Thursday, September 06, 2007

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Ride With The Devil,

:00AM Wednesday September 05, 2007By Francis Grant
The Auckland tribe known as central-city office workers might like to take a look at new Kiwi drama Ride With The Devil (last night, TV2, 11pm), if only for the nostalgia.
There was a time when Queen St was not a bombsite packed with earth-moving machinery, demolished buildings, plastic pedestrian barriers and ringing with the soothing sound of pneumatic drills.
Once upon a time, the premier street in the nation's leading city offered easy access to its wealth of American coffee franchises and $2 shops. Yes, it was a vibrant strip, also home to that other tribe, the boy racers, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights.
Ride With The Devil captures Queen St in all its bogan, late-night glory and gets instant merit points for surely being the worst nightmare of mayoral candidate and anti-hoon campaigner John Banks (anti-hooning on tarmac, at least - the high seas and jetskis being another matter).
Apart from that obvious appeal, this is a minority drama, reflected in its unfriendly time slot, although you'd think the audience for grunty cars and fast chicks might actually be out indulging in their passions at the time of screening.

Those of us tucked up with our cocoa can experience the vicarious thrill: you can fairly smell the testosterone, the petrol fumes, the smoking rubber. And then there's the acrid odour of all those expletives burning up the script, which is probably the prime reason for that night-owl time slot.
The show is billed as fast-paced and high-octane and it's certainly that. So much so that protagonist Lin (Andy Wong), a performance-car-crazy Chinese student, had the Kiwi accent even before he stepped on the plane to New Zealand from Beijing.
The chrome and mags-mad Lin isn't too fussed on business school and all that droning on about equity, management practice and human resources. Within seconds of arrival, it seems, he's found the late-night petrol-head scene and sold his soul to the man who can make his hot, throbbing car dreams come true, an ex-con called Kurt (Xavier Horan).
Ride With The Devil is also being hailed as the first local drama to feature an Asian lead character, although Lin and his cousin Amy (Caleigh Chung) - a paragon of demure Chinese studiousness by day, skanky ho' and driver of a mean machine named "Ikandi" by night - aren't terribly believable characters. Still, improbability is a small price to pay for a valiant attempt at breaking cultural stereotypes. Shame the giggling Maori mobile phone shop owner and the Polynesian rap dude aren't so lucky.
It's not clear yet who the Devil of the title is, although Amy could be a contender.
She's a devil who embraces diversity, however: her gang of slags include a blonde, brunette and a brown babe. Other candidates are Kurt's controlling policewoman sister and those South Auckland loan sharks circling round his struggling car-modification business. And as former local soap watchers know, it wouldn't pay to rule out mum, played by former Shortland Street dragon-lady Lynette Forday.
Speaking of whom, there's another cultural subtribe being well served by this drama: the cache of former Shorty stars it's let back out on the streets.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A menace on the road, gripping on the screen

:00AM Monday September 03, 2007By Lincoln Tan
I normally try to have little to do with boy racers. Perhaps it was because the first time I experienced the death of a friend, it was due to street racing.
A mate took up a challenge to race from another group while we were having supper at the esplanade in Malacca, and that was the last time I saw him alive. It happened almost 25 years ago, but I still find it hard to erase the image of my friend's lifeless, bloodied body lying on the side of the road after the crash.
Since then, my job as a journalist notwithstanding, I would try to avoid anything to do with street racing.
My experience with boy racers in New Zealand hasn't been very pleasant either. In 2003, following a crash in Christchurch involving boy racers which seriously injured four Thai boys, my role at the Asian Youth Trust there took me to the streets to talk to some of the other Asian kids in the street racing circle who were supposed to be friends of these boys.
But instead of showing concern for the crash victims, all they cared about was how to get around the law if the same thing happened to them. And they were boasting about how much more "invincible" their own Subaru WRXs and souped-up Toyota Starlets were compared with the cars the Thai boys were driving.

Probably the combination of youth and sniffing too much petrol fumes have contributed to giving this lot of petrolheads a false sense of immortality. Any mention I made to them to consider the possibility of giving up racing on the streets was greeted with the finger salute and the request to f-off. "We have the car, we have the power," one of them said.
When Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove started a campaign to call for tougher laws against boy racers, I was therefore not at all surprised that the reaction from these hoons was a death threat.
"If you see him on the road, he should be killed," a posting on a website started by a group of boy racers said. For the really hard core racers, no law can ever be tough enough to keep them off the streets.
Some of the recalcitrant ones I spoke to saw their brushes with the law and police as badges of courage collected en route to becoming king of the road.
The only way to stop them is to take away their toys when they break the law, which is why I would support Cosgrove's move to give police and judges more power to impound vehicles.
Maybe he should even take it a step further, and do it LA-style, where the cars of young hoons who break road laws are not only confiscated, but crushed.
So I wasn't exactly thrilled when an email from the publicist of a new local drama about a young Asian student and Auckland's street racing culture landed in my inbox last week. Neither was I jumping with excitement when he dropped off the DVDs of the series.

