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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

CBS' 'Two and a Half Men' ratings surge

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 06:08 PM PST

NEW YORK ( Ten months after ''Two and a Half Men'' looked destined for cancellation, TV's top rated sitcom is the biggest ratings gainer of the new fall season - and anchors a CBS Monday night that looks unstoppable.

Charlie Sheen's firing on March 7 could easily have been the end of the series. Warner Bros. TV, which produces the show, was ominously silent about its future. Suggestions about possible Sheen replacements - Rob Lowe? John Stamos? - quickly fizzled out.

Things couldn't be more different now. An analysis by TheWrap of this fall's network ratings finds that ''Men'' has climbed 39.1 percent in the prized 18-49 demo - far more than any other show. (We looked at the start of the season through the week of Nov. 13, compared to the same period last year.)

''I don't think there's any question it validates the move to bring it back,'' said Kelly Kahl, CBS's senior executive vice president of primetime.

''When we were sitting around in May talking about what we would be happy with, we all agreed: If we were anywhere close to where we were a year ago, we'd be thrilled.''

The show has far exceeded such expectations - and also those of Sheen. Soon after Ashton Kutcher was named as his replacement, Sheen predicted in May that the show would average a mere 2.0 rating among 18-to-49-year-olds.

''Enjoy the show, America,'' he told TMZ. ''Enjoy seeing a 2.0 in the demo every Monday, WB.''

Try three times that. The show is averaging a 6.4 rating, far better than the 4.6 it earned last year with Sheen in the lead. It has averaged 17.8 million total viewers.

It anchors a bulletproof Monday comedy block for CBS, which also includes another Chuck Lorre comedy, ''Mike & Molly,'' as well as ''How I Met Your Mother'' and the new ''2 Broke Girls,'' the season's highest-rated new series.

To seize on the tremendous curiosity around the revamped ''Men,'' CBS followed its Sept. 19 premiere with the debut of ''Girls,'' which had the network's best-testing pilot ever.

''Men'' returned to an explosive 10.3 rating and 27.7 million total viewers. ''Girls'' arrived to a 7 rating and 19.1 million.

Both shows have since slipped from those numbers - ''Girls'' to a 5.5 demo rating and 13.8 million. But they remain among the most formidable shows on the air.

How formidable?

Last week, CBS won Monday night airing reruns - yes, reruns - even as its competitors offered mostly new shows. (ABC aired a mix of holiday specials, a ''Castle'' rerun, and the tanking new game show ''You Deserve It.'')

Not only is CBS winning, but it's winning for less. Kutcher earns below $1 million an episode, compared to the nearly $2 million Sheen received, including syndication royalties and other payouts.

Sheen received a $25 million settlement when he sued over his firing, but it covered back-end payments he would have received in any case.

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Romance alive

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 01:37 AM PST

Death triggers a new beginning for our heroine.

WHAT would you do if the doctor told you that you only had six months to live?

When she learns that she is dying of cancer, travel agent Lee Yeon-jae (Kim Sun-ah) decides to start living.

All her adult life, the 34-year-old has been dreaming of a better life in the future, instead of living well in the present. She puts all her hard-gained earnings into her "pension" plan, depriving herself of beautiful clothes, good food ... well, basically any fun. (This is one travel agent who has never gone on holiday!)

But now that fate has dealt her a bitter blow, she decides to break away from the shackles of doing the sensible thing and start doing what she really wants. She cooks up a bucket list.

First on the list: take that big trip. But not before splurging on a new wardrobe and new look.

On the trip, the "new" Yeon-jae meets Kang Ji-wook (Lee Dong-wook) the heir of Line Tour, the company she works for. She decides to go after him to make the biggest of her unfulfilled dreams come true before she dies – falling in love.

Terminal illness – once the favourite mainstay of Korean melodramas along with long-lost-siblings and forbidden love – has lately ceased to be popular in the K-realm.

Scent Of A Woman does not only revive this familiar ingredient but also restores the household recipe in its expired state: the hero is a blue-blood chaebol (conglomerate leader) while the heroine is a poor but dignified commoner. They fall in love, to the opposition of the aristocratic family. Tragedy beckons.

While many of the recent K-dramas eschew this stock plot – or subvert it like the excellent Protect The BossScent Of A Woman opts to unabashedly traverse the straight path.

Oddly, though, this melodrama manages to stay fresh, addictively so. Undeniably, a lot has to do with the multifaceted lead characters, and the two attractive actors who play them, Kim (City Hall) and Lee (My Girl) who have scorching chemistry together.

Kim has been a favourite of mine ever since I saw her fire up the screen with Hyun Bin in My Lovely Sam-Soon, and here, she gives another of her powerhouse performances, taking her Yeon-jae from the timid, ugly duckling to the spunky, vibrant swan.

Kim infuses Yeon-jae with enough celestial courage that a woman who is fighting cancer needs, without losing the petty traits that also make her very mortal. This is clear in her bucket list, which prioritises her mother who will be left alone when she dies, but the must-dos include frivolous things like dinner with her K-pop idol Junsu (JYJ's Junsu playing his onscreen alter-ego).

Her looming death notwithstanding, she makes selfish, albeit life-affirming, choices. The most touching is her dilemma of continuing her love affair with Ji-wook despite her knowledge that she will have to leave him soon.

Yup, Yeon-jae is no classic self-sacrificial heroine, but strangely, this only endears her more to viewers.

Best of all is that she never loses her ironic sense of humour, especially in her rapport with her childhood friend, now her coldly efficient personal physician Dr Chae Eun Suk (Uhm Ki-joon).

Of course, Kim also looks hotter than ever – she had to lose a lot of weight for the role and finally gets to play around in a glamorous wardrobe. Ditto Lee. He has proven his acting ability in his earlier roles, but Lee post-military service is, err, a revelation. (No, ladies I'm not only talking about the infamous shower scene.)

He gives his clichéd rich, bored kid role enough nuanced intensity to make you feel his alienation, and empathise with his fascination for the dying Yeon-jae. In many ways, he is more dead (inside) than Yeon-jae, and it is through her that he comes alive again. The time limit on her life also gives their relationship a sense of urgency, making the romance compelling despite its ominous end.

And how can I forget their tango scene. Al Pacino's famous tango from Scent Of A Woman, the drama's namesake, cannot even hold a candle stub to Yeon-jae and Ji-wook's off-the-charts sizzling tango. In those mere minutes, the drama manages to capture their intense sexual tension exquisitely. The moment that is stretched to its explosive point is so palpably sweltering that when Ji-wook tremblingly pushes Yeon-jae away, you can't help but feel the tingle up your spine. Talk about breathless!

Still, crucially, this drama series is more than the romance – it is an inspiring tale of living your life to the fullest.

Never a fan of the "cry-cry, die-die" tragic drama series (as a colleague calls them), I am glad that I gave Scent Of A Woman a chance. It is not clear yet whether Yeon-jae will survive – one can hope – but already, like good dramas should, it has stirred me to the core. This will definitely be immortalised on my personal Top K-dramas Chart.

