political dissection of the power struggle that opens after Stalin’s death and an insight into the anxiety that all Russian citizens felt under Stalin’s thumb in the 1950s.

What I particularly liked about this film, was its’ ability to balance something as horrific as Stalinism with darkly comedic dialogue that relies heavily on the strength of the actors’ skills and delivery.

This is a film that doesn’t rely on strong cinematography, nor score, nor costume design, but instead is a pure actor’s film. The Death of Stalin created an environment where the stars are truly allowed to perform and outshine every other element of a film.

None of the cast bothered to try to do a Russian accent, a fact that is now lauded for adding extra comedic value to the film, especially when the dialogue is contrasted with the extremely Soviet sets and accurate uniforms. None of the cast even really look that Russian. But they are all having immense fun on-screen and it is a joy to watch them perform and bring some type of bizarre humanity to these inhuman monsters that history remember them as.

Every single member of the cast, from Jeffrey Tambor’s snivelling and indecisive take on Georgy Malenkov, to Jason Isaacs’ scene stealing turn as the brash and supremely confident Georgy Zhukov, brought their A-game.

But it is the interplay between the unscrupulous and despicable Simon Russell Beale as Laventiy Beria and the more reasonable but still sinister Steve Buscemi’s Nikita Khrushchev that really creates the film.

Watching these two great actors scheme, plot and slowly develop their characters more and more, as the situation deteriorated was one of the best parts of this film. Much of the film is a showcase about how both men crave the top seat and will do anything to appear genuine and kind-hearted to those who will support them, only to turn on them viciously, moments later when the time is right.

It is this irony that supplies so much of the humour in the film, with both men desperate for power and control over the lesser minds of the committee, resorting to schemes and moves that mirror each other’s low tactics amidst this power vacuum.

I found myself laughing uproariously at some of the ridiculousness of the dialogue that is laden with profanities. So much of it, was bickering and humorous situational observations that seem ridiculous and ludicrous given the extreme nature of the scenario.

Then, moments later, I would be aghast how the cruel nature of the Soviet machine at work, and the depravity showcases by these men in power, and their tone-deaf approach to the situation.

It is this delicate balancing act, of humour and horror that really creates the unique tone of the film.

From a cinematography perspective, the film is shot in a primarily documentary format, with a lot of wonderful fly on the wall attributes that add to the hilarity and shock of what is happening on screen. There is nothing particularly note-worthy though, beyond glory shots of set dressing and surprisingly faithful recreations of Soviet era buildings.

As for the score, there is again, little to really discuss there, with appropriately styled Soviet-esque music playing in the background and always just there to emphasis certain dramatic points. Christopher Willis’ work never soared by the scenes enough to distract, which I personally believe to be a wise move, considering the documentary style that Armando Iannucci chose.

Overall, I had a great time watching an ensemble cast act, plot, connive and bring some humourous humanity to some of history’s greatest evil apparatchik. The film moves along at a great pace, and never overstays it welcome.

As fictional retelling of historical events go … this one is as fun as it gets.

A scene to recall: The glorious slow-motion entrance of Jason Isaac’s Field Marshal Zhukov, as befitting this war hero. What a man.

Apparently, the director had to tone down the sheer number of medals on Zhukov’s chest, because in reality he fielded a lot more on his chest. Reading the career of Field Marshal Zhukov is like realising this man is essentially a Russian Caesar, without the political ambitions.

Traceur 5-O

A shot from Banlieue 13: Ultimatum (2009), a decent French action film with a focus on parkour sequences.

Detective Alex Dujardin was finding it difficult to breathe.

The typical thrills of hunter-prey dynamics were starting to get to him, accelerating his anticipation and excitement.

It did not help a single bit that he was sitting in a truck beset by armoured men with intimidating rifles. The infamous Special Operation Group (SOG) of the Victorian Police were the Australian equivalent of the famous American SWAT Teams, called in regularly to deal with armed offenders and other sensitive, high risk crime.

The 6 men that sandwiched Dujardin in the armoured truck were dressed head to toe in extremely dark blue uniforms, with balaclavas masking their faces and the word: POLICE emblazoned in bright white letters across their chest and back. The atmosphere inside was deathly quiet, nerves and steely resolution mixing and fighting together in each man’s mind.

As for Dujardin, he was dressed like the casual Sunday version of the SOG men, with jeans, a polo shirt underneath his armour and radio, with his pistol and baton on a thigh rig across his right leg. Attached to his left hip was a taser gun and CS spray. As the lead case officer, his job was merely to observe the take-down and allow the bigger men with their rifles, shotguns and other paraphernalia do the heavy lifting.

Routine thought Dujardin, even though he knew that anything involving the SOG was quite far from normal.

At a modest height of 175cm, with soft hazel eyes, Alex Dujardin was not the most intimidating of police officers in the Metro area. What he lacked in brawn however, was aptly filled in by speed. His body was hardened and lean after years of competitive athletics, excelling in the 400m and 600m sprint.

His acceleration, in spite of the standard police equipment, was immense, often out-sprinting criminals and rugby-tackling them before they were even aware of what was happening. In his patrol days, Dujardin’s prowess was so highly respected, any officer that had to run to catch their collar made the joke that they performed a ‘Jardin that shift.

It also helped that Dujardin was a practitioner of parkour, the French phenomenon that was borne out of a desire to conquer a obstacle course as efficiently as possible. His weekends were often spent with the Melbourne Parkour community on the CBD’s Southbank, leaping from wall to wall, vaulting benches and answering kids’ questions about his job.

Simply put, there wasn’t an officer on the force more suited for chasing down criminals than Alex Dujardin.

Feeling a rumbling beneath his feet, Dujardin looked up as the truck began to slow, approaching its’ destination carefully and quietly. As it halted a few hundred metres later, the point man of the SOG team cranked the door open and the men filed out quickly.

Looking around, Dujardin noted their location with a familiarity that only a locally born native could. They were near the Carlton Gardens which hosted the Royal Exhibition Building, and the Melbourne Museum.

The contrasts between the two buildings could not be any more dissimilar, with the Royal Exhibition Building a testament to old-school architectural styles, the entire structure Italianate in looks, complete with a Florence Cathedral inspired dome, whilst the Melbourne Museum, showcased the contemporary post-modernism styles, with sharp angles and abstract colours, a more complex mess of glass, metal and concrete.

However such historical architectural footnotes, were of no relevance to Dujardin, who had visited both many times as a child, and was more eager to prevent the criminal residing in an abandoned building across the street from escaping to said Museum and Exhibition Building.

At the corner of Rathdowne St and Victoria St, the abandoned building in question, was a former Cancer Council Victoria office building, the charity organisation having moved to greener pastures in South Melbourne, leaving behind a dilapidated, and ugly squat building. With its brown styling, dark tinted glass windows that was prone to dust and dirt collection, and dull interior, it was slated for demolition, the ugly style of the building only worsened by incessant amount of graffiti and poor maintenance.

The place had already been stripped clean, with nothing of value inside, however, for the brazen thief known as the Spectre, it had proved the perfect staging grounds for some daring B&E (Breaking & Entering) raids into affluent people’s homes and a particularly messy robbery at a restaurant that had escalated to murder.

Little was known about the Spectre beyond his physical description which was caught on camera, after the gunning down of a restaurateur as she was closing her business. At a lean 180 centimetres tall, and possessing dark hair with blue eyes, the Spectre was surprisingly attractive, in a rugged mid-30s way.

However, his panic over the restaurateur’s death had lead to many uncharacteristic mistakes and proved to be the break Alex Dujardin needed to track his target down. Now, only hours after the murder, Dujardin stood outside the lair of the Spectre, eager to see his target in cuffs.

Handing the warrant over to the SOG pointman, Dujardin watched as the elite team began their approach towards the building’s walls, each man scanning in all directions.

Due to the proximity of the civilians, a safety boundary had been established 200 metres out, with patrol cars blocking streets and people from moving around. Since the operation was being conducted late at night, at 10pm, traffic was mercifully quiet and the Museum was already shut down.

Dujardin heard, rather than saw, the teams making entry into the building, with flash-bangs creating lights inside a building that had not seen them for years. Loud yells of POLICE, COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS UP! came billowing through shattered glass.

Waiting impatiently, with his right foot tapping the ground nervously, Dujardin was waiting to hear the sounds of an arrest being made over his radio, when he felt a strange prickling sensation across his neck, causing him to look up.

