Khamis, 15 Disember 2011

The Star Online: World Updates

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The Star Online: World Updates

Insight - Hardly "Incredible India"

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 09:29 PM PST

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Frustrated executives while away time in five-star hotels waiting for deals that never come, and civil servants play video games in their offices - growing signs of the reform limbo and crisis of confidence behind India's economic malaise.

Policy paralysis, corruption scandals and a government fearful of political backlash to any bold moves have combined with the global slowdown and worsening domestic finances in the last few months to derail Asia's third-largest economy.

India now faces the worst-case scenario that was touted earlier this year - stubbornly high inflation, slowing growth, a mounting fiscal deficit, a rupee that risks freefall -- and both

policymakers and the central bank have few levers to fix it.

For years, Indian entrepreneurs have boasted they can do business despite the government - adeptly working around potholed roads, clogged ports and reams of regulatory hurdles.

But government inertia - what many politicians see as "playing safe" - is taking its toll on corporate confidence.

Entrepreneurs once feted in Bollywood movies as national heroes, whose million-dollar homes and jetset lifestyles were a beacon for millions of India's aspiring middle classes, no longer seem capable of driving the $1.6 trillion economy.

"We may have seen phases of economic growth slower than this in the two post-reform decades, but never has the entrepreneurial mood been so low," wrote Shekhar Gupta, editor-in-chief of the Indian Express.

It's echoed across offices of business leaders from Mumbai to Delhi. One foreign executive described increasingly strained telephone conversations over the past year with his U.S.-based CEO as deals became mired in red tape and ministerial inertia.

"They always understood that India was difficult to do business in. But not this difficult," said the executive, who asked not to be named as he was not authorised to speak for his company.

The banking sector is now under strain from bad loans.

Economic reforms that may bring in much-needed foreign investment, such as opening up the supermarket sector to the likes of Wal-Mart Stores Inc, have been put on hold as political parties eye important state polls next year.

Even reforms seen as no-brainers politically, such as the introduction of a digitalised national ID card or food subsidies for the poor, have faced delays as opposition parties and coalition partners smell blood ahead of a 2014 general election.


India used to be full of brash business leaders.

When Tata Steel bought an Anglo-Dutch rival in 2007 for $12 billion, the newspaper headline "Empire Strikes Back" epitomised the supreme confidence of India's aggressive capitalist kingpins then on a global buying spree. Jaguar, Land Rover and other foreign brands soon followed into Indian hands.

The economy may grow at under 7 percent this fiscal year, down from initial forecasts of 9 percent. That's still a far cry from the around 3.5 percent "Hindu" rate of growth that plagued the decades after India's independence from Britain in 1947.

But these last few heady years have changed expectations.

These days, growth below 7 percent is enough for investors to delay projects, for banks to put off loans and for voters to get angry: 7 percent is the new 2-3 percent.

It was corruption scams surfacing over a year ago that may have started it - a potentially $39 billion scam involving selling telecoms licenses at rock-bottom prices effectively saw distracted politicians asleep at the economic wheel.

Suddenly politicians were jailed and billionaires questioned by police. It sent shudders through the political class. The invincibility of the political "untouchables" disappeared.

Inside India's famously bureaucratic ministries, middle-level civil servants passed the buck to top-level officials who in turn passed the buck to their reluctant political masters.

One defence contractor, who asked to not be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, recounted spending weeks at a top hotel, sipping drinks every evening with fellow frustrated arms dealers waiting for "imminent" defence ministry decisions that never came.

An Indian executive likened the country's economic malaise and government's reform limbo to an old village adage - a bullock knows that if it goes to work in the field it could get whipped, while the animal that lazes around far away does not.

"Once the spotlight is on, even minor mistakes become noticeable," said the vice-president of an infrastructure firm about a slowdown in decision making ever since corruption scandals broke last year. "That's why nobody wants to take decisions."

Many civil servants have been seen playing computer games during official hours when parliament sessions are adjourned or their minister goes on trips for G20 or World Bank meetings, according to one government official.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh may be reform-minded. But with real power lying with the populist-inclined Sonia Gandhi, he has been unable or unwilling to press for new steps to modernise and open up the economy.

With Gandhi ill, reportedly with cancer, there are signs the family dynasty that has run India for decades has lost its bearings, increasingly unable to keep its coalition partners in line as parties jostle for power before the 2014 election.

The cabinet's one sudden announcement of major reform - allowing foreign firms to hold 51 percent stakes in the supermarket sector - may have been partly driven by economic panic as the rupee plummeted, with Asia's worst-performing currency suffering from capital flight to safe havens like U.S. Treasuries.

But Singh's about-turn only 10 days later in the face of a political backlash underscored that, even at a time of alarm over the economy, politics and the concern about forthcoming elections took precedence.


India's annual financing requirement of $119 billion is the highest in Asia, according to a Nomura report. The trade gap for the fiscal year to March 2012 is expected to widen sharply to $155-$160 billion from $104.4 billion a year ago.

Foreign funds are net sellers of about $300 million of Indian shares this year in sharp contrast to record investment of more than $29 billion in 2010, and India's 30-share benchmark index is down more than 23 percent, making it the worst-performing major global market this year.[ID:nL3E7NF1AA]

"Industry is geared up to deliver infrastructure in line with the strong growth pattern and the government's forecasts," said Russell Waugh, managing director of Leighton Welspun Contractors, part of Australia's Leighton Holdings.

"But the flow (of new projects) at the moment, the real flow, is not aligned with that gearing. So we're seeing most companies struggling."

Infrastructure assets, including telecoms, construction and power, which account for about 25 percent of total corporate credit, are now a key concern for banks.

Worries about rising bad loans prompted Moody's Investors Service earlier this month to cut its outlook on India's banking sector to "negative" from "stable," saying monetary tightening and a slowdown in the economy would cut bank loan growth.

The car industry - a symbol of the aspirations of millions of India's middle classes - is now an example of how slipping growth and high interest rates have hit consumer demand and investment decisions.

