Chinese Box - wednesday 2007-02-28 0733 last modified 2007-03-01 1616
Categories: Film
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Netflix opened up their streaming video feature for my account this month, which puts about 0.5% of my queue up for viewing immediately. After fighting some brief technical battles, like deleting enough files on a cruddy old Windows XP laptop to free up scratch space, I embarked on the future. It's good of Netflix not to charge extra for this feature at its inception, I wouldn't actually pay to watch a movie crippled by rights restrictions only once. They've even double "charged" me for one as I experimented with the service; so beware, only hit that 'watch now' button once.

I tried it out on The Untouchables and found the quality depressing. I had a headache from the jerkiness; then I realized the problem was gigabytes of video streaming into one section of the hard drive and simultaneously being read for playback out of another section. One read/write head, two jobs: bottleneck. Now if I just let it download, then view it, things are good. The Untouchables is a terrible movie.

An old friend in Seattle casually mentioned that movies had lost their weightiness: watching a movie is no longer an event, not necessarily even a social one. With an on-demand service, it's lost even more. The uphill battle to gain the attention of a modern at-home cinephile must be prodigious indeed.

Which brings us to Chinese Box, a film sitting in my narrow 0.5% band that I'd never heard of but for Netflix and its computed recommendations. This movie had everything going against it: unheard of, unknown, playing on a computer I don't like, directed by an unfamiliar name, a nondescript summary, the movie I was hoping to have on unplayable, all while I was doing serious work.

And yet it somehow won my attention. In condemning myself to a view-once service, I find the need to bookmark the film and come back to it some day. Perhaps the next time around it will come across as overly symbolic for a British man to pursue a trapped, melancholy Chinese woman during the handover of Hong Kong. Perhaps the subtleties of its making will yet win out. It's like catching the scent of something new and mysterious - and you have to look back and see what just passed you by.

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