Yes, Virginia, there’s a Cinderella with blasian love. And this diverse 1997 Disney TV version still wins hearts, and stands as a groundbreaking example of how to adapt fairy tales for modern audiences.
Known as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, the 1997 Disney musical film cast the R&B wonder Brandy, who had shot to stardom early in the decade, in the titular role, with Filipino-American actor Paolo Montalban as Prince Charming.
As we all know, representation matters, and this film exemplifies that idea. In playing Cinderella for this movie, Brandy also was the first-ever black Disney princess, a point hailed by many. You could surely say the same for Paolo Montalban, who had a truly crowning moment as Disney’s first Asian prince in a movie. In both cases, the movie gifted young people of color with actors that looked like them, finally riding off into the sunset on their own happily ever after.
Beyond being the first instance of a black woman playing Cinderella opposite an Asian Prince Charming, it also stands out as one of the first times (if not the very first) that Disney featured interracial love in a fairy tale. (Twice, actually, since Whoopi Goldberg plays the queen and Victor Garber the king.)
Did I mention this also stars Whitney Houston, who dazzles in every sense of the word as the fairy godmother?
I slipped into this movie for an hour and half during the weekend, and emerged feeling noticeably hopeful and lighter, as if that fairy godmother had touched me with some of her magical stardust.
Across the world, front-line workers in many places, including communities, have played a pivotal role in fighting against the COVID-19 outbreak. And here in China, they include foreigners such as Laura, or 龙小西 (lóng xiǎo xī), a Spanish woman who serves as a front-line volunteer in her community in Shunyi district, Beijing, where she also lives with her husband, a Chinese national.
I saw all the colleagues from the management, they’re really busy, the compound has a lot of activities. And they need someone who can help them for the English translations, and also with the door service. So I decide to join the team.
Actually I thought because in this moment is when we need more people helping each other. And you just need to wear your mask and your gloves and keep your hands clean and follow all the protection regulations, so you can help.
I think it’s totally safe nowadays, because everybody put a lot of effort (in) to make it safe. You can see every day in the compound people are wearing masks, going outside with the masks, with gloves, keeping the social distance. It’s really important. We have to keep on doing this until the situation improves.
WildAid released a new series of TV messages and billboards featuring popular actor Liu Ye and his wife Anais Martane to raise awareness about the threats while calling on the public to stop buying sea turtle products. Speaking at the launch event this week, Liu Ye said “we can all do something really simple to help protect sea turtles, and that is simply not buying sea turtle products. We should all also reduce our use of plastics, and keep plastic waste away from coastlines.”
Liu Ye, considered one of the top actors in the Chinese mainland, remains best known in the West for his breakout performance in the 2005 release of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, the 2006 Curse of the Golden Flower and the 2007 Hollywood film Dark Matter. He and Anais Martane, a French photographer, married in Beijing in 2009.
According to a China Daily interview with Liu Ye — Heartthrob Liu Ye Now Enjoying Work and Married Life, published March 11, 2010 — Liu said, “We decided to get married because we share traditional views of the family. I am over 30 and she is one year younger than me. I want to be responsible for her and marriage is a promise.” In response to a question about what he found most attractive about Martane, he said, “She is a very nice woman. She gives me lots of peaceful feelings. She likes reading and has read many classics. She likes Israeli and Russian music.”
And another China Daily article notes Anais Martane stands as “more than just a Chinese celebrity’s wife” as she has become involved in public service projects and cares very deeply about the environment. She told China Daily, “My relationship with environmental protection began with a connection to the sea, as my childhood was spent in a coastal town, and I am crazy about everything to do with the sea.”
You can learn more about the WildAid campaign for Sea Turtles involving Liu Ye and Anais Martane at the WildAid website.
But the opening of “Last Christmas” in theaters on Nov 8 came with a little less holiday cheer in the mixed and slightly negative response from critics, leading to a 47% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 50 from Metacritic.
Surely, when the filmmakers put together a Christmas wish list, this wasn’t the kind of gift they were hoping for.
Yet, despite the critics, moviegoers have responded with great joy for this Christmas romantic comedy.