Car sales in India, which jumped 30 percent in the last fiscal year, have slumped due to high interest rates and rising input costs. Sales may just break even this fiscal year. [ID:nL3E7N819R]

Maruti Suzuki, India's biggest automaker, is deferring an investment of $560-740 million in plants in the western state of Gujarat due to the economic gloom.

"When we will start work in Gujarat will depend on how the market improves in the future ... at the moment the general economic situation is too negative to justify it," Maruti Chairman R. C. Bhargava told Reuters. "There's no point creating excess capacity if the demand is not there."


There is no quick fix for the government, with the fiscal deficit set to beat its target of 4.6 percent of GDP. But there is little sign of efforts to help investment, including speeding up approvals of projects hit by red tape and environmental approvals.

One official, monitoring government infrastructure projects, said that of 558 federal government projects, 241 were delayed as of end-July, resulting in a cost overrun of some 20 percent, or more than $31 billion.

The projects, which include setting up airports, new railway lines, shipping ports, roads and power plants, have been delayed by more than two years on average due to issues of land acquisition, environmental clearance and rising costs.

Senior government officials, who declined to be named, described a finance ministry dominated by 76-year-old Pranab Mukherjee, who is more adept at bringing together unruly coalition allies than doing anything bold about the economy.

"Mukherjee is a politician first with little time for his own ministry as he is also the chief trouble shooter for the Congress party. Many bureaucrats don't even get to see him for days and have no access to him," said one.

"His style is very old world and some say not very responsive to financial markets. It's not surprising that in a crisis like what's confronting us currently, lack of imaginative leadership in the treasury department is also reflecting in the economic woes facing the country."

Mukherjee first became finance minister in 1982, way before India had begun to rethink its post-independence socialist, state-driven economic model.

For many, India will remain in limbo only until a real crisis prompts it to act - similar to the 1991 balance of payments crisis that ushered in the country's first economic reforms under Singh, who was then finance minister.

"At the end of the day, I feel you need crisis to get going again," said V Ravichander, who advises multinationals on doing business. "And even though our growth rates have fallen from 8 to 6.9 percent on the last estimate, I guess people feel 6.9 is not still low enough for us to do something about it."

But that inertia could means India faces some turbulent years ahead, exacerbated by the 2014 election that may just polarise the country further.

"The new Hindu Rate of Growth is 6 percent and on all evidence, from macroeconomic data to the empty billboards of Mumbai, we're headed there next year," wrote Gupta.

"Returning to economic stagnation like that is bad enough by itself. But this is not the forgiving India of the past. This India has tasted growth, progress, optimism and aspiration."

(Additional reporting by Matthias Williams in New Delhi; Henry Foy, Swati Pandey, Rajesh Kurup and Ketan Bondre in Mumbai; Editing by John Chalmers and Ian Geoghegan)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Army says coup memo attempt to hurt Pakistan - reports

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 09:13 PM PST

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan's army chief has said a memo accusing the military of plotting a coup, which could damage the unpopular president and led to the resignation of Islamabad's ambassador to Washington, was an attempt to hurt national security, newspapers said.

General Ashfaq Kayani, arguably the most powerful man in Pakistan, made the remarks in a statement filed to the Supreme Court, which is examining a petition demanding an investigation into who was behind the memo.

The petition was filed by President Asif Ali Zardari's main political opponent, Nawaz Sharif. Hearings on the petition are due to start in the Supreme Court on December 19.

Pakistan's envoy to the United States, Husain Haqqani, denied involvement in the memo but resigned over the controversy, which could undermine the deeply unpopular Zardari if he is implicated.

Local newspapers quoted Kayani as saying the memo "has an impact on national security" and "unsuccessfully attempts to lower the morale of the Pakistan army."

Businessman Mansoor Ijaz, writing in a column in the Financial Times on October 10, said a senior Pakistani diplomat had asked that a memo be delivered to the Pentagon with a plea for U.S. help to stave off a military coup in the days after the raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in May.

Ijaz later identified the diplomat as Haqqani.

No evidence has emerged that the military was plotting a coup and the Pentagon at the time dismissed the memo as not credible.

Zardari is in Dubai for medical treatment that raised speculation he would resign. He is due to return to Pakistan, where he will face one of the biggest challenges of his career.

Tensions between Pakistan's civilian government and military have bedevilled the nuclear-armed South Asian country for almost its entire existence, with the military ruling the country for more than half of its 64-year history after a series of coups.

Haqqani's resignation was seen by many analysts as further weakening the civilian government, which is already beset by allegations of corruption and incompetence.

A new showdown would bring fresh turmoil to one of the most unstable countries in the world and distract Pakistani leaders from addressing a range of issues -- from a Taliban insurgency to power cuts and a struggling economy.

The army seems to want investigators to move quickly to get to the bottom of what has been dubbed "memogate."

"I also recommended to the prime minister that time was of the essence and that the earlier we knew the truth the better it would be to address the negative fallout for the country," The News quoted Kayani as saying.

Pakistan is also facing turbulence on the diplomatic front. Relations with strategic ally the United States, a source of billions of dollars in aid, are at a low point.

The latest crisis in ties erupted after a November 26 NATO cross-border air attack killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

(Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Paul Tait)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Gaddafi's death may be war crime - ICC prosecutor

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 06:44 PM PST

(Reuters) - The death of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who was captured and killed by rebels in October, may have been a war crime, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court said on Thursday.

"I think the way in which Mr Gaddafi was killed creates suspicions of ... war crimes," ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told reporters.

Muslims attend the Eid al-Adha prayers, the first after former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was killed, near the court house in Benghazi November 6, 2011. REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori

"I think that's a very important issue," he said. "We are raising this concern to the national authorities and they are preparing a plan to have a comprehensive strategy to investigate all these crimes."

Under pressure from Western allies, Libya's National Transitional Council has promised to investigate how Gaddafi and his son Mo'tassim were killed.

Mobile phone footage showed both alive after their capture. The former Libyan leader was seen being mocked, beaten and abused before he died, in what NTC officials said was crossfire.

The U.N. Security Council referred Gaddafi's crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators to the ICC in February and authorized military intervention to protect civilians in March. The ICC indicted Gaddafi, his son Saif al-Islam and the former intelligence chief for war crimes.