Just in time to see a man bolt onto the roof of the abandoned building and without hesitation, aim a zip-line launcher that shot across the street and pinned the line into a Greenco Carpark.

Dujardin scowled, as he watched the SOG team burst onto the roof, only to fall back into each other as the Spectre unleashed a torrent of gunfire from a pistol. By the time the point man could bring his rifle to bear, the Spectre had already dropped the pistol, attached a T-bar to the line and begun his swing, 50 metres across the street.

Within seconds, the Spectre had cleared the police cordon and was now sprinting through the carpark that would allow him to disappear into the city populace as it connected onto Latrobe Street.

However, even before the final shot from the Spectre’s pistol had finished echoing across the urban jungle, Alex Dujardin was vaulting over police cars, leaving his fellow officers behind as he ran underneath the Spectre’s feet.

Bursting through the doors of the Greenco garage, Dujardin sprinted furiously past rows and rows of cars, as he made for the opposite side. As he was halfway through, a banging noise could be heard up ahead and Dujardin made his way over, sliding over a shocked BMW driver’s hood, as he braked furiously to avoid a collision.

Noting that the fire escape door was still swinging on its hinges, Alex put his shoulder through and immediately scanned left, then right.

Remembering that the Spectre was wearing a dark blue jumper and green cargo pants, Alex felt fear when he couldn’t see any traces of the man on either side of the street, until he saw the alleyway to his 1 o’clock.

Dashing across, and nearly getting hit by another car, Dujardin swore when he saw the Spectre halfway down the alleyway, his boots clattering on old cobblestones.

Pushing himself into a more comfortable rhythm, Dujardin blasted down the short 40 metres of the alleyway, gaining every so slightly, as he noted the Spectre turn the corner and nearly collide with a businessman on a call. The two men stared at each other, the businessman yelling angrily at the Spectre, only to go down in a heap as the criminal pushed him hard into the wall and ran in the direction of Melbourne Central.

The busiest shopping centre in the entire CBD, replete with multiple entryways, dozens upon dozens of restaurants and shops, and more crucially a train station.

Dujardin blasted out of the alleyway, only checking his speed a tiny bit, as he took a wider line onto the opposing footpath to the Spectre and pressed a button on his radio.

Suspect is moving down Little Lonsdale St, in the direction of the State Library! Get the MC PSOs up here now! half yelled Dujardin as he watched as the Spectre nearly collide with a couple walking out of a Uyghur restaurant.

His hazel eyes widened with opportunity as he noted the Spectre recklessly running across traffic, cars screeching horribly to a halt, and the man desperately trying not to get hit.

Seeing a tiny metal fence obstructing him, Dujardin smoothly gripped it with his weak hand and vaulted over with ease, before taking 2 steps and performing a kong vault over a silver Mercedes, a move where he placed both hands on the hood and then hopped his legs through in a smooth motion.

The elderly couple in the Mercedes could only stare in astonishment, as they saw the casually dressed police officer in tactical gear, smoothly slide over the bonnet of a stray Uber Toyota before exchanging incredulous looks with the Uber driver and his passenger.

As the Spectre glanced behind him, he was shocked to see a police officer keeping pace with him. Not only was he keeping pace, it seemed he was only getting closer.

In desperation, the Spectre crossed from the Library side of the small street and into QV, another one of Melbourne’s famous shopping malls. Nearly crashing through the glass doors, the Spectre made a beeline for the staircase with an escalator beside it, shoving and pushing people aside, yells and screams erupting behind him.

As he reached the bottom of the escalator, he could hear the policeman yell about the PSOs from MC, making their way down Swanston St, which was adjacent to the direction he was heading.

Swearing, the Spectre ran across the small food court and out onto a small alleyway, where he could see another shortcut through a car-park which lead into Melbourne’s Chinatown district.

As the Spectre waited for a break in the traffic to allow him to cross, he heard a loud thud behind him.

Turning slowly around, the Spectre’s blue eyes widened in shock, as he beheld the dogged policeman, recover from his 3m drop to the ground, in a smooth recovery roll.

Aware of the Spectre’s intention to lose him in QV, Dujardin made a calculated gamble, and had bluffed a call about the Protective Services Officers (PSOs) that normally patrolled and guarded Melbourne’s busy train stations making their way down Swanston St.

Instead of following in the Spectre’s descent to a lower level, Dujardin had simply sprinted across the upper square to the surprise of the many young people who were resting on the artificial turf, and without pause jumped the 3 metre difference in height down, behind the Spectre.

The Spectre, now properly spooked by the sheer determination of this police officer, sprinted across the traffic once more, his panicked expression now beset by flashing red/blue lights, as Dujardin’s fellow officers, tracking him on the GPS, were now joining the chase and were pouring down Lonsdale St in their patrol cars and sirens.

The Spectre ducked under the car-park gate.

Alex Dujardin leapt over it.

The Spectre shot through the car-park, before putting his shoulder into a fire-escape door and knocking back a sleepy bouncer who was pacing the length of the street, outside the door of the Shanghai Club Pokies.

As the bouncer fell on the floor, dazed by a door slamming into his face, the Spectre stepped over him and looked up and down the red-lantern lit street of Melbourne’s Chinatown.

Seeing the Target entrance that would take him to Bourke St, via a quiet strip of Chinese food and boba shops, the Spectre hauled ass, just in time to look behind him and see the dark expression on Dujardin’s face.

By now, both men had slowed down considerably, their initial furious pace, unsustainable over such long distances. The Spectre was especially breathing hard, his feet now lumbering a bit more as they pounded their way through the arcade, in vain hopes of keeping ahead of Dujardin to Bourke St.

Dujardin, whilst feeling fresher, was struggling as well, his exertions compounded by the gear he was wearing and the explosive energy he needed for parkour moves wearing him down.

The chase was nearly at an end.

It was now, just a matter of time.

As the Spectre burst out onto Bourke St, he swore even louder, when he realised that he had just put himself into police custody, as less than 25 metres away, the Melbourne’s Police HQ was right there.

Before he had time to run away again, Dujardin had caught up and launched himself at the Spectre’s legs.

The Spectre, moving quickly, was not fast enough and tumbled to the ground. But he was able to roll away from Dujardin’s grasp and lurch to his feet, only this time facing the policeman with a switchblade in his right hand.

Dujardin’s strong hand went for his baton and flicked it open.

Don’t do this. cautioned Dujardin as the two men eyed each other.

Just give it up man. There’s no need for extra violence mate. Just put the weapon down and get down on your knees.

The Spectre said nothing and continued to warily circle Dujardin.

Don’t be stupid man. PUT THE WEAPON DOWN AND GET ON YOUR KNEES. shouted Dujardin. The words were barely out of his mouth, before he was swatting the Spectre’s knife hand out of the way with his baton. The blow was enough to push the Spectre off-balance and Dujardin took the opportunity to go for his taser with his left hand.

However, before he could properly draw, the Spectre moved in again.

With his hand on the grip of the taser, Dujardin could not effectively block the incoming knife due to his awkward body position.

Without hesitating, Dujardin did the only move he could.

He tucked down small and rolled himself at the Spectre’s legs.

The knife thrust sailed over his head by the smallest of margin, and the Spectre buckled as his leading leg took the full weight of Dujardin’s body. Yelling in anger and pain, the Spectre whirled around, only to receive 50,000 volts to his system.

Convulsing, the Spectre went down hard, his face smashing directly into the hard smooth stone floor of Bourke St.

Alex Dujardin exhaled heavily, as he held onto the trigger of the taser, before letting go in an explosive effort.

As one of the most iconic and busiest streets in Melbourne slowly began to light up in red and blue flashes, and the murmur of the crowds, began to get replaced with siren wails, Alex Dujardin stepped over the twitching body of the Spectre and wrenched the man’s hands behind him, slipping on the cuffs.

As Dujardin did a rough check for any other weapons, he did his best to ignore the dozens of phone cameras that were recording his every move. It wasn’t long before the crowd dispersed before the onslaught of officers who had finally caught up. As cars formed a barricade and officers piled around Dujardin, Alex could barely stop shaking under the weight of congratulatory back slaps and handshakes that poured in.

Dujardin smiled wearily at the point-man of the SOG unit, who gave him a thumbs-up in approval, before walking the Spectre over to the police station only metres away.

The chase was now over, now … the real work began with the paperwork that awaited such a public and messy foot-chase through the city.