Even Rotten Tomatoes has already reconsidered its original take on the film, landing “Last Christmas” on its list of 20 Rotten Christmas Movies We Love with the following description:
Take the Mother of Dragons and the hot guy from Crazy Rich Asians, mix them with the music of George Michael, bring in Emma Thompson to co-write the script and Paul Feig to direct, and sprinkle a bit of holiday magic over the whole thing, and you’re looking at Last Christmas. Look, we get that the story is somewhat predictable — pretty much everyone figured out where it was going just from watching the trailer — and it’s all a tad overly sentimental, but with this kind of pedigree, it’s hard not to be charmed by its immensely likable stars and its feel-good fuzziness.
That list included other romantic comedies that drew a similarly lackluster response from the critics and have still gone on to become beloved Christmas favorites, such as “The Holiday” at 49%.
Moreover, it’s also worth remembering that the gold standard of all holiday movies – the classic 1946 film “It’s a Wonderful Life” from Frank Capra – opened to mixed reviews, and even Capra himself found the response from critics largely cold.
Clearly, first impressions, especially on Christmas movies, don’t necessarily determine which movies endear themselves into our hearts enough to merit “classic” status.
So I say, forget the critics. “Last Christmas” could easily become another classic holiday film too. It’s just a matter of time. And if that happens, it could add some much needed diversity to a world of Christmas films featuring largely white romantic leads (Yes, Hallmark, I’m looking at you).
So give “Last Christmas” a look this holiday season – and let us know what you think. Do you believe it has the potential to become a holiday classic? Why or why not?
If the coming of Halloween has you envisioning a night of mystery and thrills mixed with a twist of fun (and a lemon), then consider spending an evening with the 2018 film A Simple Favor, starring Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively and Henry Golding.
Kendrick’s Stephanie, an overachieving single mom with a popular vlog, finds herself at the center of a mystery when her new friend Emily (played by Lively), the effortlessly glamorous fashion publicist dressed in chic suits and heels, suddenly disappears, along with her mercurial personality that veers from supportive to saucy and even downright scary (such as the icy look she shoots at Stephanie when telling her to delete that photo she just snapped of her). These, and many other oddities, lead to Stephanie going into full mommy noir mode, sleuthing out the truth behind what happened as she finds herself increasingly ensnared in the wreckage Emily left behind. And revelations, such as Emily’s son claiming he saw his missing mom, only add to the “Gone Girl” oddity of it all.
Golding, as Emily’s handsome but secretive spouse Sean, reveals more of his enigmatic wife to Stephanie, along with himself, and “comforting the husband” takes on an entirely new meaning as things heat up between the two of them. After Golding’s breakout role in Crazy Rich Asians, he once again shows versatility in the movie, which also deserves kudos for opting not to cast another white guy.
And if you want to take A Simple Affair a step further by making a night of it, don’t forget to serve up some martinis (or mocktinis), which appear frequently in the film. Cheers!
If you’re looking for a fresh take on the star-crossed lovers theme, consider the indie film Running for Grace (also known as Jo, the Medicine Runner). Set in 1920s Hawaii in segregated Kona coffee fields, in a world where Japanese immigrants toil for white plantation owners, love blooms one afternoon when the mixed-race (Japanese and white) orphan boy named Jo, a medicine runner in the fields, gazes upon Grace, the young daughter of the plantation owner, through gossamer curtains. But, in that era, he’s not what her privileged (and racist) white family hoped for – and eventually the revelation of their taboo romance sparks plenty of drama, including some thrilling scenes of Jo dashing through forests and fields over his affection for Grace.
Ryan Potter, who many of you may recognize from the Oscar-winning animated film Big Hero 6 as well as the Nickeleon TV series Supah Ninjas, stars as Jo, while Olivia Ritchie plays Grace. While the plot of Running for Grace follows a relatively predictable path, the two make for a winsome couple, one that will keep you rooting for them as they go the distance to stay together.
If Yao Ming had lived in Qing Dynasty China, perhaps his astonishing height might have landed him a role in a circus or onstage.
That was the life of Zhan Shicai, better known among Western audiences as Chang Woo Gow, whose towering stature (he reportedly stood over 8 feet tall) propelled him into such a career in the 1800s, including a stint in P.T. Barnum’s famous circus freak show that toured the US.
