Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Watching the detective
I was deep into a bottle of Great Wall Cabernet '02 - a piquant, sassy offering with just a hint of frisky Guangdong pesticide - and channel surfing the other night when I stumbled on a Chinese language drama about a Chinese detective in New York.
Charlie Chan he ain't, though the production values, acting and the unlikely script were all on par with the '30s era Chan movies.
The detective whose name I discerned finally as "Detective-Inspector Li" wanders freely while ignoring little details like "legal jurisdiction" through a New York like none I've ever seen. It's largely populated with native Chinese. The cityscape is crowd and traffic free, all the pay phones work - and connect quickly to Beijing with no change or phone card required, the buses are nearly empty, the laundromats and video arcades are spotless and there's no graffiti.
So how do I know it's New York? The generic cutaway shots, of course, many of which look like they came from the New York Visitors and Convention Bureau circa 1988. Mercifully, though, there were no shots of the WTC.
There are some black and white denizens of this New York, but unlike the Chinese most are junkies, thugs and similar barbarian scum. (They are also not professional actors. It's clear that they are expats, probably star-struck English teachers recruited for the show).
Li - who speaks no English, and when he isn't being beaten up by rude New Yorkers and recuperating at no cost in a hospital bed where he smokes with his 02 tank running - wanders seemingly aimlessly from clue-to-clue throughout the Big Wonton seeking a guy identified only as "Tony" or sometimes "Tony from Hong Kong."
Not surprisingly, though, not many New Yorkers are very helpful when suddenly accosted by a short, weatherbeaten looking Chinese guy flashing a Beijing police badge and demanding to know where "Tony" is. While the majority of the dialogue is in Chinese, the barbarians speak English, which is helpfully translated by a bilingual young female Chinese artist with a lot of time on her hands whom Li coincidentally encountered while searching for Tony.
Sample dialogue, guaranteed verbatim:
Inspector Li stops a young black dude at random, flashes badge and barks in Chinese
Helpful artist/translator: He is a Chinese detective-inspector. Do you know where Tony is? He is a notorious bad guy!
Black dude:I haven't seen him, I'm sure. Anyway, all Asians look the same to me.
Inspector Li: More Chinese...flashes a roll of bills and peels some off for black dude
Artist/translator:Are you sure? Tony from Hong Kong?
Black dude:Takes money. Oh! That Tony! Sure. I'll call him for you.

There is one similarity between this TV cop drama and American ones set in New York. Inspector Li doesn't drive, but when he gets a ride, the driver always finds an open parking spot right in front of the destination.

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