Dujardin’s self self-congratulatory mood soon disappeared as he realised that every single person affected by the chase today, would have to have a statement taken off them and that there was going to be a very long review process, especially after the spectacular body-cam footage that he had unwittingly taken.

Can’t outrun everything … thought Dujardin wearily, as he took off his body vest and sat down at his desk for a long night ahead.

Author’s Note.

Short, sweet and sharp, I wanted to make this smaller and leaner, a bit more of a quick read than my usual entries. Inspired by every single foot chase ever, with cops and robbers involved. But mostly financed by my dreams to film a foot chase in my home town one day.

Until the next one!

~ Damocles.

ONE OK ROCK (IMPACT Series)

Arguably still the most important band to me, to this very day. From left, Tomoya Kanki (Drums), Toru Yamashita (Guitar), Takahiro “Taka” Moriuchi (Vocals) & Ryota Kohama (Bass).

Welcome to the IMPACT series where I dissect notable and iconic sequences from games and movies, and how they broadened my mind and left a lasting impression on me, years to come. 

For all of the times that they say it’s impossible
They built all the hurdles, the walls, and the obstacles
When we’re together, you know we’re unstoppable now

The Backdrop.

I have always longed admired the Japanese music industry. The breadth of genres in which they cover is immense and impressively unique, unlike their Korean counterparts. There is a reason why there is a J in front of the genre “J-Rock” because it mixes the sensibilities of rock with a unique Japanese touch.

ONE OK ROCK (OOR) is perhaps the perfect example of J-Rock done right. Heavily inspired by another legendary band, Linkin Park, OOR blends English and Japanese lyrics, with deep social themes and just good old fashioned hard beats that make for a nearly unbeatable combination.

But how did I first discover this band?

It was through a film of course, the Rurouni Kenshin series which always ended their films with a ONE OK ROCK number.

The moment I heard the song The Beginning play over the end credits of the first Rurouni Kenshin (2012) film, I knew that I had to go find more of their songs and see if they were good.

I was dumbfounded and ecstatic to find that so many more incredible tunes were to come from ONE OK ROCK, and yes … they could sing English as well as Japanese.

To this day, you can play a OOR song and I will immediately jump up and start belting out the lyrics. They have been a staple for me, on every single Ipod, phone and whatever else device that can play music, because to put it simply, there are times I cannot last a day without hearing an OOR song at least once.

I will delve more into how their songs have helped me get through tough times later.

But what is important to me about OOR is their incredible ability to create really emotional songs without compromising their overall message and melodies. They have gone through so many versions of rock, without ever really losing their unique flavour. Emo rock, Pop Rock, Hardcore, Alternative … but throughout it all, OOR has never lost their intensity and their relevance in appealing to struggling young people and inspiring them to be better.

ONE OK ROCK, to me is the personification of the angry, angsty, teen that resides in all of us, but uses that energy to create instead of destroy.

ONE OK ROCK at a sold-out Yokohama Stadium in 2014. This concert was so good, I felt the energy all the way through my screen and downloaded the entire damn thing.

The Impact.

One of the only bands that caught me so wholeheartedly, that I had to attend their first ever concert here in Melbourne.

It was amazing. I was jammed into a tiny concert hall, that could barely fit all the other hardcore fans like myself and the energy was contagious.

For those who know me, I am generally a bit of a paranoid wreck when squished so close to hundreds of other people. I am always afraid that someone will hurt me, steal my wallet or do something else that is despicable.

But for ONE OK ROCK, the intensity in which they played live and sang so hard, made me lose my inhibitions. For the first time, I went wild and was fist-pumping, screaming and jumping up and down to every beat, every word and every song.

I don’t think I screamed any harder than I have, when I heard Taka sang The Beginning. The whole crowd was just so amped.

What makes OOR so good, are their powerful vocals, catchy lyrics, along with hard hitting rock melodies. Taka himself is a vocal prodigy, with the ability to soar high above trashing metal sounds and capture deep angst within us all. He can project like no-one else and maintain high notes all whilst running and jumping everywhere on stage.

His English pronunciation is practically perfect, a very rare sign of a man in possession of perfect pitch, as often Japanese people struggle with English sounds.

The band itself named themselves ONE OK ROCK, because of their habit of practicing at One O’Clock in the morning. Japanese wordplay actually dictates that the sounds of “R” and “L” are almost indistinguishable from one another, so it slowly morphed from OK ROCK into ONE OK ROCK.

If I am honest, there is a reason why Taka is the face of ONE OK ROCK, because his vocals are just so amazing, that they elevate the rock melodies that accompany them. His earnest delivery of every line and seamless transition from English to Japanese then back to English is remarkable.

Every song, from the harder rock anthems like NO SCARED to the softer soothing songs like Be the light really proves how Taka’s voice seems to just represent the cries of millions of young people who are in strife.

His voice simultaneously soothes you, comforts you and lifts you higher. His delivery lets you know that it’s OK to be in pain, and at the same time, reaches out to give you a helping hand to get back up.

It’s why, whenever I am in a dark place, I listen to ONE OK ROCK.

Its emotionally poignant to me, to hear their songs.

Taka’s raw vocal talent and energy is absolutely incredible. He has one of the best voices period, a true prodigy.

The Enrichment.

Every single one of us have that band that you own a lot to. For me, OOR is that band.

I found them on my own, and grew deeper and deeper in love with them, with each song I heard from them. I was probably the only hardcore OOR fan amongst my friends too, for a very long time, so the connection felt even deeper.

What really cemented my love for this band was my first ever solo travel trip, to Queensland for University Games, which was held in Gold Coast.

At the time I was a member of the fencing club and was competing up there for fun. But it was also strangely lonely, and I found myself wandering around alone a lot.

What kept the feelings of isolation away was OOR. They inspired me to fence better in the competition, explore more of the tourist town and just have a good time, venting my emotional state.

What I learned through OOR is that sometimes, your favourite songs can become the perfect emotional catharsis you need to banish bad moods and lingering thoughts.

Songs like The Beginning, Mighty Long Fall, Renegades, Broken Heart of Gold and Deeper Deeper helps unlock something inside of me that I can’t express anywhere else, even in writing. It allows me to experience the highs of certain emotions without really compromising my own emotional well-being.

In a lot of ways, it allows me to scream and vent my frustrations and anger to the beat of a great meaningful song and get a sense that some of the weight on my shoulders have been lifted.

And it is always those songs that give me that release.

Beyond the strong emotional attachment I have to their songs, OOR also opened the door to a lot of new J-Rock bands that I wouldn’t have found otherwise.

Bands like NOISEMAKER, The Oral Cigarettes, BAND-MAID, MY FIRST STORY (Taka’s younger brother’s band) and dozens more populate my Itunes Library and all their work would have never been discovered if I didn’t fall in love with OOR first.

Honestly, I probably don’t give OOR enough credit for just allowing me to really helping me express how I feel deep down inside about a lot of things, about situations that I struggle to control emotionally and to have a song that I can really plunge myself into without any inhibitions.

They really do represent a voice inside of me that needs to sing and scream.

Takeru Satoh and Takahiro Moriuchi chilling out on the set of Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends (2014).

The Culmination.

ONE OK ROCK isn’t just another band to me. They represent a voice that sometimes needs to scream and emote above my usual rational self. I spend so much of my time controlling and understanding myself, that sometimes I need an escape, a way to express myself beyond my own control.

Listening to OOR does exactly that. The lyrics, the melodies, the beats and the voices just allow me to vent everything inside of me and make me feel like I am not alone.

No matter what anyone says, the band that you chose to follow as a teen, will always be the band that truly lets you explore the depths of your emotions. You can get older, wiser and supposedly more mature, but the moment you listen to your favourite teenage band again, you get that rush of adrenaline and energy that can only comes with young angst.

ONE OK ROCK, is more than just a truly unique band that mixes Japanese and English together. They’re the voice of hundreds if not thousands of young fans from all over the world who want to know that what they are feeling, isn’t just limited to them. It’s the roar of a crowd that understands you and is with you.

Only through rock, do you get that power.

And that is why they are my favourite band of all time and will always have a special place in my heart.

IMPACT.

~ Damocles.

These guys, with their songs, lyrical meaning and powerful melodies have probably done more to banish any mental issues I’ve had over the years than any other form of therapy. They are still the first band I know where every single album had multiple songs I liked. Will love them always.