Saif al-Islam is now in the custody of the Libyan authorities who have said they plan to try in him in Libya instead of handing him over to The Hague-based ICC. Moreno-Ocampo has said this was possible.

Moreno-Ocampo has also said he was investigating allegations that the anti-Gaddafi forces and NATO were also guilty of war crimes during the civil war.

(Reporting By Louis Charbonneau; editing by Christopher Wilson)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

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The Star Online: Entertainment: TV & Radio

CBS sets new schedule with 'Amazing Race,' 'Gifted Man'

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 06:47 PM PST

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - ''The Amazing Race'' will return with a new edition on Sunday, Feb. 19 at 8 p.m., CBS said Thursday.

The network also revealed a shakeup to its Friday night lineup, with ''Undercover Boss'' moving to Fridays at 8 starting Feb. 17, following three Sunday broadcasts, starting with its Jan. 15 premiere at 8 p.m.

The network's new offering ''A Gifted Man,'' which premiered Sept. 23, will shift from Fridays at 8 to Fridays at 9 to accommodate ''Boss.''

''CSI: NY,'' which had been occupying the Fridays at 9 p.m. timeslot, will return to its place on March 30, when ''A Gifted Man'' completes its season.

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'Extreme Makeover' cancelled by ABC after nine seasons

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 04:56 PM PST

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Sorry, fans of inspirational home-renovation stories: ''Extreme Makeover: Home Edition'' is coming to an end.

ABC has decided to end the series' run after its ninth season wraps up in January. The show debuted in 2003 as a spin-off of ''Extreme Makeover.''

Its final episode - the series' 200th - will air on Jan. 13, and will feature the team building seven homes in seven days for tornado victims in Joplin, Mo.

Luckily for the show's followers, the network will air special episodes of the series following the cancellation, though the network has announced no specific dates.

The handwriting had been on the tastefully-remodeled wall for some time. The show lost more than a third of its audience this season, thanks in part to a move to Friday. Between the start of the season and mid-November, it averaged a 1.5 rating in the adults 18-49 demographic. The 34.9 percent audience loss - since the same period in 2010 - made it No. 4 on TheWrap's list of the biggest ratings losers of the fall.

Meanwhile, host Ty Pennington has joined the cast of ABC's daytime talk offering ''The Revolution,'' which premieres Jan. 16.

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Splash factor!

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 10:34 PM PST

PUT on your best poolside party gear and pump up that party attitude to the max as Red FM wants you to join in a spectacular New Year Eve's celebration.

Red FM's Remix Tour is ushering in 2012 at Hard Rock Hotel Penang with a poolside party on Dec 31. It's gearing up to be a massive night of revelry with loads of awesome music as you herald in the New Year. Catch Red FM's DJ Razz and DVJ G-Mix as they spin club songs, electronic dance tracks and dance anthem remixes for your dancing pleasure.

Spinning off from the Red FM's Remix every Saturday from 11pm to 1am, the on-air show plays a mixture of dance music. So get ready to party hard and dazzle your senses at the on-ground event. DJ Razz will be playing an addictive blend of hip hop to house vibes while DVJ G-Mix will be displaying his unique skills of 'visualising sounds' as he loads his audiences with hypnotic, head-turning graphics and visuals.

Situated on the famous beach stretch of Batu Ferringhi, Hard Rock Hotel Penang is synonymous with music, good fun and entertainment. Have an ultimate rock star experience as you groove away to a brand New Year by the hotel's stunning poolside from 7.30pm onwards.

Pick up passes in the next two weeks by tuning in to Red FM's Eleven 2 Three with Linora (Monday to Friday, 11am to 3pm) and Red FM's Evenings with Arnold (Monday to Friday, 7pm to 10pm). It's been an extraordinary 12 months, so let's send it off with the party of the year! Let the countdown begin!

Log on to for more information. Join the Red FM Malaysia Facebook fan page ( and follow Twitter (@iloveredfm) for the latest updates of all contests.

Red FM is owned and operated by The Star.

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The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

Asian markets mixed in early trade on Euro debt woes

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 06:09 PM PST

PETALING JAYA: Asian markets were mixed in Friday's early trade as the ongoing Euro zone's sovereign debt crisis continued to sap investor confidence.

On the local front, the benchmark FBM KLCI was up marginally by 0.15 points to 1,464 points at 9.26am.

Consumer counters such as Dutch Lady Milk Industries Bhd, Nestle (M) Bhd and Fraser & Neave Holdings Bhd were among the top gainers in early trade as investors preferred to put their money in defensive stocks.

Shares of Proton Holdings Bhd continued its uptrend, rising 5 sen to RM4.60 on speculation that local automotive assembler, DRB-HICOM Bhd might purchase its major shareholder, Khazanah Nasional Bhd's 42.7% stake in the national carmaker.

As for regional markets, Tokyo's Nikkei 225 was up 0.53% to 8,421.73 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index gained 0.46% to 18,109.92.

Shanghai's A index was down 0.06% to 2,179.51 while Taiwan's Taiex Index rose 0.45% to 6,795.28.

Seoul's Kospi Index was up 0.81% to 1,833.83, with Singapore's Straits Times Index gaining 0.37% to 2,644.99

Nymex crude oil gained 10 cents to US$93.97 per barrel. Spot gold rose US$11.30 to US$1,581.82 per ounce. The ringgit was quoted at 3.179 to the US dollar.

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McCann bags top prize in Kancil Awards

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 06:06 PM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: McCann Erickson Sdn Bhd has won the "Agency of The Year" category at the annual Kancil Awards, which honours the best in the advertising industry.

The agency was also the winner of this year's Golden Kancil, the top award in the industry.

Mattel (M) Sdn Bhd was chosen as the "Advertiser of The Year" while Commercial Radio Malaysia president Datuk Borhanuddin Osman won the Chairman's Award.

The gold winners in The Student Kancil award category, sponsored by Star Publications (M) Bhd, were Sih Kai Ling from Alpha International College and two students from The One Academy of Communication Design, Chok Yi Ning and Lee Jia Chang.

