Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sister Aloysius’s Doubts and Mine

By Chip Tsao | published Mar 19, 2009

Ever annoyed by the orchestra of mobile ringtones and high-pitched conversations in the middle of a movie at a Hong Kong cinema? Consider my recent adventure.

“Doubt” is a dramatic movie about a nun named Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), determined to expose a priest named Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman) whom she believes is molesting a schoolboy in a Catholic secondary school in 1960s New York City. It is not the kind of film that would attract many local Hong Kong moviegoers. I went to see it at the IFC cinema in Central. There were a little more than a dozen people in the audience, most of them westerners.

Most unsurprisingly, a mobile started ringing halfway through, and soon a woman began engaging in a long business bargain from her seat. Eventually a western man decided he couldn’t put up with that sideshow anymore. He stepped forward, gently tapped her on the shoulder, and reminded her of the nature of the venue, where people prefer hearing the dialogue between the on-screen characters rather than hers. She immediately responded to this interference with an even louder cannonade of abuse, in a funny mixture of four-letter broken English and angry Cantonese indictments, asking why there were so many gweilos in Hong Kong and why they had the right to tell Chinese people what they ought or ought not to do. Gone are the days, she fiercely refuted, when white bastards could tell us what civilization means, and now we Chinese have money.

In a world where the US is apparently on the decline in its powerful role as a world cop, the other western audience members had very little choice but to put up with the nationalistic pride of this lady, who left the cinema after her harangue, still breathing fire. After ten minutes, she came back with four policemen and policewomen. The screening had to be temporarily stopped as she complained to the police that the gweilo had committed an indecent assault against her by tapping her on the shoulder. The accused was asked to leave the cinema hall with the plaintiff to sort out the matter outside.

A few Chinese people in the audience, who had been bored by the movie anyway, hurriedly left the cinema. But the rest of the western audience stayed behind until the end, and afterwards volunteered as witnesses and offered to go to court if necessary.

It was an impressive movie. Is Father Flynn a child molester? A weeping Meryl Streep cries out her famous line, “I have doubts. I have such doubts.” Well, I have little doubt about who the real criminal in the cinema was. But I do have some doubts about the future of the world if common social etiquette has to be rewritten to accommodate the fragile ego of a nation as paranoid as Sister Aloysius.

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