So remember the days when Asian men were considered undesirable, awkward, weird and portrayed as asexual beings who could never play a lead/supporting lead in a mainstream Western world film/TV series? Yes, really that was not so long ago, and to an extent this sentiment still exists in Australia. But I guess the only difference is that we are seeing more Asian male leads and supporting leads in Hollywood and hopefully this movement will shift changes in other places. Australia is slow, but eventually we will get there.
Anyways, to none of our surprise, New Zealand is way ahead than we are in Australia and is a lot more aware about what culturally diverse casting looks like ( and not tokenism). Here is a recent example. Asian Australian actor GEORGE ZHAO, who played “ANDREW LAW” in SBS series “THE FAMILY LAW” plays “LEO GAO” in NZ drama film “RUNAWAY MILLIONAIRES”. ZHAO is a supporting lead next to NZ actress JESS SAYER who plays the lead KARA HURRING, and I must say he plays a very handsome supporting lead full of suaveness and swagger, wouldn’t you agree?
So who is the character LEO GAO whom ZHAO plays? Well before I get into that, here is what the film is about. It is actually based on a real, well known case in NZ where the then couple HURRING and GAO found that Westpac mistakenly deposited $10 million big ones into their bank account, instead of an agreed $100,000 overdraft. The film is told from the perspective of HURRING, and it follows the entire case and how they took the $10 million and ran to China (obviously to disseminate the money so it could not be easily traced). What an interesting case/film to watch and it really begs the question about human ethics and morals and what would any of us do if we found $10 million in our bank accounts. So you can see what character ZHAO plays in this film right? What a role and what a character.
I actually had the opportunity to speak with ZHAO about his role ,what it was like playing LEO GAO and about media representation. This is what he said:
The show runners wanted this to be a feminists story of survival and tenacity, which I believe they’ve done really well. Playing Leo Gao definitely was interesting and it was definitely a surreal experience.
In terms of representation New Zealand is so far ahead of Australia when it comes to diversity, that me being in a movie over there isn’t a statement at all (Which is fucking phenomenal). I was told very early on, that I could choose how I wanted to play the character (Whether or not I wanted to emulate the real life Leo or not), Leo has a Chinese accent in real life, which I made personal decision not to use.
From that, the character that I portrayed veered off of accuracy to the real person. I can’t say how that all played out for me as I haven’t actually seen the film yet. Could of been a terrible choice, but we’ll see.
So a few things I wish to add before finishing off this piece. I too think it is awesome that this film was made into a “feminist” perspective and whether we agree or disagree with what HURRING and GAO did, well, in many ways like ZHAO says it is a story of survival. It is also a good choice that ZHAO chose to play GAO without a “Chinese” accent – even though GAO has one in real life, representation wise, to not have to put on an accent is a very important factor – so good on him for taking that stance. All in all, this looks like an awesome film and it is definitely on my “to watch list”.
I hope all of ya back home can keep an eye out for when this film will be released in Australia, and yes, ZHAO looks really handsome in the film ( as I can see from the pictures).