With Love …. (Espionage 6)

London, England

Being invisible in today’s world is not difficult. With the advent of smart-phones, wireless earbuds and ever increasingly feelings of self-isolation, a spy could be wearing an outlandish outfit and still be unnoticed for hours.

Dressed in a smart suit, Gabriel Woods stared out from a cafe on the corner of a busy London street, a newspaper in his hand, with a coffee mug in front of him. As stereotypical a “spy” pose this was, in the city of London, such behaviour was almost obligatory once you entered a English cafe.

With his deep cover now assured by the SIS and stripped of any American gadgetry, Gabriel Woods was now operating as quietly and efficiently as he used to in the days of his Prince career. Anonymously, low-tech and armed only with his instincts and the Glock 19 in a shoulder holster, hidden underneath his dark navy blazer.

Gone were the smart surveillance glasses, the disguised earbuds that acted as a microphone and recorder and the voices of handlers in his ears. The British were stubbornly steadfast in their old-school spycraft, and James Ashford trusted his man to such a level, that he allowed Woods to operate completely on his own and instructed the Queen’s Assassin only to report to him if absolutely necessary.

It was this unique freedom and trust that made Gabriel Woods agree to come back into the intelligence community. Only the British would give him this amount of leniency. There weren’t even any support units to assist him, the 14th Det, the usual grey men that tracked terror suspects across the UK, having been repositioned elsewhere to track other elements of the Sphinx’s cell.

The Prince was finally allowed to operate on his own, to his own discretion and rules.

Woods kept his eyes alert as he scanned the streets, occasionally turning the page of his newspaper to mime the act of reading and relaxing with his morning coffee. Le Petite Cafe made decent coffee, but it was their fresh baked goods that enticed the likes of Sofia Sumarwata, courier to one of the world’s most feared terrorists.

Situated as he was outside the cafe, with very little opportunities to miss him, the moment Sofia Sumarwata would make entry into the cafe, she would notice him. The Valentine’s Day deadline was ever approaching and Woods had to be bolder in his attempts to track down the Sphinx.

As his watch ticked over to 10am, Woods saw an attractive woman come down the street, her long shapely legs encased in figure hugging jeans and calf-length brown boots. Her svelte figure was accentuated by a matching brown long coat, and a flattering cream turtleneck.

As she drew closer to Woods, he felt his breath catch slightly, as he noted that photos of her in the dossier, did little justice to attractiveness of the woman walking towards him. With her curly brown hair, tied loosely in a bun, soft brown eyes, full lips, and an attractive straight nose, Sofia Sumarwata stood out from the more conventional English Rose beauty like a warmer sunrise.

Nodding politely to Woods, she went inside and ordered her baked goods in a English accent that sounded natural. Woods paid an absent ear to the exchange but there was nothing untoward about the conversation. As Sofia waited, Woods continued to look at his newspaper, resisting the urge to look behind him, and into the cafe.

Holding her brown bag of baked goods, Sofia walked out and went back in the direction she came. Woods waited patiently for a good minute, when she had almost disappeared in the distance, before folding up the newspaper, and waving goodbye to the shop-keeper who nodded politely.

For Woods, urban tracking was a skill that came naturally to him. He instinctively understood body language and a key component of ensuring you are never spotted following someone, is to read the target’s behaviour with great skill and perception.

Little gestures like slowing their pace, hesitating before stops … turning around …. Woods could anticipate and predict these gestures and knew how to break line of sight, often dodging into shops or simply hiding behind poles, turning his back on the target.

Such skill was often underappreciated by the target themselves, unless they were a professional, which to Woods’ suspicion, Sofia Sumarwata was. Her elegant pace never changed once, but her alertness was high, as judged by her constant scanning of her surroundings. Woods also noted that she was a taking very circuitous route to her home, which to his concern, was not where she was heading at all.

The distance between her flat and Le Petit Cafe was no less than 4 kilometres, a simple right angle route that would take her only 20 or so minutes to cover.

They were now in the opposite direction to her flat and Woods could sense that Sofia Sumarwata was heading somewhere else, somewhere where her every movement wasn’t observed by UK intelligence services and every single electronic item in her home wasn’t teeming with bugs.

Woods’ original plan was to introduce himself her at her home, stating that he had only just moved in to the flat near hers, using his considerable charm to present himself as the “affable neighbour” but now that plan was scrapped.

As his mind raced to determine where exactly Sofia was going, Sofia herself made the answer known.

Stopping front of a completely unknown building to the SIS, Sofia fished out an electronic fob and waved it in front of the card reader.

In the 30 seconds that the entire process had taken Sofia to enter the building, a myriad of things happened in Wood’s mind.

The apartment building that Sofia was entering, was extremely upscale. It was christened the Londowntowne, and was promoting itself to be a home away from home, one of those new fads where people could rent an expensive place out for a week and enjoy luxuries that couldn’t normally be afforded at home.

With its contemporary design, all glass, steel, obsidian rock and carefully placed greenery, the Londontowne was a symbol of modernity amidst all the history that ruled much of the capital that had stood for 2000 years.

Naturally, it was an affront of English sensibilities and was an attractive eyesore to all that beheld it.

Owning to the newness of the building, Woods realised that he could still enact his plan.

As Sofia was about to let the shiny, automatic doors close behind her, Woods rushed forwards and banged on the glass.

The sound startled her and she turned around, nearly dropping the bag of baked goods.

Sorry! I forgot my key fob … do you mind letting me in? half shouted Woods.

Sofia nodded, and opened the door for Woods to enter.

Thanks so much. I only just moved in here. said Woods breathlessly, as he mimed a man in panic.

It’s not a problem. replied Sofia as she balanced the bag in her hand, whilst reaching for the elevator button.

Woods and Sofia stared at each other as they waited for the elevator to arrive, before Woods made the first move.

Say …. weren’t you at the cafe earlier today?

Sofia looked at him puzzled.

I only say that, because I recognise that bag. Le Petit Cafe right? queried Woods.

Yeah …. oh wait, you were the guy at the front weren’t you? said Sofia, as recognition dawned in her eyes, along with what seemed to Woods, a trace of suspicion

Yeah that was me. smiled Woods in a placating manner.

Sofia looked at Woods more closely and sighed.

It’s not going to work. she said softly and quietly with an air of resignation. There was a weariness in her tone, a quiet sadness that hinted at something darker within.

Any good spy knew instantly when their cover was blown. Woods hadn’t anticipated to be uncovered so soon, but then he was dealing with a fellow professional. Coincidences didn’t exist in the world of shadows. Both of them who each other was.

No more lies. Only the truth and a plea directly to the heart.

Woods didn’t reply to her, but merely ushered her in the elevator silently and looked at the buttons expectantly. Sofia pressed the button for the 9th floor. As they rode up in silence, Woods looked at Sofia with a blank expression, revealing nothing that was going on in his mind.

For the first time, in her life, Sofia felt a strange mixture of fear and hope blossom in her heart.

As the doors slid open, Woods checked both aisle of the corridors quickly before taking Sofia by the arm and leading her out gently. As they walked to the room 904, Woods kept his hands loose, ready to draw his pistol at any second.

How many inside? asked Woods intensely.

She shook her head. Woods glared at her and held out his hand for the electronic fob.

As the door beeped open, Woods motioned for Sofia to go in first, as he followed closely behind, his paranoia almost at a feverish pitch.

After a thorough search of the apartment, which was luxuriously furbished with contemporary aesthetics, Woods only found Sofia’s overnight bag. Going back, he motioned her to stretch out her arms. To his surprise, Sofia was completely clean. There was only her phone, wallet and keys.

Everything so far matching the intelligence gathered on her … whatever methodology she was using to communicate with the Sphinx was well-disguised. Her movements might be suspicious, but then so was the behaviour of people who cheated on spouses and that didn’t indicate mass murder on a international scale.

Motioning her to sit on the couch in the centre of the room, Woods took his place opposite her. He adopted a comfortable position, crossing his legs and leaning back. This only seemed to put her on edge further.

It was the tan wasn’t it? asked Woods with a cold ironic sense of humour.

Sofia looked at him puzzled. She didn’t know how to respond.

Yeah I figured … answered Woods to his own question. Do you mind if I ask you something?

Sofia didn’t respond.

Do you love him?

Her brown eyes widened in surprise. She was unable to hide her true feelings

Of course you do surmised Woods. Why go through all of this if you weren’t in love?

