Friday, October 26, 2012

New Upcoming Exhibition: Between East and West

Photograph of PC William Wong. © Mike Tsang

 This looks like a really interesting exhibition opening in a couple of weeks in London:

‘Between East & West: The British Chinese’

An artistic investigation by documentary photographer and oral history trainer Mike Tsang into what it means to be British-Born Chinese - featuring 12 photographic portraits, archival imagery and written and recorded interviews.

Mike Tsang says: “Most British people’s exposure to Chinese culture is through the Chinatowns or the ubiquitous takeaways of UK cities. But where are the Chinese in culture, sport or politics? ‘Between East & West’ celebrates the role of British-Born Chinese in modern society and challenges the distorted view of Chinese culture as the mystical Orient.”

The project was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. 

Open from 6th -16th November @ SW1 Gallery, 12 Cardinal Walk (up escalator), Victoria, London SW1E 5JE.

For more information see:

Mike has kindly send me some of the oral history extracts and I plan to air these on next week's Lucky Cat (Sat 3rd Nov).

The Orphan of Zhao - RSC Insults With It's Casting Decision

I was hoping to cover this on tomorrow's radio show but unfortunately my illness is dragging on and I am not able to make it in to the Resonance FM studios. I wanted to provide a balanced discussion on my show but was informed that no one from the RSC was able to come on. Equity BAME representative Daniel York was set to appear.

I cannot remain 'neutral' on this issue - I am shocked and appalled by the RSC, both by the actual casting and the subsequent statements provided by the RSC explaining their decisions. Their misguided and misjudged actions and reasonings have deeply saddened me. The only positive is that this seems to have brought people together to protest this and will, I hope, eventually bring about a change for the better in the UK theatre, TV, radio and film industry.

If you are not aware of the story let me fill you in:

The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) are putting on an adapted production of The Orphan of Zhao. This classic Chinese play was originally written by 13th century Chinese dramatist Ji Junxiang. Incidentally Kaige Chen made a film adaptation in 2010; The Sacrifice. The play is often referred to as 'the Chinese Hamlet'. The RSC version has been adapted by James Fenton and is directed by the RSC’s artistic director Gregory Doran.

The RSC travelled to China to research the play and have kept the setting in China with the original characters.

Hmm, so far so good. This is sounding like something I would be interested in shelling out £50 to go and see (probably still a cheap seat!).

Then the cast list was announced. 17 actors in total. 3 of which are British East Asian.

Hold the phone - just 3? They gave the 3 lead roles to BEA actors? Sorry, what did I just read? The 3 BEA actors cast play dogs and a maid? Not the orphan (cute chubby faced Chinese kid on the poster has changed a lot growing up)? Not the princess?

That £50 is going back in my wallet. I am APPALLED by this casting decision. It's 2012, maybe someone should let the RSC know? The days of East Asian actors being passed over should be OVER. It was 1938 when Anna May Wong was passed over by Louise Rainer for the title role in The Good Earth (see still below).

Has time stood still here in UK theatre land? Even though the RSC state none of the white actors will be taping their eyes, overdoing it with the eyeliner or painting their skin yellow this is still Yellow face!

Thankfully people like Anna Chen, Equity BAME representative Daniel York, Lucy Sheen and Amanda Bear have let the RSC exactly what they think about their casting decision. After all the intellectual debate (I'm not going to engage in it here, others have done it much better than I can) it boils down to the fact that what has happened was a colossal error of judgement which is racism in practice (intentionally or not). This should be apologised for and corrected. This behaviour is abhorrent and needs to stop NOW. I truly do not understand how anyone can think this casting decision was OK.

There have been some excellent articles written about this and American and Canadian actors have been quick to show their support. In particular I am grateful to Broderick Chow whose blog post introduced me to this brilliant poem Colorblind by Jason Chu: This was in response to the La Jolla playhouse in Los Angeles casting choices for it's China-set musical The Nightingale.

There are several ways in which you can help to let the RSC know what time it is (had to get a Public Enemy reference in!):

1. Write to the RSC to express your feelings about their casting policy for the play.  You may also want to question the appropriateness of their responses to questions re the casting. (see or make your opinions known on the RSC Facebook page. If you're on Twitter you tweet them: @thersc
2. Write to the Arts Council. The RSC are part funded by the Arts Council, who are funded by us, the tax payer:
3. Join the Facebook Groups: Let's Get More British Chinese East Asian actors on TV, film, theatre and radio and British East Asian Actors
4. Write to The Rt Hon Maria Miller MP Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Minister for Women and Equalities. Email:
6. Tell your friends about this!

