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Time for nuanced Asian representation

  • 06 February 2020


Growing up I cringed at Asian representation in film and television. More often than not we were cast as nerds, martial artists or second to the plot. We had little depth to our characters, which continuously perpetuated racial stereotypes — stereotypes that still exist today.

 I recently binged through new drama series, The Ghost Bride, and as someone with Malaysian–Chinese roots, boy did I become overjoyed with excitement.

The Netflix Original, the first of three original series for the streaming service to be filmed entirely in Mandarin and yet another reason to be excited, is based on the New York Times best-selling novel by the same name, penned by Malaysian writer Yangsze Choo.

The series is also filmed entirely in Malaysia, by two award-winning Malaysian directors, Quek Shio-Chuan and Ho Yuhang, celebrating the country’s diverse landscape as well as its home-grown talents.

The Ghost Bride, set in 1890s Colonial Melaka, follows the story of Li Lan who is offered a proposal to become the ‘ghost bride’ to the deceased son of the wealthy Lim family. Li Lan’s position is financially lucrative, and if she agrees to the marriage, her family will be saved from a lifetime of debt. The catch is however, she will forever be haunted. 

Finally, a series I can relate to, starring complex characters, showcasing food I am familiar with and based on a story of historical Chinese culture. Not only that, but it is set and filmed in Malaysia, a country that I have a strong and personal connection to.

The filming locations of The Ghost Bride include Butterworth, which lies along the Perai River estuary, where my mother’s family is from, where my parents met and my second home, and Penang Island, otherwise known as the pearl of the orient, where my sister was born and where my parents had their first apartment before moving to Australia together.


'I still remember the symbolic annihilation I felt growing up and struggling to understand why. I could mildly relate to characters such as Disney’s Mulan and Lucy Liu’s character from Charlie’s Angels simply because they were the only strong female leads of Asian descent on screen – but that was the extent of it.'  

I often watch movies and shows filmed in places that I’ve been to only a few times or never at all, and it is harder to connect to, or get excited about those narratives. They’re often set in cities like New York, showcasing