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Normalising communist aesthetic: Cantonese opera-singing Trump in Hong Kong not so funny after all

Humor Hong Kong Free Press

On Friday 12, I went to the Sunbeam Theatre, in North Point, to see the sold-out opening of the Cantonese opera Trump on Show – an absurdist, crazy operatic comedy that, by inserting the American president in this niche art form, has attracted an
'On Friday 12, I went to the Sunbeam Theatre, in North Point, to see the sold-out opening of the Cantonese opera Trump on Show – an absurdist, crazy operatic comedy that, by inserting the American president in this niche art form, has attracted an awful lot of attention.The plot is predictably incoherent, so much so as to be quite amusing.It unfolds like this: as the curtains are raised, a bosomy woman with a platinum-blond wig of long hair enters the stage.The background is covered by a large photo of the Oval Office.The blond woman opens a suitcase and then sits on an armchair with a book she has extracted from it, all the while turning her very prominent breasts towards the laughing audience.On stage is actress and singer Chan Man, impersonating Ivanka Trump, and being somewhat transported, through the pages of the book she fished out, to a dreamy world from decades ago – not in the US, but in the People’s Republic of China.There is a brief Cultural Revolution scene, taking place in 1966, with acrobatics and red flags – you’d be excused for thinking it is an extract from Red Detachment of Women or something of the sort.Then, another Beijing scene, 1972: the stage background now is a picture of Beijing’s old airport as we await Nixon’s visit, the first by an American president to Communist China.A lot of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) are dressed up as Red Guards (or is it Red Guards dressed up as PLA?), all the while dancing and jumping.As Nixon, played by Roger Chan, arrives, he is greeted by Zhou Enlai, interpreted by Sun Kim Long, who has been scolded by the always difficult Jiang Qing (Madame Mao, played by Emily Chan) for being selfish (the plot gets further confusing: is this about Pecking duck sauce?About Zhou’s wife?Who can say) and after a brief moment of worry over Mao Zedong’s health, Nixon, Zhou, Mao (Loong Koon Tin), an aide and a bodyguard sit together in the same room, packed with books and large armchairs.The diplomatic encounter takes place, with a game of ping pong and much merriment.In one instance, Nixon has been gifted a half-empty packet of Panda cigarettes and says “oh, how nice, a half-empty packet of cigarettes,” to which Mao replies that he is, in fact, being gifted the two pandas printed on the packet.Meanwhile – a precious object goes missing.This is because the Nixon delegation has brought to China a young unruly prankster called Donald Trump (“Donald?I thought that was the name of a duck!” says Mao, who knows his Disney characters). Trump has stolen a magical goblet.Mao decides not to worry about the theft but predicts that this Trump might bring problems to China in the future.Trump, in spite of his junior status, nevertheless has an audience with all the big leaders in Beijing, and asks if it is true that there is no more prostitution in China. “There are prostitutes in China,” he is reassured: “But they all work in Taiwan!” – hilarity ensues.Trump abducted by aliens speaks to long lost brother!From space ship.He fires himself. pic.twitter.com/0Lb9GG6AaK— Ilaria Maria Sala (@IlariaMariaSala) April 12, 2019As the audience gest moved over the death of Mao’s son during the Korean War, it turns out that an American soldier got lost in China during the war (the Korean one, which ended 19 years previously?Coherence is not highly rated here) and is now living in Kaifeng.It turns out that this is Trump’s lost twin brother!Here, a play of words has the “Chinese” twin called Chuan Pu (also Loon Koon Tin,) while Trump is Telangpu (Loon Koon Tin again) – a confusion reflected in many Chinese language newspapers, which haven’t fully decided which transliteration is best for the American president.Here, inspired by Obama’s real half brother in Shenzhen, we have both, to good comic effect.Anyway.Chuan Pu works at the crematorium in Kaifeng, where he is getting ready to cremate former leader