Out and about: Chasing the Dragon

October has been amazing month of cinema releases for me. The last I am going to write about is Chasing The Dragon. Hong Kong cinema is considered to be in its death throws. There are small independent films of course, but its far from its hey day with production houses known around the world like Shaw Brothers, Golden Harvest or Media Asia.

Mainland productions have the money and many technical experts and directors now work across the border. Korea has come on in leaps and bounds taking up the overseas arthouse audience.

There aren’t many new stars coming through, even in Chasing the Dragon; character actors and main stars are largely industry veterans since the 1990s. However, Chasing the Dragon gives me some hope for the Hong Kong film. Its an unashamedly Hong Kong film focusing on the economic boom of the 1960s and mid-1970s. It is a technical tour-de-force. Much of the Hong Kong shown in the film from old Wan Chai to the Kowloon walled city only exist in fading photographs. So much of it was green screened in instead.

It is probably too local for a mainland audience to fully appreciate the nuances and historical references. It shows a Hong Kong on the ascendancy, rather than suffering under a century of shame. It also holds up an unflinching view of British colonialism with its rampant individual corruption.

A modern British audience would have very little idea of how serving British police officers at all levels and government officials were central cogs in the corruption. Eventually the stench got to much when chief superintendent Peter Godber was found to have over $600,000 US stashed away.

Andy Lau plays ‘Lee Rock’ a clear analogue of Lui Mo Lok (呂慕樂) a corrupt policeman known as the The Five-Hundred-Million-Dollar Inspector by Hong Kong people. In some respects one can view Chasing The Dragon as a reboot of the 1991 film Lee Rock II where Lau played the same character through the same time period. Chasing the Dragon adds verve, detail and taunt storytelling to the mix.

The film is being shown at the Odeon in Panton Street.

 

Out and about: The Villainess (Ak-Nyeo)

This month has been a vintage month for cinema in London. The Villainess is a Korean film built around actress Kim Ok-bin. It is a vengeance film and there will be comparisons to the likes of Oldboy. There are also hints of Nikita and Kill Bill (which in turn raided Asian cinema mercilessly).

The Villainess

It is the most ‘kinetic’ film that I have seen in a long time with visceral action scenes, fast editing and amazing steadicam work. The plot has a number of twists and turns in it.

Get out, watch it (it has been running at the Prince Charles cinema).

Out and about: Blade Runner 2049

*** No plot spoilers*** Where do you start when talking about the most hyped film of the year?

Blade Runner 2049 starts up some 20 years after the original film. It captures the visuals of the original film, moving it onwards.  The plot has a series of recursive sweeps that tightly knit both films together which at times feels a little forced, a bit like the devices used to join Jeremy Renner’s Bourne Legacy to the Matt Damon canon.

Blade Runner 2049

The 1982 film took the neon, rain and high density living of Hong Kong in the late summer and packaged it up for a western audience.  Ever since I first saw  it represented a darker, but more colourful future. I felt inspired, ready to embrace the future warts and all after seeing it for the first time.

The new film is a darker greyer vision largely devoid of hope. You still see the Pan Am and Atari buildings of the first film, now joined with brands like Diageo. The police cars are now made by Peugeot. It also captures the visual language of the book, something that Scott hadn’t done in the original to the same extent. In the book, Dick (and the Dekkard character) obsess on how the depopulated world’s crumbling ephemera is rapidly becoming dust.

Visually the film dials down its influences from Hong Kong, Tokyo or Singapore and instead borrows from the crumbling industrial relics of the west and third world scrap driven scavenging from e-waste in China and Ghana to the ship breaking yards of Bangladesh. The filthy smog and snow is like a lurid tabloid exposé of northern China’s choking pollution during the winter. It paints a vision more in tune with today. Automation and technology have disrupted society, but orphans are still exploited for unskilled labour and vice is rampant.

Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford do very capable performances. And they are supported by a great ensemble of cast members of great character actors at the top of their game. Dave Bautista, Robin Wright, Barkhad Abdi (Eye in The Sky) and David Dastmalchian (MacGyver, Antman, and The Dark Knight). The one let down is Jared Leto – who now seems to play the same character in every film since his career high point of Dallas Buyer’s Club – I suspect that this is as much a problem with casting as performance. I think he needs to be cast against type more.

