Thanks to Sueli for pointing out this article.

For you Canadians, don’t forget, Iron Road commences on the CBC this coming Sunday, August 9th, and will finish off on August 16th.

Source: The Canadian Press

“Iron Road’s” tender love story shines spotlight on slice of Canadian history

By Diana Mehta (CP) – 2 hours ago

TORONTO — Director David Wu distinctly remembers standing on a railway track in British Columbia during the filming of “Iron Road,” marvelling at the way it snaked through the Rocky Mountains. As he walked the wooden sleepers that stretched on for miles, he says he knew the story he was portraying was one that had to be told.

Wu’s “Iron Road” tells the tale of Chinese workers who crossed the Pacific in the 1880s to build the transcontinental railway so they could earn enough money for a better life at home.

“As soon as I got the script, I said: ‘It’s about time,”‘ Wu says.

The film’s most important message, he says, is that a life was lost for every mile of track laid.

“I really feel that the railroad is built with blood and sweat and tears of the workers whether they were white, Chinese or Indian,” says the 57-year-old Vancouver resident, who also directed the films “Merlin’s Apprentice and “Son of the Dragon.””

“Iron Road,” which was shot as a two-part miniseries for CBC, was also condensed into a 95-minute feature film for independent distribution. CBC says it’s the first Canada-China co-production to hit screens in 22 years.

The cast includes “Lawrence of Arabia”‘s Peter O’Toole, Sam Neil of “The Tudors,” “Brothers and Sisters” actor Luke MacFarlane and Chinese starlet Sun Li.

“This is my dream team,” says Wu. “We feel like family.”

MacFarlane plays James Nichol, the privileged son of a railroad tycoon who travels to China in the 1880s to recruit cheap labour. Li takes on the role of a girl disguised as street boy Little Tiger who longs to go to Canada to learn what happened to her workman father.

Producer Anne Tait first latched onto the story when she saw it performed as an opera in 2001.

“It’s where the germ of this story appeared. I was haunted by the image of this woman disguised as a guy,” she says.

The $10-million dollar project was shot within a tight schedule with 30 days in China and 10 in British Columbia.

Tait says while the role of Chinese workers in early Canadian infrastructure has been noted in black-and-white documentaries, this slice of history has never been told as a love story.

“I believed in that from the very beginning,” says Tait. “It was a way to show the attraction between two cultures and the problems and make it touch peoples hearts.”

Tait says Li’s performance as a boy in a rough-and-tumble crew of workmen was good to the point of disbelief.

“She worked hard on that swagger,” says Tait with a laugh. “She has to be believable, it’s a delicate thing to tread.”

MacFarlane, on the other hand, was the wide-eyed privileged playboy, inexperienced in ways of the world.

“There’s a kind of innocence about his portrayal of James which is captivating,” says Tait, adding that the project had made MacFarlane grow professionally.

“‘Iron Road’ turned him from a theatre actor to an action film star.”

MacFarlane says he brushed up on his Canadian history before filming, but deliberately ignored texts that dealt with China.

“I wanted to have the same fish-out-of-water experience the lead had,” he says, adding that filming in China had been a thrilling experience.

“There’s a rough and ready attitude about filmmaking there and I loved it,” he says.

Language barriers between the two leads meant Li and MacFarlane often used sign language and the most basic phrasing to communicate off-camera.

“It was very difficult,” says MacFarlane, “but there was a real sort of want on both of our parts to get it done right.”

A nude scene in which MacFarlane strips down in Li’s presence had the lead man playing coy.

“What you saw was pretty much how it went,” he says with a chuckle.

For MacFarlane, who hails from London, Ont., but has lived in the U.S. for years, the project was one which resonated on a personal level.

“This was an opportunity to come back to kind of where I came from,” he says.

Ultimately, the telling of the story was supposed to be more than just entertainment, it was considered a “diplomatic effort” as well.

“I think we all want to believe that the thing we’re creating is going to have some sort of greater impact,” MacFarlane says.

“I think art can be very interesting that way, it can really help to build bridges.”

The “Iron Road” miniseries will screen on CBC Aug. 9 and 16.