New article on “Iron Road” featuring a small interview with Luke Macfarlane. This one comes directly from TVGuide.Ca. Thanks to Laira for the link!
By Greg David
CBC mini finds love amid slavery on Canada’s rails
Luke MacFarlane says he’s always wanted to act in a CBC TV-movie.
“My career has really had nothing to do with Canada. I graduated high school and then moved to the States, and all of my work was doing American plays, American movies and American TV shows,” says MacFarlane, a London, Ont., native who stars in the Canadian railway miniseries Iron Road.
”I really wanted to do something that was Canadian. Then this came along, and it seemed like the perfect Canadian thing to do. Also, growing up, I watched these great CBC TV-movies, and said, ‘I want to do that!’”
MacFarlane can check that item off his to-do list.
Iron Road is a visually stunning, remarkably enjoyable CBC miniseries that explores the romance between a Chinese slave and a railroad tycoon’s son set against the backdrop of the construction of the cross-Canada railroad circa the 1880s.
Filmed in China and B.C., Iron Road boasts a powerhouse cast – including Sam Neill (The Tudors), Peter O’Toole (Venus) and Sun Li (Fearless) – that delivers lines from a script written by Barry Pearson and Raymond Storey (The Guard) with aplomb and conviction.
Based on the opera by the same name, Iron Road doesn’t flinch away from one of the biggest black marks on Canadian history – the shipping of Chinese slaves to Canada under false promises of a better life.
The slaves ended up working in notoriously unsafe conditions as they built the railroad – thousands died as tunnels collapsed, dynamite accidentally exploded and cruel bosses oversaw them. Iron Road’s sweeping views of graves alongside the railroad embankment drives the point home.
“It’s really one of our great acts of shame,” says MacFarlane, who also plays Scotty on Brothers & Sisters, from the set of the ABC show. “At least the government acknowledged that with some form of retribution recently.”
But at its heart, Iron Road is a love story about two people from very different cultures.
On one hand is James Nichol (MacFarlane), son of railroad tycoon Alfred Nichol (Neill), who is so determined to impress his father that he goes to China in search of more workers to help build the railroad, and keep it on schedule.
It’s there that James meets Relic (O’Toole), the man in charge of recruiting new workers seeking a new life in Canada. It’s also there that James meets Little Tiger (Li), a girl masquerading as a boy so she can earn a living at a fireworks factory.
Falling short of his 100 slaves, James reluctantly agrees to bring the stubborn Little Tiger overseas with him.
Without giving too much away, Tiger is forced to decide – since she’s falling in love with James and all – whether to reveal her true identity to him, and face being sent back home.
“I want people to understand the sacrifices that these people made for the railroad,” MacFarlane says. “Yes, this is a love story, but this is also to honour the Chinese people and the sacrifice they made.”
Iron Road is a beautifully shot mini, going from black and white to sepia tones, to vibrant colours and then back to dull tones, and it’s all part of director David Wu’s vision.
“The film begins in black and white to show that this takes place a long time ago,” he says on the line from Vancouver. “Little Tiger’s [life in China] is hard, so the colours are washed out. When she comes to Canada, colours, like reds, begin to seep into the scenes, as things get better for her.”
When asked how much direction he had to give film legend O’Toole, Wu chuckles.
“He’s such a pleasant human being,” Wu says. “If someone told me that, when I walked out of seeing Lawrence of Arabia when I was 15, that I would be directing him, I would have said, ‘Get out of here!’
“When we were shooting in China, we would sit and chat, and he would talk about his classmates in performing school, like Richard Harris, and he studied his character pretty well, so I didn’t have to give him much direction.
“And if I did give him some direction, he would say, ‘Done!’ and then nail it in the next take.”
Part 1 of Iron Road airs Sunday, Aug 9, at 8 p.m. ET on CBC; the conclusion airs Sunday, Aug. 16, at 8 p.m. ET.
Here is another article on Iron Road from Canada’s famous The Globe & Mail newspaper.
Source: The Globe & Mail
CBC’s long train running
From Saturday’s Globe and Mail Last updated on Friday, Aug. 07, 2009 01:44PM EDT
It took from 1881 to 1885 to construct the Canadian Pacific Railway, a Herculean task undertaken by thousands of labourers, including 17,000 Chinese workers, many of whom lost their lives. But it took even longer to get Iron Road – a glossy CBC miniseries about the building of the railroad, airing tomorrow and next Sunday – from script to screen.
Producers Barry Pearson and Anne Tait got the ball rolling in 2000, securing the rights to a 2001 opera of the same name by Chan Ka Nin and Mark Brownell that combined a complicated interracial love story with a saga about the CPR’s creation. The resulting $10-million production, starring Sam Neill and Peter O’Toole, took nine years to make it to the small screen.
