Short Film Review: The Orphan of Zhao Redux

“What can ordinary people do?”

Based on The Great Revenge of the Orphan of Zhao by Ji Junxiang and mixing in texts from numerous other writers, Daniel York’s The Orphan of Zhao Redux is a most enchanting thing indeed. The play is perhaps sadly most notorious, in recent years at least, for being at the centre of a controversy when the RSC cast just three East Asian actors in minor roles (out of seventeen in total) in what has been known as the Chinese Hamlet, such is the piece’s significance. But York fully wrests ownership away from such unsavouriness to produce a gorgeous eight minute short that is a brilliant showcase for what might have been.

The film features fourteen leading lights of the British East Asian acting scene, the narrative scattered between them all and the text reshaped into something of a poem as just as much feeling as storytelling emerges through the individual lines. Ikin Yum’s stunning monochrome cinematography has been astutely edited by Andrew Koji and the beautifully evocative music underscores the whole affair with just the right level of intrigue and emotion. Not knowing the play didn’t matter a jot, the film stirs something elemental – especially in its haunting final minute – and had me thoroughly hooked from the start.

It’s beautifully acted too. I’ve seen some of these actors before, too little, symptomatic of casting opportunities perhaps but also down to me not rooting out more opportunities to see them (and also more East Asian theatre in general – the flurry that came in the wake of Chimerica #aiww, The World of Extreme Happiness, The Fu-Manchu Complex, Yellow Child etc has died away somewhat).

But seeing the powerful work of Stephen Hoo and Andrew Koji, Vera Chok and Gabby Wong, Julia Sandiford and Amanda Maud, Kunjue Li and Jennifer Lim to name but half of them (they’re all my favourites though) is proof positive that they could not only put on a production of the Chinese Hamlet (and they should because I now want to see it), they could put on Shakespeare’s Hamlet and I would come running (and they should because I reckon it would be wicked). Who can I speak to to make this happen?!


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