Friday 28 October 2011

Temple kicks out Jesus while moneylenders cheer

Steve Bell

So, on the day we learn that the FTSE 100 directors' pay has gone up by 49% in the past year (55% the year before), St Paul's Cathedral turns the tables and tells Jesus where to get off while the money lenders carry on with business as usual.

Profits are soaring, David Hartnett of HMRC lets off Vodafone and Goldman Sachs from repaying billions in money we are owed, we are being ripped off by rail, energy, landlords, supermarkets and grasping universities, and the church expects us to be supine in our acceptance of being ripped off.

The anti-capitalist protest group — Occupy London Stock Exchange (OccupyLSX), UK Uncut and various — is to be ejected from one of the few remaining scraps of London where you can protest. The City of London and the cathedral are pressing ahead with legal moves to close down the camp. It's enough to make you a barricade-manning revolutionary.

A word from the church's boss:
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can not serve both God and Mammon.

Just sayin'. (Thanks, Skattycat)

How about reinstating our democracy and allowing the protests in Parliament Square? After all, the point of Parliament is to run our country for us, not provide snapshot fodder for tourists.

Omar Sharif not so suave: slaps woman fan

Okay, Omar Sharif is now on my shit-list. Yup, there's a man with charm who knows how to treat a woman.

Although she just stands there grinning like an idiot after being slapped by the grizzled movie star, it looks as if she was probably in shock and too embarrassed to respond. Or hard-wired to take it.

Such a small man.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

The Other Shore: Chinese play-reading at the New Diorama Theatre

Wing Hong, Hugo and Lucy

There's no business like show business ... I had a great time last night onstage with a group of talented Asian actors who'd been brought together at the New Diorama Theatre by director Wing Hong Li.

As an exploration of power dynamics and the madness of crowds, The Other Shore, written by Gao Xingjian, is superb theatre. Writing for an ensemble of actors, Gao renders power relations visible, turning the piece into an effective tool with which to challenge blind authority and the characters who play along either as predator or victim.

An innocent fool is part of a group embarking on a journey from "the real world" to the other side of a river where he witnesses how his fellow travellers deal with a succession of character archetypes who enter their lives and upset their equilibrium.

Last night's rehearsed reading, the first British performance, came together after only one day's work. I played various parts of the chorus and got to read the Card Player, a plum role which I saw as a cross between Marlene Dietrich in Touch of Evil and Heath Ledger as the Joker.

A trickster gambler who's stacked the odds, the Card Player chooses the game, acts as banker, decides on the trump card (her own) and manipulates the crowd into working against their own interests. Now, where have we seen that before?

Gao employs various devices to see the world anew. The use of ropes throws into razored relief the games we play when finding our place in society. The protagonist's increasingly dehumanised brethren become threatening trees and mannequins.

A sort of Chinese Life of Brian with zombies, there's enough sly wit to make the game of spot-the-character-type an amusing one. I did, at one point, expect the hero to lose a sandal and discard a gourd. He's definitely not the Messiah, just a very confused bloke trying to make sense of this twilight world.

The play was banned in China for some unfathomable reason despite there being no explicit criticism of the government. It's a commentary on what happens when human relations get skewed and is a plea for us all to be better to each other ... oh. I see. Right. Understood.

This play is relevant to every region and sphere where creeps are clinging to power. Do catch it if you ever see it being staged.

Friday 14 October 2011

British Chinese and the England riots: South China Morning Post

Here's my South China Morning Post column from 28th August, on the British Chinese take on the England riots and why Tiger Mom's efforts are irrelevant. (Click on pic above for larger version.)

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Anna May Wong Must Die! first draft complete

Last night I finally finished off the first draft of Anna May Wong Must Die!.

I've been thinking about this even before 2008, when I made a BBC Radio 4 programme on one of my heroines, A Celestial Star In Piccadilly, about Hollywood's first Chinese screen legend, Anna May Wong (broadcast January 2009). I'd originally tried to time the show for 2005, her birth centenary, but it took two goes to get the commission.

Rather that tell a straight story about her life, as I did on radio, I decided to take a different approach. You can read all about Anna May in at least two fine biographies: The Laundryman's Daughter by Graham Russell Gao Hodges, and Perpetually Cool by Anthony Chan.

I wanted to show her as refracted through my own experience, of someone in the here and now of the Chinese diaspora, and I came up with Anna May Wong Must Die!: a personal journey through the life and crimes of Hollywood's first Chinese superstar.

It's especially pertinent in an age where, unlike in America, you hardly ever see an Asian face depicted as a normal participant in British society. You'd never know that there were up to 500,000 Chinese (including native-born descendants) in the UK.