A product of many partners, Iron Road is also the first project since 1989’s Bethune: The Making of a Hero to be made under a China-Canada film co-production treaty . “There’s a good reason for that,” says Pearson, over the phone from Toronto. “Battling your way through enormous paperwork and in two languages that don’t happily co-exist is extremely time-consuming.”
He estimates that it took five years simply to shepherd the script through the various funding agencies and grant applications. And if the administrative and organizational hoops appeared endless, the script was also in a constant state of development.
The plot centres on Little Tiger (Sun Li), a Chinese kid who toils at a fireworks company and trades laundry services for English lessons from a washed-up Brit named Relic (O’Toole). Little Tiger dreams of mythical Gold Mountain – and the father who never came back from the promised land of Canada. But Little Tiger also has a secret: Underneath his scruffy clothes and mucky face, he is actually a she. And she winds up falling in love with the railroad boss’s son, James (Luke Macfarlane).
The Chinese authorities demanded very little in the way of script changes, says Pearson. Their biggest issue was with the sex scenes, requesting that they be substantially toned down. And both Li and director David Wu had misgivings about the manner in which Little Tiger originally shows James that she is female – insisting there was no way an 18th-century Chinese woman would go skinny-dipping in a lake while thousands of men slept in nearby tents.
But according to Pearson – also a principal writer on the project – all those were easy fixes. “The real elephant in the room was making the gender-bender plot line work,” he acknowledges. “It was a long struggle from beginning to end to make it as plausible as possible – but it’s hanging on the edge all the time.”
For Wu, as well, the central premise was a headache. “I spent so much time trying to find the right actor,” he recalls. “It was very clear to me that the whole project depended on who we picked for that role – and we auditioned many, many actors.”
For 26-year-old Li, whose earlier films include Fearless , with Jet Li, the role was both a dream and a challenge. “Capturing the inner part of a boy, such as the way he makes eye contact, is a hard thing to express,” she explains over the phone from Shanghai. But she shrugs off the more strenuous stunts she performed as the railroad’s fearless explosives-setter, crediting her agility to the dancing lessons she has taken since childhood.
Li says she didn’t know anything about the history of the railroad before reading the script, but soon became obsessed with finding out more. “I was really shocked at the conditions the workers lived in,” she says. “I started to do a lot of research, and read everything I could find.”
Wu learned about the railroad as a child, but says he didn’t really understand the extent of the sacrifices made until one day during filming, standing on the railway tracks in Kamloops. “I stood there and just thought, ‘Wow! How did they do this?’ It was the same feeling you get when you walk on the Great Wall of China. Every single mile is built by these workers’ bare hands – and we take it all for granted.”
Iron Road premieres Sunday Aug. 9 at 8 p.m. on CBC.
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.
Another article exemplifying Iron Road.
Iron Road dramatizes chapter in Chinese Canadian history
By Craig Takeuchi
July 27, 2009
Vancouver-based producer Raymond Massey can’t wait to work another project in China. Massey spent about six months in the country working on Iron Road—a dramatic portrayal of the Chinese workers who toiled on the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1880s—and he says emphatically that he “loved it”.
Massey became involved with the production when he received a phone call “out of the blue” from producer Anne Tait in Toronto, who had optioned the film rights to a contemporary opera written by Mark Brownell and Chan Ka Nin and was searching for a West Coast producer. “The full version of the film,” he explains in a phone interview, “is a greatly expanded version of that initial story idea that was in the opera.”
According to the Web site for the Iron Road opera, the original story was inspired by Chan’s discovery that there was one woman who travelled among 265 migrants to British Columbia in the 1860s, a time when Chinese women were not allowed in Canada.
The film version, helmed by Chinese Canadian director David Wu, follows Little Tiger (played by Fearless’s Sun Li), a spunky, female streetkid disguised as a boy who seeks to find out what happened to her father who died working on the Canadian railroad. When she meets James Nichol (Brothers and Sisters’ Luke Macfarlane), who is sent to China to recruit cheap labour to finish off his father’s railroad project, she seizes her chance to go to Canada. The supporting cast includes Peter O’Toole (Lawrence of Arabia), as a recruiting agent who teaches Little Tiger how to speak English, and Tony Leung Ka Fai (The Lover), as the bilingual manager of the Chinese work camp.
A special presentation of the film will be shown in Vancouver at Fifth Avenue Cinemas on July 29 (7 p.m.) with director Wu in attendance. An extended version will later be shown as a two-part miniseries on CBC TV (August 9 and 16, 8 p.m.).
Massey says he jumped at the opportunity to work on the film for its social importance. “None of the key team that initially optioned the property are Chinese, or married to Chinese, or we don’t have any direct ethnic reason or cultural reason to do that,” he says. “As Canadians, we felt it was an important story waiting to be told.”