Scent Of A Woman airs every Wednesday and Thursday at 9.05pm on One HD (Astro Ch 393).

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Suspense everywhere

Posted: 07 Dec 2011 01:40 AM PST

Here comes our very own whodunit TV drama, Dark Sunset.

NTV7'S latest offering Dark Sunset treads new grounds as it opens with a scene of death – a mysterious suicide in a mansion.

Inspired by a true story in Penang, the 30-episode drama is a modern-day tale of horror and suspense, laden with family secrets, hidden treasures and heated romance.

A family curse seems to have been triggered when Lin Zhi Cai, the only son of rich man Lin Wen Fu, is found dead. Amidst the horror and mystery, a stranger, Ye Ting Ting (played by beauty queen-turned-actress Ng Yan Yee), appears and claims to be Zhi Cai's pregnant fiancée. As she moves into the family, strange things start happening, as a generation-old secret begins to unravel.

Just like any classic whodunit, there's more than meets the eye about the characters. Everyone has a secret and anyone can be a suspect. The only character with a known agenda is Ye, who is actually a detective on an undercover mission.

"I'm soft-spoken and gentle when I'm with others, but when I'm alone, I'm this cool, smart girl who's good at analysing things," said the 23-year-old, who chopped off her long locks for the role.

Due to their conflicting interests, Ye is always at loggerheads with Chen Jian Bang (played by hot rising star Lawrence Wong), a lawyer entrusted by Wen Fu to investigate Ye's identity.

Wong offered: "We distrust each other. Chen thinks Ye is after the money, while she finds him annoying for interfering in her business. I think our interactions were the only funny and light-hearted moments in this show, which deals with such a heavy subject matter.

"Though they're at odds with each other, you wonder whether they will end up together."

Even their banters are a battle of wits, with a hint of romance. A scene in which Chen ambushes Ye, who is looking around a room with a torchlight, is fashioned into a dueling dance, with tango music playing in the background.

"We tried to trip each other and we kept laughing doing the scene," said Ng.

Wong added: "It's all done in a dance rhythm, so although it's a fight, it comes across as a dance and it ends with us falling on a bed."

However, similar to others, Chen has hidden agendas, too.

"His emotions and allegiance change throughout the show. You would only find out at the end," said Lawrence. (Sounds dark and intriguing.)

It happened that the actor was going through a rough patch at that point, which might explain how he managed to nail his part.

"I was exhausted juggling between acting and hosting (fashion programme 8 Style). And my relationship with my then-girlfriend was on the rocks. I was down most of the time.

"In some ways it matches the tone and the atmosphere of the show, as well as the emotions my character is going through," he said.

Apart from the interesting characters, the twists and turns are what make Dark Sunset a gripping drama, said Ng.

She added: "There's something in every episode that keeps you guessing. This is rare in Malaysian productions. You'd be surprised to discover who is the real culprit."

The use of lighting helps heighten the drama and brings out the eerie atmosphere surrounding the mansion of secrets, said cast member Goh Wee Ping, who plays Shi Qiang, a gardener who seems to have something to hide.

There seems to be supernatural elements as well. People turn psychotic and claim that they hear voices, he said, adding that it adds to the mystery and intrigue.

Of course, a crime thriller would not be complete without some serious action sequences, which centre mostly on Ng and Lawrence. The stars did most of their stunts themselves, with Ng taking judo classes to look more convincing in her moves. She recalled how she was required to run up to the roof of a car and do a flip in a scene.

"When I got on to the top of the car, I froze and broke down in tears. I couldn't bring myself to do it, because the (surface of the) car was so slippery. But the director kept telling me that it would look good on TV. So I gritted my teeth and did it," she said.

In another scene, she had to roll down the stairs. She quipped: "I realised that after I successfully completed that scene, they stopped assigning stunt doubles for me."

With her role "being captured and thrown around" most of the time, she ended up getting bruises every day and even sprained her leg. These rigorous scenes turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Not only did she derive satisfaction from watching the outcome, she also overcame her fear of height.

"I had over 20 balcony scenes. By the last few scenes, I could just do it with ease," she said with a laugh.

Though he plays a lawyer, Lawrence, 29, did not have it easy either.

"I was put into a suitcase! When I first saw the suitcase, I told the director I wouldn't be able to fit into it. He asked me to try and I could fit in!

"They even bought a roll of cling wrap and wrapped up my head, leaving just two holes for me to breathe," he said.

It might sound funny, but safety is no laughing matter for Lawrence, not especially after Taiwanese pop star Selina Jen (of S.H.E) suffered third degree burns in an accident on the set of I Have A Date With Spring last year.

"There's a fine line between being professional and playing it safe. I lost my cool when I found out there was not enough safety precaution for a scene involving fire. I was lying there and I could remember how the fire sparks actually flew from my back and landed in front of me!

"What if it hit my hair or face? And there's water on the floor and they were using kerosene. You wouldn't know where the fire would spread to. So I did make some noise about it," he explained.

Goh, also got his elbows bruised shooting a scene in which he rescues a puppy.

"We were shooting on a tar road. I was holding the dog and was required to roll over when a car approached me. In order to not hurt the dog, I landed on my elbows," he said.

Playing a stuttering gardener was a change for the hunky host-turned-actor, who is usually seen playing a professional or a goody two shoes in drama series. However, gardening is not something new for him.

"My condominium balcony is full of plants and I make my own fountain. So that helps a lot when I portray the role. I was like, 'No, this is not the right type of cutter,' " he said.

Goh is reunited for the third time with Aenie Wong, who plays Ke Xin, a thirty-something who holds a grudge against everyone in the family, except Shi Qiang, whom she has feelings for. Describing it as "a tragic figure", Aenie said that she based the role on someone she knows and had fun portraying it.

"Initially, I didn't like the character as it's different from me, but I convinced myself that it's just acting. I ended up feeling sympathetic for her but I disagreed with what she did," she said.

Despite playing couples in Age Of Glory 2 and Mystique Valley, the intimate scenes in Dark Sunset still came off as "a little funny" for Aenie and Goh. "It's like asking you to make out with your good friend," said Goh, adding that their friendship as well as professionalism helped a lot in handling such scenes.

"I know Aenie quite well. So we talked before the shoot," he said.

Aenie agreed: "I think in this case, the girl should take the initiative to tell the guy about her limits and give him permission to do certain things."

Dark Sunset airs on Ntv7 from Mondays to Thursdays at 10pm.

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The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Mission impossible for Pakistani progressives?

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 08:20 PM PST

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The small but enthusiastic group of "progressive" Muslims arrives at a hotel conference room in Pakistan's capital with the tools they hope will help blunt extremism in the unstable U.S. ally.

The Khudi organisation -- self-esteem in Urdu -- does not expect the government to tackle the problem of spreading Islamist radicalism.

So it has taken on what seems to be mission impossible -- creating a social movement that can reverse the growing tide.

