Yellow Peril by Tze Ming Mok

Crazy Eights

An auspicious and inauspicious date yesterday. Fun stuff to start with: the 08-08 launch of Sunshine Beyond the Rain (晴天有雨): our first drama series made by, for and about Chinese international students, and New Zealand's first - correct me if I'm wrong - internet-only weekly soap.

Backed by Skykiwi and produced by the SODE team, the first episode is downloadable here in RMV - it's about 33meg. SODE stands for 'Sails of Dream Entertainment', a slightly clunky translation of 梦帆, but that's keepin' it real for ya.

The pilot episode is cute and gentle. It's a little slow in its introductory sketching, but then the writer/director Benny Li did tell me his favourite director was Wong Kar-Wai - always a safe answer. (Very) pretty girls are torn between study, daydreams of popstardom, and the awkward white boy next door; (extremely) hot boys are torn between numerous pretty girls, and suffer from either extreme lethargy or Wong Kar-Waiesque existential ennui. This is due to the late nights with pretty girls, and also their inability to adequately feed themselves by cooking real food. I found the meandering hungover trawl through the Korean dairy pretty funny in the broader context. For non-Mandarin speakers - there aren't subtitles yet, but I think they'll be added in future episodes.

So the preview launch was last week, and I asked an arch question about Shortland Street, which seems to have prompted some equally arch editorialising from the Skykiwi reporter here. The actual answer to the Shortland St question from Aaron Huang was a little more diplomatic - he said that with regard to Li-Mei Chen, Shortland St seemed to be cramming every stereotype and issue to do with Chinese students into one character, which was kind of schizophrenic. He and Benny noted that 'Sunshine' has the benefit of having about seven characters, so the contextual realities of what have now become stereotypical tropes, can find a more digestible expression across a spread of personalities.

Geek point: I talked with a few of the SODE people and Ally from Skykiwi about the prevalence of internet-based television drama in Hong Kong and China, compared with the lack of it here, and we agreed that it probably comes down to our crappy broadband options. Skykiwi is marketing the soap primarily to China, where like in Hong Kong, the popularity of a series on the net tends to be used as a way of selling it for television broadcast.

The most promising thing about 'Sunshine' is that it is real 'voice of a generation' stuff - produced by a community that is essentially voiceless in our mainstream media. The SODE team are all former international students, having graduated and become 'ordinary' residents now. But they still maintain the identity of having been international students. Those experiences of having become adults here as part of a marginal community, are what drives them to live that Film Commission dream of (cough) 'telling our stories' (without any funding from the actual Film Commission of course).

Producer Sylvia Yang is particularly eloquent on this identity point, and she'll be on the 'Reel Asians' panel at the Going Bananas Conference this Saturday. I'm chairing the 'Creative New Zealand Chinese' panel in the afternoon which includes Oldschool Ant Sang and his latest Shaolin-inspired project, Vikki Cheng from The Rice Girls with some Newskool pastiches of E-street hi-jinks, and Ted Chen from Cultural Signals. There are a slew of 'Going Bananas'-related stories in the Herald online today. Here's one by OG Tim Wong on getting to grips with identity via discovering Chinese film, plus more 'Going Bananas' stories linked down the side.

Down to the bad eights: Yesterday was the anniversary of 8-8-88, the massacre that ended the Burmese democratic uprising. I hope you caught Tinmama Oo (greatest name ever) campus president of Burma Support and former teen refugee, declaring on bFM that she'd like to be Prime Minister of Burma one day. Not only would democracy in Burma be awesome, it would also be awesome to have a Prime Minister of any Southeast Asian country who uses Kiwi-girl uprising inflections and says 'like' a lot. If you didn't catch their film night, there will always be more Burma support film nights - until the revolution comes!

On that note: Thanks to the Asia:NZ Foundation, I'm going abroad for about a month next week to various places in Thailand and Indonesia, including the Thai-Burmese border. Blogging will be sporadic.


I thought I'd keep it pretty light and audiovisual for the blogging the Banana conference, although a couple of things just caught my eye from the Herald Banana story list.

The first one was this piece by Jenny Lee, Maori-Chinese academic. Oh the hilarious bipolarity of stereotypes! Does she have no rhythm or does she have a mean Maori strum? Is she a math geek or a league star? Or er... does she have iron Shaolin discipline or a (for fuck's sake) genetic predisposition to violence? Another was this earnest and reasonable piece by Asiaphile Imogen Neale about being 'boxed in by bi-culturalism', which prompted me to write in with this rather hard-ass letter.

Imogen Neale's comments about being 'boxed in by biculturalism' are strangely positioned. It's certainly the case that both Pakeha and Maori New Zealand are only barely getting to grips with the implications of the 'Asian' population here, and that non-Maori 'people of colour' must negotiate our position here either with, around, or even against official bicultural ideologies. However, Neale's basis for dismissing the 'bicultural lense' as inadequate seems to actually presume that Pakeha have in fact already embraced Maori as equals in society, culture and the economy, that we are ready to move on to the next stage, and that somehow 'biculturalism' is to blame for New Zealand's provincial mindset. However, given all available evidence, one would have to conclude that the people outside the only socio-cultural box that matters a damn, are all New Zealanders who are not Pakeha. If Neale feels 'boxed in' because she is interested in things Asian rather than things Maori, although she is neither (as far as I know), then that is her privilege. Lucky her.

Sure, that's probably not what she means. But writing an editorial saying boo to biculturalism without actually once using the word 'Maori', is always going to come off a bit odd. Perhaps she actually meant 'boxed in by monoculturalism' - that I'd understand.