Ordinary Shadows. Chinese Shade begins in Vancouver, Chinese New Year 1988. Sounds of intricate Chinese wind instruments, loud banging of gongs, and dragon dances are juxtaposed with interviews with Chinese Canadians. Recounting stories of working on the railroad, the Japanese occupation, and the Communist revolution, the interviewees, in turn, ask Wong: “If our families had no other choice but to leave, why would you choose to go back?” From there Wong sets off for China in search of family relatives who live there.
Upon arriving in a small town along the Pearl River, a picture of displaced traditions and discrepancies about the past emerges. We enter into a heated discussion about the government’s promise to return property taken during the revolution. Aunts argue over the facts. “The documents are all wrong!” one insists. “Let me tell you, they are correct,” insists the other. Both somewhat unsure of the truth, someone asks, “Who wrote these anyway?”
In one of Canada’s earliest point-of-view (P.O.V.) experimental documentaries that explore the notion of ‘motherland’ from an Asian Canadian perspective, Wong presents a complex portrait of the People’s Republic of China in the midst of rapid cultural transformation. Demystifying the exotic images of “Chineseness” seen in the first scene, Wong records daily occurrences in old rural communities and modern urban cities. Wong experiences range from old farming practices such as the killing of a chicken, to the party scene where young, made-up girls ironically perform the Western pop song “Material Girl” by Madonna. Other insightful scenes include interviews with family members sending messages to loved ones in North America, statements by a Youth Communist Party member, and a visit with a Western friend staying in a Chinese hospital.