Friday, March 30, 2007

Kunming Mafia at it Again...

Thanks to Kris Ariel at Salvador's, you can see one of our acting gigs on Youtube. Back in my days of freedom, I did some acting in locally produced tv shows for some free travel and extra cahs. There are a lot of stories there, and maybe I'll get around to posting a few one of these days.

I appeared in about 10 tv shows between 2002 and 2005, but most of them either never aired or never got a good spot. Two of my bigger roles are still floating around in censor limbo, something that's a real risk in the industry in China. Scripts are first approved by various govt bodies according to their content, but then the approval process has to start all over again once the final cut is made. The whole process can take years sometimes and leave the finished product choppy and impossible to follow. I guess it comes with the territory.

"Operation Without Borders" was my last film (for now?), and was filmed in Kunming during summer 2005. The CCTV film crew was the most professional that I had worked with, though that's not saying much, and we managed to knock out my scenes in three days. Though I was disappointed that I wouldn't be able to show off my Chinese, I have to say it was an interesting role, and I made some decent cash for a few days' work.

Most of my previous roles revolved around my being a foreigner in China. I have played the part of 1930's explorer, evil imperialist swine, and general lost foreigner in China. This one was different. All of my scenes 'took place in' New York, and I didn't have a single line in Chinese. I can't remember what my name was, but I was a dentist by day and demented drug mafia hitman by night. I tortured people, drove around in a cadillac, and took a bullet in the head, all firsts for my so-called acting career.

I hadn't put much thought to the gig back when we did it, either because most of my films never made it to mainstream tv, and when they did, no-one ever bothered to tell me. I was doing it for some extra cash and as a favor to a friend in the crew, and I was already pretty sure I didn't want to do this anymore. I was already preparing for the Yunnan Revealed tour (see earlier postings), and knew that my easygoing freelance lifestyle was coming to its end.

I never thought that this film would come back to me, but lo and behold, it ended up airing a few times on a primetime spot on CCTV. Nearly two years after filming, it just up and popped out of the woodwork. A lot of my colleagues and friends got a real kick out of it, especially watching me die. I remember one friend's story: "hey ma, Jeff's on TV! Come check it out." His mother walked out just in time to see me lying on the ground with a bullet in my forehead. Classic.

Every acting gig I did was a real learning experience. The Chinese, just like everyone else in the world, are loathe to breach the topic of death, and have a lot of customs to get around that. When I did my death scene, the producer handed me a red envelope with some cash in it. "Put this in your pocket when you die, and go out and spend the cash tonight to ward off bad luck".

Safety is another big issue, but from what I've heard about Bollywood, it could be much worse. I've done a lot of scenes with guns in my day, and it can be a bit disconcerting. First off, no one sees the point in paying for replica guns. A special detail from the People's Armed Police or the army shows up with a crate of real guns, and not just pistols, but semis and assault rifles. Then the prop guy goes to work on the bullets. Why buy blanks when you can have some underpaid minion pry the bullets out and bend the casing around the charge. On more than one occasion I have felt metal fragments scraping across my face.

All in all, I have to say that I've really enjoyed the experience, despite the long hours, imminent danger and horrible food. I've gotten free vacations to interesting places, met beautiful women, and will have a pile of stories to tell the kids one day

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Bang, Continued

In China, today is Yuanxiao Jie, the fifteenth day of the New Lunar Year. This is the first full moon of the year, and the official end of New Year's festivities. It is also known as the Lantern Festival, as people in many areas make paper lanterns to hang tonight.

In other news, I finally got around to uploading footage I shot with my phone on Chinese New Year's. Words just don't do justice...

Happy Pig Year, everybody.

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