For a three-hour film it still manages to hold your attention and draw you in to its universe without feeling tired. It’s also a film that forces you to think, so if you are looking for visual wallpaper for the mind a la Marvel’s Avengers series of films it won’t be for you.

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Five for Friday | 五日(星期五)

Things that made my day this week:

Want to know what all the fuss is about with regards WeChat? Vivienne Wei put together this great (if unstructured) video about how WeChat is the swiss army knife of apps in China. Check it out

Carl Jr is a casual eating restaurant chain in the US. It is owned by the same people who won Hardee’s. Carl Jr is known for producing frat boy / brogrammer-friendly adverts like these

Wiser heads seem to have prevailed in the marketing department, so they came up with this ad to press reset using humour rather than the indignation of political correctness

Vice and New Balance have put together a documentary on the Japanese adoption of the footwork sub-culture. Japan has a history of adopting a subculture (like dancehall) and elevating it. Chicago’s footwork skills look like they are getting the same treatment

The King of Monster Island Godzilla is back in an anime film. The plot looks like Avatar – humans coming to wipe out planet for commercial / political benefits. Of course all of that plan will go to shit when they find out the inhabitants aren’t lanky blue people but the original kaiju bad boy and friends.

I got to see Baby Driver. It is a curious mashup of

  • 1980s style films popularised by John Hughes
  • 1990s to the present day gritty heist films

The iPod makes a come back in the film in a spectacular way, expect a minor cultural backlash against ‘radio’ as music service currently popular. Personally curated, shareable music and physical artefacts come to the fore. (Though I still can’t see young men proudly carrying rhinestone encrusted pink iPods just yet).

Takeaways: In2 Innovation Summit

I got invited to The Holmes Report‘s innovation summit. This happened earlier in the day than The Sabre EMEA awards. 

Untitled

Here were my takeouts in no particular order:
 
  • Brad Staples presentation on reputation in a fake news environment gave me deja vu. It reminded me of corporate communications thinking when social media came to prominence. In many respects the symptoms are the same. The agenda running out-of-control like a force of nature. Yet, it is only the momentum has changed, core principles to address reputation are the same. There was an increased emphasis on monitoring. Monitoring and response became even more important than with social media’s rise
  • The age-old tension between specialist and generalist continues to roll onwards. Alan Vandermolen saw medium-sized agencies as sitting in a ‘Goldilocks’ position. Small enough for your business to matter and being able to move fast. Large enough to have the right expertise and scale in place. The challenge to his argument is global agencies consolidating a one-stop shop offering. Vandermolen didn’t address the move away from being a ‘PR agency’. The Holmes Report had highlighted their concern in a recent opinion piece. Vandermolen was also concerned with the disappearance of PR professionals on the client side. He cited United Airways customer problems from broken guitars to dragging passengers off planes. The discussion didn’t cover how the airline’s focus on shareholder value had corrupted customer-centricity
  • Matt Battersby and Dan Berry looked at public relations and behavioural economics. What I found interesting is how this provided a direct linkage to return on investment. Yet the audience didn’t pick up on this in questions. It also represented a content challenge to agencies. It flips the typical messages that they would look deliver (driven by what’s news)
  • There was a tension between what agencies could do and what clients wanted. Abby Guthkelch wanted a more agile approach to content that was also more cost effective. This meant that she often worked with inhouse staff and content development agencies. There was a strong sense that creative ideas and concepts were not worth paying for. This puts little value in communications agencies. Content marketing poses an existential threat to PR agencies margins. It was interesting that marketing automation didn’t come up in discussions. Inhouse panelists preferred to move capability inhouse rather than relying on offshoring work
  • Finally, there was the evergreen theme of marketers and PRs speaking different languages. PRs need to get comfortable with data and charts. They need to think about testing. This needs to happen whilst budgets are static or in decline. A way forward is to move down the marketing funnel to be closer to the sale in e-commerce and via social channels. I found the continued faith in influencers of interest. I was surprised at the lack of concern shown on the agency side for zero-based budgeting at clients
More information

I’ve been a bit quiet

I’ve been a bit quiet due to work and life intervening.  Alongside my work in looking at strategy through a data-centric lens I have also taken on a content strategy role on a project.  This isn’t about:

  • Coming up with a few social ideas
  • Editorial direction

But a much wider approach that takes a systems approach to content. What it is, where should it be and how it should be refreshed. With this in in mind I can thoroughly recommend The Content Strategy Toolkit: Methods, Guidelines, and Templates for Getting Content Right by Meghan Casey.

