The Whitewash

Siang Lu

The Whitewash
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The Whitewash

Siang Lu

It sounded like a good idea at the time - A Hollywood spy thriller, starring, for the first time in history, an Asian male lead. With an estimated $350 million production budget and up-and-coming Hong Kong actor JK Jr, who, let’s be honest, is not the sharpest tool in the shed, but probably the hottest, Brood Empire was basically a sure thing. Until it wasn’t.


So how did it all fall apart? There were smart guys involved. So smart, so woke. So woke it hurts. There was topnotch talent across the board and the financial backing of a heavyweight Chinese studio. And yet, Brood Empire is remembered now not as a historical landmark of Asian representation that smashed the bamboo ceiling in Hollywood, but rather as a fiasco of seismic proportions.

The Whitewash is the definitive oral history of the whole sordid mess. Unofficial. Unasked for. Only intermittently fact-checked, and featuring a fool’s gallery of actors, producers, directors, film historians and scummy click-bait journalists, to answer the question of how it all went so horribly, horribly wrong.

Review

Move over Marvel Chrises, Hong Kong star JK Jr is the hot new property in Tinseltown. That is until the big-budget movie he’s attached to – Brood Empire, a spy thriller based on a series of 1960s Hong Kong pulp novels – implodes from within. How did it all go so wrong for JK and for Brood Empire? The team at trashy celebrity gossip site Click Bae know a raging bin fire when they smell one, and are determined to dig up the unofficial oral history of Brood Empire’s downfall.

It turns out the real story is much more complex, spanning from the 1960s to the Covid present and featuring a cast of players that includes actors from America and Hong Kong, conglomerate financiers dabbling in film, MMA fighters, online streaming stars and more. Structured entirely in interview excerpts, The Whitewash offers a glimpse into the culture clash between East and West in Hollywood, one that places its story within the larger context of Asian and Asian- American screen histories. Expect to see mentions of legends such as Bruce Lee, the Shaw Brothers and Leslie Cheung in these pages, as well as a withering assessment of Hollywood’s record of racism, whitewashing and double standards for Asian actors. JK Jr may be a bit superficial – at one point, he says, ‘people crave authenticity … the audiences want to see my face, my abs’ – but his experience is an all-too-familiar one of promises broken and a career stalled.

Siang Lu won the 2021 Glendower Award for an Emerging Queensland Writer for his manuscript of The Whitewash, and it truly feels like an ambitious work that’s attempting a story you rarely find in Australian fiction. Lu skewers the shallow self-justification of the film and gossip industries, and being in the presence of such self-serving characters for extended periods of time can feel draining. Dig under the naked ambition, though, and you’ll find thoughtful questions being raised about father-son relationships, dynastic business legacies, hierarchies of taste and shifts in international soft power. With its accessible prose and film-history appeal, The Whitewash is an entertaining read from a bold new voice.

Jackie Tang is is the editor of Readings Monthly

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