Monthly Archives: January 2014
A short film raising awareness for Emily Needs Stem Cells. All Asian Australians can get involved and potentially save a life.
Directed by Corrie Chen
Produced by Bryony McLachlan in association with Jus Media
Starring Lawrence Leung, Maria Tran and Andy Minh Trieu
Fight choreography by Trung Ly & Dong Tam
Action Cam Team; Adrian Castro & Justin Gong
Cinematography by John Maloney
Editing by Lauren Anderson
Sound recording by Dane Cody
Music by Jamie Messenger
AAFFN Interview with Dir. Corrie Chen http://www.corriechen.com
by Indigo Willing
Corrie is an award-winning filmmaker whose work has screened at numerous festivals around the world. Upon graduating from the Victorian College of Arts in 2010, her student films have won numerous awards, garnered an ADG Best student film nomination and she came runner up in the QANTAS SOYA awards. Consequently Corrie was invited to participate in talent labs as part of Melbourne International Film Festival (Accelerator), and Munich Film Festival (Film Schools).
Corrie’s latest directing work includes her first documentary in Suicide and Me – a 1/2 hour documentary commissioned by the ABC. On the night it was broadcast, the show title trended across Australia and a clip from the documentary went viral internationally. She has also recently completed the short comedy Bloomers – a 2013 recipient of Screen Australia’s Short Film Completion Fund.
The start of 2014 sees Corrie invited to Berlinale Talents (as part of the Berlin Film Festival) to receive mentoring from internationally acclaimed filmmakers. She will also direct Reg Makes Contact – a short film developed and financed with the support of Screen Australia’s Hot Shots program.
Current project: REG MAKES CONTACT. On the eve of being admitted to a nursing home, a space-obsessed dementia sufferer unearths a mysterious object from the sky.
- What are some of the key goals that drive you to do what you do?
CC: I have always been interested in the idea of cultural collisions – too often a topic portrayed with seriousness. I want to give audience the permission to laugh at themselves and others in situations they recognise and relate to, instead of being threatened by what they don’t understand. I grew up in an era when it wasn’t completely safe to be Asian-Australian. Having to always question my own cultural identity, it is something that is hugely prevalent in my work. Boundaries between east & west are mixing together as never before. I wanted to reflect this and move beyond old stereotypes – to be more hybrid in form, and more accessible to a bigger audience.
I am interested in the current and the future – the stories of how the Chinese have dispersed across the world, and ultimately the effect of the East moving into the West, rather than the reverse. I believe cinema is perfectly placed to reflect this next phase in our history, and these are the stories that can truly cater for both the Eastern and western audiences.
- Can you list one or a couple of films with multicultural cast members or content would your recommend to others? Why?
CC: Generally speaking, I find TV does a far better job at representing multiculturalism than films do – I think the domesticated nature of television grounds the stories in recognisable settings and characters, and it also responds faster to what audiences want. I tend to find American TV much better at colour blind casting – famously on GREY’S ANATOMY, and the earlier season of GLEE played on the stereotypes of the “typical Asian teen” to great comedic effect.
In Australia, reality TV does multiculturalism particularly well – though unfortunately a lot of the time they are portrayed as conniving! It was great to see Dami on X-FACTOR, and many recognisable Asian identities such as Poh and Adam were from MASTER CHEF. In drama, I think the portrayal of Asian-Australians still have a long way to go, but I’m heartened by the strength of indigenous talent on shows such as REDFERN NOW as a possible future for AA stories
- Who are some of the key filmmakers overseas or here that make a difference to how we appreciate diversity in film?
CC: For me personally, Ang Lee’s early 90’s trilogy of films really opened my eyes on what it meant to an Asian in the West. Even though he’s moved away from that topic since then, I still think he remains crucial in breaking down barriers for Asian filmmakers, and the kinds of stories they can/are allowed to tell. Another interesting filmmaker is Justin Lin (director of FAST & FURIOUS franchise). Now he may not be the “art house” type of filmmaker that critics like to talk about, but I think he’s immensely talented and FAST & FURIOUS films he directed (5-7) remain some of the most multicultural Hollywood films made in recent years. AND with billions in box office takings, lots and lots of people obviously saw them. His earlier indie films are definitely worth checking out, especially his AA breakthrough BETTER LUCK TOMORROW.
And for me, I think that’s the next step – when Asian people are on screen, it doesn’t neccesarily have to be about their “plight”. Most Asians I know are fully integrated and have very nice or comparatively ordinary lives in the West.
- People sometimes say there’s simply not the talent pool or viewing public for diverse casting and stories. From your experience, how easy is it to cast for your films?
CC: Unfortunately I do have to agree somewhat – it is quite hard to cast, and that’s why you keep seeing the same actors playing “international student 2” or “restaurant owner” on TV all the time. Not to say it’s impossible – it just requires a lot more time and effort, which means money, etc. I think this will change and more 2nd/3rd gen Asian-Australians join the creative industry, both in front and behind the camera.
- Who are some of the mentors and supporters who have backed diversity in films in Australia?
CC: I do see a sense of energy building for more screen diversity in Australia. The more we start to see visible AA on screen, the quicker the momentum will build. People such as Tony Ayres, Lawrence Leung, Alice Pung and Benjamin Law help to promote authenticity in telling these stories, which is the most crucial part. And of course, AAFFN is definitely the biggest supporter of any AA’s in the industry.
It’s not the fault of anyone in particular – it’s easy to blame the producers or networks but there are so many reasons why there aren’t more AA stories on screen; from not enough talent behind the scenes to give it that truthfulness that audiences expect and crave, through to the bottom line – will people actually watch it? In the end, film and TV is big business and it would be naïve to ignore that.
- What is some of the most useful and encouraging feedback you’ve had from public and industry that have seen your own works?
CC: This was something I was told this year by someone high up in the industry – that my work displayed a true picture of 21st century Australia. It’s something I never set out to do, but just came naturally to me. It’s very flattering, because when I was young I remember I always wanted to be white and blonde, because that was what it was like on Neighbours so that must be the only way I can fit in.
I can only hope in the next decade, young AA kids can watch TV and realise that being themselves, whatever east-west fusion they are, is the best thing in the world.
- What kinds of stories do you want to see in the future?
CC: Oh…so many. More multiculturalism in comedy would be fantastic. I think they have plenty of multiculturalism in crime dramas (unfortunately), but comedies is sadly lacking.
- Any advice for up and coming filmmakers and actors?
CC: Know what it is you want to say and why you want to do this – and reflect it in your work. This industry is so tough there will be many times you want to quit, but if you remember why it is you want to make movies or TV in the first place, that is the thought that will help you hold on in your low or stressful moments when you have parents breathing down your neck, demanding reasons for why you don’t have a second house yet like so-and-so’s kid from down the street. For me, I simply cannot imagine doing anything else that would make me even half as happy as I do when I write or direct. Well, actually I CAN’T do anything else because my only other skill is making dumplings, and god forbid I conform to any stereotypes (laughs).
AAFFN Review of BRUCE LEE PLAYED BADMINTON TOO By Indigo Willing
Film Synopsis: Awkward surburban teenager Nic Wooding wants to be the greatest badminton player in the world, much to the dismay of his demanding and prejudiced father.
Dir. Corrie Chen, Prod. Anna Kojevikov, Cin. Shelley Farthing-Dawe.
Australia has both a vibrant and tense relationship with ethnic and racial diversity. Films dealing with migrants for instance have focused on oddness (THEY’RE A WEIRD MOB), destitution (THE FINISHED PEOPLE) and high violence (ROMPER STOMPER). Chen’s filmography includes shorts that present a much more tender, intimate side of the migrant and Asian Australian experience (such as WONDER BOY about a school boy trying to fit in, and HAPPY COUNTRY focusing on the experience of a married young woman from China trying to fit into a new life in regional Australia). Such films touch on the embarrassment, loneliness and disappointment migrants and second-generation children can experience quietly and internally rather than in more overt anger, strife and tears. Such themes are by no means new to Asian Australian stories, but Chen has a skill for shedding light on the quiet, affectionate and ordinary ways such challenges are also sometimes overcome, if not forever, at least for the day or a precious moment. Whether an afternoon on a couch with a mum, or sitting looking at the sunset across a desert road, we feel a sense of reassurance that belonging can be anyone’s if you just hold on that little longer and value the things and people that really matter.
In BRUCE LEE PLAYED BADMINTON TOO (BLPBT) there is much humour and warmth in the way Chen focuses on similar themes of what it’s like to be an ‘outsider’, only she turns the tables by having a White Australian as the misfit in a competitive badminton scene where Asian Australians are portrayed as the ‘typical’ players. In its opening scene, the film presents to us a finely detailed and beautifully shot image of Nic Wooding, dressed in athletic clothes and ready for action. But Nic is no Aussie ‘chesty Bonds-style’ icon or Adonis with a tan, rippling muscles and chiselled features. Instead, we see an affectionate image of an awkward young, adult, male who is no hard body, and who has a range of hallmarks of being a classic ‘nerd’. This includes his being dressed in a daggy, ill fitting white sports uniform, with his big white underpants glaring through hilariously translucent super white shorts. The scene is set for us, the audience, to empathize with the kind of under dog who typically never gets the girl or the glory.
In following scenes we find him to be the ultimate under dog, a boy in the suburbs who dreams of playing badminton competitively, with parents who love him but have no faith in his potential. Nic is passionate about both Bruce Lee and badminton, and in the lead up to a competition, he reaches a point where he is unsure if he really ‘deserves’ to be accepted as having a connection to either. By the film’s conclusion, there is a gentle reminder in the message that, we all have the power to look past stereotypes, and to treat any search for belonging as an open page.
Chen’s casting is impeccable, including the lead Nathan Derrick, love interest Jenny Cheong, and veteran Asian Australian actor Ferdinand Hoang (who features in a brilliant and memorable scene with Michael Caine in THE QUIET AMERICAN). Jude Beaumont plays a sympathetic mum, and Christopher Bunworth, who along with Nathan Derrick gives one of the film’s stand out performances, gives us a stern but ultimately likeable father. All the performances are natural, memorable and touching, in an unforced and very life affirming way. The cinematography is top level in the hands of Shelley Farthing-Dawe and other crew, with a special mention of Sally Adinsall for production design. Nic’s home is classic Australiana and many people will recognize a bit of their own childhood or older relative’s homes in his.
Chen is undoubtedly one of the finest and most promising directors in Australia right now. She has won many awards for her short films and was runner up in the QANTAS Spirit of Youth (Film Category) in 2012 for this film. She also has range, with her other work including a documentary on suicide (SUICIDE AND ME) that has screened on the ABC, and a comedy that will be touring soon (BLOOMERS) and also an awareness campaign featuring Lawrence Leung (EMILY NEEDS STEM CELLS). Watch out for what she brings to the screens in 2014 and beyond.