By Natalie Tsui
Over the course of one’s life, one will encounter numerous Chinatowns—each with its own peculiarities. Be it the historical importance of a long-gone Laundromat or the specific taste of your favorite egg tart, each Chinatown evokes a different series of emotions and memories in each person.
SUITE SUITE CHINATOWN is a commissioned piece emerging from Chinese Canadian filmmakers (Howie Shia, Lillian Chan, Serena Lee, Lesley Loksi Chan, Aram Siu Wai Collier, Heather Keung, and Joyce Wong) grappling with the question, “What is your Chinatown?” Their answer was part film, part live musical performance, part karaoke, part home video, and part comic book. Rather than create a visual study of the actual space, this collective of artists merged a variety of mediums into an extremely hip “happening.”
As a Chinese American, I felt a particular tie to each of the integrated shorts as they gestured to the peculiarities of the Chinese trans-cultural experience. I was reminded of my family’s hoarding of condiment packets and plastic bags, the awkwardness of gatherings with aunties and uncles (who always seemed more foreign than relative), the MacGyverish tendencies of my grandmother (which sometimes did go horribly awry…), and the visual tactility of walking through a Chinatown. More than these cultural memories, Suite Suite Chinatown presented a myriad portrait of what it means to be in a vibrant transnational space and recreates the experience of Chinatown with an interactive convergence of mediums.
The film was rounded up perfectly with a panel discussion (featuring Konrad Ng, Carolyn Goossen, David Chiu, the filmmakers, and the musical performers) and a wonderfully awesome reception sponsored by the Consulate General of Canada.
Natalie is a participant in this year’s Verizon Student Delegate Program
Great review! I couldn’t help but laugh your comment about the “awkwardness of gatherings with aunties” because I definitely feel the subtle awkwardness (though sometimes more direct, especially when I cannot communicate with them through mandarin). Heather Keung’s search for connection with the past is creatively conveyed through the use of combining old footage (possibly from the 90’s? I couldn’t help but notice those thick, vintage glasses), and editing them with to look even more antiquated. We are fortunate to live in an era where different digital mediums allow us to delve in the past and recreate it as our own.
“Suite Suite Chinatown” really did prove, as you mentioned, the cross-national boundaries of home and location. With the many and varied approaches to the project, there’s something for everyone. The “how to speak” animated segments were my favorites (a close second is the short with the man pouring soy sauce on his rice!). The reception was a lot of fun too! As one of the younger delegates, and being unable to attend the other parties, it was great to finally get a chance to mingle with the other festivalgoers over food. Meeting Eric Byler allowed me to engage my interest in film with the social activism my college encourages.
Nice sum-up, Natalie. I thought the shorts were hugely creative and imaginative. I especially enjoyed the live foley portion. There is something childish and gleeful about being told to scrunch and tear tissue paper and stomp your feet altogether. Also, I found the panel to be rigorous in challenging the audience to grapple with what Chinatown is/means as a subjective experience, a real locale and a point of departure for a transnational community. I also wondered if their seemingly fresh take on Chinatown was due to the filmmakers’ Canadian background.