When Rin aced the Keju—the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies—it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard—the most elite military school in Nikan—was even more surprising.
But surprises aren’t always good.
Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.
For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .
Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.
Posted in Blog and tagged book, china, Chinese, culture, fantasy, fiction, historical fiction, novel, Opium Wars, R.F.Kuang, review, The Poppy War, YA
There are many plays about being Chinese in Britain. Yet there was something about “Ghost Girl, Gwei Mui 鬼妹” that struck a chord with me, once a Cantonese girl transplanted from Guangzhou to London half way through her upbringing. Perhaps it was the title, the idea of being a living ghost – the invisible minority, or the daring reverse use of Gwei Mui, the Cantonese insult for foreigners, that prompted me to accept the offer to review this play.
Posted in Blog and tagged adoptee, Britain, British Chinese, china, Chinese, Chinese Arts Now, culture, immigration, Jennifer Tang, minority, racism, review, theatre
“Crazy Rich Asians”, has made a huge impact in the short time since its release, not only because it’s based on an international bestseller by an East-Asian author, Kevin Kwan, but because it features an almost entirely Asian cast, (with only five white guys even getting a speaking part). In a U.S.-originated movie, it’s a rare thing for East-Asians to take centre-stage.
With screenplay by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim, this is the story of quintessentially American Chinese Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), who embarks on a trip with her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) to visit his home, Singapore. It turns out to be the trip of a lifetime. Rachel discovers that her laid-back, low-profile boyfriend is a billionaire whose family built half of Singapore. Between head-on cultural clashes, and the brutal matrimonial realities within Asian family clans, Rachel is way out of her depth, and must sink or swim.
Posted in Blog and tagged Asia, book, china, Chinese, cinema, Crazy Rich Asians, culture, East Asian, film, review, romcom, Singapore
As one of the major directors in Chinese cinema, any new work of Tsui Hark’s is exciting news, let alone any work released outside China and Chinese-speaking regions. As relatively more Chinese films make their way to Western cinemas, some top-bill Wuxia titles are now sharing the summer slot with Hollywood Blockbusters. This summer sees the global release of “Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings”, the third film in Judge Dee series (after “Mystery of the Phantom Flame” and “Rise of the Sea Dragon”), produced by renown and award-winning producer Nansun Shi (Infernal Affairs, Seven Swords, Chinese Ghost Story). Five years would have given this film considerable build-up, especially after the second one, which, despite the bold steps it took, was by far the weaker of the two.
Posted in Blog and tagged china, Chinese, cinema, culture, Detective Dee, film, pop culture, review, Tsui Hark, Wuxia
Being a purist and a classicist, I have stayed away from “fusion” cuisines in the past, having previously been unimpressed by certain Asian specimens of these in London. However, with the opening of Shikumen, now one of my favourite places for Dim Sums in this city, I became more convinced that Chinese cuisine could be reinterpreted and modernized without losing its essence. I decided to try Hakkasan, Hanway Place at last, with a friend.
Posted in Blog and tagged china, Chinese, cuisine, culture, Dim Dum, food, Hakkasan, restaurant, review
It’s not hard to tell from the cover that this book is going to be an unpalatable sort of satire. Whilst I find Wang Shuo very interesting as a writer, I found myself waiting for the suitable moment to start this book. When I finally did, the stark committee meeting scene it opens with put me off a couple of times. Having been exposed to the Chinese media in my childhood, there is something in the tone of official committee meetings that is inevitably soporific and dulling to one’s senses. It was not until the plot device of the Big Dream Boxer is revealed at the end of the first chapter, that I really started to engage with the story.
Posted in Blog and tagged books, china, Chinese, culture, dystopia, literature, novel, review, satire, Wang Shut
A dramatization based on Marvel’s Iron Fist took a long time coming. The comics themselves which began in the 1970s only came into being with the craze for kungfu films in the US at the time, and even with its blatant cultural appropriation and lumping together of all non-white cultures, it was a beacon as a Western comic with a semblance of diversity. The Fraction/Brubaker series in the 90s paid its dues to diversity, nodding to a long line of warriors from different backgrounds, who held the title of Iron Fist, though still representing in quite stereotypical terms the nation the culture of which it owed so much of its world building.
In the 21st century, with the popularity of superheroes TV series, and the success of the “Daredevil” and “Luke Cage”, many have been anticipating one on the warrior of K’un-Lun, and there has been calling from fans and celebrities alike for an Asian casting of its protagonist Danny Rand. The series had been delayed, due to creative debate on the on-screen depiction of the hero’s fiery powers. At last, it was released on Netflix on the 17th of March, and I watched through it all in one go to bring you a continuous commentary on social media. Owing to the positive response I’ve received, here’s a write up of the various themes and points of interest that have come to light.
Posted in Blog and tagged china, Chinese, comics, commentary, culture, diversity, Iron Fist, Marvel, Netflix, review, TV
This year has been the Chinese Year of the Monkey. I am sure many feel, as I do, that it has been quite trying in many ways. The monkey is lively, clever, but also mischievous and cheeky, prone to playing naughty pranks and causing disorder before running away, leaving others to their fate. A year under the auspices of this zodiac was bound to be chaotic.
Posted in Blog and tagged 2016, china, Chinese, culture, pop culture, review
“To rebel is justified”. Mao Ze Dong
Almost every geek in the Western hemisphere, and many on the other side, have anticipated the release of the Star Wars spin off film “Rogue One”. I managed to see it last week, and was impressed with it. I loved how it filled the narrative between Episodes 3 and 4 of the saga, without making itself a necessity, how it tied in very snuggly with animated series “Star Wars Rebels”, which I have also been following, and how, despite its gritty tone, was ultimately uplifting. There is something eternally gratifying about seeing a small, unlikely band of outlaws with more guts than ammo railing against the dread powers that be. What I most loved though, was seeing actors from my home country, Donnie Yen and Jiang Wu, in a movie that is part of a new, sprawling global mythology.
Posted in Blog and tagged china, Chinese, culture, Donnie Yen, film, Geek, Jiang Wu, Rebels, review, Rogue One, Star Wars