Meghan also provides a set of downloadable template to make your life even easier. I found the book relatively easy to digest but still have it about as a reference book on my current project.

I can also recommend the current British Museum exhibition: The American Dream – pop to the present. I really liked the works from the NASA art programme by Robert Rauschenberg that celebrated the Apollo programme.

Magic Lantern Festival, Chiswick House Gardens

The Magic Lantern Festival reminded me a bit of the Chinese New Year fairs that I have been to in the past in terms of the hustle and bustle. Turnham Green tube station is just over a mile away on foot.

Lee Kum Kee Premium Oyster Sauce

It’s hard to get good photographs of the displays because of the crowds, but I’ve put some of them here. The festival is open until the end of February.

The Brexit post (part 1)

Generally I find politics a bit too grubby and dirty for this blog and have only touched it when I absolutely, positively didn’t have a choice.

On June 23, 2016 the UK goes to the polls to vote on whether the country should stay in or leave the European Union.

Over the next few days I will be writing two posts (this is the first one). The first of which is about how it has all been presented. The second post will be a guide for my non-UK based friends on what the hell it all means.

Political marketing generally isn’t the most amazing work, though there have been iconic campaigns. Given the momentous decision ahead of voters you would think that there would be a creative advertising campaign.

The US has led the way in iconic political campaigns. My favourites being the ‘Daisy’ ad used by Lyndon B. Johnson against Barry Goldwater.

Ronald Reagan’s ‘It’s morning in America again’ which is curiously soothing yet exceptionally emotive

Barack Obama’s simple messages of ‘Hope’, ‘Change You Can Believe In’ and ‘Yes We Can’ together with a focus on repetition and reach brought out the vote in his favour.

The UK has come up with good campaigns too; the Saatchi brothers ‘Britain Isn’t Working’ that helped get Margaret Thatcher the first time around. Ironically the poster doesn’t contain real unemployed people, but 20 Conservative party members shot over and over again to create the ‘conga line’.
Labour isn't working
It is such an iconic poster that the Labour party still has to jump over the hurdle of proving it wrong 30 years after its publication.

By comparison Vote In’s adverts lack… creativity and any sort of emotion to pull the audience in. It is like they are selling machine parts to procurement professionals, not a life-changing decision.

Ryanair’s campaign discounted flights for expats to come back to the UK and vote to remain has more engaging creative. WTF.
ryanair

Vote Leave isn’t much better. Let’s start off with their domain strategy ‘voteleavetakecontrol.org’ – Google’s Adwords team must have been rubbing their hands with joy. For a campaign the ideal URL would have been voteleave.co.uk (which is a rick roll link) or brexit.com. According to redirect on brexit.com

www.Brexit.com & www.Brexit.co.uk were offered to the various national Out campaign groups for no charge.
After no contact was offered in response it is now up for sale.
£3500

School boy error. If you look at their content, they have managed to latch on to emotive themes, but the production values of the material look as it has been done by Dave in Doncaster who does wedding videos on the weekend.

And as we have less than a week to go to the polls the quality of the marketing isn’t likely to get any better.
Around London
In fact, the best piece of advertising for either side that I have seen was in Whitechapel. It is simple, snappy, emotive and likely done by an art student given the lack of declaration of campaign affiliation (i.e. a call to action to visit strongerin.co.uk or a claim that it was done on behalf of ‘Stronger In’ or ‘The In Campaign Limited’).

One last thought to ponder in this post

WPP in particular has a reputation for hiring marketing talent from political campaigns, and these people are sold on to clients as fresh thinkers and doers for their brands. Positive examples of this would be Obama campaign veterans Thomas Gensemer and Amy Gershkoff, or my old colleague Pat Ford who worked on Ronald Reagan’s campaign.

There will be marketers getting jobs with serious salaries on the back of this work and the designer of ‘Brits Don’t Quit’ will be working in an intern farm somewhere if they’re lucky. Life just isn’t fair.