Seconds after using laptop computers, a slide projector, a film documentary and examples from history to highlight the dangers of militancy, Khudi leaders are confronted by hostile university students in the audience.

A veiled woman says amputations of thieves' hands should not be criticised because they reduce crime in Saudi Arabia, which is accused of funding hardline Islamist seminaries in Pakistan.

Others deny there is intolerance in Pakistan -- where al Qaeda-inspired Sunni militants kill members of minorities -- arguing instead that Western conspirators fabricate the problem.

"I just don't know how to get my point across to you," said one of the lecturers, visibly frustrated.

The United States and other Western countries have long urged the government to counter extremism.

Critics say Pakistani leaders have failed, allowing everyone from clerics in small rural mosques to school teachers in big cities to spread radicalism in the nuclear-armed state.

Khudi's struggle underscores the difficulties of stabilising Pakistan, seen as critical to U.S. efforts to tackle militancy.

It was founded in 2010 by Maajid Nawaz, a former member of the Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir, that tries to recruit military officers in Muslim nations to topple pro-Western governments.

Nawaz, a Briton whose family comes from Pakistan, spent years persuading Muslims -- from Europe to Egypt -- that Western-style democracies were doomed and only Islamic theocracies could succeed.

During four years in a notorious Cairo jail for his activities, Nawaz vowed to become a suicide bomber after watching state security agents electrocute fellow Islamists.

After holding political debates with fellow inmates, he eventually decided to preach moderation in deeply conservative Pakistan, where liberals and intellectuals are seen as impotent.


Although Khudi has spread its message in many Pakistani universities, its leaders say it could years to make an impact.

Just mentioning the world secularism can be a problem because it is portrayed as a non-religious concept -- so someone secular could easily be labelled an infidel.

"We are trying to create the al Qaeda of democratic movements," said Nawaz, 34, in a telephone interview, referring to the militant group's reach.

"Pakistan is uniquely difficult. Anyone who mentions the word democracy is immediately labelled a Western stooge."

Khudi believes holding free and fair elections in Pakistan is not enough, because religious radicalism is stifling democratic concepts like free speech and freedom of association.

So it is reaching out to the young, since over 60 percent of

Pakistan's population is under 25.

Made up of eight executive committee members and about 5,000 volunteers, it deploys ideas as its weapons, insisting that military crackdowns on militants produce limited results.

Khudi members hold workshops at universities, hand out pamphlets and show films that condemn violence.

The group is trying to uproot hardline Islam that can be traced back decades. In the 1980s, for instance, President General Zia ul-Haq nurtured Islamist militants and turned society towards radicalism.

National coordinator Fatima Mullick recalls how as a teenager in the 1990s she heard how 40 Shi'ite doctors were shot dead outside their homes or on the way to work in just a few months in her home city of Karachi, Pakistan's commercial hub.

"There is no illusion," the 27-year-old said of Khudi's challenge. "This is the toughest job in the world."


For Imran Khan, a senior Khudi trainer and spokesman unrelated to the cricketer-turned-politician, it was the September 11 attacks on the United States that raised his awareness.

"People around me, even people from my family, were very happy that a few 'infidels' were killed by Muslim jihadis," he said, sitting beside teenage Khudi volunteers with funky haircuts and Western-style sweatshirts.

Khudi pioneers work out of a type of safehouse in the capital Islamabad for fear of attacks by militants. To achieve its aims, Khudi holds workshops on university campuses.

A big part of the problem is the growing perception that the West is plotting against Muslims.

Recent events like the November 26 NATO air strike that killed 24 Pakistani troops on the border with Afghanistan are fuelling anti-Americanism, and making Khudi's job harder.

"I have relatives who work for Pakistani intelligence. They told me the Americans were behind all the suicide bombings," said Sobia Baig, a Pakistani woman at the hotel workshop.

Khudi is troubled by Pakistan's long history of creeping radicalism. But a far more recent event shocked its leaders.

In January, Punjab province Governor Salman Taseer was assassinated by his own bodyguard. because the governor had called for the reform of Pakistan's anti-blasphemy law, which critics say is misused against minorities.

Lawyers who once protested in support of democracy showered bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri with rose petals.

Two months after Taseer's murder, Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian, was murdered by the Taliban for demanding changes to the blasphemy law.

After the Bhatti assassination, U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay said Pakistan was "poisoned by extremism."

It was never meant to be this way.

Pakistan's founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah appealed for religious tolerance in his first address to parliament in 1947.

Ironically it is young Pakistanis who seem most receptive to his message, like the ones in jeans, tights and sleeveless shirts at the Jammin Java cafe in the city of Lahore -- an ideal recruiting ground for Khudi.

"Pakistan should be Jinnah's Pakistan where there is no room for extremism and intolerance," said student Nafeesa Ali, 22.

But Nawaz's old Islamist group, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, is equally determined to find followers at the cafe as well. It has been known to leave its orange promotional stickers.

Few are more aware of the long battle ahead for Khudi than Shakil Ahmad Chaudhary, a communications specialist who passionately delivers speeches at the group's workshops.

"My children (aged 9 and 12) go to a so-called elite school in Islamabad. And they come back and say 'Our teacher tells us of conspiracy theories', 9/11 for example was a conspiracy by George Bush and the Jews," said Ahmad.

"I try to educate them. But again, I have to be careful. I don't want them to pick a quarrel with the teacher or become outcasts in the class."

(Additional reporting by Mubashir Bukhari in LAHORE; Editing by Ron Popeski)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Thais test taboos as war on royal slurs heats up

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 06:39 PM PST

BANGKOK (Reuters) - From a windowless room in a Bangkok suburb, computer technicians scour thousands of websites, Facebook pages and tweets night and day. Their mission: to suppress what is regarded as one of Thailand's most heinous crimes -- insulting the monarchy.

Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej (R) is accompanied by Princess Chulabhorn (L) and Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn as he delivers his birthday speech from the balcony of the Grand Palace in Bangkok December 5, 2011. REUTERS/Royal Household/Handout

The government calls this its "war room," part of a zero-tolerance campaign that uses the world's most draconian lese-majeste laws to stamp out even the faintest criticism of 84-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the world's longest-reigning monarch.

Critics call it a "witch hunt" and few are spared if they fall foul of the process. Sixty-one-year-old cancer sufferer Amphon Tangnoppaku, dubbed "Uncle SMS," was jailed for 20 years last month for sending text messages deemed to have disparaged Queen Sirikit.

The ruling prompted outrage. On Saturday, Human Rights Watch criticised the "shocking" severity of recent penalties for lese-majeste and urged Thailand to amend the law.

The offence is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, possibly more if there is violation of the 2007 Computer Crimes Act, which has been used to block more than 70,000 websites, many for lese-majeste, others for pornography or cyber fraud.

Washington-based pro-democracy group Freedom House says the two laws give Thai authorities "carte blanche to clamp down on any form of expression."

Some Thais had hoped Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, whose party members are among those accused of lese-majeste, would reform the law. But she is treading carefully, aware her opponents in the military and royalist establishment could seize on any hint of disloyalty to the monarchy to bring her down.