Born in Qing-era China in the 1840s, Chang Woo Gow made his first appearance abroad in London in 1865 at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, together Kin Foo, his onstage wife, and the dwarf Chung Mow. An article published on Nov 9, 1893 in the London Times described what Chang Woo Gow’s performances were like in that era:
Amidst a hushed room Chang would arise to the tinkles of bells and a piano playing a Polka. He slowly descended to greet his audience, and to gasps of amazement at his great height, he would gently shake hands with those nearest the front. With excitedly playing music he would “chin chin” to his audience and then, with a great flourish of gongs he would majestically regain his throne – and the exhibition would be finished.
The admission fees to this spectacle of Victorian human curiosity were up to three shillings. Chang’s employers disgracefully refused him permission to walk about town with the shameful excuse that this lowered his value as an “exhibit”. This he found untenable, and longed for a quieter life.
Indeed, as Chang Woo Gow, who went on to tour Europe, the US and Australia as “Chang the Chinese Giant”, lived an existence which the Dorset Magazine characterized as “tawdry”:
Even though Barnum paid him the handsome sum of $500-a-month to dress up in Mandarin robes or the war-mongering finery of a Mongolian warrior, Chang almost certainly wished that it didn’t have to be that way.
He was fluent in six languages, gentle, intelligent, well-mannered and quiet by nature with no natural affinity for the brash showmanship of the circus world.
Still, traveling the globe allowed Chang Woo Gow to meet Catherine Santley, who enchanted him during his visit to Australia. They married in a church in Sydney and went on to have two children, Edwin and Ernest.
The couple eventually moved to a villa they dubbed “Moyuen” in Bournemouth, England, at a time when Chang Woo Gow suffered from tuberculosis. He opened a teahouse and store selling Chinese imports there. But surely he harbored deep affection for his wife Catherine, as the report in the London times stated that in 1893 “he died of a broken heart, at the age of 52, just four months after his wife’s death.”
Girl sees boy performing at a concert, longs to meet him, and somehow destiny helps kickstart a lifelong duet. That’s the heart of this story from a US woman living in Guangzhou.
Do you have a love story or other guest post you’d like to see published on Speaking of China? Have a look at the submit a post page, where you can learn more about writing for this blog.
September 3, 2017: The Day We Met
What a summer it had been. I had just decided to become a full-time Chinese language student at South China University of Technology, so I was finishing up the last few days at my full-time job, had just moved to an apartment near campus, and was feeling both stressed and clueless about how to get a student visa.
Besides those recent life changes, that summer had also had its ups and downs in regards to dating. I had gone on a few dates with different Chinese guys, but nothing was working out at all. While visiting my family in America, I re-centered my focus and realized my identity was not based on my relationship status. Although I was only 23 years old, I knew I had grown up since moving to Guangzhou the year before. Little did I know what would happen during my second year in the Middle Kingdom.
The morning of Sunday, September 3, started out a little more hectic than usual because after just moving in, my room was a mess with clothes and belongings scattered everywhere.
Guangzhou was hot and sticky that time of year, and lately I had only been wearing T-shirts and shorts, as digging through boxes to find cuter clothes felt like too much work. Fortunately, that morning I put in the effort of wearing a skirt and minimal makeup. It was my first time going to church from my new location, so I rushed through the unfamiliar metro route and luckily made it on time. To my surprise, my best friend Jasmine was waiting for me at the bus station. “Today is the concert! I’m so excited!” she said. Unknown to her, I had totally forgotten the promise I had made weeks ago to attend the symphony concert with her that afternoon.
Flash forward to a few hours later, and I’m with three friends, talking about my lack of success in the dating department. “Don’t worry! You can find another shuai ge (cute boy),” they assured me.
As it was time for the concert to begin, we found seats together in the left-hand section. We continued to giggle and chat as the band entered the stage. “Look! There’s a shuai ge!” my friend said.
I looked up, and low and behold, was an extremely handsome Chinese man, carrying a giant cello called a double bass. He was tall, well-built, and had a perfectly styled Cantonese haircut that I liked so much.
Later, there was an introduction for each member of the band, and as I heard more about him, I knew I had to meet him. But how?
At least I had the whole concert to think of a plan! I took photos and videos during the concert, focusing on him only. Towards the end of the performance, I rushed to the bathroom to apply lipstick and touch up my hair, thankful that I chose to wear a skirt that morning! Now that the concert had ended, I knew I had to act quickly. My friends gathered around me and pitched their ideas. We knew one other boy in the band; maybe we could ask him to introduce us?
