Madagascar, Norway, Canada
Chinese Restaurants: Three Continents tells the story of the Chinese diaspora through its most recognizable and enduring icon – the family-run Chinese restaurant. Filmmaker Cheuk Kwan journeys to the ‘Big Island’ of Madagascar, inside the Arctic Circle in Norway, and the Canadian Prairies, exploring the long history of Chinese migration and settlement in three continents.
Did the Chinese come to Madagascar in the 15th century, years before the Europeans? This question is answered as we visit a restaurant run by a third-generation Chinese Malagasy and the oldest Chinese immigrant on the fourth largest island of the world.
Michael has opened one of very few Chinese restaurants inside the Arctic Circle. As he promotes his Hong Kong-style efficiency, his Chinese kitchen staff openly discusses how they came to Europe illegally to the restaurant trade.
Chinese workers came to Canada in the 19th century to build the trans-continental railroad, but by 1923, the country passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. Against these odds, Jim came to Outlook, Saskatchewan as a “paper son” using a dead child’s identity.
Together, these community and personal histories illustrate the wider story of Chinese migration, settlement and integration and celebrate the resilience and complexity of the Chinese diaspora. They highlight the fluidity and highly personal nature of identity, and the human impulse to connect both with the past and with those amongst whom we find ourselves.
Whenever I travel, I would eat at Chinese restaurants and listen to their owners’ fascinating life stories. So, for twenty-five years, I have always wanted to make a film about the Chinese diaspora through the life and times of its restaurant owners.
The result is Chinese Restaurants.
In my previous film, On the Islands, geography often forces people into racial and cultural melting pots. In Three Continents, my restaurants are situated in more expansive landscape – in the wide-open Canadian Prairies, inside the Arctic Circle, and on Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world and practically a continent all to itself.
Where is home?
For many older immigrants, to be buried in China when they died is to be able to go home again – at least in spirits. But for the rest of us, home is where we live — although there’s always that mythical China that we carry with us, a mythical China of food and heritage that we can’t seem to shake off, no matter how hard we try.
What I find fascinating about my restaurant owners is that they have always managed to balance this paradox and create a home for themselves. That home is in their hearts. Maybe this is the direction our world should be heading — a place where cultures and races have intermingled so completely that it doesn’t matter where one’s ancestors are from. What matters is the life we create for ourselves, in the place we call home.