Liu Shaoqi (who died in 1969, but who’s counting) while having a painful separation from his love interest who wants to escape China.They sing Edelweiss.Mark Obama Ndesandjo, half brother to former US president Barack Obama.Photo: Wikicommons.Fast forward to 2019, Trump (the Telangpu, trickster one) is president of the United States, has started a trade war with China, singling out Huawei for unfriendly treatment (“Cell phone technology is a battlefield!” he sings.) Kim Jong Un is visiting Washington, and, by coincidence, so is Chuan Pu, Trump’s long lost twin.Ivanka is delighted to meet her uncle.But!Just as the family reunion-cum-state summit is about to get underway, woe strikes: Lincoln’s ghost appears in a cloud of smoke, announcing that Trump has been abducted by aliens!Sharp-eyed Ivanka decides to dress up Chuan Pu the uncle as Trump the Telangpu, and fool Kim, who is duly fooled.Ivanka also remarks on Chuan Pu’s previous job, in the crematorium, saying: “ah, if you could have also turned to ashes all those journalists from the New York Times and CNN!My dad would have been happy.” Chuan Pu’s long lost love interest is also there, sadly in a wheelchair.No matter: they sing Edelweiss.While the US-NK summit is underway, though, Trump beams himself into the hall from the aliens’ spaceship, and seeing how well his Chinese-at-heart twin is running the country, he fires himself.No more trade war, and the background changes, from the White House to the Forbidden City.Huawei too seems forgiven.The background changes from the White House to the Forbidden City, even while Chuan Pu is still supposed to be presidential in Washington, but the show is over and the audience is ecstatic.What did we just watch?The author of the show is Edward Li Kui-ming, a former financial journalist and current fengshui master and impresario.Active in the magic world of Cantonese opera for years, has given it a Communist twist only recently: in 2016 he pioneered the genre in Hong Kong with a Cantonese opera on Mao Zedong.The first Mao’s show was not concerned with any of Mao’s politics or the price China paid for them, but on his love life.Criticised for glossing over basically everything in Mao’s life, still, the novelty and boldness of the idea attracted attention.This new production further normalises Cultural Revolution chic on Hong Kong’s theatre stages, making it all the more acceptable as the emphasis is on – gasp! – Trump in a Cantonese opera!Edward Li Kui-ming.Photo: Wikipedia.Chinese opera – either in its Cantonese form, or jingju, sung in Mandarin, or the many regional variations of the genre – is intrinsically conservative: classical costumes, a lot of timeless tales from China’s literary repertoire, comic relief in the form of jesters and acrobatics, and a level of complexity that requires a long initiation to appreciate it.Famously, Jiang Qing tried to modernise it, banning some of its “feudalistic” aspects and creating a type of revolutionary Chinese opera called Model Works, or yangbanxi – with six revolutionary productions.Their aesthetics and visual dazzle are overpowering, and to this day Jiang Qing’s operating works have some aficionados.It isn’t likely that Li Kui-ming’s will last as long, but they are giving a sensational and humoristic take to a very straightforward political message, that is not revolutionary at all.Here we have an openly patriotic Fengshui master doing his part against the trade war, and opportunistically using the shock value of a Cantonese opera-singing Trump to further normalise a communist aesthetic in Hong Kong, at a time of heightened political strife and repression.So not that funny, after all.Kong Tsung-gan‘s new collection of essays – narrative, journalistic, documentary, analytical, polemical, and philosophical – trace the fast-paced, often bewildering developments in Hong Kong since the 2014 Umbrella Movement.As Long As There Is Resistance, There Is Hope is available exclusively through HKFP with a min.HK$200 donation.Thanks to the kindness of the author, 100 per cent of your payment will go to HKFP’s critical 2019 #PressForFreedom Funding Drive. . The post Normalising communist aesthetic: Cantonese opera-singing Trump in Hong Kong not so funny after all  appeared first on Hong Kong Free Press HKFP.Author: Ilaria Maria Sala.'