It can’t be out of revenge. Your husband’s ghost has longed been silenced in your mind …

It definitely can’t be out of religious zealotry. I know you pray everyday, but your clothes, your lifestyle … it fights who you see yourself before God.

There’s no real money in all of this either … I mean …. all of this Woods gestured at the phoney apartment they were sitting in. I know you didn’t pay for.

So … if it’s not money, revenge, fanaticism or patriotism … why be a courier Sofia?

Sofia Sumarwata looked at the spy before her, his emerald eyes boring into her own, eager to uncover the truth behind her actions, her long career as a enabler of terrorist acts.

She was certain that he was working for the other side. He was far too well dressed, and had an strange accent that seemed to blend American, English and Australian inflections. Then there was the suspicious timing of their meeting. Why, with only 2 days until the Valentine Day deadline was a person meeting her, at her safehouse?

That was, until Woods asked her in fluent Farsi

When did you fall in love with Hassan Malik?

Sofia Sumarwata did a double-take at the change in language. The man before her was speaking in her mother Iranian tongue with a curious dialect that could only be mistaken for a native. Now confusion reigned supreme in her mind. She was unsure how to respond to the man before her.

It’s OK Sofia, I am a friend. But I need to know that you are still loyal to the cause said Woods beseechingly in Farsi.

So tell me … when did you fall in love with Hassan Malik?

Sofia tore her eyes away from Woods, unable to speak. For some compelling reason, she believed him. Of course Hassan would send someone to test her on the eve of his biggest event. She had never felt lonelier than the past 6 months without him and here was a man who was part of the cause and wanted to know, so that he … and Hassan could trust her still.

Holding back a big emotional sigh, Sofia told the Queen’s Assassin the whole story.

~

My husband was a man who looked after his family. For Hakim, there was nothing more important than his younger brother, Assad who loved to make trouble.

It all started with Assad, when he decided to join the Taliban in their fight against the Americans. Hakim didn’t want any part of it, because he was betrothed to me. He made Assad promise to only join, after we got married so that he could look after him better.

But Assad didn’t listen. Only a week later, he got into a firefight with an American squad patrolling our area. He managed to escape, but was wounded in the fight. This was on the night of our wedding. Hakim heard what happened, kissed me once and ran into the night to rescue his brother.

I was left alone, in my wedding dress, screaming for him to come back. He didn’t once look back at me.

Hakim never returned.

Because when he finally found his brother, Assad had bled out in a ditch, alone. That very night, he marched into the caves and demanded a vest. Of course they gave him one …. and he immediately walked over to the checkpoint that had been set up near where we were getting married and killed 7 soldiers.

I heard the blast from my home and at that moment, I knew I had lost him.

My brothers later told me, that he was still wearing his wedding suit when he died.

I knew Hakim for 10 years. We grew up together, played football together, shared tea … He was my first and only ever crush. We kissed each other when we were 16.

Hakim and I made a promise to each other to stay together forever.

Then in one night, he was stolen away from me. By the Americans. By the soldiers who can’t seem to understand us, by men who think they have the right to decide what is good for our people.

4 months after Hakim’s sacrifice … someone came to my family’s home and asked for me.

They told me that if I wanted to honour Hakim, I was to enter the caves and be reborn a fighter.

They gave me a week to consider it.

I only needed 2 days.

The next 6 months, changed me forever. By the time I left the caves, I wasn’t a girl anymore. I had become a warrior.

My very first mission was when I first met Hassan Malik. I never thought I would ever meet anyone like Hakim.

Hassan changed all of that. He knew I would be nervous and afraid. My mission was to lure an American Officer away from the base, so that we could capture him and demand a ransom. But I didn’t know how to.

Hassan showed me the way. How I could be more of a weapon, how I could use my feminine wiles to further the cause. How much of an asset I could be. How I could bring justice to the memory of Hakim.

How I could be loved again.

I’ve never made love to a man as skilled and gentle as him. I felt like a woman reborn under him. Hassan gave me more than purpose, he gave me life.

After that first mission, I didn’t see him again for months. I did what he asked and maintained a low profile. But I missed him terribly.

It was only in the spring of that year, that I finally saw him again. He was just as gentle as I remembered, as beautiful as the green grass that surrounded us and as warm as the desert sun.

I am forever his. I will love another man, as deeply as I love Hassan now.

We used to chat online, but that became too dangerous.

Now we just deliver food to each other. It is not the same, but that is the only way I can continue to communicate with my love.

~

The Queen’s Assassin left the latest eyesore of London and the beautiful, grieving, romantic widow only minutes later, his mind racing at the genius of the Sphinx’s terrorist cell communication method.

Before he left, he had comforted Sofia the best he could, with one hand around her heaving shoulders throughout her lonely sobs and the other, hacking into her cell-phone to extract all the meta-data hidden in her apps.

Somewhere, deep down, he pitied her, but he couldn’t afford to spare any true sympathy for her. Her love made her vulnerable to manipulation and at the end of the day, no matter how tragic her story was, it didn’t give her the right to create more widows like herself.

The genius of their communication methodology could not be denied though.

Through the use of Just Eat food delivery service, Sofia had been coordinating all the individual cells, at their safe houses, with encrypted messages added onto the food delivery in the meals. It would be brief sentences that would contain the encryption key for cells to unlock further instructions online.

This avoided unnecessary online communication that could be intercepted, and also made everything subtle, as delivering food could be seen as a kind gesture. Even then, as Woods trawled through Sofia’s order history, she only made food deliveries occasionally, no more than once a day, to ensure the operational security was tight.

Hence why everyone missed this.

Gabriel Woods smiled coldly to himself. It was only hours into the chase and yet he was closer to the Sphinx than anyone before him.

Hailing a taxi to drop him back to his car, Woods checked his tail several times, making random loops around London to ensure no other operatives were following him, before driving back to his safe house in St James.

As Gabriel Woods began to make his dinner for the night, and prepare the steps for the next 24 hours, he wondered what was going on in the Sphinx’s mind right now.

Author’s Note

It has been a long time since I returned to make another entry into the Espionage series. Sometimes I get huge writer’s block and need to step away before re-reading my own material and knowing where the story can go next.

It was originally planned to have Woods seduce Sofia into revealing the method in which the Sphinx’s terror cell communicated, but I couldn’t justify a completely random, out of the blue sexual tension between opposing side without a huge amount of build-up (one of the many lessons I learned not to do from Spectre (2015), that horribly written James Bond film).

So instead I wanted to delve deeper into why Sofia was doing what she doing and I think I took a lot of inspiration from the Gabriel Allon series which always highlight the common tragedies that plague the Middle East and how both sides suffer.

The food delivery idea is just something I happened to create on the spot, and personally would like to thank my own genius. Obviously the Sphinx’s terror cell must be well funded to afford the exorbitant prices that come with food delivery and doubtless an accountant in the terror organisation would be having a stroke at the running cost, but it is a very sneaky and clever way to deliver messages.

I am of course, not advocating for terror organisations to start using Uber Delivery Drivers as couriers and I definitely do not want them to adopt the idea!

If you wish to read the previous entries, merely type in espionage on my search bar!

Anyway, hopefully the next chapter comes soon!

~ Damocles

Trauma

As a person who regularly moderates and observes his own mental state and emotional range, even now I am struggling to comprehend what happened yesterday, on the 11th of July, 2021. The gambit of emotions I have run through in the past 24 hours is testing every fibre of my resolve.

From a cold, objective perspective, what I witnessed yesterday was a systematic, calculated and Machiavellian plot to take down an elder statesman in the community.

It was … honestly, brilliant. A rather remarkable display of politics, insinuation and calculated slander. Always hinting, never directly targeting the blame. Always skirting the issue, yet the problem is clearly labelled.

A textbook example of how to ruin a man, whose untouchable reputation in the community was ironclad and ensure his fervent supporters were powerless to stop the slow decay of his mental state.

As the elder statesman bore more and more of the blame, of the fact that people despised him, despite his previous achievements, his stature and reputation, the head got lower and lower, until it finally reared itself from his hands, in a final, explosive burst.

He was all alone when it happened but literally seconds later, he was surrounded and pulled in every which way. A mob had surrounded him, his family desperate to tear him away from screams, hands and pleas to the car, as cameras filmed the entire debacle.

That elder statesman left in a blaze of anger, depression, trauma and scorned pride. Never before in the community, has a man been so humiliated, publicly decried and cast out in such a dramatic fashion.

