Alienation was a buzz word when I studied Marxism at college. It refers to a feeling of disaffection or isolation, but I never really grasped the meaning at the time. However, after watching the mainland movie Cala, My Dog!, I feel I now have a better understanding of alienation. Cala is the story of Lao-er, played by award-winning actor Ge You, a very ordinary Beijing blue-collar worker. He works on the production line at a car manufacturer, performing the same routine task over and over again. He never gets to see the results of his labour as the finished product emerges elsewhere. Perhaps this explains why he does not look too far into the future and has little inclination to do 'something' with his life. Lao-er's life is not unlike the engines he helps build, it is mechanical: go to work, do the job on the production line and collect the pay from the factory accountant after work. At home, he is a timid husband and father. When he is angry and frustrated, he retreats to a public toilet and, imagining the bowl is his wife, he yells at it to vent his anger. Feeling isolated at home and at work, Lao-er feels he truly belongs only when in the company of Cala, his dog - his sole source of joy and comfort. Unfortunately, a new government policy 'regarding the strict limitation on dog raising in Beijing Municipality' threatens to upturn his otherwise uneventful life. Under the new rule, every dog-owner has to obtain a dog-raising permit, the fee which is equal to three years' salary for Lao-er. It soon becomes apparent that the only way to save one's dog is to pay the heavy fee. When Cala is confiscated during an after-dinner walk, Lao-er is asked to come up with the permit fee or he will never see the dog again. Lao-er's love for Cala is in stark contrast to his relationship with his own son. At one point he prefers the dog to the teenager. As his battle with the authorities progresses we find ourselves asking: 'What does Lao-er really want - his dog or dignity?' In an interview with Guangzhou-based newspaper Nan Fang Daily, director Lu Xuechang said he was originally tempted to name the film Lao-er is a dog, but gave it up as being too plain. He said: 'After all, this movie is about humans. I hope, after reading the title, the audience would ask: If Cala is a dog, what is Lao-er?' * The 100-minute film opens today. A special Hong Kong premiere on Tuesday night helped raise funds for the SPCA. Language point Every animal has its characteristics. We can always draw a vivid image by making a reference to them in our own writing. Do you remember The Beatles' hit A Hard Day's Night? The first line says: 'It's been a hard day's night, and I've been working like a dog.' John Lennon and Paul McCartney do not have to tell you more about work. But we have the picture of an exhausted person, who is all sweaty with his tongue hanging out and standing at the door. The impact of 'a hard day' on you cannot be more powerful. Writers also refer to a wretched, miserable life as a dog's life. If you call someone a dog, you mean he/she is unpleasant and unpopular. You strongly disapprove of them. A dog-eared copy of a book is one used so much that its corners are turned down like the ears of a dog. Example: Zhongguancun is home to about 4,800 domestic hi-tech companies in the mainland. To the man in the street, however, it is a place where shifty-looking guys wave a dog-eared laminated catalogue under your nose and point you in the direction of their shops. (SCMP, February 18, 2003) * Celestial Pictures is giving out five pairs of tickets to English Corner readers. Send in your name, age, and postal address to us by post (See page 10). Write down 'English Corner/ Cala, My Dog!' on the envelope. First-come-first-served.