‘You only live once’: Hong Kong journalist-turned stand-up comedian continues to tell stories in her new role

Humor Hong Kong Free Press

By Laurissa Liu, Tommy Yuen No fancy outfit.No heavy make up.She looks plain.Yet, she fills a whole lecture hall with laughter and applause when she tells her wonderful stories on stage.Ng Ting-ting, 36, also known as Mary, is a local full-time
'By Laurissa Liu, Tommy YuenNo fancy outfit.No heavy make up.She looks plain.Yet, she fills a whole lecture hall with laughter and applause when she tells her wonderful stories on stage.Ng Ting-ting, 36, also known as Mary, is a local full-time stand-up comedian.Since last year, she has been performing regularly at different places outside Hong Kong such as Australia and Malaysia.She also organises her own talk shows and runs a stand-up comedy class for kids known as “Not Only for Adults.”Ng performs at a stand-up comedy show at Green House.Photo: Ng Ting-ting/Varsity.But before Ng devotes her career to stand-up comedy, she had worked as a journalist for 10 years in local media, including i-Cable and RTHK, after graduating from the Chinese University of Hong Kong with a bachelor degree in journalism.As a child, Ng’s dream has nothing to do with stand-up comedy.Rather, being a journalist had been her life goal for years.It all started from an episode of a documentary produced by RTHK about Lee Kuan Yew, the first Prime Minister of Singapore.It inspires Ng to become a journalist, who produces meaningful documentaries to make a positive influence in society.“I don’t mean to do something great [with the documentaries], but when I was young, I am the type of person who insists on fighting against injustice that I come across in society,” Ng says.Her dream of being a journalist came true after her university graduation.But her journalism career did not go smoothly as she thought.She calls herself too “idealistic” – believing that journalists should speak out against injustice, but the reality is different from her thoughts.Disappointed by the bureaucracy and tedious procedures, she gave up her job. “If you like steak very much, you’ll be delighted when you can have it sometimes.But when you have it every day, it will gradually become not tasty anymore,” she says.Instead of being a journalist, now she finds more satisfaction in performing stand-up comedies.Photo: Ng Ting-ting/Varsity.Ng first got in touch with stand-up comedy when her friends invited her to join a workshop held by Vivek Mahbubani, a local stand-up comedian.The encounter had a significant impact on her.“When you are doing news, it’s impossible to add your own emotions or put it in a funny way.But for stand-up comedies, I can present them in a hilarious way, and I think it’s cool,” she says.Since then, performing stand-up comedies has become Ng’s major hobby.In Ng’s eyes, stand-up comedy and journalism have something in common – journalism requires careful observation, so does stand-up comedy as jokes originate from life experiences.One of her performances is about the secrets in a local girls’ school, where she spent her whole secondary school life.The performance went viral online with more than 300,000 views.It illustrates how she has turned her life experiences into intriguing stand-up comedies.Doing stand-up comedies also brightens Ng up by changing her attitude towards life.When she first met other fellow stand-up comedians, she was amazed by the way how they respond to different issues. “When I first talked to them about the absurdity of politics, they would reply me with an interesting angle.In fact, they did not follow the news closely and were simply speaking nonsense, but their responses were quite funny to me,” she recalls.Whenever something terrible happens, Ng’s first reaction is to write it down as a source for her jokes and to understand it in a funny way, instead of indulging herself in depressing feelings.She was furious about the incident of the disappearance of Causeway Bay Bookstore’s booksellers back in 2016, but now she has decided to adopt another attitude towards the issue.Photo: Ng Ting-ting/Varsity.“I still believe the issue is unreasonable, but in a hilarious instead of an angry tone.I still hope to change these unreasonable things, but I’m more relaxed towards them now,” Ng says.But it is not easy to work as a full-time stand-up comedian.Ng thinks most Hongkongers have little or no knowledge about the culture of stand-up comedies which directly affects her income. “People have the habit of searching for what to do or which films to watch on weekends, but seldom will they look for stand-up comedy shows,” she says.Still, Ng believes her career will have a promising future.Most comedians in Hong Kong are part-timers, doing it as a full-time job means Ng has more time and resources to work on her performances. “Same as comedy films, even though the jokes are funny, it doesn’t mean they are carelessly created.The crew behind pays great effort to every idea,” she explains.Looking back at her life, Ng says she always follows her heart whenever she makes any decision.She never thought of pursuing a career in stand-up comedy. “Life is about groping all along the way, instead of doing the thing you have always dreamed of,” she says.For future plans, she intends to continue to do stand-up comedy, teach kids as well as expand the Mainland market.Having worked as a full-time stand-up comedian for about a year, she is still unsure whether she can earn a living with this job.But she does not feel worried at all. “If I can’t work this out in two or three years, I can try other things.I can go sell bread.It’s always important to believe in your ability,” she says.“You only live once, so everything is valuable.No matter how much you earn, if you aren’t doing what you are passionate about, then everything is in vain,” she adds.The post ‘You only live once’: Hong Kong journalist-turned stand-up comedian continues to tell stories in her new role appeared first on Hong Kong Free Press HKFP.Author: Varsity.'