The entire debacle was quite possibly the most divisive, destructive and pathetic thing I’ve ever seen and as a dark horse myself, it was also surprisingly illuminating into how politics work. I had flashbacks of infamous assassinations in history, from Caesar’s betrayal to Trotsky’s death.

If an injury has to be done to a man, it should be so severe that his vengeance need not be feared – Niccolo Machiavelli.

This injury was so severe, the man was hospitalised soon after, his entire world upended by the past 4 hours.

It just so happens, that the man who left the public inquiry, (more or less a public trial) in hysterics and tears was my father.

Speaking from a more emotional side, and as his son, I am torn between 70% pity and 30% resignation.

I pity the man and am sorrowful for his mental collapse. This is a man who has sacrificed everything, including his family, for the Vietnamese community.

All his work, passion, thoughts and energy went in service of the community. Every second sentence out of his mouth, was about how much he loved serving the community, how much he despised the Communists for taking over Vietnam and how his current project, a community centre in Victoria, meant everything to him.

He lived, breathed and now …. sacrificed everything for the community.

The other part of me, is resigned because this was a long time coming. His passion sometimes fuelled his pride too much and caused clashes with other headstrong individuals in the community. His inability to apologise for faults of his own making, and words had created dangerous enemies. There is a stubbornness of an ox in him, and naturally it was bound to cause division.

The past 7 months, he has become a brow-beaten individual. I have witnessed a incredible decay slowly tear away at him, from the inside. At first, I thought he was recovering but now … he is finished. Finished in every sense of the word. He has given up the fight inside of him, and is now more or less on autopilot. He doesn’t sleep properly, nor eat, nor can properly string together sentences well.

To provide context into what has caused the downfall of my father, you need to be aware of a couple salient facts.

  1. He is essentially one of the toughest individuals I know. Stubborn, resolute, honourable … his moral compass is unwavering. He has passed on better paying jobs, because he refuses to bend his moral code.
  2. Sacrifice is almost normal for him … only recently, has he really opened up about how he feels tremendous guilt for not being there more for my brother and I when we were growing up. This devotion to the community, has nearly robbed him of his family too.
  3. Stoicism is another trait of his that has really developed some questionable mental health issues that should have been treated long ago. Whilst I describe myself as stoic, I am also highly aware of my own emotional issues and perform weekly mental checks to be aware of my own state. From the moment I am awake, I am always hyper aware of my emotions and my consciousness works tirelessly to ensure my sub-conscious does not take over. My father does not have that level of self-awareness. He is ill-equipped to deal with his own failures, successes and his own mental health. Thus he hardly ever opens up, preferring to build upon the rot that is taking hold of him from the inside. This is a quintessential old man attitude to problem solving.
  4. He has dedicated more than 30 years of his life to the Vietnamese community. He is revered by many and respected by almost all.
  5. Lastly, were you to meet him in his prime, the only real way to describe him is a fervent revolutionary and patriot. Whilst I am sure he would object to the word, a fundamentalist is not an inaccurate term. For him, the world is very black or white, friend or foe, hero or villain.

Hence to accuse this pillar of the community, with suspicions of embezzlement and poor management is an incredibly deep blow to my father’s reputation. This is in light of his already touchy trigger point when it comes to money, due to a 2-year long lawsuit several years prior in which another member of the community accused my father of embezzlement.

His short fuse, becomes essentially a trigger, the moment any mention of money is involved and this was in the context of the community centre which he has ran from decades and is his biggest passion project. To strike so deeply at his very core, shook him immensely. It didn’t help one iota that these accusations came from his best friends, his proteges and people he had known for many years.

Naturally to have an public inquiry into his conduct, only one man had the power to call for such a open discussion into my father, the President of the Vietnamese Community, a man, my father once called a brother and personally groomed for the role, after his own retirement from the role.

Much like the Cain and Abel story, the current President had transformed into an entirely different person, his conduct becoming more political and phony, with every conversation I have had with the man, dripping with condescension, arrogance and insincere remarks. He behaves as if he is always standing in front of a journalist, with a mic in front of him …. his political double-speak and roundabout ways of describing things, a rather sickening aspect of his personality.

It doesn’t help that he lacks many loyal supporters, is indecisive and far too pedantic about small things, to really see the larger picture and the futility of his angry actions.

Petty, cowardly and spineless, the current President pinned the blame for an increase in land ownership payment squarely on the shoulders of my father, a move that is typical of his ilk. The irony of the entire situation was not lost on me, as in a move to try and cement his power, he underlined the weakness of his own, for in failing to address this payment it only highlighted the inefficiencies and ineffectiveness of his leadership.

It would be amusing, if it wasn’t all so pathetic.

In the lead-up to the trial, my father had become so distraught and lost, that he ventured down a very dark path. Constantly watching samurai films, reflecting on the potential loss …. indulging in nihilistic thoughts … it came to a head that he asked for a family meeting and handed us his suicide note.

I ended up being the only one who read it, having had experience in writing and reading other people’s final thoughts before.

My brother and mother couldn’t bring themselves to do it.

When you view someone’s note, it always make for heart-wrenching reading. The whole note reeks of desperation, a plea for help and a futile helplessness that always ends up making the whole experience pathetic.

Because in many ways the truth is pathetic.

Everything we do is small in terms of the universe and such a concept is too humbling because we lose ourselves in it. Hence when you read someone’s final thoughts, you feel wretched reading it, and you know that the person felt equally terrible writing it.

But my father held on for this Sunday’s public hearing.

He had this hope that justice would prevail.

However, when I walked in and observed how the trial would go, I instantly clued in to the trap.

The facilitator was a compatriot of the President. The President didn’t seemed fazed by the video testimony of my father’s. My father’s supporters had their time cut short, due to “time constraints” which honestly had zero merit nor meaning. The facilitator would ask his own questions, chiming in to the interrogation and shouting over answers which his ridiculously tone-deaf attitude.

Then there was the hostile public, who often asked questions that had zero relation to the context of the meeting, and in a stereotypical Vietnamese fashion, would ask the same question in a different manner, just to have their ego stroked. This ensured the meeting went on much, much longer than necessary, a tactic that would be applauded by interrogators world-wide as it ensures the mental strain is enhanced by the slowness of everything occurring.

My father’s already fractured mental state would have broken even more under the constant barrage of questions which is again, another well known interrogation technique used in questioning suspects.

This trial wasn’t really a trial. It was essentially a trap designed around breaking down my father to a raw emotional state, so that it seemed that he was too emotionally distraught to make any rational decisions, thus nullifying his power and position as the lead of the heritage centre.

In contrast, the President would seem cool, rational and saintly, for having tolerated such an emotional subordinate for so long.

How could such a trial be a trial, without a clear outcome at the end? What was the purpose of this actual meeting? Why present my father before the public, as a scapegoat if the outcome was to prove/disprove his innocence? No such answers were provided at the end of the meeting, only political manoeuvring and heavy insinuations.

Instead, they asked the public to contribute questions on how to fundraise more money. That was none of the public’s concern. It was the committee’s job to think about how. Not the public.

But it did provide the opportunity for the public to ask even further questions and drag my father’s name further in the dirt.

It worked.

Because up until now, it seemed OK. My father was holding it together. The trap wasn’t too horrible to bear. Then they asked questions about one of his closest friends and before she could probably answer, the overbearing, pompous facilitator interrupted her, cutting her off.

This was the final straw. My father whose hands were covering his hand, could no longer stand by idly. Something inside of him snapped and he screamed at the entire crowd, before rushing out. His closest friends tried to stop him, afraid that he would do something rash. Opponents also rushed him, demanding him to stay and answer questions. My mother and brother screamed at everyone to let him go.

Utter chaos, mass hysteria.

I was frozen, unable to comprehend that sheer panic that had just happened. But I did note the expressions of his detractors and noted the smug expressions. So I merely picked up my father’s belongings, my own and followed the mob out, shutting off phones in the process, and staring at my father going stark raving mad.

I managed to push my way through to his car, and opened the door so that my family could get in. I only had just shut the door and said sternly, for everyone to Fuck Off when one of our closest family friends got in and drove off.

He was admitted into hospital literally 20 minutes later.

I followed suit in my car, with my best friend beside me. Everyone was concerned about me, but I knew that I had held everything together. I wasn’t going to get emotional, despite what I had just saw.

I was in control still.