Whilst I've been ill for the past 2-3 weeks I have discovered one excellent piece of TV from 10 years ago which has a main character who is British Chinese. His ethnicity is barely mentioned and it does not define his character, a rare occurrence. It also happens to be one of the funniest sit-coms I've ever seen, not sure how I missed in when it was on the BBC. I am speaking of 15 Storeys High starring Sean Lock and Benedict Wong. Truly excellent. Here's a clip (you can watch all 2 series on Netflix). I hope to update on the Orphan of Zhao story on air when my health is better. In the meantime I suggest following Anna Chen's blog if you are not on Facebook.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Copesetic Sound System in Manchester Sat 27th Oct

This Saturday I highly recommend ska-ing on down to the M19 bar to hear the amazing record collections of the Copesetic DJs.  Their beautiful sound system is vintage style valve and hand-built.  Lovely warm sound with vinyl 45s from Memphis to JA.  If you're in the Manchester area this should be a great night out.  And you'll be able to get a naan bread kebab on the way home, yum.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Shinya Tsukumoto DVD Reviews

Calum Syers, writer and blogger has contributed his reviews of the latest Blue Ray DVD offerings from Third Window Films.
Please see Calum's blog for more of his work:

Tetsuo: The Iron Man
It is not often that a film opens with a man cutting a large gash into his own thigh only to stick a large metal rod into the wound, but when it does happen you know you are in for something original, to say the least. One thing that can be said about director Shinya Tsukumoto, is that he does not do things by halves. As the man (credited as "Metal Fetishist", played by Tsukumoto) sees his wound has been infested with maggots he runs out into the street only to be hit by a car. The car's driver, a Japanese business man (Tomorowo Taguchi), and his girlfriend (Kei Fujiwara), figure their best solution is to dump the still living man in the woods and have sex in front of him, as you do. As punishment, the metal fetishist forces the businessman's body to gradually transform into a working pile of metal.

With gloriously inky black and white photography and an uncompromising take on the body horror sub-genre of horror cinema, it is easy to see why Tetsuo: The Iron Man has become so beloved among cult circles. Like a lot of science-fiction and horror which these days would be described as "cyber-punk", Tetsuo: The Iron Man acknowledges the post industrial, post-modern, technologically advanced world. It also acknowledges that with such advancements comes the fetishisation of such industrial advances to the point where it becomes lustful, making the eventual metamorphosis ironic. Machine and flesh become one and the more our lives are integrated with such technological advancements, the more we allow it to become us, making the outward transformation a reflection of peoples' inner need for industry. Like David Cronenberg’s Videidrome, Tsukumoto shows the integration of technology into our lives is here made to be a literal metamorphosis, where flesh and machine become one and the same. 

Although, while all this may be true, I may be giving too much credit to audiences who just came to see a man's penis transform into a gigantic power drill, which is the image I am left with after watching this movie. 

As a piece of visual story telling, the film is relentless, using high contrast black-and-white to tell its story, instead of dialogue, which there is very little of throughout the sixty-seven minute running time. Such a pulpy visual style allows the film to have a distinctive aesthetic, and Tsukumoto's use of close ups allows us to see even the tiniest of details, such as sweat on a character's face. Comparatively speaking, Tetsuo: The Iron Man’s visual style and use of sound is not dissimilar to the early work of David Lynch, especially considering both favour disturbing, nightmarish, black and white visuals. Perhaps what is most impressive about the film's visuals is that they show just how lacking in boundaries filmmaking can be and that incredibly violent or disturbing imagery can be intellectually important. 

Structurally, the film is somewhat of a mess, with nothing more than a handful of vignettes making up its brief running. It is because of this that the film does not quite live up its reputation as a cult classic, and falls just short of the mark. It also rushes a little too quickly from scene to scene, which on one hand is a good thing, since it moves too quickly for you to question the film's logic, but on the other hand, means that it is hard to allow the film to really connect. Although, having said that, regardless of whether the really work as a cohesive whole is almost irrelevant; especially if you do not look at it too seriously, especially when the film's greatest punch is in its visuals. Besides, long after details of the plot have been forgotten, people will remember this film, whether it be for its metaphoric, cyberpunk  body metamorphosis or simply for its distinct visuals.