With the theme "Stop The Ordinary", the organising chairman Nicky Lim said creativity was a business tool in the industry.

"The wheels of economic fortunes may fluctuate but the enduring strength of our industry must be our collective ability to create work that reflects the true spirit of a brand," he said.

Hosted by 4As Malaysia, there were 11 main creative Kancil Awards categories in film, print, radio, cyber, outdoor, direct, design, integrated, craft, media and rebel.

Star Publications (M) Bhd was also one of the sponsors of the event held yesterday.

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Top three rubber producers aim to set up regional market

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 05:00 PM PST

BANGKOK: The world's top three rubber producers -- Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia -- aim to launch a regional rubber market to set realistic prices and cushion farmers from volatility in futures prices, a senior official said on Thursday.

"After a ministerial meeting in Bali, we agreed to set up a regional centre of rubber, or a regional market that would help reflect realistic prices from producers," Yium Tavarolit, chief secretary of the International Rubber Consortium (IRCo), told Reuters, referring to an annual meeting in Bali early this week.

The IRCo brings together rubber industry officials, exporters and government officials from the three Southeast Asian countries.

"The idea is still in a stage of feasibility study and the market could be a physical market, a futures market or a hybrid one," he added.

The top three producers discussed volatile rubber prices at the ministerial level meeting of the International Tripartite Rubber Council (ITRC) in Bali, but the council did not take further steps to stabilise prices, saying industry fundamentals remained strong, with no stocks overhang in the market.

"The ministers noted the recent downtrend of natural rubber prices. The decline was due to the weak sentiment brought by the euro zone debt crisis and global economic slowdown," the ITRC said in a statement.

Benchmark Thai smoked rubber sheet (RSS3), offered at $3.35 per kg on Thursday, has almost halved from a record high of $6.40 per kg in February.

The top three rubber producers, who account for around 70 percent of global rubber output, normally use supply cuts and export curbs to help support prices, although some traders are skeptical about the effectiveness of the measures.

In December 2008, when physical rubber fell to a near seven-year low of $1.10 per kg as global recession loomed, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to cut exports by a total of 915,000 tonnes in 2009 to prop up prices.

The market started to rebound from mid-2009, but that was largely due to rising demand from tyre companies in China and India. The export restriction plan was never strictly enforced. - Reuters

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The Star Online: Sports

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The Star Online: Sports

Chong Wei does not want Christensen to become third player to beat him

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 04:49 PM PST

WORLD No. 1 Lee Chong Wei is seeking personal satisfaction when he takes on Denmark's Peter-Gade Christensen today in a bid to top Group A in the Super Series Masters Finals at the Li Ning Gymnasium.

If he wins, the 29-year-old Chong Wei would have beaten all the top players – except for China's Lin Dan and Chen Long – in his long and tiring season this year.

"All the players are eyeing my scalp. It is not easy to keep on winning but I will try to maintain my good run," said Chong Wei.

"I have lost only to Lin Dan and Chen Long this year ... I don't intend to give Peter the privilege of being the third player to beat me this year."

Chong Wei assured himself a place in the semi-finals of the Masters Finals with a sensational 21-10, 21-15 win over an out-of-sorts Simon Santoso of Indonesia yesterday.

It was his second successive win in the group, having defeated Sho Sasaki of Japan on Wednesday.

Chong Wei feels he is in good physical condition despite playing in his 15th tournament of the year.

"It is more about mental tiredness rather than physical ... but I am fine. This is my last tournament and all I need is to give it one final push. Then, I can take a short break before the new season begins," he said.

"Lin Dan and Chen Long will continue to be my main challengers leading up to the London Olympic Games and I have to work extra hard to get the better of them."

If Chong Wei tops his group with a win over Christensen today, he is likely to face the lanky Chen Long in the semi-finals tomorrow.

Chen Long won his first Group B match yesterday when he clawed back from a opening game setback to beat Kenichi Tago of Japan 12-21, 21-18, 21-13.

"Chen Long made quite a lot of mistakes in the first game and I took advantage.

"But he proved that he is the better player with a strong showing in the second game," said Kenichi, who faces Lin Dan in his second group match today.

Lin Dan is expected to make the semi-finals as the Group B champion and may meet Christensen in the other semi-final.

And, if everything goes according to plan, fans can look forward to a final Chong Wei-Lin Dan clash for the year.

n Men's singles

Group A: Lee Chong Wei (Mas) bt Simon Santoso (Ina) 21-10, 21-15;

Group B: Lin Dan (Chn) bt Taufik Hidayat (Ina) 21-12, 21-19; Peter-Gade Christensen (Den) bt Sho Sasaki (Jpn) 21-15, 21-19.

n Men's doubles

Group A: Cai Yun-Fu Haifeng (Chn) bt Hirokatsu Hashimoto-Noriyasu Hirata (Jpn) 21-12, 19-21, 21-15; Ko Sung-hyun-Yoo Yeon-seong (Kor) bt Chai Biao-Guo Zhengdong (Chn) 21-17, 21-19.

Group B: Chen Long (Chn) bt Kenichi Tago (Jpn) 12-21, 21-18, 21-13, Jung Jae-sung-Lee Yong-dae (Kor) bt Mohd Ahsan-Bona Septano (Ina) 23-21, 21-16; Mathias Boe-Carsten Mogensen (Den) bt Koo Kien Keat-Tan Boon Heong (Mas) 21-14, 21-6.

n Women's singles

Group A: Wang Yihan (Chn) bt Tine Baun (Den) 21-16, 21-12; Sung Ji-hyun (Kor) bt Juliane Schenk (Ger) 29-21, 21-19.

Group B: Saina Nehwal (Ind) bt Sayaka Sato (Jpn) 21-16, 21-13; Wang Xin (Chn) bt Bae Youn-joo (Kor) 21-8, 13-21, 21-13.

n Women's doubles

Group A: Wang Xiaoli-Yu Yang (Chn) bt Cheng Wen-hsing-Chien Yu-chin (Tpe) 21-17, 21-11; Lok Yan Poon-Ying Suet Tse (Hkg) bt Ha Jung-eun-Kim Min-jung (Kor) 21-23, 23-21, 21-12.

