Skip to main content

Now On Netflix: A Love Song To China’s Belt And Road Initiative

"Chalay Thay Saath" is a Pakistani-Chinese love story slated to open in China at the SCO Film Festival in Qingdao next week.

EILEEN GUOJUNE 8, 20180

In the scenic yet deadly high mountains of Gilgit, Pakistan, a Chinese backpacker and a Pakistani doctor are thrown together during a group-tour road trip and, in short order, improbably but inevitably fall in love.

To be together, they must fight past a number of roadblocks, including language barriers, racist stereotypes, familial disapproval, and even a deadly flood that, for a time, erects a physical divide between them. But in the end, love — and Chinese-Pakistani dosti (friendship) — prevails.

While this may sound like the latest CCP propaganda flick (the rom-com version, perhaps, of Amazing China?), it is actually the plot behind a Pakistani film, Chalay Thay Saath, that opened to much fanfare in Pakistan and is now available in the United States on Netflix.

Gaping plot holes, melodrama, and all the recognizable tropes of many cross-cultural love stories notwithstanding, Chalay Thay Saath is noteworthy for a few reasons: this film, with its strong pro-China theme, was made by a Pakistani director as part of local efforts to revive the country’s film industry; it features a Chinese male character as the romantic lead, a rarity still in the much bigger (and more diverse) Hollywood film industry, let alone the nascent Pakistani one; but this representation of a Chinese man is played not by a Chinese actor, but a Canadian actor of Chinese descent who, by all appearances, is the archetypal Asian American bro.

This combination doesn’t make for a particularly great cinematic experience — but as a commentary both on how China’s rise is being reflected in the countries where it is heavily investing, as well as the roundabout routes that Asian American actors must take for success, Chalay Thay Saath is fascinating.

When it opened in April 2017, the film earned $1.5 million during its one-month run-time — lackluster by global standards, but not bad by Pakistani ones, where the film industry is so small that that figure still put Chalay Thay Saath among the top 20 highest grossing Pakistani films. What was more notable, perhaps, was its curious timing with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). As leading local paper Dawn asked in the opening salvo of its review, “What came first, the agenda or the script?”

When the film opened in Pakistan in April 2017 to a lackluster $1.5 million in ticket sales in its one-month run-time, its curious timing with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was duly noted. As leading local paper Dawn asked in the opening salvo of its review, “What came first, the agenda or the script?”

A fair question, given that CPEC, the $62 billion project to build highways, pipelines, and other critical infrastructure across Northern Pakistan, had been announced in April 2015. CPEC is both the “flagship project” of China’s ambitious One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative and, more relevantly for the film’s domestic audience, a much-hoped-for impetus for Pakistan’s economic development. At its initial estimate of $46 billion, CPEC represented 20 percent of the country’s GDP — and, of course, that figure has grown significantly, “placing Pak-China dosti squarely in the center of national discourse,” as the review in Dawn opined.

Director Umer Adil stresses that the film’s timing with CPEC was coincidental; in an email exchange with SupChina, he shares that his inspiration came both from the decades-long relationship between China and Pakistan, represented by the Karakorum Highway built 70 years ago, and the Silk Road that, of course, predates both the Chinese and Pakistani nation-states. (In the film, Adam travels to Gilgit to better understand his father, a mountaineer who had abandoned him and his mother before dying in Pakistan’s mountains; we first meet Adam at his father’s grave in a Chinese cemetery that serves as the resting place of the Chinese workers killed during the highway’s construction.)

“Whenever Pakistan is highlighted in the media, geopolitically or otherwise, it’s always talking about the country’s issue with India, Afghanistan, or ties with America, and here there’s a beautiful history with China that’s hidden from the world,” Adil says. “The idea of highlighting this Pak-China cross-cultural link started from there.”

The film’s featuring of a Chinese character as the male romantic lead was also unique, as the local blog Hip in Pakistan gushed upon the film’s Pakistani release: “While we’ve often seen films show desi girls/boys fall for goras [foreigners] — they usually belong to first world countries like America or England. This will be the first time that we’ll see a Pak-China love story and this sounds promising.”

That a Chinese man can be portrayed, in Pakistan, as a suitable romantic interest is also reflective, perhaps, of China’s increased stature in the world.

Kent Leung, the Chinese-Canadian actor who plays the lead, explains, “Nowadays, with China being this economic powerhouse, everyone wants a piece of China, and it’s understandable.” In other words, the higher visibility of China in Pakistan due to OBOR has, he believes, created “political reasons as well [as to] why [the writers/filmmakers] would choose a Chinese lead.”

These days, Leung is based in Beijing, following in the footsteps of a number of North American actors of Chinese descent who have returned east to make their careers, including Ludi Lin, who played the Black Power Ranger in the 2017 reboot. “There is no glass ceiling for Asian actors here,” Leung explains, though “obviously, when there’s more people, there’s more competition.”

And yet, he’s not exactly competing against the hordes of Chinese nationals hoping to make it in the world of Chinese film. “If I was a local Chinese that couldn’t speak English, I would haven’t gotten this role in the first place,” Leung says. “I had to use English to shoot the film.”