More Information
Campaign on Labour Isn’t Working.
Ryanair’s EU referendum ad investigated by police | The Guardian – it might be illegal, but at least it has a pulse.
Thomas Gensemer LinkedIn profile
Amy Gershkoff LinkedIn profile
Patrick Ford LinkedIn profile

Out and about: Granny’s Got Talent | 헬머니

The Korean Cultural Centre has a fortnightly screening of films. The latest one that I went to was Granny’s Got Talent or 헬머니 (pronounced Helmeoni – a literal translation would be Hell Granny).

The premise is built around an old woman who is released from jail. She lost contact with her eldest son and tries to build that connection whilst living with her youngest son. The eldest son is a salary man with an over-bearing set of rich in-laws. The youngest son an inveterate gambler. To bail the youngest son out of trouble she participates in a Korean reality TV show based around cursing and chaos ensues. Veteran Korean actress carries off the role of Hell Granny with aplomb. I laughed so hard at some points I ended up crying.

The raucous bawdy humour works despite subtitles and has some amazing comedic set-pieces. But this rudeness is only the top layer in the story, where the viewer gets a glimpse at the hard life a strong woman had to live in a fast-developing South Korea.

The film works on a number of levels touching a number of distinctly  Korean themes including the obsession with hierarchy, its turbulent political past, the corrupt aspects of chaebols and the love of family (no matter how dysfunctional).

More Information
Movie page on Daum in Korean

Quick notes from Hacks and Hackers London

I went to the Hacks and Hackers presentations this evening host at the Institute of Directors and here is a summary of the notes that I made.

Simon Rogers is ex-Guardian and Twitter. He talked about how Google uses Google Trends, combining it with third party data such as information from the likes of Associated Press. They build some nice visualisations around them. Most of the data that they used was basically the same data that consumers had access to through the Google Trends tool. Google seem to deliberately restrained in terms of the data that they could deploy on this, but they did work on tightening up and redefining regions from the way their internal data held it to the way it related to the real world.

There was some nice work done that looked at associated search terms that came up by people who searched for US presidential candidate names. It reminded me of the work that Hunch did around consumer behaviour patterns and likely political beliefs – but less sophisticated. (Hunch was bought by eBay and eventually shut down).

Kate Day talked about the launch of US site Politico in Europe. The business had a split business model with a B2B subscription offering that provided European Parliament intelligence. and a more conventional consumer advertising audience model which targeted people who were professionally interested in European parliamentary politics.

From an editorial point of view stories which drove big peaks in traffic often brought in the wrong kind of audience who either wouldn’t be likely to return, or ‘get’ the content on offer.

Targeting on social media was purely done through careful selection of the copywriting, which requires professional knowledge and a desire to self select as a ‘policy wonk’ rather than using Facebook or Twitter’s ad targeting mechanisms. In common with other subject areas regular coverage of a beat area matters to drive continued engagement. Politico has managed to get UK press scoops by showing up at all the press briefings in Brussels rather than following the British eurocrat events – this probably says a lot about the small size of teams that other national news outlets have operating there.

My 10 most popular (trafficked) blog posts of 2015

These are the ten most trafficked posts that I wrote in 2015, in reverse order:

Throwback gadget: Nokia N900 – I tried Nokia’s first Maemo-based phone. It was amazing how useless it was as one forgets how linked the modern smartphone is to web services. Despite these problems one could see the now lost potential of the phone.

Generational user experience effects – a meditation on user experience from the analogue era to the present

2015: just where is it all going? – I had a think about where digital and technology would go over the next 12 months or so. You can see how I did here.

Reflecting on Yahoo!’s Q2 2015 progress report on product prioritisation – by June this year, the product rationalisation that Yahoo! underwent provided ample opportunity to show that it’s core offering was collapsing in many international markets. Rather than it being a market wide condition, the data pointed to Yahoo! specific issues.

Traackr – beyond the buzzword event – a post about how a diverse range of organisations from Coca-Cola to a luxury jeweller were thinking about influencer marketing.

Throwback gadget: Made 2 Fade (by KAM) GM-25 Mk II phono pre-amp and mixer – a review of a mixer that has been lost in dance music culture history, yet was responsible for much of its popularity outside the super clubs.

That Jeremy Clarkson post (or lies, damn lies and sentiment analysis) – or why everyone from the mainstream media to PR Week got the story so wrong about Jeremy Clarkson’s departure from Top Gear.

