Tuesday, 28 March 2017

My Belated Reaction to 'Star Wars: Rogue One' (Spoiler alert!)

Please note that there are spoilers in this blog post. Thank you :-).

It was Mother's Day in the UK on the Sunday just gone, and my mum insisted that she didn't want a meal in a restaurant, she wanted to watch 'Star Wars: Rogue One', because she wanted to watch a film about spaceships and aliens (as mums do). So we watched it together.

I came away with mixed feelings. Part of me was surprised to hear the male lead sporting a Spanish accent, to see someone who looked South Asian be a hero, and to see Donnie Yen have a go at being Zatoichi (I know much has been made of Donnie Yen being in 'Star Wars: Rogue One', but I still found myself having to look twice to see if it really was Donnie Yen in 'Star Wars: Rogue One' (it was)).

It perplexes me, therefore, that while things look like they're moving in the right direction, they're not.

My reaction to the CGI officer was 'that's Mr Hanssen off Holby City!' before I realised that it was only a mannequin with his voice and mannerisms. Worse was to come when (spoiler alert!!!) Princess Leia popped up at the end  like a waxwork gone wrong. At that point, 'Rogue One' turned from a triumphant sci-fi opera into a horror movie. It was that appalling.

I came away with the impression that through the CGI officer and Princess Leia, the makers of 'Rogue One' were stating, boldly and with no reservations whatsoever, that whatever a human does, a computer can do too, if not better. You can take any Dick, Tom or Harry that moves, and superimpose a famous person's face over them. You can reduce an actor's skill into a series of movements that can be replicated. You can dispose of the actor.

I've said this before and I will say it again: acting is a craft. To use CGI to replace actors a la 'Rogue One' is at best laughable, and at worst not just disrespectful to the actor, but disrespectful to 'being human'/'the human experience', especially when you replace the human actor with a computer-generated best-guess at how that actor would have actually used their skill to portray a character.

After 'Rogue One', I firmly believe that the series of movements that a truly inspired actor uses on encountering the right character can't be replicated. The actor is using his/her experience, or pretending to use his/her experience, to create. Although it doesn't seem like it, the work actors do is very similar to the work of a writer or a painter. Painters use pictures to create, and writers are wordsmiths, but actors only have their bodies and voices, and therefore, what they do isn't tangible like a painting or a book or even a film, but like painters and writers, when the best actors are playing a character that works for them, they are inspired by something that no-one else will have at that point in time, and they can and will create the illusion of reality.

It's late in the day and I'm ranting, and I'm not an actor, just bored, but I really hope the CGI officer and Princess Leia will not be a trend or the start of a trend. Otherwise, I will simply switch off and read a book :-).

Saturday, 4 March 2017

An open letter to Jon M Chu, Constance Wu and Ken Jeong, cc Kevin Kwan - Crazy Rich Asians! (contains spoilers!)

Dear Jon, Constance and Ken, especially Jon, cc Kevin

Hope you're all well! I read the Buzzfeed report on translating 'Crazy Rich Asians' to the big screen, and as a maaaaassive faaaaan of this book, I want to offer my support and some observations to help you. Sorry for the long letter that follows!

Observation 1: IMHO, apart from acting, it is a script which makes/breaks a film, so the script must be one where the bonkers opulence in 'Crazy Rich Asians' supports, not upstages, the characters.

As an example, I can see people I know in Kerry Chu, especially when she tells Rachel what to do when meeting Nick's family for the first time.

Telling someone how to behave when they meet their significant other's family for the first time is something that everyone who is dating/going out with someone, no matter their background, will have come across.

But what Kerry tells Rachel is very culture-specific, and that makes it relatable specifically to a Chinese person who has been brought up with Chinese culture from one part of Asia. As 'Crazy Rich Asians' is about Chinese people who have been brought up with Chinese culture from another part of Asia, this is more than a little throwaway scene about 'a Chinese mother and daughter'. This scene encapsulates what it is, and what it means, to be Chinese and Asian at this point in history (I can see why Kevin Kwan thus insisted that Rachel could not be white). It will take a certain scriptwriter to emphasise scenes like this without making a political life-and-death mountain out of a molehill; Kevin Kwan has already done this, brilliantly, in his book.

