Yellow Peril by Tze Ming Mok

Banana Battle III: Rediscovering Roseanne

As we know from movies such as the Wedding Banquet and Saving Face, it doesn't matter how much shame deviant Chinese youth bring upon their parents, as long as a baby gets popped out by the time the credits roll.

But what if the movie itself is the shameful part? 面子就哪里去? Here's my review of Roseanne Liang's documentary Banana in a Nutshell in the Lumière Reader. BiaN is where the Battle is, if that's what you're after. Roam around the Lumière site and you can win tickets to BiaN, and other movies (or 'fillums' as they like to be called) showing at the Festival.

Christ. It took me longer to review Roseanne's one-hour DIY doco than that 800-page biography of Mao. It's the kind of documentary that is liable to tip you, if you are of a particular demographic, into a slather of addictive, time-wasting navel-gazing.

This post too has fallen victim to avoidant behaviour. It's all Roseanne's fault, from both angles. Rather than decide what to leave in and what to leave out about our strangely dialectical, parallel lives, I've instead mucked around making this addition - The Chinese Identity Problem Test - to the Emergency Invasion Kit Test Scores. It's based on an email entitled '10 succinct reasons why I have never had Chinese identity problems' which I sent to Roseanne over a week ago in lieu of finishing the review. She liked it rather a lot, and wanted a stack of the 'cards'. Chinese Identity Problems certainly are good for something - procrastination.

So: what to say? What not to say?

Roseanne Liang and I first met as babies. Our medical parents migrated here in the seventies, and the Liangs and Moks were introduced very early on, nodding at each other from different rungs of the Auckland Hospital heirarchy. Roseanne and I are exactly the same age. In an iconic Chinese diaspora moment (see page 74), on one of our families’ early playdates, my brother introduced Richard Clayderman to the Liang household. We both attended exclusive, private, dully religious single-sex high-schools in Epsom, were made to play the piano for seven years or more, and were seriously geeky academic overachievers. Her documentary is brave on many levels, but one of the most impressive aspects is her uncensored retrospective of her extraordinary teenage geekhood.

Our families didn't socialise much beyond that early Clayderman-based encounter - the Liangs were Hong Kong conservatives. They probably thought my parents were hippy Nanyang freaks whose children ran wild. And yet, mere blocks away from each other, we geeked along in perfect tandem, each oblivious of the other. (A coffee-table book titled 'Through a Glass Dorkily: The Great New Zealand Chinese Geek-Off' is somewhere in the works...) The first signal of our developmental divergence was, it seems, the aforementioned grunge years. Roseanne never got to go grunge. But missing out on grunge was not so much a life-changing opportunity lost, than an expression of the limited possibilities of her family life. She’s never been able to move out of home either. And she’s twenty-seven.

We met up again early this year, and shortly afterwards she started making BiaN.

More startling comparisons:

Roseanne has never been forgiven by her parents for dropping out of medical school to become a penniless artist.

I was told by my parents that medicine was a thankless grind, and that I should probably do something else that I’d like more. Like a BA maybe.

Roseanne's mother will not acknowledge the existence of her white fiancé.

Sample response from Dr Rosie Mok, upon her daughter mentioning a ‘cute Chinese boy’ in passing: “Oh Ming! Is he boring? Do you have anything in common? Why do you want to go out with Chinese boys? Chinese boys are so wimpy! So pathetic! Oooh, aiyah! So wimpy! Why are you hanging around with all these Chinese people all the time? Are you having some sort of identity crisis? Is this something to do with that …what’s it called …bloggy thing?”

Roseanne, in BiaN, talks of her desperate need to hear her parents tell her they love her. It's not a Chinese thing you see. You communicate emotion through acts of mundane devotion. Like cooking.

The one time my mother made any reference whatsoever to anything along those lines, it was kind of an accident. I was as embarrassed as she was, and sincerely hoped she would never say anything like that ever again. And stick to cooking.

I don't know what the fallout for Roseanne is going to be, but it's going to hit soon (22 and 23 July to be precise). I just want to make sure she's eating properly, and hope she'll let me bring a little pile of identity cards to hand out drunk and dancing at her wedding, to stop me from saying too much.

Taking a Film Festival break: See you at Kung Fu Hustle, Ghost in the Shell, 3-Iron, 2046, Election, The World and The Wayward Cloud.... Oh, and some non-Asian ones too of course.