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We Can Be Heroes – Episode 3 (2005)

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clip ‘A typical Chinese face’

Original classification rating: M. This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

Ricky Wong (Chris Lilley) rehearses with director Frieda (Frieda McKenna), musical director Chung (Chung Jade Koh) and the Chinese theatre group for their upcoming production of Indigeridoo: The Musical, about the Indigenous history of Australia.

Curator’s notes

Despite the inherent ridiculousness of the group’s patchily-researched interpretation of Aboriginal history – not to mention Lilley playing Ricky playing 'Walkabout Man’ – many elements contribute to a sense of realism here.

There is a feeling that this hive of activity existed before the camera arrived, conveyed through passing details like theatre props and shots that frame Ricky behind groups of performers busy rehearsing. The observational filming approach, straight-to-camera interviews and recognisable voice-over of Jennifer Byrne provide cues from documentary and current affairs TV. Byrne’s career as a journalist and presenter includes current affairs shows 60 Minutes (1979–current) and Foreign Correspondent (1992–current).

The levels of performance here are really enjoyable. Koh, McKenna and the rest of the theatre group give terrifically deadpan performances, seeming to believe wholeheartedly in both Ricky and the theatrical performance at hand. McKenna’s seriousness as she comments on Ricky’s ‘typical Chinese face’ underlines the fundamental irony at play.

Lilley’s work has inevitably been compared to UK show The Office (2001-03) because it is also a mockumentary but his comedy feels different. While there is a cringe element here, Lilley’s Wong is also ultimately a sympathetic character. Rather than watching him dig himself into embarrassing or awkward situations and be the only person in the room who cannot see it, Wong’s belief in himself is matched by those around him – although when he later invites Aboriginal staff members at the university to view the performance, it’s a slightly different story.

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australianscreen is produced by the National Film and Sound Archive. By using the website you agree to comply with the terms and conditions described elsewhere on this site. The NFSA may amend the 'Conditions of Use’ from time to time without notice.

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