Group B: Tian Qing-Zhao Yunlei (Chn) bt Shizuka Matsuo-Mami Naito (Jpn) 21-14, 21-8, Christinna Pedersen-Kamilla Rytter Juhl (Den) bt Mizuki Fujii-Reika Kakiiwa (Jpn) 21-13, 21-14..

n Mixed doubles

Group A: Zhang Nan-Zhao Yunlei (Chn) bt Robert Blair-Gabrielle White (Sco-Eng) 21-10, 21-18; Xu Chen-Ma Jin (Chn) bt Tantowi Ahmad-Lilyana Natsir (Ina) 17-21, 21-7, 22-20.

Group B: Joachim Fischer Nielsen-Christinna Pedersen (Den) bt Shintaro Ikeda-Reiko Shiota (Jpn) 21-15, 21-13; Sudket Prapakamol-T. Saralee (Tha) bt Chen Hung-ling-Cheng Wen-hsing (Tpe) 15-21, 21-16, 21-12.

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Joo-bong starts to reap the fruits of his labour in Japan

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 03:09 PM PST

THIS has been a year of highs and lows for Japan's national chief coach Park Joo-bong (pic).

After eight long years under the guidance of this legendary South Korean doubles player, Japan finally enjoyed their best season in badminton this year and are now considered a threat at next year's two major events – the Thomas-Uber Cup Finals and Olympic Games.

At the ongoing Super Series Masters Finals, Japan continued to prove that they have both quality and quantity with representatives in every event.

This is way better than last year – when they had just two women's doubles qualifiers.

In fact, their women's doubles pair of Mizuki Fujii-Reika Kakiiwa emerged as the All-England runners-up this year while Miyuki Maeda-Satoko Suetsuna achieved a breakthrough by winning the country's first Super Series title at the Indian Open and reaching the semi-finals at the World Championships in Wembley.

"There is a marked improvement in Japan's performance. For the first time, we took part in all 12 legs of the Super Series this year. We used to depend on our women's doubles but now our men's singles and doubles are also giving their opponents a hard time. We have a balanced side now," said a beaming Joo-bong.

Their future's looking good too now that Japan have recruited two new young shuttlers – Kento Momota and Nozomi Okuhara – into the national men's and women's singles department respectively.

"Okuhara is our bright young talent. Just last week, she became the youngest national champion at the tender age of 16, beating some big names in our country," said Joo-bong.

However, the grin on his face turned to glum when Joo-bong spoke about the quality of sports administration in the Tour throughout this season.

For one, he felt that the team managers' meeting during the Super Series could be run more professionally.

"On some occasions the referees do not come prepared or lacked technical knowledge of the game. Not much information is given to us, especially on the schedules," said Joo-bong.

"How are we to prepare our players when the schedule comes late. At the China Open, we had to wait for the schedule way past midnight ... it is a headache for us coaches.

"I think the most professionally run Super Series was the All-England. Their court officials were well-dressed and everything was done professionally. This should be the way to go for future Super Series events."

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Schenk and Baun lead the way to end China’s stranglehold

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 03:09 PM PST

IT has been a year full of upsets in the women's singles event this year.

And two Europeans – Tine Baun and Juliane Schenk – have played their parts in making the women's singles event unpredictable by breaking the stranglehold of the Chinese stars.

Denmark's Baun concluded yesterday that it has been an exciting year in the women's singles – especially for the non-China players.

"It is very difficult to beat the Chinese players because there are too many good ones out there. But I think some of us have done well this year to give them a good fight," said Baun, who defeated Wang Shixian in the Hong Kong Open recently.

"The Chinese camp have so many energetic players all the time that we have to be full of energy all the time ourselves to counter them one by one. This year we saw the most number of Chinese players losing in early rounds."

Schenk too had a great time knocking out an army of Chines players in the middle of the Tour this year but admitted that it was difficult for her to sustain her form.

"I am not a machine. I had my good time in the middle of this year.

"I will wait for my moment and choose the right time to peak – at the London Olympic Games. The good run some of us have had proves that we are not far away from the Chinese," said Schenk.

Schenk failed to qualify for the semi-finals of the Super Series Masters Finals after losing both her Group A matches against Sung Ji-hyun of South Korea and Baun yesterday. Baun's fate, meanwhile, will be determined today when she takes Ji-hyun.

Ji-hyun and a few others, including Bae Youn-joo of South Korea, India's Saina Nehwal and Thailand's Inthanon Ratchanok, are also growing to be a thorn in the Chinese players' side.

And, for the first time, it looks like China are not assured of winning a gold medal in the women's singles event at the London Olympics next year after all.

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Bookshelf

Not a common fly

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 10:43 PM PST

Fly Guy vs Flyswatter

Author & Illustrator: Tedd Arnold

Publisher: Scholastic Press, 30 pages

BUZZ has a pet – not a dog or a cat, a rabbit or a hamster, but a fly, called Fly Guy! When Buzz's class goes on a field trip, Fly Guy goes to. To his horror, he finds himself at a fly swatter factory. Things get really bad when it's time to demonstrate the fly-swatter of the future: the Super Swatter 6000! Will Fly Guy survive this field trip?

Lost In The Toy Museum

Author & Illustrator: David Lucas

Publisher: Walker & Company, 32 pages

ONE night, when the lights go out at the toy museum, everyone runs and hides. Bunting, the strait-laced old toy cat, seems to be the only one not in on the joke. He goes in search of his fellow exhibits and discovers something precious – the ability to have fun.

Down The Mysterly River

Author: Bill Willingham

Illustrator: Mark Buckingham

Publisher: Starscape, 336 pages

Despite being a first class boy scout, Max "the Wolf" finds himself lost in a strange wood, with no memory of his recent past. Presently, Max meets a badger, a black bear and an old barn cat, all of whom talk! Max and his new animal friends find themselves being pursued by a band of hunters whose aim is to capture and change the essence of their prey. Max must figure out this world he's landed in before he finds himself changed beyond recognition and lost forever.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making

Author: Catherynne M. Valente

Illustrator: Ana Juan

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends, 256 pages

SEPTEMBER'S ordinary life changes drastically when she is invited to journey to Fairyland with a gentleman dressed in green. He is really a Green Wind and just one of the many strange individuals September meets on her travels. It seems that she is the only one who can retrieve a talisman hidden in an enchanted wood. Failing to do so will not result in the end of the world – but the new Marquess of Fairyland will throw a very hissy fit. Ana Juan's illustrations alone are worth the price of this book.

