A little known part of 150-year-old Australian history finally gets its due in a four-part drama.
The gold rush western is a favorite screen genre.
From Charlie Chaplin’s hungry fool to the grizzled border of Deadwood, the stubborn mix of fortune and violence has been incomprehensible to storytellers.
But one story that is absent on screen until this week is that of Chinese miners during the Victorian gold rush – some 24,000 Chinese are digging for a new life across the golden fields of Ballarat, Bendigo, Ararat and more.
That changes this week, with the SBS drama New Golden Mountain, which takes the background of the Victorian gold rush to tell a fictional murder mystery from the perspective of Chinese miners.
The story is centered on Shing, the “chief” of a Chinese mining camp, whose job it is to manage everything that happens, including relations with the British colonialists who would rather they were not there.
When a white woman is found murdered near the camp, Shing’s survival instincts step in, aware of what it will look like – and the deadly consequences – if Chinese are suspected of the crime.
“I’m surprised it took so long,” said New Zealand actor Yoson An New Golden Mountainhis groundbreaking presence in Australian screen culture. “I was very happy to see this happen, because for the longest time stories like this have been suppressed.
“It’s mainly told from a Chinese perspective, and it’s a period drama, a murder mystery, that I’ve never seen before – I do not think anyone has seen it before.”
An, who was born in China but grew up in Auckland, said he was not taught about the contributions of Chinese miners in Australia as well as New Zealand.
As fate would have it, he had the chance to play twice in that world. Shortly before audition for New Golden Mountain, An had completed a supporting role of a Chinese miner in The Luminaries, instituted during the New Zealand Gold Rush around the same time.
‘I did not know that the Chinese were in Australia and New Zealand in the 1800s, I had to learn about it when the [acting] jobs came to me. That, being able to dive into that world and learn about it, has been an exciting experience.
“Maybe I have a past life in that golden rush era, and for whatever reason, I try it as an actor.”
Shing is a self-serving, manipulative and pragmatic character. He has shades of gray. Its complexity is proof of New Golden Mountain‘s commitment to creating characters who are neither heroes nor villains. Most significantly, in a rarity on Australian TV, the series features a multiplicity of textured Chinese characters, played by Mabel Li, Sebastian Li, Sam Wang and Chris Masters Mah.
No one here is token.
The series was created by Peter Cox and produced by Kylie du Fresne and Elisa Argenzio, but the team understood that it had to bring ads with Chinese heritage to protect the series.
The behind-the-scenes crew included Melbourne-born, Melbourne-based director Corrie Chen, who recorded all four episodes, writer Benjamin Law, and creatives Jean Tong, Olivia Cheung and Samantha Kwang.
“I was just incredibly desperate to get on board,” Chen told news.com.au. “This is a story that has been waiting to be told on screen, and just from a personal point of view, I was dying to see an Asian-Australian this story.
“I know what it feels like to be Chinese in this country. I know what it feels like when you walk out the door and the way people look at you, like the assumptions they make of you even before you start speaking. .
“That experience for me, that feeling, is so specific. It is not intellectualized as an aesthetic on which you can strike. I felt for this particular story, where it was an opportunity to twist and re-imagine stereotypes that Chinese Australians had long been forced to wear, it was really important that the person who was the creative coal of it led was someone who knew how it felt. ”
And, who is best known for his role in the remake of Disney’s live action Mulan and for the lead role opposite Rachel Griffiths in Australian drama Dead Lucky, said he immediately clicked on set with Chen.
“Because we both shared such a similar background when we were growing up, it was just a direct concept. We could find nuances that we otherwise would not have been able to find.
“I think we would have missed a lot of nuances that were very specifically Chinese, if we did not have creatives behind the scenes at the project.
“Although Peter Cox, who created the world, did a phenomenal job researching the finest details, it is not the same as being raised within that culture. There is a difference. ”
And was able to bring his own life experiences as a Chinese immigrant to New Zealand to inform his understanding of his character. He used memories of visiting his grandparents as a child, visiting altars in which he had to bow with incense.
There are two scenes in it New Golden Mountain in which his character does the same, but he is able to distinguish the emotionality behind the mental state of his character through different body language during the act.
“When [Shing] rejects his culture, he just smells the incense, but when he then authentically prays for his ancestors for blessing, there is a shift in him. I channeled my experiences, taking the scene from my own personal life experience. ”
For all the mystery of the whodunit, New Golden Mountain is a show that focuses on the experience of outsiders, which also extends to characters who are female, Irish and country-specific.
The death that drives the story is just a framework to investigate the conflict inherent in finding where you belong. Being a part of a country’s story is part of that journey.
Chen said what it means to hear in Australia is one of the broad themes of the series.
“That’s something I had to navigate my whole life, I think that’s something that every migrant in every country has to navigate,” she said. “And for much of my life, I think I was pretty lost in terms of what my voice is as a person and in my work, trying to get in instead of embracing my duality.
“The idea of home, it’s such a powerful word, but I’ve realized it, and New Golden Mountain made part of this realization that now the word home is for me an emotion, it is a feeling.
“It took a little while to get here, but this experience has really opened my mind to what we could strive for in Australian stories.”
New Gold Mountain launches on SBS and SBS On Demand on Wednesday, October 13 at 9:30 p.m.
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