A brief glimmer of pride blossomed inside of me, before it was instantaneously replaced with concern. So I followed my family to the hospital, where thankfully my father had calmed down enough.

There are some things that are traumatic to witness from a child’s perspective. Seeing your father essentially go crazy for a brief period, with hands grabbing at him constantly is one of those things. Tears, screams, wails and crazed expressions are horrible.

Fathers, for all their stereotypes, aren’t meant to weep nor show strong displays of emotions. Even in the family meeting he was subdued. But here my family and I were, confronted with a true image of the demon that controlled him inside.

Even now, I get the feeling I will never shake that image out of my head.

There is a reason why I am writing all of this now, because first and foremost, writing has always been my greatest therapeutic asset. I write when I am stressed, nervous, afraid, concerned, or confused. It allows me to recognise, sort and decipher all the complex emotion I am experiencing.

Even now, as I type these words out, I can feel my mind coming to grips with what happened yesterday better and better. I don’t have any particularly strong feelings of revenge, like my brother and mum. I am purely focused on helping my dad recover, to rediscover himself and find a new purpose.

He had sacrificed being a human being, with a curiosity for the world and other worldly pursuits for the community. I was determined to ensure this wasn’t going to happen again.

A big part of why he had turned into the shell of his former self, was because he devoted every waking moment to the community and the fight against Communism. He had no other pursuits, no other hobbies, nothing to take his mind off his work.

He was curious as to how I knew so much about fashion, about history, about guns and militarism. I told him flatly that I wasn’t devoted to just one thing, like he was.

I took him golfing, because as a man in his 60s, he wanted to keep up with me in tennis, but his body wouldn’t let him. So what better sport than golf? Out in the sunshine, beautiful greenery and swinging a club …. he could actually relax and focus on something different entirely.

He told me he had fun.

I told him, that fun was crucial for a good lifestyle.

He desperately needed a hobby where he could detox away from his phone and responsibility, and thus learn to appreciate the small things in life, whether it be a fine wine, the sensation of club against ball or the scent of rain.

He had lost his zeal for life, and thus when his only purpose was taken away too … he had nothing to live for.

The classic salaryman issue that plagues a lot of Asia.

Working with him, to rediscover himself, won’t be easy. But he is a strong man, and I have faith in his strength that he will get over this setback. The war might be over for him, but in a way, I am sure, deep down he is happy he can finally retire from it all.

It is always a freeing feeling to be away from toxic people and there were no better examples that those in the community who cast him out, despite his achievements.

Perhaps one day, I shall go into detail why the Vietnamese Community in Australia (Victoria) is such a toxic and poisonous chalice, but understand that it has a lot to do with the fact that many of its members are older generations Vietnamese, who had arrived to Australia with little in common with the host country. From English, to possessions, many Vietnamese people scrabbled to make a living, with many successfully doing so.

But the issue itself are the members within this community organisation, whose Anti-Communist rhetoric often falls upon deaf ears on the younger generation of children who are born with a foot in both worlds.

But then who can blame the children, whose very existence never knew the humidity of Vietnam’s jungles, nor the waters of the South China Seas. They can only imagine the world their parents describe, and then count themselves lucky to be born in a country that is technologically generations ahead of their parent’s homeland.

This inflammatory rhetoric only serves to alienate the two generations further. The feeling of isolation and the peculiar sense that time is running out to see their homeland free, causes many members to develop strong fundamentalist and patriotic views towards a country long deceased and forgotten in history; South Vietnam.

This ironically leads to many people, including the President himself, to copy and enforce rulings that are often seen in place at Communist parties.

From restrictions on language, silencing those who disagree, creating an atmosphere of fear, the community has long turned its back on nurturing the younger generation to take over and now exist as a shallow version of itself, focused only on pleasing the egos of the hardliners within.

It is without certain ironic amusement, that I note how my father have become an almost Trotsky-like figure, in which his critiques of the current administration are scathing and annoying. Then there are his loyal supporters, who range from young to old, a far cry from the current President’s popularity which only exists in a opportunistic, and controlling sense from the more old, ultra-nationalistic side.

Now with his banishment, engineered by a Stalinist-type ruler, I can only say that history often has a cruel sense of humour about how things play out.

Irony, upon irony … it’s often funny how no matter whether you are communist, or anti-communist, betrayals and political machinations have the same flavour anywhere and any time in history.

Doubtless my father will probably give me the biggest scolding, for comparing the current situation he finds himself, to the one of the founders of the Soviet Union, but that is the historical comparison I can best find off the top of my head.

But then, the current community itself, is as splintered and dangerous as the Soviets were in their formative years, so perhaps I am not too far off.

On a more personal note, I have decided to resign from the Lunar New Year Festival that has come to define so much of my personality and drive. There was a key moment for this decision.

Shortly, after my father was hospitalised, I wanted to prove something for myself. Such a faux trial scheme clearly took planning and a certain je ne sais quoi to pull off. I would admire it, if it wasn’t my father in the crosshairs.

But what had eluded me was the motive. Understandably, some people need no motive to see a man suffer, but in the case of the President I had to know why he had chosen to take such drastic action against his mentor and former brother-in-arms.

So I rang him. I decided that I would not be angry, nor emotional. I was completely civil, earnest and polite.

I started with a direct question, unwilling to tolerate any bullshit. After all, the trial was already 4 hours of bullshit that I was sick of hearing.

Why do you hate my dad?

The President was silent for a heartbeat, no doubt incredulous. He asked me to repeat my question.

OK, look, I want you to be completely honest with me. I can take it. I just want the truth.

Why do you hate my dad?

I don’t hate your dad! exclaimed the President.

OK fine. A bit of a harsh question, fair enough. Fine. Why do you dislike my dad then?

I don’t dislike your dad either! shot back the President.

Then what was the point of this whole thing today? There was no outcome, the entire thing was pointless. You …

He cuts me off indignantly, about how he didn’t say much, despite my own eyes witnessing him take the mic more than 20 times the entire session.

I cut him off again, and ask him why he was avoiding question. He replied with the statement

Look you’re being too emotional. I don’t think you’re in the right state of mind.

I scoff at the obvious statement. “A son has his father hospitalised and he’s emotional. Quite. Yet here I am, sensing you are the emotional one.” I think to myself before saying soothingly.

OK fine, you don’t dislike my dad. That was wrong of me to assume. If you don’t dislike my dad, then just tell me a couple of things you like about him then.

The President goes silent. In my own mind, I’m laughing at the ease of the checkmate.

Look, your dad and I are very different people. We don’t have to like or dislike one another to work together …. I

I cut him off. Political speak has always given me a bad case of allergies. I didn’t want him to exacerbate it further.

OK, I see how it is. You can’t tell me. It’s alright. Look, I just want to say that I am resigning from the TET Festival, effective immediately. You understand?

I …. OK.

I see how this is now. Thanks. Have a good night *click*

As I hung up, I knew that I made the right decision to call him. I wanted to prove without a doubt, that I was dealing with a man as slimy as I saw up in front of 100 other people. I was offering him an olive branch, a chance to see his morals, and how he would react under real pressure. After all, this is the son you are talking to, the son of a man you hospitalised. I wanted to see if the man was as phony behind closed doors as he was in public.

A villain would have snatched the opportunity to rub it in further. He would have laughed at my pain, and explained his motive. I hurt your dad, because he once stole a candy bar from me!

A hero would have tried to lessen the blow. I didn’t mean for it to go this far. I only did this because I believed your father was stopping our community from progressing.

The President of the Vietnamese Community in Victoria, was neither of those things.

Even in victory, he was a coward.

I can work for a villain or a hero. They have motives, purpose … reason.

But I can’t work for a coward.

A man who idly let everyone else do his dirty work? A guy who stands from afar at the mess he creates, letting others fight his battles? That’s not a leader, that’s a hyena. A pathetic scavenger.

A coward representing me? That goes against every single piece of military history, advice, and rule I hold dear in my heart.

So I quit.

Even now, I am still shocked at my decision to let go of a festival that I have bled for (literally), for nearly 7 years.

But I knew that I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror if I worked for a shitty boss. I am my own man for a reason.

And I’ll be damned if I let some spineless sonvuabitch throw me under the bus, much less be forced to have a conversation with that SOB lest my allergies crop up again.