The Space Between

Author: Brenna Yovanoff

Publisher: Razorbill, 360 pages

DAPHNE is the result of the union of Lucifer and Lilith, which makes her the coolest half-blood that ever lived. When her Obie is kidnapped, the half-demon, half-angel girl must venture out of the safety of her home in Pandemonium, and search for him on Earth. With the help of a human boy, Daphne learns to use her demonic powers, navigate the jealousies and alliances of the violent archangels, and discovers what it means to love and be human in a world where human is the hardest thing to be.

The Future Of Us

Author: Jay Asher

Publisher: Razorbill, 356 pages

IN 1996, less than half of all American high school students had ever used the Internet. Emma is one of those who hadn't. When she gets her first computer and an America Online CD-ROM, Emma invites her best friend Josh to power up and log on with her. When they do, they find themselves ... on something called ... Facebook, and it's 15 years in the future. So who said time travel was impossible?

The House Baba Built

Author & Illustrator: Ed Young

Author: Libby Koponen

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 48 pages

IN Ed Young's childhood home in Shanghai, all was not as it seemed: a rocking chair became a horse; a roof became a roller rink; an empty swimming pool became a place for riding scooters and bikes. The house his father built transformed as needed into a place to play hide-and-seek, to eat bamboo shoots, and to be safe. For outside the home's walls, China was at war. Soon the house held not only Ed and his four siblings but also friends, relatives, and even strangers who became family. The war came closer, and Ed watched as planes flew overhead and friends joined the Chinese air force. But through it all, Ed's childhood remained full of joy and imagination. This powerful, poignant, and exquisitely illustrated memoir is the story of one of our most beloved children's illustrators and the house his baba (father) built.

Over And Under The Snow

Author: Kate Messner

Illustrator: Christopher Silas Neal

Publisher: Chronicle Books, 44 pages

THE snow makes the world white and smooth, and still. Under its thick blanket, there is a secret world, teeming with small creatures, all hidden, safe and warm from the cold. Go on a cross-country ski trip to discover the white world, over snow, and the cosy, dark one, under it.

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Cream of the Chinese crop

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 10:38 PM PST

Our Chinese entertainment writer uncovers a gem of a book that anyone with a love of film should have.

The River Of Shadow And Light: 100 Greatest Chinese Language Films

Authors: Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival Executive Committee

Publisher: Garden City Publishers, 440 pages

A BOOK of the 100 greatest Chinese language films! How could I resist it? It's a keeper for film aficionados. Especially if you're a fan of Chinese cinema but find it too stressful to read in Chinese or can't read Chinese at all – because this bilingual gem features outstanding translation work by Isabella Ho and Yihsuan Chen that makes for easy reading.

It would be such a shame if English readers miss out on a beautiful book like this because it's hidden in the Chinese section of the bookstore.

Published in Taiwan, the book retains that delicate look so typical of Chinese books. Even the fonts chosen are gentle on the eye. Add to that gorgeous images – most in full colour – of all the movies from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China ... so, not only easy reading but beautiful reading, too.

I wouldn't say that this is the definitive guide to Chinese-language cinema but it comes close. This book is also significant in that 2011 is the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Republic of China, also known as Taiwan.

Just reading about how this book came about impressed me; it was a massive project planned by the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival executive committee, which invited hundreds of film professionals and cinema experts from around the world to send what they felt were the best Chinese-language films made before August 2010. However, only 122 of those contacted agreed to submit entries while the rest said they doubted their knowledge of Chinese-language cinema sufficed to come up with a list. Once all entries were in, members of the executive committee then used a combination of votes and discussion to narrow down the hundreds of titles to the final 100.

Apart from the 100 greatest Chinese-language films, the book also lists the 50 greatest Chinese-language film directors and compiles the selections of each of the 122 members of the panel. Also, 22 writers were invited to pen comments about each of the 100 films.

Taiwan's prestigious Golden Horse Awards, the Chinese-language version of Hollywood's Academy Awards, was only founded in 1962 but the movies in this book date back to the 1930s with the oldest being 1933's Little Toys; the newest is 2009's No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti (Spanish for I Cannot Live Without You; director and co-screenwriter Leon Dai has said he decided on a Spanish title because the English translation of the Chinese title sounded just like the title of a love song, and that didn't fit with the idea of the film).

The movie with the most votes was A City Of Sadness (1989); it was directed by Taiwan's Hou Hsiao-Hsien and stars Hong Kong's Tony Leung Chiu-Wai. Made during a time of political unrest that eventually sparked the Tianamen Square incident in China in 1989, the film was a box office success, raking in NT$1bil (RM105mil) before becoming the first Chinese-language film to win the Venice Film Festival's top award, the Golden Lion, in 1989. This I have yet to watch, as Taiwanese films rarely come to Malaysian shores, particularly since they are usually far from commercial.

Also in the top 10 are A Brighter Summer Day (1991), The Time To Live And The Time To Die (1985), Days Of Being Wild (1990), Spring In A Small Town (1948), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Dust In The Wind (1986), Yi Yi: A One And A Two (2000), Dragon Inn (1967) and In The Mood For Love (2000). Oh my, what have I been missing out on! I haven't seen even half of these.

The films in the book are divided into five sections according to the decade of original release, with a third of the movies from the 1990s alone. It's good that half of these top 1990s movies as well as those from the late 1980s enjoy repeated screenings on our local TV stations, though not all are commercial flicks.

Scanning the titles of films in the book, I realised that I've probably watched only a third of them so I guess it is about time I went hunting for the rest with this handy guide to the best. Perhaps I shall begin with the oldest films in the book. If anybody has any idea how I can get my hands on these classics, please let me know!

