Wednesday, 31 October 2012

getting orphan grumpy

you'd be hard pushed to get thru an average month of my viewing without finding something from the other side of the globe. it started back in the nineties with hong kong cinema and, over the years, spread across the region. true, it's hard for me to look away from korea these days but where would i be without the joy that is the pure loopiness of the likes of tears of the black tiger. coincidentally only yesterday i was looking at the trailer for a chinese version of dangerous liaisons - the setting looks good even if the execution looks dire but can it really be any worse than some of the adaptations of non-english films (particularly into mass market american movies - yes the departed, martin scorsese i'm looking at you)?

and yet, much as the likes of the departed might have raised my ire there is an interest in these films in which there's an element of that old burns line about seeing ourselves as others see us. tho in these cases it's about taking someone else's story and making it fit the norms of 'our' narrative. even in a howler like the departed that has to always be interesting. why do english language audiences seem to be so contented with car chases, explosions and endless, endless exposition. do the makers of these films really think we're so stupid? a rest then to watch something else in some foreign lingo where there's more talking than doing, cuts can last longer than three seconds and the people telling the story realise that there is in fact quite a lot of drama that can come out of dialogue.

sweeping generalisations i know and it's painfully obvious from previous film posts i like a big dumbass movie full of shit that blows up as much as the next man (sic!).

all of which brings me to london theatreland and the orphan of zhao. now it's not that i live in a theatre wilderness even if it sometimes seems so but there is a certain level of envy wandering the streets of that there londontown that there's a big bunch of theatre going on that i'm never going to see. and when i get to hear of the likes of the rsc doing some bigass version of a chinese classic that's always going to sound good. i know these chinese classics - chinese movies remake them all the time. somebody kills somebodies father/family, they grow up realising their benefactor is the killer/fall in love with the rival's family's daughter. tragedy ensues. everybody dies. and there's usually kick ass battle scenes.

but they're not translatable. you can get wuxia choreographers in but there's no way a western actor can be getting up to that sort of caper! not that directors can't make a movie that'll work for (and with) the locals - see the raid. but the raid worked because it fitted, not the other way round.

so, if you're going to remake one of these classics you're going to have to do it in a way that reflects where it's set. i know this because the edinburgh festival does this every year. shakespeare usually, but not always, transposed to any locale you'd care to imagine. macbeth in zulu? been there.

so how then would you make the orphan of zhao? set it in a london housing estate, all gritty and gangland? maybe move it up here to scotland, make it medieval and braveheart for the tartan fans (let's face it, it couldn't be worse than braveheart!). er no, what it appears they're going to do is make it like the chinese story, but in english with few in the way of chinese actors. and get your influences for the text (cos you don't speak mandarin mind) from some book of translations written in english.

it seems the actor thing has stirred a lot of emotion among the british asian actor types. and rightly so. except maybe for the fact that if you're wanting asian actors in a chinese play then maybe those asian actors should actually be chinese. and if you're that stirred up about it (cue arguments about colonialism from thos ex english graduates who can still lay their hands on their textbooks) if it's not okay to make a chinese classic without chinese actors how come it's okay for everyone else to be making those shakespeare things i've been enjoying over the years. and should i be getting a bit more hot under the collar about non mandarin speaking actors in classic chinese roles? in fact why is the play not in mandarin, with chinese actors and superscripts?

i think not. but i can totally agree with the perspective that there just aren't enough asian actors or actors of asian descent getting roles these days. and if they do many of them are too reminiscent of the butler/housemaid roles black actors had to content themselves with back in the day. watching the bbc, if you must do such a thing, you could be forgiven for imagining that all these asian looking folks you see wandering about the streets of that london must just be visiting. but to pigeonhole them in 'asian' roles? that's just a bit patronising.

it puts me in mind of those folk who were bitching when idris elba played heimdall in thor. people won't like that i thought and the kind of people who would complain about that i think i wouldn't like so i didn't much care. yet while it was truly a dire outing that thor film the one thing that wasn't dire was idris elba. as a wee boy soaked in all that norse god malarkey heimdall was far and away my favourite god and idris elba nailed it. not for anything he did but for a certian un-nameable something he brought to the screen. that indefinable quality - that's person, not geography dependent.

none of which i haven't said before. so why bother with the long rambling post? because what really boils my urine about the whole orphan of zhao shenanigans (and like a remake says more about me!) is the attribution. the orphan of zhao may have, as the rsc would have it been 'adapted' by james fenton but it was written by someone else, commonly thought of as some bloke called ji junxiang. so change the poster and give him the credit.

as for the rest, i'm sure the rsc could've handled this better but i hope the actors they got do a good job and get the credit for it rather than be overshadowed by a 'controversy' not of their own making. and it'd be great in the uk to see some more asian actors knocking about, if only to take the weight off david yip for a bit. but equally it'd be great to see some more writing from the immigrant community in general, and something with a bit more substance, that can get itself away from that first generation east is east nonsense.

my wee pal m has all manner of heritage - indian, english, german, scottish. me, i can almost point to where the last three hundred years of my lot lived and died. we watch japanese cartoons dubbed into german. i explain the story and she teaches me the words her granny taught her. one of these days(once i've finished with littlenose) i'll tell her the stories i read when i was her age, about yggdrasil and the nine worlds, about thor and jormungandr. maybe we'll chase each other about a bit afterwards. stories are for everyone and acting is about pretending. how you tell a story is about who you are not what you look like.

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