Suddenly, Jasmine started running up to the stage! What on earth was she doing? In my anxiety I part of me wanted to tackle her and part of me wanted to run out the back door! We couldn’t just run up and talk to guys as cute as him! These things had to be planned! When I saw her talking to the shuai ge, my heart pounded and face burned.
However, in that moment, I knew I had a choice. The concert was over and this shuai ge would soon leave, and if I ran away without meeting him, I might not ever see him again.
I weighed the risk of staying and asking for his WeChat. Worst case scenario, he would not be interested and I would be a little embarrassed. Best case scenario, he would be interested, one thing could lead to another, and one day he could even end up becoming my husband. I knew that risk of losing my face was a small price to pay for taking a shot at the best case scenario. Chances are that nothing would come of it, but I would never know if I didn’t try.
Jasmine then came back to our group and told me that she had asked the shuai ge if I could take a picture withhim, and he had said, “yes.” My heart still pounding, my friends took me to the stage and I walked shyly towards him. I smiled brightly, while also trying to contain my excitement to avoid scaring him off.
“Hello! Can you speak English?” I asked him in Chinese.
“No, I can’t.”
“No problem, what’s your name?”
“I’m Timothy,” he said with no expression on his face. I knew that girls must approach him
all the time, as it seemed he didn’t care in the least.
“It’s so nice to meet you. Where are you from?”
“Shantou. Stand to the right.” He pointed for me to stand behind the double bass for the
photo that our friend, Jianwei, was taking with his professional camera. I smiled happily and nervously.
“Can you send me the picture?” Timothy asked Jianwei.
“You two should add each other on Wechat, and I’ll send the picture soon,” Jianwei replied smoothly.
Wow! Jianwei was a genius! Thanks to him, we added each other’s WeChats so naturally. Timothy then said he needed to put away his instrument and get going.
My friends and I exited the stage and the girls immediately grabbed my phone to start searching Timothy’s WeChat Moments. We saw there was a girl in many of his photos. My heart started to sink, and my friends scrolled even more frantically.
Finally, we found a caption saying the girl was his younger sister! “Mei Mei! Mei Mei!” My friends cheered as they jumped up and down! Since he appeared to be single, maybe, just maybe, I had a chance.
The rest of the day was extremely busy, but at some point that evening, Timothy messaged me. I waited a little while to reply, because I wanted to make sure I could really commit to the conversation. He said sorry for rushing off so quickly that afternoon, and thought Jasmine had told him that I wanted to learn music from him.
“Oh no,” I thought to my nonmusical self. “If I pretend to be interested in taking double-bass lessons, I don’t think this relationship will get very far.” I don’t remember how I responded, but probably something about how I was not looking for a teacher, but did really enjoy his performance.
We kept messaging back and forth until my mom called me. My mom and I talked on and on for a long time, covering everything there was to say about my recent life changes. Finally she asked me, “Well, is there anything else to tell me?” I thought for a moment, and then said, “Oh! Today I met a shuai ge!” I told her a little bit, but then said, “He probably won’t like me because my Chinese is not very good and he doesn’t speak English.” My mom was still excited to hear my “latest news” and told me to keep her updated.
Timothy and I kept messaging into the night; I had so many questions to ask and could not wait to know more about him! I had to translate his every message and think for a long time about how to reply back in Chinese. While I was typing one message, character by character, Timothy kept sending more and more messages. I worried that he would think I was uninterested since I was replying so slowly. It was almost midnight, and normally I would cut off conversations to go to bed, but this time I decided to stay up longer and keep messaging.
Finally, Timothy said it was time to say goodnight, but that he really enjoyed chatting with me. I knew that after this conversation ended, he may not message me again. However, if he did, it would definitely be a good sign that he is interested. Reluctantly, I said good night and drifted off to sleep.
When I woke up the next morning, there on my phone, was already a message from — you guessed it — the shuai ge!
Well, now it’s July of 2019, and a lot has happened since September 3, 2017. It turns out that despite my imperfect Mandarin, the shuai ge really did like me. We have been married for a little over a month now. Our wedding was held at our church in Guangzhou, the same place where we first met. We recreated that first photo, which brought us together. Thank you to my friends who made it happen!
As summer vacation has begun, this time of enchantment, love and travel feels like the perfect time to focus on a couple whose lives truly symbolize the spirit of the season — Australian Janet DeNeefe and Balinese Ketut Suardana, the duo behind some of the most magical dining and hospitality businesses in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.
