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Chinese Britain on Film

Chart the representation of Britain's Chinese communities in film, from exotic Other to more authentic self-portraits, in a collection of rare, strange, witty and touching films.

Explore the history of Chinese representation in British cinema over two contrasting collections. Tales of Old Chinatown includes films from the 1900s to the 1930s, an era coinciding with a 'yellow peril' moral panic in the press and pulp literature. Shaped by Britain's colonial conflicts, these films act out western anxieties of a nefarious Chinese 'Other' - usually with white actors in Chinese roles.

The 1900 Boxer Rebellion inspired the earliest films here, but the dominant Chinese figure of the age was fictional: the evil oriental mastermind represented here by Dr Sin Fang - a barely-disguised version of Sax Rohmer's sinister creation Dr Fu-Manchu. Slightly more sympathetic portrayals came later, notably in Piccadilly (1929) and other films with Chinese-American star Anna May Wong, though their protagonists invariably met tragic ends.

The films in Chinese Voices mark the emergence of first-hand accounts of British-Chinese life. Slowly waking up to an increasingly multicultural nation in the 1960s and 70s, British TV featured occasional reports from Chinese communities. But it wasn't until the 1980s that British-Chinese writers and directors began to film their own stories, using comedy, drama or documentary. Warm, tough, funny and poignant, these films at last give more authentic voice to the British-Chinese experience.

"Chinese people are very proud, and they are very wary. In the past, they have not really been depicted on screen realistically, not in the way they have wanted to be shown. They themselves have been critical of films which have overemphasised the darker areas of their society ... to the exclusion of the reality."

Po Chi Leong, director, Ping Pong

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Chinese Britain on Film

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