Thursday, May 28, 2009

Did you know the next Pixar film stars an Asian character?

You may have already seen the trailers for 'Up', the latest wonderful-looking film from the makers of Finding Nemo and Toy Story.

What I hadn't realised until now was that 'Russell', the funny little kid who stars in the film (alongside the grumpy old man) is actually an Asian American boy.

As reported by Slashfilm, the character of the boy was based on by an Asian animator who works for Pixar but his ethnicity has not been made a big deal of. He's just a cute, funny little kid who happens to be Asian.

I often post about depictions of East Asian people in the media but do think it's an important issue (in particular for younger generations). I know that were I a 10-year-old boy going to see Up, knowing that the main character was Asian would simply have made my day.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

If Uncle Ben's made an advert for Chinese people...

Those of you in the UK will know that for the last few years the American company Uncle Ben's has been running some really lame TV commercials for its ethnic food range.

The idea is always the same: A white, middle-class household sits down to dinner. Someone takes out some Uncle Ben's convenience food and starts heating it up.

The food is meant to smell so great that people in the country where the food hails from (in the case of sweet and sour sauce, China) drop what they're doing and rush over en masse to England and end up at the family's house where they enjoy the Uncle Ben's dinner.

Yes, Uncle Ben's are so amazing that apparently Chinese people would actually leave China and travel across the world to eat their reheated sweet and sour sauce!

If you don't know the ads, you can view them here:

Uncle Ben's commercial 1

Uncle Ben's commercial 2

Apart from the whole concept being ridiculous, the ads are made even more super-patronising by showing the ethnic characters as mute, grinning and dressed in stereotypical national dress (sombreros for the Mexicans, kung fu outfits for the Chinese etc.).

These stupid ads caught the attention of designer Lisa Lam, who has penned 'An Open Letter to Uncle Ben' on her blog.

They also got me thinking: I wondered what if Uncle Ben's made a 'Western' convenience food and used the same marketing strategy in China?

I imagine the commercial would go something like this....

In a tiny, cramped Hong Kong apartment kitchen, a pretty Chinese housewife tries to decide what to make for dinner (because it's so hard to get a decent meal in Hong Kong). She opens her cupboard and picks a jar of new Uncle Ben's Roast Beef, Yorkshire Pudding and Gravy in a jar! Yummy! With a big smile she open the jar and pours out some brown sludge into a frying pan.

We then jump to London, England:

Inside Number 10 Downing Street, two men who look remarkably like Gordon Brown and Tony Blair suddenly stop what they're doing and sniff the air. Mmm, the unmistakable aroma of roast beef, their favourite food! Let's go!

Meanwhile in a traditional thatched cottage, a farmer is shearing his sheep on the kitchen table. Suddenly he stops what he's doing and sniffs the air. Mmmm, Yorkshire puddings! I must have some of that!

Meanwhile at Wembley stadium, someone who looks remarkably like David Beckham suddenly stops practising free kicks and sniffs the air! Mmm, that gravy smells delicious! I must go to where it's coming from!

Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, the farmer and Becks all jump aboard a red London bus and head for Hong Kong.

The bus arrives at Nathan Road, everyone gets out and runs up to the apartment.

The Hong Kong housewife opens the door, looks surprised and lets them all in (except for Gordon Brown who has to stand outside because the apartment is too small). Everyone sits down to dinner and they enjoy Uncle Ben's Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding together! Mmm. Uncle Ben's.

I think it would work, don't you? :)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Jackie Chan's awkward position, and the controversy within a controversy

This is the video of Jackie Chan's recent comments about Chinese people needing to be 'controlled' that sparked such an angry response from many Chinese commentators. His comments were made during an interview about mainland media regulation.

In case you hadn't heard, Yahoo News (and others) have reported that:
A group of mainland Chinese academics and media professionals wrote an open letter calling Chan the "spoiled brat" of the Chinese race.

"You are born in Hong Kong, a free Hong Kong which provides you with excellent conditions to become an internationally renowned martial arts star," the letter said.

"You are now the cream of the crop, and yet you don't know the importance of freedom."

There have even been calls for boycotts of Chan's movies and concerts. The main part of what Chan said that caused such anger was:
In these ten years -I grew up in Hong Kong- I slowly felt, I don't know how much freedom we should have. Too much freedom and we'll be like Hong Kong right now, very chaotic. Or become like Taiwan, also very chaotic. I slowly feel like we Chinese needs to controlled. If we're not being controlled, we'll just do what we want.