Independent analysts say the use of lese-majeste could undermine those it was designed to protect if the backlash against the law grows.

The tough-sounding Cyber Security Operation Centre remains focused, however.

"We don't have any impressive equipment to track suspicious Internet activity," said Nut Payongsri, an official in the vast government complex. "In most cases, we hear about misuse via calls to our hotline. We check each case and report them to the police."


The king is in poor health and has spent the past two years in hospital. He made a rare public appearance in a wheelchair on Monday at celebrations to mark his birthday.

His health and the succession are sensitive topics. Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn has yet to command the same respect as his father, who is seen as almost divine in the majority Buddhist country.

Lese-majeste shields the king, queen, crown prince or regent from criticism.

In the latest case, the exact content of the messages Amphon was accused of sending is unclear -- disclosing it could also mean prison. He denied the charges and wept in court.

Undeterred by the outcry, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Minister Anudit Nakorntab warned Thais they could face similar punishment if they clicked "like" or "share" next to Facebook postings about the case that were considered offensive to the throne.

An ICT Ministry official told Reuters that Thais who received anti-monarchy messages by email or on their personal Facebook walls and failed to delete them were also in violation.

"We would take them to court and prosecute them," said the official, who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorised to speak to the media. "It is against the law to do such a thing and as a result, they will be fined and jailed."

The ICT Ministry said it was in talks with Facebook to block pages hosted outside Thailand carrying offensive content its cyber police were powerless to block. The U.S.-based social networking site did not respond to questions from Reuters.


Some cases are overtly political, others just bizarre, such as that of a Swiss man jailed for spray-painting a portrait of the king because he could not buy alcohol on the monarch's birthday under Thai law. He was pardoned and deported after a short prison stint.

Lese-majeste complaints can be made by any citizen and, because of the sensitivity of the allegations, police usually feel compelled to probe them.

The army filed charges of lese-majeste in May against academic Somsack Jeamteerasakul for comments he allegedly made in a web posting about the king's youngest daughter, Princess Chulabhorn Walailak, who is not protected by the laws.

Chiranuch Premchaiporn, director of online newspaper Prachatai, is accused of failing to delete anti-monarchy postings fast enough. Political activist Chotisak Onsoong is accused of insulting the monarchy by refusing to stand during the royal anthem that precedes movie screenings in Thailand.

Thai-born American Lerpong Wichaikhamma, also known as Joe Gordon, pleaded guilty to lese-majeste in October after being arrested during a visit to Thailand for having posted a web link to a Thai translation of a banned book about the king.

Critics of lese-majeste say it is being used as a political weapon to stifle opponents, pointing to the huge jump in cases since the 2006 coup that overthrew former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, Yingluck's brother, and triggered a polarising political crisis.

Thailand's lese-majeste laws date from the start of the 20th century. Other countries with constitutional monarchies, such as Spain and the Netherlands, have such laws but cases are nowadays extremely rare.

David Streckfuss, a scholar who monitors lese-majeste laws, said 478 known cases had been submitted to the Thai Criminal Court since the coup, and the 397 cases between 2006 and 2009 compared with an average four or five a year in the preceding 15 years.

The conviction rate, Streckfuss says, is currently 94 percent.

Thailand's military, which sees protecting the crown as its top priority, is behind a number of complaints, particularly those against members of the pro-Thaksin "red shirt" movement, which fought troops in the street in 2009 and 2010.

Thaksin and the red shirts have been accused of republican leanings, charges they deny. But some take issue with the punishment handed down for lese-majeste.

"In the time of absolute monarchy, the highest punishment was three years, so how is it that now, with our constitutional monarchy, the punishment has been increased to up to 15 years?" said Weng Tojirakarn, a red shirt leader and parliamentarian.


The police and judiciary feel obliged to follow up accusations of lese-majeste -- for fear of being accused of disrespect themselves -- and so the charge has become an easy weapon for political groups to use against each other.

In the case of Thaksin, allegations against him of lese-majeste were used by the royalist "yellow shirts" to draw supporters to huge street rallies that helped undermine his government, and the claims were cited by the military as one reason for the 2006 coup.

The Santiprachatham Network, a group of academics and social activists, started a campaign against a "flawed judicial system" in the wake of Amphon's 20-year sentence.

Some newspapers that for years were reluctant to carry stories on lese-majeste now call for a review of the law.

"The idea that discussion of the lese-majeste law is somehow disloyal to the monarchy is emotionally loaded but empty. The law cannot affect love of the monarch," the Bangkok Post said in an editorial, describing the cyber war as "futile and self-defeating."

Anand Panyarachun, a former premier and senior statesman, last week rebuked those who had politicised the law and said ordinary citizens should not be allowed to file complaints that undermined rather than strengthened the monarchy.

"The harshness of the penalty should be reviewed," Anand said. "Many Thais try to protect him, try to defend him. In actual fact the consequence is we ourselves are doing a lot of damage to the monarchy or even to the king himself."

(Editing by Alan Raybould and Nick Macfie)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Greece passes austerity budget after street clashes

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 03:42 PM PST

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece's coalition government on Wednesday passed an austerity 2012 budget aimed at shrinking its debt mountain with tax hikes and spending cuts, hours after protesters clashed with police outside parliament.

Greece's Prime Minister Lucas Papademos addresses parliamentarians before the 2012 budget vote at the parliament in Athens December 6, 2011. REUTERS/Yiorgos Karahalis

Three major parties backing technocrat Prime Minister Lucas Papademos solidly voted for the budget plan, a package of deeply unpopular measures needed to cut the deficit and show foreign lenders the country is sorting out its finances.

"Successful implementation of this budget will restore the country's international credibility and create the conditions to rescue the economy," Papademos told lawmakers. "We can't afford to keep whining...the targets are ambitious but feasible."

But one of the leaders, conservative party leader Antonis Samaras, made clear his support was solely aimed at rescuing Greece from immediate default and vowed to soften tax steps and boost growth measures if he wins power in elections expected in February.

"Our disagreements remain... we are approving the budget because it is an absolute priority to safeguard the viability of Greek debt," said Samaras, whose New Democracy party is the front-runner to win the next election but fall short of an absolute majority.

Samaras, who has long opposed the EU/IMF austerity policies imposed by his Socialist rival, former prime minister George Papandreou, under a 110-billion euro bailout agreed in 2010, made clear he will insist on snap elections in February, after Athens clinches a bond swap deal to cut the country's debt.

As lawmakers debated the budget, hundreds of masked youths hurled petrol bombs and clashed with Greek police outside parliament when protesters marched to mark the police shooting of a student in 2008, which led to the worst riots in decades and helped topple the then conservative government.

(Additional reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

FBM KLCI lower in early trade

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 05:34 PM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: The FBM KLCI was 0.13% or 1.89 points lower in early trading today as investors remain cautious, pending the European Union summit scheduled on Friday.

Meanwhile, the overnight Wall Street climbed 52.30 points, or 0.43 pct to 12,150.13.