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The Star Online: Nation

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Police mount operation to find remains of missing South Korean

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 06:27 AM PST

PETALING JAYA: Police have mounted a large-scale operation to locate the remains of a South Korean expatriate who is believed to have been murdered.

Led by city deputy CID chief Asst Comm Khairi Arasa, the team comprising 60 personnel from Bukit Aman and the Brickfields police headquarters including commandos and the K-9 unit combed at least 12 locations along Sungai Chinchin, Gombak up to the Karak highway near Bentong.

The operation started from 8.30am Thursday and had to be called off by 3.30pm due to a heavy downpour.

Several representatives from the South Korean embassy were also present. The operation is expected to continue in several other earmarked locations Friday.

Businessman Kim Chong-yong, 53, was believed to have been killed by a fellow Korean known to the victim and his body dumped in a river near Gombak.

It was reported earlier that the victim, who was also president of the Korean Sports Council in Malaysia, was last seen in the Mont Kiara area where he had met an acquaintance on the evening of Oct 29.

A missing persons report was lodged at the Ampang police station and the embassy was notified on Nov 1.

Police are also working closely with the Interpol to obtain more information on a suspect said to have flown to the Philippines on Oct 30.

Sources also revealed that the search was launched after police traced phone calls made by the suspect and viewed CCTV footages at the condominium.

When police raided the unoccupied unit, they found bloodstains, leading them to suspect that the victim could have been murdered.

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Fire engine crashes into house, injuring four firemen

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 05:37 AM PST

KEPALA BATAS: Four firemen were injured while another escaped unhurt when the fire engine they were in skidded and crashed into a house in Penaga here.

They were on their way to put out a fire when a motorcyclist suddenly appeared in the opposite direction at a bend, forcing the fire engine to crash into the house at Jalan Pasir Gebu, Penaga.

Fireman Nordin Hassan, 55, who was driving with his four colleagues from the Kuala Muda Fire Station, suffered head injuries in the accident at 9.25pm Wednesday.

Syawal Dahaman, in his 50s, who was seated in the front passenger seat could not open the door as it was jammed against the wall of the house.

His leg was pinned inside and it took about two hours for him to be rescued by colleagues another fire engine.

Shamsudin Mat Nahu, in his 50s, injured his nose, while Ridzwan Hamid, in his 40s, sustained injuries on his ankle. Another colleague escaped unhurt.

Penang Fire and Rescue Department director Azmi Tamat said it took time to rescue Syawal who was trapped inside the fire engine as the vehicle stuck between a tree and wall of the house.

He said all four injured were taken to Kepala Batas hospital for treatment.

The house occupants, Noriah Wahab, 66, and her son Norizwan Abd Razak, 31, were unhurt.

Noriah said she was resting while Norizwan went into the kitchen to have food.

"I was shocked when I heard a loud noise and thought a tree had fallen on the house," she said.

She said Norizwan rushed to her i and took her out to safety.

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Orang Seletar protest against encroachment

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 04:15 AM PST

NUSAJAYA: Some 200 Orang Seletar staged a protest in front of Bangunan Sultan Ismail, singing songs to attract the attention of assemblymen attending the state assembly meeting.

The group from nine Orang Seletar villages Thursday wanted to meet Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman and hand over a memorandum on what they claimed was encroachment into their area following the development in Iskandar Malaysia.

Their representative Edy Salim, 31, said the Orang Seletar was against the development along the coastline of the Johor Straits and that they felt neglected by the state government.

He said the Orang Seletar was an indigenous tribe who live along the Johor Straits, Sungai Pulai and Sungai Johor.

Since the start of the Iskandar Malaysia project, he claimed that their way of life had been threatened and that irresponsible developers had polluted the rivers and sea.

In their memorandum, they sought for a stop to any project that encroached into their area, to revoke or cancel the giving out of land and to convert it to Orang Asli reserve land.

State exco members Datuk Ahmad Zahri Jamil and Asiah Md Ariff, who represented Johor Mentri Besar, met with the group and held a discussion with the representatives.

Ahmad Zahri said a meeting would be held soon between the authorities and the Orang Seletar to look for solutions.

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

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The Star Online: Entertainment: Movies

Say hello to the Don

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 11:28 PM PST

Want to catch Don 2 for free? Film distributor Antenna Entertainments is giving away 50 pairs of tickets to the screening of Shah Rukh Khan's latest action thriller at KL Odeon. To win free passes to the movie, answer the following questions:

1. Who is the director of Don 2?

2. Who is the local actor who has a role in Don 2?

3. Complete this slogan in 15 words or less: "I can't wait to watch Don 2 because _____________.

Email your answers, together with your full name, NRIC number and contact number to with the subject "DON 2 TICKET GIVEAWAY" by midnight, Dec 19, 2011.

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Don-ning it right

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 11:27 PM PST

Bollywood director Farhan Akhtar found that he just couldn't stay away from continuing the story of Don.

NOTHING puts the pressure on a director like making the sequel to a hugely successful movie. When that sequel also happens to have Bollywood's biggest star in it, you can practically feel the heat being turned up.

Director Farhan Akhtar, however, sounded cool as a cucumber during a recent phone interview for the release of action thriller Don 2, the much-anticipated follow-up to 2006's Don, which sees Shah Rukh Khan returning to take on the titular role.

"The movie has to be different, people don't want to watch the same film again," says the 37-year-old director, who has also written the screenplay for the movie. "We've definitely upped the ante on this one. This is from the action film genre, but based on my sensibility of how it should be."

Of course, Farhan has been through this before: Don itself was a remake of a 1978 classic Bollywood hit starring none other than the legendary Amitabh Bachchan, and the pressure on the filmmaker to match up to its hype was tremendous. Luckily, the remake turned out to be a great hit.

Bringing together Farhan's stylish direction and a slick performance as the bad guy from Shah Rukh, Don won both critical acclaim and fan appreciation for putting a thoroughly modern spin on a classic, and the ingenious twist at the end shocked even the most jaded filmgoers. But one wonders, why would Farhan put himself through this arduous process again?