If we don't control things, we'll do things as we wish. Why can't I eat gum in Singapore? You would think that not being allowed to eat gum is correct. If I give you gum, some people might take the gum and stick it on tables, put it on chairs without self-respect."

It is hard to read such comments and not see them as being critical of Hong Kong, so I think the anger of people in the SAR is understandable.

But that initial controversy has spawned its own controversies with Chinese bloggers claiming Chan's words have been misinterpreted, with some even claiming that it is an evil Western conspiracy.

CN Reviews claims the furore is the fault of the evil 'Western media'
"Westerners look like they’re frothing at the bits to use anything they can to paint China in a negative political light: “Oh look, even lovable kung-fu funny-man Jackie Chan has betrayed his own, selling out both himself and his kind to the evil Communist regime!” To which the Western masses reply in unison: “Gasp!”"

That's an extreme reaction, I think. Chan's comments were indeed critical of Hong Kong, or 'his own', the place that made him a star. And I think most people would accept that Chinese entertainment figures are indeed very careful not to upset Chinese authorities in the interests of their career. I don't think that's a crazy invention of the Western media.

EastSouthWestNorth chose to interpret Chan's words differently, coming up with a translation that doesn't use the inflammatory word 'control':
If there is too much freedom, it becomes like Hong Kong today ... very chaotic ... furthermore, it becomes like Taiwan ... it is also very chaotic ... eh ... I have slowly come to realize that we the Chinese people need regulation ... If there is no regulation and we suddenly opened up, we can do whatever we want.

Even if that is a grammatically correct translation (and I'm not the one to judge that), I'm not sure if the meaning is exactly right as Chan actually talks about personal freedoms and behaviour before and after the quote in question - not the sort of things usually referred to in English as 'regulation'.

cfensi blog also chose to translate the line differently as:
"I slowly feel like we Chinese needs to control. If we don't control things, we'll do things as we wish."

i.e. not 'be controlled', but to do the controlling.

What seems to have been missed in all the analysis is that however you translate the comments, the point he is making is basically the same when you look at the entire speech.

I would suggest that what Chan actually meant in his off-the-cuff remark was that Chinese people need rule of law. If we don't have rule of law, we'll do things as we wish. I base that on the fact that he talks about freedoms in Hong Kong immediately before, and laws in Singapore immediately after the comment in question. Is that simple statement something many of us would dispute?

My take on this whole thing is that for Chan, being asked about Chinese media regulation put him in an uncomfortable spot because he recently had a movie banned in China for being too violent. The journalist may have been hoping the actor would make a comment about his own movie being denied a release but Chan chose (perhaps diplomatically) not to do that and instead broadened his answer to make a generalised statement that ended up being in favour of control (or regulation).

To me, it seems he was just performing a difficult balancing act whilst in an awkward position - something Jackie Chan is very used to doing!

Related: The journalist who asked the original question responds

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sort out this Gurkha veterans mess

It's shocking and baffling how the British government can dither, delay and prevent granting older Gurkha veterans the right to resettle in Britain. There ought to be no question that these Nepalese soldiers who were prepared to put their lives on the line fighting in the British Army, not in defence of their own homeland but in British military campaigns, should be granted the right to live here if they so choose.

Gurkhas who retired after 1997 do have the right to resettle the UK but Gurkhas who stopped serving before that date do not. This is what the current campaign is fighting for.

Some interesting figures:

Maximum number of Gurkhas that might want to be resettled in the UK (includes every Gurkha claiming a pension plus 2 dependents each): 75,000

Estimated number of illegal immigrants in the UK: 725,000.

The disputed, worst-case scenario cost of resettling Gurkhas cited by Gordon Brown: £1.4billion.

Cost of war in Iraq in one year: £2 billion.

It should be simple and quick to sort this out: Grant older veterans the right to live here now. Many of them won't even take up the offer, they just want the dignity of having that right. Take the cost from the defence budget. And if the government feels it can no longer afford to grant Gurkha veterans this right, then just stop using them in the British Army. Simple, isn't it?

Story: Ministers in disarray as Gurkhas strike again