In its market preview, HwangDBS Vickers Research expects local investors to stay sidelines given a dearth of newsflow.

"The key benchmark index FBMKLCI may continue to trade within a tight range, likely on a slight downward bias and trend closer to its immediate support level of 1,475," it said.

Pavillion Real Estate Investment Trust made its debut at RM1.03, up 13 sen against its initial public offering price of 90 sen.

Stocks to watch today are Wijaya Baru Global as privately-held Maxcorp Group of companies aims to take control of Wijaya by buying out Datuk Tiong King Sing's interest in Wijaya.

While Malaysian Resources Corporation Bhd and Ekovest Bhd has joined hands to assist the government in the implementation and delivery of the River of Life (ROL) project valued at RM22 million in fee income.

Regional bourses were up: Singapore's Straits Times Index was up 0.46% at 2761.87; Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index rose 0.39% to 19016.34; Seoul's Kospi Index gained 0.65% to 1915.18; Shanghai's A share index flat at 2325.90 and Tokyo's Nikkei 225 was 0.65% better at 8630.60.

Nymex crude oil was quoted at USD101.27 per barrel. Spot gold was USD1729.38 per ounce while silver was USD32.82 per ounce.

The ringgit was quoted at 3.1307 to the USD and 4.1967 to the euro.

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Harry Potter theme park to be built in Hollywood

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 04:34 PM PST

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Harry Potter is going Hollywood with a new theme park based at Universal Studios, NBCUniversal and film studio Warner Bros. said on Tuesday.

"The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" will be built inside Universal Studios Hollywood and feature attractions that are similar to the Potter theme park opened in June 2010 at Universal's resort in Orlando, Florida.

The new theme park could take 3-4 years to build and is likely to cost several hundred million dollars.

The two companies -- Universal runs the theme parks and Warner Bros. owns the rights to the "Harry Potter" movies -- also announced that the "Wizarding World" in Florida would be expanded.

The Hollywood park will be centered around a huge Hogwarts castle and feature rides and other attractions based on the adventures of the popular British boy wizard and his friends.

Author J.K Rowling's "Harry Potter" book series have sold some 450 million copies worldwide and the eight movies from the Warner Bros. studios have taken more than $7.7 billion at global box-offices, making Harry Potter the largest-grossing film franchise in history.

Officials did not say how many of the Florida rides would make their way to the Hollywood park, nor did they say if any new rides were envisaged. But they said the new attraction would be created with the same commitment to authenticity with the books and movies as the one in Florida.

Warner Bros. chairman Barry Meyer called Tuesday's announcement "probably the best holiday gift we could give to the legions of Harry Potter fans worldwide."

"Everyone involved with these projects is committed to continuing the enchantment of J.K. Rowling's masterful books as they were brought to life on screen in our eight films and dedicated to extending the magic of the experience for generations of fans to come," Meyer said.

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Citi cuts 4,500 jobs, will take $400 million charge

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 04:33 PM PST

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Citigroup Inc is cutting 4,500 jobs worldwide, Chief Executive Vikram Pandit said on Tuesday, becoming the latest large bank to trim staff.

Pandit, speaking at the Goldman Sachs Financial Services Conference, said the bank would record a $400 million charge in the quarter for severance and other expenses related to the layoffs.

The cuts are equal to about 2 percent of Citi's workforce of 267,000 employees at the end of third quarter 2011.

Pandit said the cuts would be completed over "the next few quarters" and would come from a range of businesses.

Citi joins other banks worldwide that have cut more than 120,000 jobs as regulations have imposed tighter industry rules and the economy remains weak.

Earlier this year, Citi rival Bank of America Corp announced plans to cut 30,000 jobs and slash $5 billion in annual expenses as part of a program known as 'New BAC,' a play on the company's ticker symbol.

Pandit said Citi's reductions would involve its proprietary trading units, which are being wound down.

The 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law features a provision known as the Volcker Rule that limits banks from betting their own capital in the market.

Pandit also said Citi's expense previously disclosed expense reduction program generated $1.4 billion in savings so far this year, nearly 4 percent of the bank's $37.72 billion of operating expenses in the first three quarters.

Citigroup shares closed down 8 cents, or 0.27 percent, at $29.75 on the New York Stock Exchange.

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The Star Online: Sports

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Chong Wei beats Lin Dan but not on court

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 03:05 PM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: National shuttler Lee Chong Wei is too good for arch-rival Lin Dan – in an online poll.

In the 24-hour worldwide poll conducted by Badminton World Federation (BWF) on Sunday, Chong Wei received 34% of the votes for the BWF Male Player of the Year award compared to 22% for world champion Lin Dan. Men's doubles pair Cai Yun-Fu Haifeng of China were third (16%) followed by South Koreans Lee Yong-dae-Jung Jae-sung (14%).

In the BWF Female Player of the Year category, mixed doubles player Liliyana Natsir of Indonesia received 78% of the votes followed by China's doubles pair Wang Xiaoli-Yu Yang (6%), Wang Shixian (5%) and Wang Yihan (4%), China's top female players, finished third and fourth respectively.

The BWF Council, who are currently meeting in Queenstown, New Zealand, will make the final decision on the winners.

"While the 2011 season's results and performance are at the forefront of consideration, fans appeal and the role model quality of a player are of growing importance in the criteria of the BWF Player of the Year awards," said BWF.

The winner of the two prestigious awards will be announced at the Li Ning BWF World Super Series Finals in Liuzhou, China, next week. — Bernama

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Coach Cross calms Jadeleen to help her win Under-15 crown

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 05:52 PM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: Jadeleen Lee was crossed with herself but luckily her coach Andrew Cross was around.

And thanks to Cross, Jadeleen was crowned the girls' Under 15 champion in the National Junior Championships at the National Squash Centre in Bukit Jalil yesterday.

The 15-year-old got off to a jittery start but came back strongly to beat Kedah's Nazihah Hanis 9-11, 12-10, 11-6, 8-11, 11-5 in the final.

Jadeleen was close to tears after losing the fourth set with a string of unforced errors.

Fortunately, Cross managed to calm her down for the decider and she went on to pick up her third Under-15 title of the year.

Earlier, she won the Milo All-Star Junior and the Penang Junior Open.

"It was tougher than I expected and Nazihah certainly improved a lot this year," said Jadeleen.

"I lost my focus badly in the fourth set, and she took advantage of it to level the scores. I really wanted to give up then, but my coach managed to talk some sense into me. Luckily, I managed to regain my composure.

"It's a really good win for me. Now I'm really looking forward to the British Junior Open next month," added Jadeleen.

In the Under-17 final, Teh Min Jie's giant-killing run came to an end. Min Jie, who stunned top seed Rachel Arnold in the semi-finals, gave second seed Vanessa Raj a run for her money before losing 11-7, 8-11, 11-9, 9-11, 8-11.

"Although I didn't win today, I felt good about my game as I pushed Vanessa all the way," said Min Jie.