"Don deserved a sequel for a couple of reasons," he explains. "One, is my fascination with the character. Second, was just the general, very vocal, curiousity people had about the first movie. Everyone kept asking, 'What is Don going to do next?' and 'How can you just leave us hanging?'

"All this got me thinking about what a sequel could be like. A very interesting plot developed from there, and now, here we are."

Widely acknowledged as a discerning director, Farhan's filmography certainly makes up with quality what it lacks in length. Debuting as a director in 2001 with the superhit Dil Chahta Hai (which bagged a National Film Award), he went on to direct the critically-acclaimed Lakshya (2004) and then Don. He is also a respected actor in his own right, having starred in films like Rock On! and Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara. Don 2 will be his first directing stint in five years.

Picking up where the first movie left off, Don 2 follows the exploits of international criminal Don, who, having conquered the Asian underworld, sets his eyes on European domination. Hot on his heels are the international law enforcement agencies and underworld bosses. As the action shifts from Kuala Lumpur to Berlin, Don has to avoid both assassination and arrest to ensure his daring plan succeeds.

The film's trailer shows Shah Rukh in several new guises, including a scruffy, long-haired look while he is imprisoned. Boasting action-packed sequences, plenty of style, and a smouldering Shah Rukh, Don 2 looks set to live up to its predecessor. The film also sees the return of many cast members, including Priyanka Chopra, Om Puri and Boman Irani, while Lara Dutta and Kunal Kapoor have been added to the already glitzy cast list.

Malaysian fans will be happy to know that, like the first movie, several key sequences are set here, too. "We shot in the prison in Malacca, and a few locations in Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi. Don ended in Malaysia, so this one follows it up by beginning there," says Farhan, who spent about two months shooting here earlier this year with Shah Rukh and other cast members. Malaysians can also look forward to seeing local actor Ady Putra, known for his turns in Haq and Histeria, play a role in Don 2.

Farhan points out that the first movie's success can be both a blessing and a curse.

"With the first film being so successful, people go to the sequel expecting something new and exciting, but at the same time, they are expecting something to happen at the end of the movie like it did in the first one.

"When you're writing the script, this is already a handicap. So the challenge was, how do you write a story, and still give them a payoff at the end that is unexpected?"

He added, however, that reuniting with the cast was an enjoyable experience. "It was nice to work with characters that were already established, but create a whole new world for them. Everyone was very excited to work on the sequel. There is a lot of action in the movie, so they've all put in a lot of effort and hard work to make sure it is done at the level we want."

With the excitement building as Don 2's release nears, Farhan is not letting himself get hot under the collar. "I think we've managed to achieve what we set out to do. At the advance screenings we've had, everyone's been completely taken in by the way the story unfolds, and by what happens with Don by the end of the film," he says.

> Don 2 opens nationwide on Dec 23.

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Sweden’s darkest shades

Posted: 15 Dec 2011 11:25 PM PST

The movie adaptation of Stieg Larsson's book The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo puts Sweden in the spotlight.

VIOLENCE, a sexually abused heroine and the forbidding wintry landscape of director David Fincher's new The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo film may alter any pre-conceived notions of Sweden as a socialist paradise.

Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard, who plays the corporate executive of a family firm with a terrible secret, said that although the film explores a very fictional dark side of society its portrayal of feminine strength was particularly Swedish.

"Such a strong female hero as we have in this film and such a soft male hero as we have in this film, I think that is typical Swedish,'' he told reporters when he hit the red carpet for the Stockholm premiere of the Hollywood version of Swedish author Stieg Larsson's best-selling thriller.

Sweden is known for its cradle-to-grave welfare system and Ikea department stores. The film and books paint another picture, more in tune with its bleak and cold winters and a dark side found in a number of Swedish crime novels that have taken the publishing world by storm in the last decade.

Skarsgard said foreigners in general did not know much about the small Scandinavian country and hoped that Sweden would not be too associated with the crime wave genre that has put Swedish Noir at the top of the modern world's literary map.

"I hope they don't think that the way Sweden is portrayed in those books and films is the way Sweden is, because it is still a very peaceful and lovely and very nice country to live in,'' he said.

The film received solid early reviews and critics especially praised Rooney Mara's appearance as the fearless sexual abuse survivor and punkish computer hacker Lisbeth Salander. Mara said it was essential that much of the film was made in Sweden.

"Some people questioned why we came to Sweden to make the film and why we did not just make our American version in America but I don't think you can really tell the story without telling it in Sweden. I think it is a very Swedish story, I think all the characters are very Swedish,'' she said.

In the story, Salander teams up with journalist Mikael Blomkvist in search of a killer. Blomkvist is played by British actor Daniel Craig, best known for the role of James Bond.

"What it tells about Sweden for me is that there is a huge story-telling tradition here and it is a sort of dark tale, something that we can all relate to in Northern Europe. They have worldwide mass appeal it seems,'' Craig said.

Dragon Tattoo is the first of the late Larsson's best-selling Millennium trilogy of books, which has sold more than 60 million copies in 48 countries worldwide.

Helena Lindblad, a film critic at the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, said the huge success of the books and the films had opened the world market for other Scandinavian authors and actors, for example Noomi Rapace who played Salander in the Swedish adaption of the trilogy for the screen.

"This success of Stieg Larsson's is definitely the icebreaker. It is quite unreal and has opened doors for Swedish Crime or Swedish Noir or whatever you want to call it and that it has become a term associated with these films and books,'' Lindblad, who attended the Swedish premiere on Tuesday, said.

Lindblad said she really liked the film. And though remakes in general were "not particularly exciting'' cinematically, director Fincher, added qualities, not the least visually.

She also said the interaction between the main characters was stronger in the Hollywood adaption than in the Swedish original. She said Fincher captured Sweden in an excellent way.

Salvador Munoz, a fan who was celebrity spotting at the premiere, said that Fincher could add "more of Stieg Larsson-darkness'' to the film. He said Evil was Fincher's signature.

"It is man's other side, the dark side of people. He portrays it so well,'' Munoz said.

> The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is slated to open in Malaysia next February.

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