In conclusion, while I believe this to believe this to be a worthy entry into the cyberpunk sub-genre of science-fiction and horror, and deserving of its reputation. It falls just short of being a cult classic due to it lacking details in its plotting, structure and character motivation, but it is shockingly original and full-blooded. However, it is easy to see how its relentless visuals have inspired a generation of filmmakers, both in Japan and in the West, since there is nothing else like it and is such a crazy ride. Where it succeeds, other than with its visuals, is how it handles the transformation from man to a machine. While this is a well worn trope, it is handled with incredible imagination and with fantastic make-up and costume designs to make it look convincing.


Tetsuo II: Body Hammer, Shinya Tsukamoto’s sequel to his cult beloved film, Tetsuo: The Iron Man,  opens with a man being shot in the street by a man named Yatsu (Tsukamoto), who extends his arm as if it were a gun, and fires the shot from his hand. As openings go, it is not quite as heavy going as the opening for the first movie but it does give you an idea of the film’s tone.

Tomorowow Taguchi, who played the lead in the first movie, plays Taniguchi Tomoo, a man who is has no memories of his life before he was adopted at the age of eight. As he, his wife, Kana (Nobu Kanaoka) and his son, Minori (Keinoske Tomioka) are walking through a shopping mall, a pair of skinhead thugs forcibly inject Taniguchi with something, try to kill him and attempt to kidnap his son. Luckily, he is rescued by Kana and the child remains unharmed. When his son is, once again, taken and Taniguchi is, once again, attacked, his rage consumes him and he turns into something resembling a human weapon, similar to the power shared by Yatsu.

There are two things which are immediately apparent about Tetsuo II: Body Hammer. The first is, despite the “II” in the title, this is as much of a sequel as Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn is a sequel, by which I mean it is not. Instead, everyone involved seems to have started again and remade the first film with a much higher budget and better visual effects. The second thing which is apparent, despite still being about a man changing from a mild mannered weakling into a metal warrior, there seems to be a conscious effort to make a more marketable film. For one, it is shot in colour, and was shot in 35mm film stock, both of which seem to be geared towards making the film more accessible for general audiences. Also, this film is focused more on action whereas the first film concerned itself more with grungy body horror. 

It is not only in style where things are more conventional, since its plotting has a clearer, more conventional, beginning-middle-end style structure. Even the film’s characterisation leans towards the typical.
This loss of the former film's roughness and experimentation makes the film far less interesting than its predecessor, and unfortunately, with the loss of the experimentation, comes far less interesting sound and visuals. In addition, unlike James Cameron's Aliens and Sam Raimi's Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, the tonal shift from horror to action is a little jarring and does not work as well with this franchise.

 Having said that, there is still plenty to recommend. There are some fantastic pieces of production design, such as the skinheads' hideout, which is gigantic industrial area with various pieces of machinery spitting out sparks and molten metal. While the visuals are not as nearly as strange or imaginative as the previous film's, it still has its own style, relying heavily on red and blue filters, for creating mood. 

Perhaps the best thing about the film is how it looks at a metropolitan city like Tokyo. Tsukamoto is known for having a love-hate relationship with Tokyo, and is quoted as saying, "It's strange. Part of me loves a city like Tokyo, but part of me would quite happily destroy it." And, true to form, the final shots of the film are of Tokyo in ruin as Taniguchi, Kana and Minori look on with a peaceful, even happy look on their faces. Before that, the city is shown as being sterile and made of nothing but steel and glass, which has a strong contrast with the scenes set in the bad guys' lair, or an abandoned factory where Taniguchi and Yatsu fight at one point during the film. Whereas the first movie used its main character turning into metal as a way to prod at the reliance on the expansion of industry, this film makes the same point, but expands its gaze out to the city, where reliance on technology and industry cannot be ignored.

In conclusion, while the film is certainly weaker than the original, it is not completely without merit. Shinya Tsukamoto directs action with a deftness, but without the spark and imagination that he did horror, and overall the film feels as if it is compromised and polished to make it acceptable to general audiences. 


Japanese auteur, and cult favourite director, Shinya Tsukamoto’s latest film is at once brutal,  frustrating, distressing, and, at times a little touching. Tsukamoto directs with a realistic eye, favouring handheld camera work and naturalistic lighting which is uncharacteristic of his former work, which was often more stylised. Kotoko, the protagonist, is played by singer-songwriter Cocco in her debut acting role, and as well as playing the film's lead, she is credited as a co-author on the script, writing and performing the music and providing art direction.