An experiment on fake Twitter followers – I spent some of my hard-earned cash to see what difference if any buying fake followers had. I chose Twitter as a channel mainly because it would be easier to measure any impact, otherwise it could have just as easily been Facebook followers, Pinterest subscribers or Instagram followers. My overall conclusion on the fake follower business is that it almost purely about personal vanity rather than gaming a system.

O2O (online to offline) or what we can learn from the Chinese – East Asia is way ahead of marketers in the west in terms of multi-channel marketing particularly the integration of of online with offline aspects.

48 hours with the Apple Watch – hands down the most popular post of this year on my blog was my short experience living with the Apple Watch. I felt that it was a nicely designed, but un-Apple experience. It also convinced me that the use case for wearables wasn’t here yet.

Out and about: The Modern Pantry

Thanks to the lovely people at Sprinklr I got to meet Jay Baer and hang out with some of my digital brethren here in london.

The venue was The Modern Pantry which is just around the corner from The Zetter. The food was a mix of European cuisine and both meat lovers and vegetarians are catered for. The dishes all seemed to use seasonal produce so I enjoyed a pumpkin based main course.

The venue is sufficiently small that the noise never gets too loud making it ideal for a business lunch. The ambience is not too formal and stuffy in terms of the decor with what I guess might be called ‘farmhouse’ style furniture with traditional wooden tables that had been given a ‘washed’ type paint finish. The food was really good. They open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you are looking for a business lunch location in Clerkenwell, you could do a lot worse than The Modern Pantry.

The Modern Pantry
47-48 St John’s Square,
Clerkenwell,
London
EC1V 4JJ
020 7553 9210

On the sofa: No blood no tears

One of the best kept secrets in London is the free sessions put on by the Korean Cultural Centre just off Trafalgar Square. I caught the last film of the year to be shown at the centre. No blood No tears is a Korean heist story. Gyung-Sun is a former safe-cracker who has reformed and become a taxi driver.

Her husband is in the wind and left behind a lot of gambling debts that local loan sharks try to collect on. She doesn’t know where her child is and to cap it all Gyung-Sun has a difficult relationship with the police and her short temper.

A chance car accident brings her into contact with a petty gangsters moll and a plot ensues to rob the dog fighting arena where illegal gambling takes place. What ensues is a film that is part comedy, part Thelma & Louise and a healthy dose of ultra-violence that would be familiar to Hong Kong cinema and Tarantino fans.

Over the next few weeks I will be getting my fix of Korean cinema at the London Korean Film Festival. I can recommend from personal experience:

  • Raging Currents
  • The Man From Nowhere
  • The Classified File

#LVSeries3 Louis Vuitton Series 3 exhibition, 180 Strand, London

Having been involved in a number of events over the past couple of years where creative digital work intersected with experiential marketing I was keen to look at Louis Vuitton’s Series 3 exhibition before it closed.

Burberry tends to get the plaudits for digital experiences in the luxury sector and they do a lot of interesting work. Louis Vuitton’s initiatives like an online service that allows ladies to personalise their bag a la Nike ID.

I found it interesting that Louis Vuitton’s approach seems to have been guided by exclusivity not being the same as accessibility. There was a wealth of helpful staff, you were positively encouraged to take your own pictures – again unusual for a luxury brand, many prefer to give you content that upholds their standards.

A few touches that I really liked

#LVSeries3 Louis Vuitton Series 3 exhibition, 180 Strand, LondonLV logo motion graphics at the start of the exhibition, no real surprise right? What the designers did was remove the polarisers from the LCD screens so that the screens are apparently blank. The polariser is laid out in vertical strips at different distances and widths from the screen. This gives a kind of lenticular effect when you walk past it. This modern logo morphs through matrix-like digital noise and on to the more traditional LV design.
#LVSeries3 Louis Vuitton Series 3 exhibition, 180 Strand, London
It seems absurdly simple, but the idea of using projecting mapping techniques on a flat LED screen to emphasise how Louis Vuitton products are cut from a common material before being assembled was clever. Just because you have projection mapping technology at your finger tips means that one often looks for complex shapes like building fronts rather than a flat panel.
#LVSeries3 Louis Vuitton Series 3 exhibition, 180 Strand, London
Getting the balance right between protecting the product so that it doesn’t look grubby from being over-handled, whilst still making it accessible and tactile rather than a museum experience.