Although the characters and story were based or inspired on real life, and while many elements are historically accurate, Massey emphasizes that this is a dramatic feature. “The Asian community has really gotten behind the film, but they’ve openly said we wish it was more accurate, you know there’s so many details missing, but that’s not what we set out to do. That’s the documentary that you need to go and find somewhere else. This is entertainment.”
Nonetheless, the film does help to draw attention to a long-omitted chapter in Canadian history. Also noteworthy is the fact that the film is the first Canada-China coproduction in over 20 years.
Massey did face some challenges in securing financial backing for the project as both he and his team lacked Chinese business experience. “I had little allowances for translators, and some of the key team and advisors were bilingual, but I totally blew my estimate of how many translators I would need, and how much I needed to spend on translating key documents, legal documents, the script drafts, that sort of thing…At one point, I had 15 translators on payroll.”
What did work in Massey’s favour was a Canadian political event in 2006. “As soon as the script was finished and we were really setting out to finalize the financing, it happened to coincide with Harper’s apology [for the Chinese Head Tax] in the House of Commons, and I happened to be in Beijing at the time, and there was an article on the front page of the China Daily newspaper that I ended up basically, later the same day, flopping the paper down in front of investors in China, and it was an incredible response in China to that gesture.”
Yet while there were challenges were overcome in China, unexpected cultural difficulties arose back here in B.C., where shooting took place in Kelowna, Kamloops, and Lynn Canyon. “Because there’s a fairly significant Asian population throughout the Interior…we just assumed we’d put out a call and we’d have lots of Asians respondents to play extras in the background in the film. We only found maybe a dozen people locally up there…So we ended up bringing a lot of people from Vancouver, which is not what we had originally planned to do or budgeted to. It was horribly expensive, complicated, and that was one of the hardest things to manage, just getting people to play the Chinese workers…You have a well-fed, iPod generation, and no takers.”
It was quite a contrast to what happened when the crew was filming on the other side of the world. “In China, it was the opposite. If you put out a call, you’d have hundreds of people show up, and they’d happily leave work in the fields to spend a few days on camera and get paid peanuts for it, happily toiling away in the sunshine….And the attitude of the Chinese workers was astounding. It wouldn’t matter how foul the conditions were: dry, dusty, hot, raining, pouring, muddy. If I showed up out of a van carrying two things in each hand, six people would come sprinting out of the forest and grab the stuff out of my hand and not let me carry anything.
“And I loved the attitude,” he adds. “The film crew itself was double-size of what we would have here, it was much less mechanized, lots more pairs of hands, but a great, happy attitude that goes along with it…Not that I have miserable crews here, but I have to say there’s a marked difference in the approach to getting through a day’s work.”
With such a positive experience in China, it’s no wonder that Massey is eager to head back to the East Asian powerhouse to make more films. “China’s in the public consciousness worldwide. You can’t escape the impact that it is having economically, that it’s having politically…it’s a remarkable time.”
Finally, CBC gives a voice to Iron Road.
Iron Road’s love story forged on Canada’s railway
Last Updated: Tuesday, July 21, 2009 | 4:05 PM ET
The first Canada-China co-production film in 22 years tells the story of the Chinese workers who came to Canada in the 1880s to build the transcontinental railway.
Iron Road is a love story with an A-list class, including Sam Neill, Peter O’Toole, Sun Li and Canadian actor Luke MacFarlane.
A 95-minute feature film version of the movie opens Tuesday in Toronto for limited release across the country. A two-part mini-series of the story will air on CBC beginning Aug. 9.
Director David Wu said Iron Road is a “touching story of East meets West,” but also presents a little-known slice of Canadian history.
“When you walk on the railway or travel on the train … you can really feel that there is blood sweat and tears in every single mile from every railroad worker – if they’re red or white or yellow,” Wu said in an interview Tuesday with CBC News.
Based on the 2001 opera Iron Road, the film portrays the hard and dangerous lives of Chinese workers who came to Canada.
“The plot is about a Chinese girl called Little Tiger. Little Tiger sounds like a boy’s name because she dresses as a boy to survive in an alpha male society and then she decides to travel and work on building the railroad for $1 a day. But mostly, she just wants to find her lost father who everybody believes to be dead,” said Wu, a Chinese Canadian who directed Merlin’s Apprentice and Son of the Dragon.
Little Tiger, played by Li, a Shanghai actress who also starred in Fearless, falls for the son of the railroad contractor, played by MacFarlane.
“It’s an international language,” Wu says of love stories. “For me, I always loved a love story. When I grew up favourites [were] Love Story and Dr. Zhivago. I loved [stories] in war-torn and difficult times, that’s my favourite way to tell a love story.”