We still play Spot The (East) Asian, but mostly all we get are fiendish criminals (Sherlock: The Blind Banker — BBC); Will Self (who ought to know better, much better) dismissing Chinese as "antlike"; trendy progressive theatres laying on yellowface plays where white actors depict the "essence" of the Orient (More Light and The Golden Dragon at the Arcola and Traverse); government and media accusing the filthy Chinese of starting the major disease outbreak of Foot & Mouth when Labour's handling of it went tits-up in 2001 (for which we won an apology from the government, but not the press); London Mayor Boris Johnson claiming that the Chinese are "incapable of original thought" (isn't that unoriginally nicked from Mark Twain, Boris?); Morrissey working out of the Dr Mengele handbook and declaring the Chinese to be a "sub-species"; China used as a hysterical diversion during the Copenhagen Climate Change summit in 2009 when news was about to break that the wealthy nations were stitching up the rest of the world with the "Danish text", and Ed Milliband playing his own part in the Copenhagen cover-up — but at least Ed admitted in February this year that he'd been wrong and acknowledged the resources being chucked at the problem, not to mention that a third of China's emissions are produced through making stuff for us.

This isn't to say that you shouldn't criticise China for getting things wrong. As part of the global community, and a force that may lead us out of the recession, China should listen to valid, productive comment, just as Western nations should. But using Chinese people to bash the new economic rival and mask racism with politics is, by any civilised standards, dirty pool.

We know — post-Macpherson — that institutional racism has to be identified and called out for what it is. So it is astonishing to see practically no Chinese in fiction or news. I break out the cava whenever I see our one ubiquitous telly face, Gok Wan, or rare sightings of James Wong, ethnobotanist, and other fabled mixes (Alexa and the BBC newsreader woman). Then there are the enlightened BBC Radio 4 commissioners who occasionally allow me to make programmes for them. But these few swallows do not a summer make — and I prefer to spit.

The rest of it is effectively a nasty bit of social engineering: dehumanising us, excluding us from our own society and our culture, rendering us invisible, unknown and a bloody big target for when a collective scapegoat might be needed. And, with some major unpleasantness coming down the pipeline as a result of bankers' greed and world recession, that situation had better be reversed, toot sweet. When you create a vacuum like this, you allow all sorts of horrors to fill up the space — the sleep of reason produces monsters. Bit by bit, we're chipping away at the cultural coalface but, in a way, our work is done. China is set to be the world's biggest and richest superpower and no-one, not the media, and especially not the advertisers, will be able to pretend for much longer that we aren't here.

You can see me try out Anna May Wong Must Die! as a work-in-progess (I'll be on-script) next month.

Anna May Wong Must Die!
A work-in-progress
Written and performed by Anna Chen
New Diorama Theatre
15 - 16 Triton Street,
Regents Place,
London, NW1 3BF
7.30pm Thursday 10th & 8.30pm Saturday 12th November 2011 (plus Q&A session afterwards)
Tickets £8.50
Part of the short "In The Mirror" season of Chinese one-woman shows.

Friday 7 October 2011

The Human Centipede: not a bad horror film, as it 'appens

Viewed from my sick bed — how apt! — Tom Six's The Human Centipede was a perfectly good horror tale of power. Two American women and a Japanese tourist find themselves in the clutches of a mad scientist, Teutonic Doctor Heiter (creepy Dieter Laser), in his modern house deep in a German forest, so it may have been some sort of Nazi allegory a la Salo: 120 Days of Sodom by Pasolini, and not unlike my time in the SWP.

The attractive young victims find themselves sewn together — mouth to anus — to make one long organism that has to do tricks for its owner. How I laughed when the Doc tried to make it fetch a newspaper! Had he got his pet selling it I'd have been transported to Saturday lunchtime paper sales. Now those were a shudderfest.

Some have dismissed the movie as shit, but it's beautifully-shot shit and strangely moving, not to mention darkly funny in parts. There's only one visceral scary moment that made me squirm and nothing that made me jump. It was more one long queasy realisation that something ain't right, not unlike my time in ... but now I repeat myself.

I thought it unfair that the guy was at the head, a placement I shall fondly think of as District Organiser — definitely pole position under the circumstances. You really didn't wan't to be any further down the food chain, spluttering out someone else's used food like edicts freshly squeezed out by the CC that morning.

Is it nasty? Of course it's nasty. Just like ... oh there I go again.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Wall Street protesters on Brooklyn Bridge give hope

This is impressive — and long overdue. Some 700 have been arrested. How many bankers who caused the crisis have been even looked at sternly by the authorities?