"I was not selected for any international tournaments like the Asian Juniors this year and I was quite depressed about it.

"But this tournament has given me hope. Now I'm looking forward to next year. Hopefully, I'll continue to keep improving," added the Bukit Jalil Sports School (BJSS) student.

In the girls' Under-19 final, Tan Yan Xin made sure of her position as the country's top junior by whipping Penang's Clara Pereira 11-1, 11-3, 11-2.

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Affeeq says goodbye to junior meet by winning U-19 title

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 05:58 PM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: Affeeq Abedeen bade goodbye to the National Junior Championships in style by winning the boys' Under-19 title at the National Squash Centre in Bukit Jalil yesterday.

Affeeq, however, had to dig deep into his reserves to beat fellow Sarawakian Sanjay Singh Chal 11-8, 6-11, 5-11, 11-3, 11-8.

"I will be turning 19 next June and this is definitely one of my last junior tournaments," said Affeeq.

"I'm a little disappointed that I won't be at the British Junior Open next month but I understand that the state association have limited funds.

"Anyway I've been selected for the Under-21 World Cup next February. And there is also the Sukma and the Milo All-Star Junior Open next year before I conclude my junior career," added Affeeq.

The Under-21 World Cup is a new biennial mixed team event and it will be held in Chennai, India, from Feb 1-5. Besides Affeeq, the others selected are Sanjay, Marcus Yuen, Tan Yan Xin and Rachel Arnold.

Meanwhile, Ng Eain Yow warmed up nicely for next month's British Junior Open in Sheffield by beating Pahang's Darren Chan to take the Under-15 title.

In the Under-17 final, Negri Sembilan's Mohd Hannan Tarmidi fought back from two sets down to beat Mohd Syafiq Kamal 8-11, 12-14, 11-6, 11-9, 12-10.

**Final results

(SRAM or BJSS unless stated)


Under-11: Adam Agan Aziz (Mal) bt Siow Yee Xian (Mal) 7-11, 11-8, 11-8,11-8.

Under-13: Ong Sai Hung (Ked) bt Jesse Foo (Kel) 12-10, 11-9, 11-8.

Under-15: Ng Eain Yow bt Darren Chan (Pah) 11-8, 11-6, 11-4.

Under-17: Mohd Hannan Tarmidi (Nse) bt Mohd Syafiq Kamal 8-11, 12-14, 11-6,11-9, 12-10.

Under-19: Affeeq Abedeen bt Sanjay Singh Chal 11-8, 6-11, 5-11, 11-3, 11-8.


Under-11: Aifa Azman (Ked) bt Ooi Kah Yan (Nse) 8-11, 11-9, 11-6, 11-6.

Under-13: S.Sivasangari (Ked) bt Zoe Foo 11-2, 12-10, 5-11, 11-4.

Under-15: Jadeleen Lee bt Nazihah Hanis (Ked) 9-11, 12-10, 11-6, 8-11, 11-5..

Under-17: Vanessa Raj (Pen) bt Teh Min Jie 7-11, 11-8, 9-11, 11-9, 11-8.

Under-19: Tan Yan Xin bt Clara Pereira (Pen) 11-1,11-3, 11-2.

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The Star Online: Nation

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IPF: Name road after Pandithan, it’s a sign of the good he did

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 02:28 PM PST

INDIAN Progressive Front leaders want to know why the name for Jalan Berhala in Brickfields has not been changed to that of its late president Tan Sri M.G. Pandithan, reported Makkal Osai.

Current head M. V. Mathialagan said this was despite an announcement made three years ago. He said Pandithan had contributed greatly towards uplifting the lives of Malaysians, particularly the Indian community.

"It is surprising that City Hall has not replied to our queries," he said, adding that he would request Deputy Federal Territories and Urban Wellbeing Minister Datuk M. Saravanan to take the necessary action.

>Tamil Nesan reported that police in Thanjavur, about 250km from Chennai in India found a beggar with Rs6.25 lakh (RM420,000) cash while investigating the theft of a mobile phone at a local mosque on Friday.

When police searched the beggars loitering outside the mosque, they found Abdul Samad, 55, with stacks of money.

He told the police that the amount was proceeds from both his and his wife Noorjahan's begging outside mosques. He said he had withdrawn the money from a bank to buy a house.

Police allowed Abdul Samad to keep the money after he showed copies of bank withdrawal slips and advised him to be careful.

> Public health messages by the Health Ministry are pre-tested and approved by technical experts, the ministry's health education division director Abdul Jabar Ahmad said.

He said the ministry welcomed comments or suggestions from the public to further improve the advertisements.

Abdul Jabar was commenting on Tamil Bell Club national president S.V. Lingam's statement that the messages on HIV/AIDS screened over Tamil news on RTM2 were full of errors.

Lingam's comments in Tamil newspapers were translated in The Star on Nov 29.

Other News & Views is compiled from the vernacular newspapers (Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese and Tamil dailies). As such, stories are grouped according to the respective language/medium. Where a paragraph begins with this > sign, it denotes a separate news item.

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RM250 fine for wearing short-sleeve T-shirt

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 02:28 PM PST

A COFFEESHOP operator in Kota Baru, Kelantan, was fined RM250 after one of her Muslim workers wore a short-sleeve T-shirt to work.

All the major dailies Sin Chew Daily, China Press and Nanyang Siang Pau reported that an enforcement officer said to be from the Kota Baru Municipal Council issued the summons during a raid on Monday.

The officer claimed the female worker had exposed her arms and failed to conform to the dress code.

Apparently, the council by-law requires workers at business premises to wear the hijab (Islamic head scarf) and tutup aurat (cover parts of the body that should not be exposed according to Islamic belief).

Operator Loo Siew Lian said she explained to the officer that the worker had yet to put on her long "driving" gloves.

"I was surprised that the summons was issued."

She added that all female workers would roll up their sleeves and remove their gloves while washing plates and doing kitchen work.

"However, they then put on long gloves while taking orders or serving food.

"The officer should be more considerate since my worker is a first-time offender. A warning should suffice," she said.

A Kota Baru municipal councillor said he would try to resolve the issue.

"Our intention is to remind Muslim workers to abide by the dress code by-laws," he said.

> China Press reported that two women, aged 23 and 28, were caught trying to smuggle drugs worth S$307,700 (RM752,884) into Singapore.

The younger suspect had put two packets of heroin weighing 924gm in two sanitary pads before wearing two pairs of panties and a pair of tights.

The older suspect, meanwhile, kept the heroin and "ice" weighing 702gm and 254gm respectively in three sanitary pads before putting on panties and two pairs of tights.

They were sitting in a taxi when Customs officers conducted a body search on them. The 60-year-old taxi driver was also detained to facilitate investigations during the incident on Saturday.

Other News & Views is compiled from the vernacular newspapers (Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese and Tamil dailies). As such, stories are grouped according to the respective language/medium. Where a paragraph begins with this > sign, it denotes a separate news item.