But, I had been engaged as the cultural adviser for the series and was involved during the scripting stages of Ride with the Devil, so I thought it was just right for me to watch the end product.
I wanted to just put it on, watch a little, fast-forward the rest and then email the publicist and producer that I had seen the series. But 10 minutes into episode one and it gripped me, so much I couldn't stop watching till I had finished all six discs.
To be honest, when I had been told by the series producer Rachel Jean at the start that local Asian actors were to form the core cast, I didn't think she'd be able to pull it off.
But I thought all three, Andy Wong, who plays Lin Jin, an international student and boy racer from Beijing, Lynette Forday who plays his aunt and Caleigh Cheung as her daughter Amy put up sterling performances in the series.
The drama's totally politically incorrect portrayal of the world of international students and street racers made the series seem real, almost. Heck, they didn't even get the spelling of my name right in the credits.

Ride with the Devil is controversial, but in a good way. I think Rachel is right to say that Ride with the Devil will help provoke the kind of dialogue we need to understand the changing face of our nation.
The series starts tomorrow on TV2 - pity about the 11pm time slot though.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Rebuilding China Town at Lawrence

The Press Saturday, 12 May 2007
These days, Lawrence is happy to celebrate its early Chinese residents, but it wasn't always that way in the South Otago goldrush town.
Lawrence is to get a pig oven.
That may not sound a big deal, but residents of the South Otago town are pleased. Some have donated bricks made at the local brickworks in the 1800s to build it.
Plans have been prepared, based on a pig oven at the Ashburton market garden where Dr James Ng grew up.
Ng is a Dunedin historian and author of Chinese descent. He is chairman of a charitable trust that plans to rebuild the China Town that stood at the western edge of Lawrence during the gold era.
The pig oven will replace one believed to have stood at the rear of the Chinese settlement, where the land slopes down to the Tuapeka Stream.
The settlement contained hotels, stores and cafes where Chinese miners, who lived and scavenged for gold in the Tuapeka hills, would come for meals and companionship. Chinese butchers would submerge a whole pig in the brick oven, which was like a large bread oven with a fire underneath.
Lawrence is proud of its China Town. People like the idea of it being rebuilt and becoming a tourist attraction. But feelings were not always so positive. Through the 1860s and '70s, Europeans deplored the alien settlement.
Diggers engulfed the Tuapeka area in 1861, after prospector Gabriel Read dug his shovel into earth and found grains of gold "shining like the stars of Orion in a dark sky". More finds were quickly reported farther up in Central Otago, luring many diggers away in the hope of easier pickings. The Otago goldrush was on.
Chinese miners arrived at Lawrence from 1866. Most were content to stay and rework the previous diggings. Almost immediately, racism reared its ugly head. The Chinese were banned from Lawrence and forced to set up camp outside the town limits.
Local newspaper The Tuapeka Times branded the Chinese settlement "a nest of Chinese putrefaction" and its inhabitants "a filth-begrimed, opium-besotted horde of Mongolian monstrosities".
However, by the 1880s Europeans were more accepting of the Chinese. Many even visited the settlement socially and on business. Sam Chew Lain's wise leadership of the Chinese community and positive involvement in the wider business scene did much to break down barriers. His Chinese Empire Hotel is the only building remaining, although a former joss house (social and cultural centre) that was moved into Lawrence still stands.
Lain was respected by all. His stature is reflected in a gaunt concrete mausoleum that dominates the main part of Lawrence's hillside cemetery. From its lofty position it gazes down on a shady gully at one end of the cemetery where remnants of the rude graves of Lain's countrymen can be seen.
They lived apart; they lie apart.
The Chinese section of the cemetery was lost in long grass and brambles when I lived in Lawrence, in the early '70s. Now it has been cleared, revealing about 20 stone plaques inscribed with Chinese characters. Some have collapsed, others tilt at crazy angles. Simple wooden headstones have rotted into the ground.
Chris Jacomb, of Otago University's anthropology department, is jointly leading archaeological excavations of the Chinese settlement for clues to the sites of buildings, streets, wells and drains. Three major digs and scanning with a magnetic flux machine, which Jacomb describes as "like a fancy metal detector", have uncovered a large amount of material. The findings, matched to an 1882 map and old photographs, indicate that 30 to 40 buildings once stood along well-formed streets.
The information gained will help the trust build an authentic recreation of the camp.
Plans include a tourist hotel nearby. Ng is confident the site will attract visitors, especially Chinese travellers, to what was New Zealand's largest Chinese settlement.
The last resident of the settlement died in 1945. Old-timers remember the area about then as an abandoned cluster of decaying wooden buildings. By the 1970s, all signs of it, except the brick Empire Hotel, had vanished. Sheep grazed on the grassy site.
People were aware of the former settlement beside the road that leads "up Central", but Lawrence had other problems and few could afford to bother about its history.
Lawrence's problems were evident in a main street of empty shops and banks, of deserted railway sheds, of government buildings no-one wanted, of grand homes falling into disrepair on unkempt sections.
The town had grown too big, too quickly. Dismantling of gold-sluicing systems from early last century signalled a long, slow decline.
But you can't keep a beautiful town like Lawrence down. New enterprises and an increased awareness of heritage have sparked a resurgence.
Cleaning up the cemetery was a start. Restoring Anthem House, home of God Defend New Zealand composer John Woods, was another step. Recreation of the Chinese settlement will be the biggest boost.
Mike Crean has been travelling the South Island for decades, and is the journalist behind the long running Crean's Country series published in The Press