A native of Melbourne, Australia, Janet DeNeefe found herself captivated with Bali when she first traveled to the island with family in 1974, and on a return trip in 1984, fell in love once again — this time, with a particular person, as described by an article published on the Four Seasons:
She met a Balinese man named Ketut, who at the time owned a successful art gallery and was studying political science in Denpasar. Within five years, she had moved there, the pair had wed, and they had opened their first restaurant, Lilies, on Monkey Forest Road.
DeNeefe had also fallen in love with Ubud, its people and the idea of helping visitors find their own love of her adopted hometown. This passion would transform DeNeefe into a tireless mini mogul, in a town where most expats are on permanent holiday.
Janet DeNeefe and Ketut Suardana went on to open Casa Luna and the Indus Restaurant, both premier dining spots in Bali, along with the top-rated Honeymoon Guesthouse. DeNeefe also launched the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in the 2000s and, more recently, the Ubud Food Festival. Some have dubbed her the “Queen of Ubud” and even compared her fairytale life to the acclaimed memoir Eat, Pray, Love (though it’s worth noting Janet DeNeefe wrote her own memoir titled Fragrant Rice).
In an interview in the Honeycombers, DeNeefe speaks of how the love between her and Ketut has evolved over the years:
Ketut, my husband – he’s around somewhere! We survive by staying out of each other’s hair. 80 percent of stuff we agree to, the other 20 percent we definitely don’t! You’re never going to be completely in tune after all. As you get older, it’s a different sort of love; it’s a deeper, more solid sense of security – where you know that you belong. It’s about having a family and being happy together.
I can laugh my way through anything, which works in Bali because there’s a real kind of ribald, slapstick humour here. After meeting my husband, our businesses grew, our families grew, and that was that!
You can explore the creations of Janet DeNeefe and Ketut Suardana by visiting the websites for Casa Luna (which served up some of the most memorable meals I enjoyed on two trips to Bali), the Indus Restaurant, and the Honeymoon Guesthouse. To learn more about Janet DeNeefe, visit her website or pick up a copy of her memoir Fragrant Rice.
What do you think about Janet DeNeefe and Ketut Suardana?
A forbidden love affair between an enslaved man in colonial Indonesia and a young Dutch woman marked the beginning of a life of anti-imperial rebellion, propelling him into Indonesian history as a powerful national hero known as Untung Surapati.
Untung Surapati, born in 1660, most likely in Bali, was sold during his childhood as a slave to the Dutch military officer Deler Mur, who happened to have a daughter, Suzanne. Stories claim Surapati and Suzanne grew close through association and, eventually, fell into some kind of romantic attachment. But they happened to live in Batavia of the Dutch East Indies, which would enact one of the first anti-miscegenation laws (prohibiting marriage between Europeans and enslaved locals). Whether or not Surapati and Suzanne actually married depends on your source (and many draw upon the rich folklore and legends swirling about Surapati and his legacy). Still, any such relationship, official or not, would have violated Dutch authority.
According to Identity in Asian Literature, which summarizes the historical facts of Surapati’s life, “Gathering a band of loyal followers, Surapati subsequently fled to the mountainous tract of West Java.” Some versions of Surapati’s past give a more dramatic take on the consequences of the illegal tryst — that Surapati landed in jail where, like another Spartacus, he would come to ignite a slave revolt, leading his fellow men out of prison in noble opposition to the Dutch colonists.
Regardless, Surapati would go on to continue his rebellion against the Dutch East Indies, with notable success, as described in Identity in Asian Literature:
With his band he proceeded first to Cirebon and then to Kartasura where he was welcomed by the Sushunan of Mataram and granted a village near the raton. In 1686 Dutch troops under Commander Tack, were dispatched to Kartasura in order to intimidate Sushunan and to arrest Surapati. They were, however, defeated and Tack was killed, after which Surapati moved on to East Java where he founded a kingdom at Pasuruhan. Repeated Dutch attempts to oust him were to no avail. He ruled more or less undisturbed until 1705. … A gauge to the threat posed by Surapati comes from the fact that when the Dutch forces were finally victorious [against Surapati and his sons] they desecrated his grave, burned his remains, and scattered the ashes.
It’s no wonder that Indonesia has extolled Untung Surapati as a shining example in history.
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