Observation 2:  In private, Nick and his family and friends will speak English with different Singaporean accents and mannerisms to Michael Teo, Goh Peik Lin, and Goh Peik Lin's family. Nick and his family are not British - they will only act like white British people like Princes William and Harry, and Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch when they are abroad, but in Singapore, they will act like Singapore's PM Lee Kuan Yew, Malaysia's PM Najib Razak and Thailand's PM Abhisit Vejjajiva.

As a simple example, I would imagine that due to their British boarding school education, if these characters were in a certain type of French restaurant in Paris, they would eat with lots of knives and forks and would probably know which ones to use first, but because they have lived in Singapore as Singaporeans, if they are eating at a Singaporean hawker stall, they would use their hands, or chopsticks, or a fork and spoon.

In Singapore, I would imagine that Nick, his cousins (girls too) and his bestie will switch to other languages, but I do think that once in Singapore, they will speak with Singaporean accents and not like Brits/Aussies/Americans/Mainland Chinese unless they are snobs/too stupid to learn another accent. Michael and Goh Peik Lin and her family will not have this option - they will speak with Singaporean accents only, and perhaps sound slightly American.

Nailing these will be key, and IMHO, I think it is harder to teach an actor to act eg heartbroken than to teach them to speak with a British, Hong Kong, or Singaporean accent. The actor/actress will either convince you they're heartbroken, or look unconvincing. Find the actors first, then teach them the accents.

Observation 3: Find the right Kerry. She is Nick's mother-in-law. It will take the right Kerry to make Nick become a believable romantic hero.

Observation 4: I am sorry if what I write next comes across as brazen, and I stress that I do not know anyone working on 'Crazy Rich Asians' personally, but I do so want you to succeed. In relation to Observations 1, 2 and 3 above, whilst I have no doubt that Peter Chiarelli deserves an Imdb credit for scriptwriting, what about Adele Lim? Can't they both be credited?

Observation 5: Just because Rachel has lived all her life with more modest means does not make her a girl-next-door for me and, I would imagine, many others. Her world of Asian America and Nick's world of Crazy Rich World are equally alien to me, and her being American, Asian and Chinese must not overshadow her being the heroine of a romantic comedy. She is out to get her man from some rivals, goddamnit!!!

Observation 6: I would imagine that a second objection to 'Memoirs of a Geisha' was that the original 'Memoirs' were actually written by a white man. His  fantasy/fantastical depiction of a cornerstone of Japanese culture was, I would think, awfully and terribly offensive/insulting in some aspects, and this wilful distortion was enhanced by getting Chinese actresses to portray this fantasy. And then having the Chinese title as 艺妓回忆录 'Memoirs of a Geiko (Arty Prostitute)' when it's geisha he's meant to be writing about? Oopsy-daisy.

Observation 7:  I've known East Asian people with blue eyes, East Asian people who have been mistaken for Italians, and East Asian people who look as dark as Jamie Foxx. Do blue eyes, 'looking Italian' and dark skin make someone 'un-East Asian'? As long as Nick's family look like East Asian people who can afford expensive skincare (that means no unnecessary wrinkles and spots), servants (smooth hands and clean, manicured nails, thank you), and life in air-conditioned rooms (thereby never breaking a sweat, never getting a tan, and wearing long-sleeved clothing and long trousers in a tropical country), that should suffice.

I guess if it was any other film, I would not have minded, but 'Crazy Rich Asians' is the first and to date only book in English which I have actually identified with. Even if I do not come from Asian America or Crazy Rich World, I have found myself questioning my identity, and having a laugh in the process.

I am grateful to you for giving (East) Asians from around the world the chance to audition over Youtube. It has been very entertaining to watch the audition videos, and this has made me appreciate that opportunities (not just in acting, but any opportunities) are out there, and that I should get rid of whatever I fear and make an effort to get them. For that alone, I want to thank you, and I hope that you break a leg for your production.

All my love
B xxx