Wu said he is a veteran of Chinese co-productions — and is familiar with difficulties of translating multiple times for cast and crew who speak English, Cantonese and Mandarin.
That was one of the big challenges of shooting Iron Road, which featured 30 days of production in mainland China, followed by 10 days in British Columbia.
Wu said he played up his own cross-cultural ties in his first meeting with producers Anne Tait and Barry Pearson.
“When I read the script, I was desperate to do this movie,” Wu said. “I told them ‘In Canada there is only one guy could make this movie because I speak Chinese — both Mandarin and Cantonese — and English. I said if you hire me, I will save you a lot of time, I will come in right on the budget.'”
The $10-million budget makes the film a big one by Canadian standards.
The film premiered in June at a fundraiser in support of The Foundation to Commemorate the Chinese Railroad Workers in Canada at York University, Toronto.
It opens Tuesday at Toronto’s Royal Cinema. The film has independent distribution in Canada, and will show at cinemas such as the Fifth Avenue in Vancouver, the Plaza in Calgary and the Princess Twin Cinema in Waterloo, Ont., over the next two weeks.
It will screen on CBC as a two-part miniseries on Aug. 9 and 16.
Here is the first review of the mini-series of Iron Road by a Canadian press, based in Toronto, “The Star.” At the end of the article tells when mini-series will be aired on CBC.
Iron Road goes to dark past
Shakespearean love story stars Sun Li and Peter O’Toole
Jun 12, 2009 04:30 AM
For Chinese railroad workers and early migrants to Canada, the new movie Iron Road rivals in significance to what The Pianist means to Jews living with memories after the persecutions during World War II – both dramas give a face to those nameless and voiceless who perished en masse in history.
Premiering at York University’s Price Family Cinema Sunday, Iron Road does that in a Shakespearian fashion – through the romance between a young Chinese woman, Little Tiger, who, disguised as a boy, goes in search of her railroad-worker father in British Columbia a Canadian playboy James Nichol, whose father runs a company that builds railroad.
The movie – with a budget of more than $10 million and an international cast that includes American stars Peter O’Toole and Sam Neil, Canada’s own Luke MacFarlane and Charlotte Sullivan, and China’s Sun Li and Tony Leung Ka Fai – is the first big based on that dark era of Chinese-Canadian history at the turn of the late 18th century.
The events shamed Canada and forced Ottawa to issue redress and an apology to the effected community in Parliament in 2006.
The movie title, a literal translation of “railroad” from Chinese into English, symbolizes the interface of the underdog lured by the “Gold Mountain” dream who ends up abused and exploited as cheap labour. The antagonist is a growing Canada in need of labourers to do the dangerous job of building a transcontinental railroad.
“It’s an amazing story of bravery and courage and a cross-cultural love story set against historical facts that many people do not know about,” says producer Anne Tait.
“It touches the audience’s heart and helps them go through the experience. And you do that through stories, especially love stories that pinpoints the dilemma of cross-cultural connections. That’s the way to show attraction and problems.”
The crew spent 31 days filming in “Chinawood,” Hengdian World Studios, five hours from Shanghai. They also shot for 10 days across in Kamloops, Kelowna and Lynn Canyon, B.C. The beautiful natural landscapes are juxtaposed with human hardships – constant verbal abuses, inhumane living conditions, life-threatening jobs to set explosions to break ground for the rails and isolation from families and loved ones.
Those human tragedies are painted subtly, with the close-ups of callused hands driving the spikes to secure the rails and the panning across the grave markers dotted along the railroads to signal the Chinese lives lost in the process.
The hostile chants – “Chinamen” and “We don’t want you here. Go home!” – that greeted the railroad workers are haunting.
Tait, a Toronto-based producer and casting director, said she was initially inspired to make the movie by the Chan Ka Nin opera of the same title eight years ago. The music and lyrics imprinted in her mind’s eyes “an image of a Chinese woman disguised as a guy setting dynamites in the rock cliff.” She called her friend, scriptwriter Barry Pearson, to discuss a film story. Writer Raymond Storey was later brought in.
But the filming wasn’t possible until May 2007 with the feature’s executive producers Arnie Zipursky, Tiger Hu and Han Sanping lined up, as well as funding from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., Canadian Television Fund, Film Initiative British Columbia, Ontario Media Development Corp., Astral Media, Cogeco Cable Fund and Shaw Rocket Fund.
So, is the movie a chick flick?
“Yes, a bit,” said Tait with a chuckle. “But an epic, historical chick flick.”
Tickets for the June 14 premiere and fundraiser are $88 and $100, available at www.yorku.ca/perform or by calling 416-736-5888. There will be a screening July 21 at Royal Cinema at 608 College St. A two-part miniseries of the TV-adopted version of the movie will be aired on CBC Aug. 9 and 16.