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Chinese Whispers (2000)

Courtesy of Mersey Film and Video

Main image of Chinese Whispers (2000)
Betacam, colour, 10 mins
DirectorDavid Yip
Production CompanyMersey Film and Video
ProducersPatrick Hall
 Julie Lau
ScreenplayDavid Yip
PhotographyMartin Pauline

Members of Liverpool's Chinese community share their memories of their own and their parents' lives, with the aid of photographs.

Show full synopsis

Commissioned by Liverpool City Council as part of the 2000 Millennium celebrations, the actor David Yip's directorial debut packs a lot into ten minutes. Believing that the official Liverpool archives have done little to record the history of the city's Chinese community, Yip asked eight people, ranging in age from 18 to 73, to delve through their family photograph albums and reminisce about their lives, their origins and their memories of Chinatown (Yip was particularly interested in Chinatown prior to 1942, when it was destroyed by a German bombing raid). The family snapshots are interwoven with Bert Hardy's images of Liverpool's Chinese community, which were exhibited as part of the same celebrations. Yip's film is almost entirely made up of still images, which occasionally hint at fleeting, ghostly movement if two or three were taken close together.

Unsurprisingly, the older contributors (all male) have most to offer. 73-year-old Graham Cheong in particular has exceptional recall not just of the look of Cleveland Square and Pitt Street (the heart of Liverpool's Chinese community) but also the businesses that occupied various premises. Not all were Chinese, but many had a connection with the community - for instance, Hollinshead and Walker supplied fine china to the big liners, one of which was run by the Blue Funnel company that employed many local people.

54-year-old Tony Chin picks up that particular baton, reminiscing about his seaman father living in an overcrowded house that was nonetheless always kept neat. A montage of photographs published in the Anglo-Chinese art magazine Brushstrokes, vividly evokes 1940s Liverpool.

The other key occupations for Liverpool's Chinese were running restaurants and laundries, and many of the other contributors' parents and grandparents did exactly that. There's a strong sense of family - all but one of the younger women say that their parents were strict and have certain expectations of them, such as marrying Chinese men.

Yip narrates his own film, but restricts his personal comments to the bookending scenes of the millennium celebrations at Liverpool's Millennium Arch (installed in 2000 after being constructed in Shanghai). The Arch is designed to evoke a feeling of optimism, but Yip stresses that looking towards the future shouldn't be an excuse for burying the past. In its modest, low-key way (a very Chinese trait, according to one contributor, and one that's also conveyed by the film's title), Yip's film aims to redress the balance.

Michael Brooke

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. Old haunts (2:46)
2. Traditions (1:08)
Complete film (10:03)
Peggy Su! (1998)
British-Chinese Cinema
Liverpool: Sounds of the City