Kotoko is a single mother who lives alone with her child. She is tormented by terrifying visions and often sees doubles of the people she meets in her day to day life, who are almost always hostile and threaten either her or her child. Her only escape from such horrific hallucinations comes when she sings and when she cuts herself, which she does not do in an attempt to commit suicide, but to confirm to herself  the body’s willingness to survive. Her condition is only made worse by her child’s constant crying and by her TV, which constantly blurts out horrific news about a masked knifeman who is on the loose. As her mental state continues to deteriorate, she is deemed unfit to raise a child and her son is taken out from her and is sent to stay with her sister who lives in the country with her family. As Kotoko tries to create a normal life for herself, she meets a man named Tanaka (Tsukamoto), who admits to her that he has been stalking her and the two form a strange, almost masochistic relationship. 

Perhaps what is most interesting about Kotoko is Cocco's performance and influence over the film. It is an unbearably intense and tragic portrayal of a woman losing her mind, and she absolutely convinces during the scenes where she starts to see things that may or may not be there. To people who are not aware of her career as a musician, they may be surprised that this is her debut performance. Luckily, Tsukamoto gives her free rein, allowing her scenes to play out in front of the camera with seemingly little restraint. At times, the camera is fixed on her for several minutes at a time as she sings or dances and as her voice and dance steps become more primal and erratic. In scenes such as this, she is utterly captivating,  showing just how terrifyingly fractured her mind has become.

Although, I should make it clear, Cocco's performance, while defiantly central, does not overshadow Tsukamoto's filmmaking, and instead feels like a partnership between the two. As well as directing and co-scripting the film, Tsukamoto is also the film's producer, editor and is one of two directors of photography, along with Satoshi Hayashi. Technically it is an extremely competent piece of work with the star's art direction and the director's photography meshing seamlessly. At no point is this more true than the scenes in Kotoko's apartment, which are designed and shot impeccably and use coloured lights well to symbolise her growing insanity. 

Unfortunately, one of its greatest strengths can also be seen as a weakness, in terms of story telling. As we see the world from Kotoko's point-of-view, it means questions are never really answered. Paradoxically, one of the greatest strengths of the film is that it uses its vagueness to keep us guessing. Eventually, it gets to the point where we simply do not know whether what we are seeing is a fantasy or a reality.

The film does not pretend to be a searing look into a particular mental illness, but in terms exploring madness and psychological horror, it is very sharp. From its opening frame it grabs you by the short hairs, keeping you wriggling in discomfort until it ends. Shinya Tsukamoto, in terms of style, is often mentioned in the same breath as David Cronenberg due to their use of "body horror", so it is nice to see him apply the same intensity to horror of the mind

Thanks to Calum Syers for these excellent reviews.

Lucky Cat S07 Ep 6 - Alex and Virginie Movie Special

Sadly I was unable to host this week's show due to illness.
Thankfully fellow Resonance FM presenter Alex Fitch stepped in. Alex is also the assistant editor of 'Electric Sheep' film magazine and was joined by the editor of the magazine Virginie Selavy to discuss East Asian films showing at the London Film Festival - e.g. 'The Samurai That Night', 'Nameless Gangster', 'For Love's Sake' and 'Helpless'(still from this film is pictured here). 
Alex and Virginie also discussed Filipino cinema - in particular Virginie recommended 'Mondo Manilla' by independent filmmaker Khavn and 'The Woman in the Septic Tank' dir. by Marlon Rivera.
UK DVD releases from Third Windows were also highlighted: 'Kotoko' and 'Tetsuo I & II' by cult director Shinya Tsukamoto. The Terracotta Festival tour was mentioned too (currently at the Genesis cinema in Mile End London).
Vintage northern soul vinyl was supplied by Virginie and Alex kindly provided dim sum lunchbox snacks (blueberry oreos and sweet potato crispy bars).
For all the Electric Sheep reviews of East Asian films at the 56th LFF see:

Virginie is a member of the fab all-girl dancing troupe The Actionettes.
'Kotoko' and 'Tetsuo I & II' by cult director Shinya Tsukamoto are covered in my next blog post where reviews are contributed by writer Calum Syers…..

  • Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood - Santa Esmeralda (The Good, The Bad and The Weird OST)
  • Dance theme - Koji Endo (Sukiyaki Western Django OST)
  • Violent Love (Ai to Makoto) - Satoshi Tsumabuki
  • Twiggy Twiggy - Pizzicato Five (Austin Powers OST)
  • Humpty Dumpty - The Vogues
  • Here Comes That Feeling - Brenda Lee
  • What Shall I Do - Frankie and the Classicals
  • Theme from The Godfather - Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra

Friday, October 19, 2012

Happy 7th Birthday Uprooted Sunshine!