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Goalkeeper Khairul’s brother passes away

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 02:28 PM PST

HAPPINESS seems to be evading Malaysian goalkeeper Khairul Fahmi Che Mat lately.

Shortly after he recovered from the controversy over the circulation of his purported photographs with a female friend, he received news of his 16-year-old brother's death on Monday, Harian Metro reported.

Mohd Amirul Izat, who had been admitted to Hospital Universiti Sains Malaysia in Kubang Kerian since Nov 10, was suspected to have dengue fever and was unconscious for about 23 days before he passed away. He was buried at the Kampung Pohon Tanjung Muslim cemetery.

Khairul, who received the news while he was in the midst of a training session in Kuala Lumpur, rushed home for the funeral.

He said the last time he met Mohd Amirul was during Hari Raya Aidiladha.

> The Public Service Department (JPA) revealed that depression had affected many civil servants' productivity and quality of service, Berita Harian reported.

In one case, a man drank poison after his engagement fell through a few days before his wedding. However, he was rushed to Hospital Putrajaya and was saved.

This is an example of cases referred to JPA's Psychology Department before they are forwarded to the Public Service Colleague Guidance Group (Akrab) for counselling.

National Akrab president Abdul Latif Ibrahim said on Monday that relationship problems in the family should not be taken lightly.

"It is easy for us to say that we should not bring family matters into the workplace, but it is difficult to practise this in reality."

Other News & Views is compiled from the vernacular newspapers (Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese and Tamil dailies). As such, stories are grouped according to the respective language/medium. Where a paragraph begins with this > sign, it denotes a separate news item.

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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Beautiful Creatures author in town

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 01:24 AM PST

MARGARET Stohl and Kim Garcia wrote the bestselling supernatural young adult novels Beautiful Creatures (2009), Beautiful Darkness (2010) and Beautiful Chaos (2011). If you're a fan of the books – and the books have huge numbers of fans, it seems – here's a chance to meet one of the writers in person: Stohl will be coming to Kuala Lumpur this month to meet her fans at the MPH Carnival at the Mid Valley Exhibition Centre.

The novels centre around two teens: Ethan Wate, one of his school's most popular guys, and Lena Duchannes, the new girl who is instantly relegated to the unpopular crowd just because she is the niece of the most reclusive and gossiped-about man in their small Southern town.

Ethan and Lena make an instant connection – not difficult since Ethan has been dreaming about her before she even came to town! However, as it always is in supernaturally-tinged novels like these, their relationship is a complicated one. For one, Lena and her kin are Casters, beings who have frightening powers. Then there's a dangerous family curse which will come into affect during Lena's upcoming birthday....

Beautiful Creatures' tale of love and belonging has resonated with readers. Since the series' debut in 2009, the novels have been translated into 28 languages in 37 countries. It is even being optioned for film by Warner Brothers. The book was also named the No.1 Teen Pick from Amazon in 2009, and the No.5 Editors' Pick, overall.

Stohl, you'd be interested to know, is a longtime veteran of the videogame industry, having worked for Activision (now Activision/Blizzard) and Westwood Studios (now EA, which produces the massively popular The Sims series of games). She has worked on games such as Slave Zero, Apocalypse, Zork Nemesis, Zork Grand Inquisitor, Spycraft, Command And Conquer: Red Alert Retaliation, and Command And Conquer: Tiberian Sun.

She lives in Santa Monica, California, and is a graduate of Amherst College, where she won the Knox Prize for English Literature. She has also earned an MA in English from Stanford University and completed classwork for a PhD in American Studies from Yale University. She was mentored by Scottish poet George Macbeth when she attended the creative writing programme of the University of East Anglia, Norwich, Britain.

Stohl will be in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday at Kinokuniya Bookstores in Suria KLCC between 3pm and 4pm, and at the MPH Carnival at the Mid Valley Exhibition Centre between 5pm and 6pm. – Elizabeth Tai

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Inside India’s underbelly

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 01:22 AM PST

In the hurly burly of an economic boom, some people fall through the cracks.

DETERMINED to reveal the India behind the glitz and glamour of its economic boom, Sonia Faleiro spent five years immersed in the brothels of Mumbai, befriending bar dancers, transsexuals and policemen.

Faleiro, originally from Goa, has lived and worked in India for most of her life. In a culture where "the middle class is the new obsession", she was frustrated by the lack of reportage and representation in the public sphere for marginalised groups.

She made a name for herself writing articles about the high incidence of suicide in rural areas among farmers plagued by debt. After watching a TV report about dancers in Mumbai she became keen to learn more and asked a source in the industry if he would introduce her to some dancers. And so she met Leela, the highest paid dancer at a Mumbai club called Night Lovers who would become the subject of her book, Beautiful Thing (Cannongate).

Through Leela, readers gain a moving insight into an industry that employed 75,000 women in Mumbai alone, before being outlawed in 2005.

In an interview earlier this month in London – she was appearing at the city's DSC South Asian Literature Festival – Faleiro says that she met a number of people who she thought merited a book, but chose Leela for her fighting spirit in spite of her suffering, as the right woman to tell their story.

"She was very intelligent, vivacious and aware of how she is perceived, by people in and outside the barline," Faleiro says. "She was interesting to me because I knew that any bar dancer would have suffered a great deal to have got to the point that they were comfortable working in the bar. For Leela to be so joyful, kind and generous made me want to probe further."

The encounter turned into five years of friendship intertwined with research for Beautiful Thing, during which Faleiro met Leela's family, friends and an underworld network stretching from politicians to brothel owners.

During this time she interviewed women in the early hours of the morning, immersing herself in a subculture of Mumbai that few are aware of to the fullest extent, thriving in the evening, disappearing in the wee hours until the next night.

She describes the experience as intimidating, and heartbreaking – but also invigorating. "A lot of very powerful emotions that one doesn't tend to feel on a daily basis, certainly not simultaneously."

Leela ran away to Mumbai to become a bar dancer after her father began to sell her into prostitution to local policemen.

While the reader might wonder whether to categorise Leela's story as one of exploitation or empowerment, Faleiro says she thinks it is the latter. "When you live in India and work on a story like this, the exploitation is immense and across the board," she says, adding that such stories are countless in India.

"But Leela gives you the sense that no matter what life throws at her, no matter how many times it endeavours to hand her defeat, she refuses to accept it, which makes her an incredibly powerful role model considering her background and actual powerlessness."

She recalls offering Leela a job with a charity that would have earned her a couple of thousand rupees a month, to which Leela responded: "Is that how much you think I am worth?"

Beautiful Thing is part of a growing trend in South Asian nonfiction. Faleiro believes it is a powerful medium that is harder to ignore than newspaper or magazine articles, and finds it surprising that books about the underclass don't constitute a larger share of the genre – "We apparently think that 55% of the population isn't relevant to where we are going."

Nonetheless, she is optimistic about her India's future.

