Big Mountain Time
by Natasha Twinkaltoze
Love him or hate him, Dashan is an idiot. Now, the CCP's favourite Canadian mouthpiece is to become the first foreigner to star in a major Chinese TV show.
No longer constrained to merely shilling for educational snake oil in ad campaigns of flexible veracity, the grinning star known to his mother as Mark Rowswell plays the lead in the CCTV series "Palace Artist", set to be broadcast early this year. The series is based on the life of a Jesuit missionary and painter, Giuseppe Castiglione, who worked as a court painter in China in the early 18th century.
Castiglione arrived in China in 1715 and stayed until his death in 1766. During these 51 years he served under three emperors at the height of the Qing dynasty. He was the first artist to introduce to Chinese art the western techniques of perspective, painting accurate human figures based on a scientific knowledge of anatomy, and of depicting three-dimensional objects using light and shade.
However, as the press release puts it, "little is known of Castiglione's personal life, so the TV drama is a purely fictional account. However, the historical setting is accurate and the treatment of Castiglione's character is plausible and respectful."
Details are sketchy, but here are a few things you can expect to see in "Palace Artist":
- despite being the one to introduce the concept to Chinese art, Castiglione assures his students that the accurate depiction of three-dimensional objects was "basically invented in China" and that said students are "much better at it than my Italian students".
- thanks to its Qing setting, it was possible to shoot several sequences in authentic locations. Nonetheless, all scenes will be lit in a way as to appear to have been recorded on a set made of painted plywood.
- a Japanese pirate, disguised as a particularly ugly monkey, attempts to steal the secret of perspective for his country's nefarious military ends.
- to counter accusations of stereotyping, a "good Japanese" student studies under Castiglione - played by a Chinese actor, and with his catchphrase "China is much better than Japan", he is obviously A-OK.
- in a bit of sophisticated dramatic irony, Castiglione expresses republican sentiments to one of his close Chinese friends, saying "wouldn't it be great if in future, instead of having a dictatorial monarch, China had a self-perpetuating oligarchy to tell people what to do?"
- as a missionary, Castiglione tells people the message of Jesus - "work hard and always support the government no matter what they do" - but only if asked, and admonishes his students not to mention Jesus if at all possible, because it might lead to unrest.
Word reaches us that an early draft of the series script featured an epilogue set many years later, in which Dashan's incredibly realistic beard, having achieved sentience and set out to make its own way in the world, ended up instigating the Mukden Incident of 1931. This has since been shelved due to concerns that it "almost certainly didn't happen". Broadcast of the rest of the series, however, is set to continue.