The Shanghai reggae and bass culture crew have been going for 7 years and are celebrating at the Shelter nightclub in Shanghai. Happy Birthday guys have a blast tonight.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Lucky Cat Sat 20th Oct 2012 - Movie Special

I'll be back in the studio this Saturday for a movie review special when I am joined by the editor of Electric Sheep film magazine Virginie Selavy to discuss East Asian films showing at the London Film Festival - e.g. The Samurai That Night, Nameless Gangster, For Love's Sake and Helpless.

Also under the spotlight are the latest UK DVD releases from Korea and Japan: Petty Romance by Jeong-Hoon-Il Kim and Kotoko and Tetsuo I & II by cult director Shinya Tsukamoto.

Vintage vinyl from both mine and Virginie's collections and a little light snacking in the dim sum lunchbox.

Hope you can join us. 3.30pm UK time Resonance 104.4FM.

Mango Landin - DJ residency tomorrow

Catch me on the 1s and 2s tomorrow night in Brixton.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Lucky Cat Podcast (13th Oct 2012 - Anna Chen Guest Hosts)

A big thank you to Anna Chen who did a fabulous job of guest hosting last Saturday's show.

Photos below were taken in the Resonance FM studio by Navjot Singh (copyright Navjot).

Anna played some tracks from her Dad's China Revolutionary folks songs LPs.
Anna's poetry book Reaching for my Gnu is out now. For more poetry and Anna's upcoming gigs see:

Legendary rock critic Charles Shaar Murray's Jimi Hendrix book Crosstown Traffic has been revised and updated and will be published next month. See for details.

Navjot's latest China travel Guide is out now (see below). Check out the photos of in-flight meals on his web site section Airline Reviews. Beef flavoured mooncakes (green coloured!) feature.

Actor/director and Cambodian restauranteur Hi Ching was also a guest on the show. Anna asked Hi Ching about his role in the historical film/documentary The First Emperor The Man Who Made China. Available to watch on youtube:

Friday, October 12, 2012

Resonance FM Survey - Please Help

Resonance FM listeners! Please take a few moments to complete this survey and help out the greatest station on earth:

You could even win an iPad....

Thank you for your feedback

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Madam Miaow sits in for Lucky Cat

This Saturday 13th October Lucky Catwill be guest hosted by Anna Chen (aka Madam Miaow). Ann will be reading from her poetry collection Reaching For My Gnu, with musical accompaniment by musician and journalist Charles Shaar Murray on guitar.

Anna's guests will be travel writer Navjot Singh who lives and works in China and has witnessed some startling changes since his first visit in 2003. Plus performer and artistic director Hi Ching whose latest venture is a Cambodian cabaret restaurant.

Anna has also promised to play some vintage vinyl Chinese revolutionary songs.

Tune in this Saturday on Resonance 104.4FM at 3.30pm UK time.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Lucky Cat Sat 5th October 2012 Playlist and Bitter Melon Recipe

Today's show features:

Extracts from David Yip's talk at the China in Britain event. Here is a video showcasing his latest project Golden Mountain. For more info see:

Also featured are a number of tunes by movie queen of Amoy-dialect cinema Zhuang Xue Fang. Courtesy of

Zhuang Xue Fang links:

Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain:

Hot Lady lobby card from 1958. Ling Po also stars.

Also in today's show music from Japanese girl groups: 5,6,78s and The Dreamlets.
Plus Drinking Song by Hanggai and Let's Be People by Delroy Williams.

Tune in for my easy bitter melon recipe to cool your qi:

China In Britain Presentation July 2012

Here is is folks, the youtube video of my presentation at the China In Britain event back in July at the University of Westminster. Hope you enjoy. It was my first time presenting to a large audience and I was worried that I was not academic enough but I think my passion and knowledge come through. Despite the nerves I really enjoyed it!

Also on the bill on 18th July were:

Dongshin Chang (City University of New York), Diana Yeh (Birkbeck College and University of East London), Simon Sladen (University of Winchester) and Ashley Thorpe (University of Reading), comedienne, poet and political pundit, Anna Chen (aka Madame Miaow), David Yip (remembered by many for his role as Detective Sergeant John Ho in The Chinese Detective) and actor David Lee-Jones, (currently the lead in Richard III - the first British Chinese actor to be cast as one of Shakespeare’s English Kings).

Read my previous blog posts on China in Britain.

I recorded David Yip's presentation and will play extracts on today's episode of Lucky Cat. Here is David's video: