"Acting is the ability to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances." -- Sanford Meisner


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Thursday, January 31, 2013

King of Guangzhou


Watch the trailer below:

The "King of Guangzhou is now on vimeo. 

For the full film, click here.

Festivals and Screenings: Apchat International Film Festival, 10th Montreal International Black Film Festival, New Voices of Black Cinema 2015, Zanzibar International Film Festival 2015, San Francisco Black Film Festival, 10th Annual Harlem International Film Festival, 19th Urban World Film Festival, Filminitiativ Koln-African Diaspora Cinema, Kalasha International Film Festival, 2016 San Diego Black Film Festival, Denton Black Film Festival, Pan African Film Festival

After the overnight shoot of "UnFlaw" at Kranji in Singapore, I rushed home to catch up with some sleep, then woke up to pack and leave for Guangzhou, China, for the production of "King of Guangzhou".

By the time I landed in Guangzhou and checked into the hotel, it was 4am, that after a quick and tasty century egg porridge supper at the local KFC. :)

After slumbering on the bed for a few hours, I woke up to the view of Guangdong TV station building in front. The skyline was hazy. Pollution is really bad in China.

Production was already started on the rooftop of a block of apartments in the neighbourhood. The director decided to move the location to the roof top after the electricity was disrupted in the apartment.

As it turned out, the rooftop view was telegenic. Subsequently, we had a rooftop garden buffet for lunch. :)

The next day, we headed out to the African Quarters in the XiaoBei district in Guangzhou. We nickname it 'Chocolate City'. It is a colourful cultural mosaic of African, Turkish and Han Chinese people living in a hive of commercial activities.

Background: The number of Africans in Guangzhou is estimated to be between 20,000 to 200,000. It is a wide range, as it is difficult to estimate how many have overstayed their visa and are not registered in the statistics. These Africans mostly come to China as traders, sending goods from Guangzhou factories back to Africa. It is very hard for any of them to get a Permanent Resident status, so they either stay as Tourist and renew their visa every time it ends or overstay as an an illegal.

And this set the backdrop of the story of "King of Guangzhou" -about a Nigerian man who has a Chinese wife and child, but now had his visa extension denied. Faced with the horror of leaving his family in Guangzhou, he embarked on a false optimism to pay his way out of his problem, via another compatriot who claims to know the right strings to pull in the bureaucracy. This turned horribly wrong and ugly when his fellow countryman ran away with the money.

This is Quester Hannah, the director and script writer of "King of Guangzhou", planning the camera locations and route of the scene where the Nigerians are fleeing from Immigration Officer Mosquito, played by yours truly. :)

The fleeing route passes through many back alleys like this one. Apartment blocks are built uncomfortably close to one another leaving only a gap of light passing through.

It is along these back alleys that we got most of the scenes captured - away from the glaring eyes of the public. The residents are generally very curious and chatty. Some thought that we were reporters going to capture the filthy state of the place due to the municipal cleaner strike that left garbage uncollected for three days.

This is Officer Mosquito who finally caught up with Chike, the Nigerian character who ran away with the money. 

Chike is played by Michael Tochukwo, himself a Nigerian trader in Guangzhou who has lived there for many years and married to a Chinese woman. I find him to be a natural actor with an agile mind. He speaks Mandarin fluently and was diligently learning a line in Cantonese, which I had only taught him in that instance, on set.

This is a surreal scene that is symbolic of the fears of Adede. That of the authorities coming after him, and his losing his wife and  his baby.

One of the Nigerian actor that Quester hired didn't turn up. So, Quester picked some other Nigerian he in the market and hired him. As it turned out, this new guy we picked up from the street acted well, with a clear diction and a booming voice.

Rest time with Karen Tan. She plays the factory worker wife of the lead character Adede.

This is the fifth time that I am working with her. In the other acts, she was
- a neighbour whom I was trying to have a relationship with;
- an ex-wife amid a child custody issue;
- an angry wife when I brought home a mistress;
- a mother of a little boy who was persistently buying tissue paper from me out of sympathy.

In the end, it is all good fun and fantasy. If life is one big dream, then these productions are dreams within my dream.

This is Officer Mosquito in full glory! :)

The weather is a comfortable 20 degrees Centigrade this time of the year, so wearing this crazy trench coat wasn't bad. The alternative of wearing official police uniforms didn't go down well with the local police. Hence the creation of this plainclothes undercover cop.

These are the two lead actors: Uchenna Onyia and Karen Tan. Uchenna is a theatre actor based in New York.  He plays Adede in the story.

This is the factory place where Meiling, Adede's wife works.

This is our devoted Director of Photography, Neville Jackson. All the scenes apart from one, are captured hand-held. The scene not captured hand-held was done on a steady cam rig. It must be a strenuous 10 days for him.

In this picture, he was capturing the moving frames of Aede and Meiling as they cycled along the road.

He worked hard. Everyday after I have wrapped, I would go back to the room and crash on the bed, while he continued to work on his shot list for the next day till late in the night.

With Tiger, the local production assistant, who also played a part as an immigration officer in the script.

This is my first real overseas shoot and my 100th assignment in the last two years. That is, barring recent forays into Malaysia and Indonesia. Acting per se, is the same whether it is in Guangzhou, or anywhere else. The way to get into character and draw out the appropriate emotions is no different. However, I have noted the following in Guangzhou:

1. Language: Speaking Cantonese or any other alien language to your co-actors, in this case Nigerian actors, was a little tricky.
2. Culture: The Nigerian actors come from a contrastingly different culture from the Chinese, so reading their facial expressions and reacting to the little nuances was a new experience for me.
3. Geography: A lot of things are unpredictable in a location like Chocolate City. So, there were a lot of working around the script, the crowd, the authorities and the bystanders.

These are our local translators. In China, it is necessary to have a local team to sort things out when there are issues on the ground.

I am so glad that I could speak Cantonese to the local people. On one instance, I even spoke Teochew to a restaurant owner, his native tongue from another Guangdong city called Shantou - perhaps to his delight, as we got a free pot of Chinese tea and some cups later!

Speaking the local language goes a long way towards building relationships. I must better the languages I speak, especially those that are still very basic.

The "King of Guangzhou" production has been a splendid experience. It is a new chapter in my acting journey. Working together and living together with the cast and crew also added a lot to the team spirit.

There are two lessons I learned in Guangzhou.
1. Bring enough Reminbi cash. Very few places take credit card. Don't rely on converting your dollars to Reminbi in Guangzhou. There are only very few legitimate money lenders in the city, if at all. There are also those that are ready to exchange your dollars for some counterfeit Reminbi.
2.The local Chinese are very tolerant, given that they are used to living in chaos, congestion and a polluted environment, but don't let that make you complacent, as it would take only one nasty one to pick on a small mistake you make and amplify it enough to stall your shoot.

Here are some wild clips that I took with my mobile phone...

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