The only issue is the team that have loyally helped and supported me over the years. They deserve to know everything and why I chose to quit and leave them alone finally for a year. I will make a solemn promise though to immediately call upon them and offer payment for services rendered when I am finally my own event manager. They are far too talented, skilled and studious to abandon to the whims of a madcap President.

After yesterday, there is definitely some bizarre trauma still etched upon my psyche. I have no doubt that I will get over it soon, judging from my own emotional performance yesterday, but like a scar, I will always look upon it and remember the circumstances that came with it.

But right now, it is not my mental well-being that needs help. It is my father’s.

If you are reading this, Dad, you should be aware of the Macchiavelli maxim.

Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are.

I think you should be proud that everyone you ever met, always experienced what you really are.

~ Damocles.

B30 Week 85 Rundown

Significant investments have been made since my last Rundown.

It has been 45 weeks, since my last B30 Rundown post, all the way back in August 2020.

I’ve since upgraded from running on the streets with just limited T-shirts and one pair of short, to full-blown product placement Under Armour athletic wear.

I have also taken up tennis as my preferred means of staying fit and has kept a consistent diet, trying to limit my meals to smaller portions every day.

Although I will confess that lately, the past week or so, has seen me relapsed a bit. I do need to get my eating under control again.

Mind you, it isn’t anything drastic, but it is more an observation that I ate more sweets and sugary drinks the last 7 days than normal, (which is to say I actually don’t normally eat any of that stuff) so the priority this week is to cull that and really limit the amount of sugar and preservatives I am consuming.

Over the past 40 odd weeks, I have gone through another 2 weeks of lockdown, instability in my work-life balance and resumed poor sleeping times.

Despite those hindrances in the B30 Challenge, my overall fitness has increased and I can happily say that I am nearer my goal of sub-70kgs than ever before.

I am currently sitting at 72kgs, which is the lightest I’ve ever been and the leanest.

I credit tennis for keeping me this healthy and for the obsession I currently have with topspin. Tennis in combination with a stricter diet has allowed me to finally look at my body with pride and develop a healthy ego regarding my fitness.

It has also sparked a lot of side effects that I’ve adopted.

The first real carry-over that being fit has instilled in me, is a healthy work-life balance routine that means that I spend less time at home and more time outdoors, actually being around people and enjoying the sun. My days feel more full, more active and I feel better at home, knowing that I earned a rest, instead of feeling lazy.

Going home feels like I am recovering and that is a much more satisfying feeling than I felt about home for a long time. It is nice to go home with a bit of an ache/soreness in the muscles and then feel rejuvenated after a good night sleep.

The second effect was a desire to maintain my looks. Vanity has slowly crept in, my confidence now soaring higher than it has ever been, and I am now much more conscious of my fashion, hairstyle and skin. I experiment more with my clothes, from wearing a haori casually out and about to colour coordinating my UA outfits to ensure they all match and gel with other.

I have probably spent more on clothes this year than I have ever done the past 3 years and this all stems from a true desire to push my looks forward into something much more confident. I will humbly brag that my colourful wardrobe from UA does make me feel and look like a professional player and indicate that I have some kind of sponsorship (when that is far from the truth). From the mask, down to the shoes, everything is Under Armour and I take a certain amount of pride in that.

Skincare is another element that is now a serious factor in my lifestyle. Working from 10am to 6pm, then doing an additional 2 hours of tennis/football (split – 1.5 hours tennis : 0.5 hours football) means that my skin is taking a whole new level of dirt and particulates. In searching for a skincare brand that would suit me, my ever beauty-conscious girlfriend recommended me AESOP. It ended up being the perfect type of skincare for someone like myself, with my more lazy but expensive approach to skincare.

Aesop is definitely not cheap, but I could instantly tell the difference upon using their basic 3-step process to skincare. Cleanser – Toner – Moisturiser. I only use them once, daily, but the feeling I get from them, is quite luxurious. My skin feels cleaner, softer to touch and seemingly heals a lot quicker too. For someone who has been reluctant to wash my face, due to innate laziness … this has been something of a revelation to me and I now appreciate taking some extra time to clean my face after my daily exercises.

The final point in this vanity section is my haircut, which I have long maintained is the key between an average Damocles and an above average Damocles. I no longer wait 3 to 4 months between trims, instead preferring to go bimonthly to ensure I get maximum use out of my hair, and maintaining a neat, clean look at all times.

Speaking of hair vanity, another crucial development in my conditioning has been football. For Australians/American readers, I am referring to soccer, but I shall be maintaining the rest of the world’s vernacular and refer to the sport as football.

A recent new obsession, and I suppose with the world of sports (F1, Tennis, Football …. I wonder if NFL is next?) I have taken up football in my spare time, to improve my tennis skills. A key ability in football is the skill to accelerate, and perform rapid changes in direction, something that will help me immensely in tennis. I also happen to note that a lot of professional athletes in Formula 1 and tennis engage with a football quite often, as it improves conditioning, cardio, hand (foot)-eye coordination and a whole host of other benefits.

I wanted to emulate that spirit and promptly bought my first pair of boots (UA of course, but soon to be added are a pair of Nike Mercurials) and a football to practice.

Kicking something has never been so fun, and I was immediately transported to the fun I had in high school, as a member of the football team. Curving a football is now my most immediate concern, my desire to top bin the football via a ridiculous curve an obsession that has only grown with each hour of practice.

I’ve yet to pick a team to barracks for, but I am sure that will come soon. My timing could not be more great, as the UEFA EURO2020 is currently airing and I am finding myself absorbed by the game, atmosphere and tension.

Football is not something I want to compete in, unlike tennis, however owning to my ridiculous ego and competitive spirit, I do want to get to a level in football where I can best all my friends easily and hold my head up high, knowing that I can do advanced dribbles, score well and more importantly pass accurately.

I should also mention that since getting into football, a rather large crush has been developed on the star, Cristiano Ronaldo. His attitude, drive and confidence are all things I aspire to, and I’ve also become a lot more health conscious, following his rejection of Coca-Cola ($4 billion dollar loss … incredible). It still shocks me how a role model can truly affect the way how you live, and I am thankful he is one of the best men to emulate.

Tennis still remains my number one priority however, with a true desire to compete on a higher level and represent my club in some form.

The daily practice is slowly paying off too, with my usual tennis partner surprised that I could serve for once, after nearly 5 months of struggling. What also helped was a more critical and objective based mindset in my training, making sure that I could get a more narrow window of consistency and accuracy, really punishing myself when I couldn’t get a forehand in my narrow window of opportunity.

For this, I can thank both Cristiano Ronaldo for his infamous reputation of being first in and last out for training sessions and the quiet voice of Lucas Botkin from T-REX ARMS urging me to have more purpose in my training sessions. After all, I can’t expect to improve myself with sloppy and wasteful training. I need to ensure each session has set goals, and high standards so that my 90% becomes the new 100% and it only continues to rise from there.

The final side effect of my constant training is my competitive spirit, which has gone up considerably. I used to be in denial about how competitive I was, preferring to let things go and seethe quietly in resentment and envy. Nowadays however, there is a motto I live by: Second place is the first loser which I remember was emblazoned across a billboard in Japan’s Suzuka Circuit and has stuck with me ever since.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that I despise losing in whatever it is that I do. To lose, without any signs of improving is probably the worst sensation I can experience in sport, and is deeply bitter to me. I can handle loss, as long as it is another step to getting better.

A good example is my last tennis session. Having lost my last set, 4-6 to my opponent in our last practice session, I was not overly disappointed, as it was my first actual attempt at serving properly, with my racket actually serving a couple of aces, and putting into practice a lot of the techniques I’ve experimented with in my training.

Losing 4-6 was a huge improvement over my previous games, which I normally lose 1-6. It also helped that my football dribbling practice came in a huge way, allowing me to really move around the court with speed and precision.

What was key though, was that I walked away from that experience knowing what my weak points are and what I need to focus on in my training.

I’m grateful that nowadays with my routine and life, I can find the energy to be more serious about my hobbies and still get a lot of enjoyment out of them. I am also exceedingly grateful that all my exercise and dieting has actually allowed me to do a normal pull-up for once in my life.

Only the other day, I managed to rip 5 in succession, a huge improvement over my entire life, if I am honest.

It feels good to know that everything I am doing, is improving all aspects of my life, and that I am well on track to beating my personal challenge of being the best version I can be, before the ripe old age of 30.

This is probably the best version of Damocles that has come so far, and the beautiful thing, it can only go up from here if I keep at it.

~ Damocles.