"It is a remarkable ascent for a country that was so recently independent (since 1947). I would caution that India should look less to its place in the world and more to the position of people within India itself. I'm optimistic but only if we manage our ambitions and responsibilities better." – Reuters

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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Battle of wits

Posted: 06 Dec 2011 03:31 AM PST

Hong Kong filmmaker Daniel Lee says White Vengeance is his best work ever.

EPIC battles recorded in Chinese historical annals have always been a bountiful source of cinematic masterpieces.

Hence, the latest war epic to hit the screens, White Vengeance (known in Mandarin as Hong Men Yan), aims to present an explanation to one of the most intriguing of tactical mysteries in Chinese history.

The story is set in the late Qin Dynasty, when rebels rose and the nation fell into chaos. Its action-packed plot revolves around warlords Liu Bang and Xiang Yu, who served under King Huai.

The two warlords were also leaders of their own rebellious armies and as their power grew, King Huai was advised to turn the two sworn brothers against each other to protect his throne. But, the true battle is the one that pits the wits of two legendary military strategists Zhang Liang and Fan Zeng, who control the outcome of the fight like chess pieces on a battlefield.

Director Daniel Lee says White Vengeance is his best and most satisfying cinematic production to date. "Hong Men Yan is one of the more popular topics of Chinese history that can be very exciting when translated onto the silver screen. Yet, it requires an impactful angle and skillful handling, otherwise everything will be in vain.

"A lot hinges upon this battle for supremacy that will decide whether the next dynasty is going to belong to the Han (represented by Liu Bang) or the Chu (represented by Xiang Yu)," Lee continued in a telephone interview from Hong Kong.

How does the Han leader Liu Bang overcome a more powerful adversary like the Chu leader Xiang Yu? Following his success, what possessed Liu Bang to kill his most able supporters? A lover of battle strategies and tactical mysteries, Lee set out to recreate a historical epic about a legendary battle that had stumped historians for centuries and set out to put together a worthy cast to tackle the iconic characters.

Going head-to-head as the two battling warlords are cool Hong Kong singer-actor Leon Lai who plays Liu Bang, the Warlord of Politics, and dashing mainland Chinese actor William Feng, who plays Xiang Yu, the Warlord of Strength.

Coming between them is Yu Ji, the Fatal Beauty, who is portrayed by delicate mainland Chinese actress Crystal Liu.

Cast as the brains behind the battle are mainland Chinese actor Zhang Hanyu, who plays the iconic Zhang Liang, the Advisor of Intelligence (in Liu Bang's camp) and Hong Kong actor Anthony Wong, who plays the elderly and blind Fan Zeng, the Advisor of Wisdom (in Xiang Yu's camp).

Also in Liu Bang's camp are his hot blooded warrior "brother" Fan Kuai, played by Hong Kong's Jordan Chan and Andy On's Han Xin, the undefeated general, whose efficiency helped the wily Liu Bang defeat the more powerful Xiang Yu.

In a recorded interview, Lai, who plays Liu Bang, says he was completely taken by the script. "When I got the script, I was instantly impressed that it was so well written. Each character was so vividly outlined that it was immediately obvious where they each stood and how they were related to one another. I found the script so captivating that I imagined the movie to be even more enthralling. Liu Bang is a character who has to keep making decisions that take him down new paths and also make untold sacrifices that will return to haunt him."

Portraying the advisor Zhang Liang, Zhang Hanyu said: "Hong Men Yan is a gripping piece of history that has always been mystifying, so people have always been curious about what happened and have let their imagination run wild. A legendary military strategist like Zhang Liang must be imbued with superhuman intelligence and boundless energy in order to ably support Liu Bang as a political advisor," he said about the tactical mystery that has remained unsolved for centuries.

Playing advisor Fan Zeng, Wong explains: "In the legendary Hong Men Yan that was recorded in the historical annals, there's a lot that's unaccounted for. And it is within these spaces that we as artistic folk have the freedom to explore."

White Vengeance, rated 18, opens in local cinemas on Thursday.

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'Kung Fu Panda 2' tops Annie Award nominations

Posted: 05 Dec 2011 09:59 PM PST

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Annie Awards, which have been wracked by controversy in recent years, attempted to right the ship on Monday with a slate of nominations that included, well, everybody.

With an expanded field in nearly every category, including 10 nominees for Best Animated Feature, the International Animated Film Society, ASIFA-Hollywood, was all-inclusive in its nominations, with 13 different animated films receiving nominations and no one film running away from the field the way ''How to Train Your Dragon'' did last year.

Typically, a DreamWorks Animation production led the pack, with the 12 nominations for ''Kung Fu Panda 2'' being three more than the nine received by that company's ''Puss in Boots'' and Paramount's ''Rango.''

But Disney and Pixar were well-represented as well, after a year in which they withdrew from ASIFA-Hollywood over concerns about the judging process. Pixar's ''Cars 2'' received seven nominations and Disney's ''Winnie the Pooh'' received eight, though it was shut out of the top category, Best Animated Feature, despite that category's 10 nominees.

Competing for the top award will be DWA's ''King Fu Panda 2'' and ''Puss in Boots,'' ''Cars 2,'' ''Rango,'' Blue Sky Studios' ''Rio,'' Sony and Aardman Animation's ''Arthur Christmas'' and Amblin's Steven Spielberg production ''The Adventures of Tintin.''

Also in the running: the smaller European films ''A Cat in Paris,'' ''Arrugas'' (''Wrinkles'') and ''Chico & Rita,'' all of which are also in the running for the Best Animated Feature award at the Oscars.

George Miller's ''Happy Feet 2,'' which opened in November to disappointing box-office returns and largely negative reviews, did not receive any nominations.

ASIFA reorganized under new leadership earlier this year, resulting in Disney and Pixar returning to the organization.

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Johnny Depp sparks pre-Christmas outrage with Jesus song

Posted: 05 Dec 2011 08:58 PM PST

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - If some Christian groups get their way, Johnny Depp will end up with a lump of coal in his stocking this Christmas.

The ''Pirates of the Caribbean'' star has enraged at least two religious organizations by contributing vocals to the song ''Jesus Stag Night Club'' by the British band Babybird.

The song, which recasts the Son of God as a booze-chugging party animal who revels in driving stolen cars and facilitating bachelor parties, begins with the lyrics, ''Saw a man in a bar with his hair like a lady/ Bloody thorns round his ear like he was a crazy/ He had holes in his hands and a cross for a spine/ Crushed a berry in his Perrier and called it wine.''

For some reason, this has raised the hackles of some religious folk.

Christian Coalition spokesperson Lee Douglas told British newspaper the Daily Star that the song is ''blasphemy,'' adding that Depp is ''simply a disgrace'' for taking part in the song.

''One day, Johnny Depp and his cronies will face the judgment of our Lord and they will burn in hell for this filth,'' Douglas predicted.

The Focus on the Family organization was similarly condemnatory, telling the paper, ''We are sickened by Mr. Depp's behavior. Why did he need to record this song?''

The song, according to Focus on the Family, is ''a slap in the face to Christians all over the world.''

Apparently, the whole ''turn the other cheek'' philosophy is just sooooooooooo first century.

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