Sunday, May 6, 2012

Cantonese New Zealander Director's Film Sparks Ethnic Putdown in Q&A

Cantonese-speaking New Zealander Roseanne Liang's first major feature film, My Wedding and Other Secrets, takes a dramatic look back at her own courtship of Stephen (called James in the film), a tall and nerdy, white New Zealander, played by Matt Whelan. Her parents, originally from Hong Kong, would rather she marry another Chinese person, but a solution is at hand. If the prospective son-in-law would learn "basic Mandarin", Dr. Chu, the family patriarch played by Kenneth Tsang (no relation to the blog author), would agree to the marriage proposal. Dr. Chu eventually tells James that being from Hong Kong, the family speaks Cantonese, but he learned Mandarin as well.

It is strange for a Cantonese speaking family to want a son-in-law to speak Mandarin, given that the entire family speaks Cantonese (and English) in the film, including the daughter portraying the director, called in the film Emily Chu (played by Michelle Ang), who had refused to learn Mandarin.

The film is funny to watch and it was refreshing to hear Cantonese spoken in a Chinese-New Zealander-directed film. Liang was born in Auckland, NZ. The main characters are welll supported by a strong supporting cast of Emily's sisters and Matt's housemates, as well as, especially, Eric, played by Simon Londn, as the queer acting fellow film student of Emily's.

Photo, right: Matt fixates his gaze on to Emily.

The film starts off with Emily trying to do a film project at school about the relationship, which she tries to hide from her parents, to the distress of her boyfriend. She also declines to sleep overnight at James' place, while they are dating. This feature film (88 mins) takes off from Liang's original 2005 documentary of the same relationship (called Banana in a Nuthell).

In the Q and A after the recent showing at the Newport Beach Film Festival, featuring two ethnic Chinese actors from the film (one from Los Angeles, the other from Australia), in response to my query as to why the father would want the future relative to learn Mandarin, there was the suggestion that Mandarin is the future since China is taking over the world.

That may well be, but the NBFF volunteer who led the discussion committed a grievous and insulting faux pas, trying to explain why the man did not learn Cantonese, but in the process, she revealed her own ignorance, leaving one to wonder why she was picked to lead that Q and A.

What she said was amazingly rude and ignorant. She said it's because "Cantonese is a gutter language"! Elaborating, she argued that unlike Mandarin, which is a written language, Cantonese is a language of the streets, full of slang.

Her ignorance of Cantonese is no doubt attributable to her four years of language training in Mandarin, where the instructor undoubtedly misled her into believing that Cantonese is not a written language. In fact, as the many books published in Hong Kong and the overseas Chinese diaspora indicate, Cantonese can be and is written, as I daily encounter in chatting with my Cantonese friends online.

In addition, one of the actors claimed that Cantonese is only spoken in southern China and Hong Kong, ignoring the fact that it is one of the languages spoken by most Chinese immigrants to the U.S. in over a century, in Vancouver, and also in Southeast Asia.

I am glad director Rosseanne Liang was not present to hear the NBFF representative's insulting comments. It was a disappointing prelude to the Asian films shown that evening at the Pacific Rim Showcase, and the Fashion Island party afterwards, both of which I skipped as a result. - Daniel C. Tsang.

1 comment:

valerie Soe said...

Sorry to hear about this--thanks for publicizing it!