Meanwhile, Adil adds that Leung’s Canadian passport made the visa process much easier.

While being Chinese Canadian facilitated the logistics of shooting, Leung is aware of the limitations of his background. When he was cast, he had only been studying Mandarin Chinese for a year and a half (growing ux, his family spoke Cantonese), and his strong accent comes through in his few lines of Mandarin-language dialogue.

His inauthentic Mandarin is the kind of detail that Pakistani audiences wouldn’t pick up on. Other gaffes: Adam’s mother and her nurse, the other Chinese characters with dialogue, also speak disjointed, heavily accented Mandarin; and the family of two apparently lives in a large, well-appointed, and mostly unfurnished temple. (Leung tells me that the crew used Thailand as a stand-in for China.)

During our conversation, Leung admitted that when he first saw the finished version, he was surprised about the details the film didn’t bother to get right. But for the most part, he puts a positive spin on it. “Whether it’s a Pakistani film or a Chinese film or whatever, if it’s a lead role and it’s good…I think any actor would take it.” Besides, he adds, he wasn’t sure what kind of release the film would have in its native Pakistan, let alone the United States or China.

But, now, with the film on Netflix and slated to open in China at the SCO Film Festival in Qingdao in mid-June, Leung says he is “definitely nervous about how the Chinese audience will receive a North American Canadian representing Chinese — especially with the fact that my accent is obviously very strong.”

So whether this cross-cultural love story will translate cross-culturally remains to be seen. But either way, one thing that the film does leave pretty clear: the Chinese-Pakistani dosti is strong

https://supchina.com/2018/06/08/now-on-netflix-a-love-song-to-chinas-belt-and-road-initiative/

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Rise of China-Europe Railways

https://www.csis.org/analysis/rise-china-europe-railways

The Rise of China-Europe RailwaysMarch 6, 2018The Dawn of a New Commercial Era?For over two millennia, technology and politics have shaped trade across the Eurasian supercontinent. The compass and domesticated camels helped the “silk routes” emerge between 200 and 400 CE, and peaceful interactions between the Han and Hellenic empires allowed overland trade to flourish. A major shift occurred in the late fifteenth century, when the invention of large ocean-going vessels and new navigation methods made maritime trade more competitive. Mercantilism and competition among Europe’s colonial powers helped pull commerce to the coastlines. Since then, commerce between Asia and Europe has traveled primarily by sea.1Against this historical backdrop, new railway services between China and Europe have emerged rapidly. Just 10 years ago, regular direct freight services from China to Europe did not exist.2 Today, they connect roughly 35 Chinese…

SSG Commando Muddassir Iqbal of Pakistan Army

“ Commando Muddassir Iqbal was part of the team who conducted Army Public School operation on 16 December 2014. In this video he reveals that he along with other commandos was ordered to kill the innocent children inside school, when asked why should they kill children after killing all the terrorist he was told that it would be a chance to defame Taliban and get nation on the side. He and all other commandos killed children and later Taliban was blamed.
Muddassir Iqbal has deserted the military and now he is  with mujahedeen somewhere in AF PAK border area”
For authenticity of  this tape journalists can easy reach to his home town to interview his family members or   ISPR as he reveals his army service number”
Asalam o Alaikum: My name is Muddassir Iqbal. My father’s name is Naimat Ali. I belong to Sialkot divison (Punjab province), my village is Shamsher Poor and district, tehsil and post office  Narowal. Unfortunately I was working in Pakistan army. I feel embarrassed to tell you …

CPEC Jobs in Pakistan, salary details

JOBS...نوکریاں چائنہ کمپنی میںPlease help the deserving persons...Salary:Salary package in China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in these 300,000 jobs shall be on daily wages. The details of the daily wages are as follows;Welder: Rs. 1,700 dailyHeavy Duty Driver: Rs. 1,700 dailyMason: Rs. 1,500 dailyHelper: Rs. 850 dailyElectrician: Rs. 1,700 dailySurveyor: Rs. 2,500 dailySecurity Guard: Rs. 1,600 dailyBulldozer operator: Rs. 2,200 dailyConcrete mixer machine operator: Rs. 2,000 dailyRoller operator: Rs. 2,000 dailySteel fixer: Rs. 2,200 dailyIron Shuttering fixer: Rs. 1,800 dailyAccount clerk: Rs. 2,200 dailyCarpenter: Rs. 1,700 dailyLight duty driver: Rs. 1,700 dailyLabour: Rs. 900 dailyPara Engine mechanic: Rs. 1,700 dailyPipe fitter: Rs. 1,700 dailyStorekeeper: Rs. 1,700 dailyOffice boy: Rs. 1,200 dailyExcavator operator: Rs. 2,200 dailyShovel operator: Rs. 2,200 dailyComputer operator: Rs. 2,200 dailySecurity Supervisor: Rs. 2,200 dailyCook for Chinese food: Rs. 2,000 dailyCook…