Kung Flu: Maria Tran wants to kick racism for good

Behind the scenes of Operation Kung Flu.
Behind the scenes of Operation Kung Flu.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Maria Tran went to the shops and had a couple of racist slurs aimed at her.

"It left me annoyed and disempowered," she said. "Does racism happen to me? Does indifference happen to me? I put it on my Facebook talking about the subject matter and then I interviewed other people who had similar instances.

"I thought if I want to find ways to address this issue, I want to address it in a way that everyone can watch and we're not pointing the fingers at anyone; we don't want people to feel disengaged or not wanting to talk about the subject matter. So we decided to do a Hong Kong eighties action comedy trailer."

The trailer, titled Operation Kung Flu, was one of 68 works commissioned by Diversity Arts Australia in partnership with the Asian Australian Alliance in response to COVID-19 racism for the #IAmNotAVirus project.

Tran plays Phoenix, a police officer from the eighties, who wakes up in the year of the COVID pandemic and is sent on a mission to rescue a group of Asians who have been kidnapped to stop the spread of the virus.

Such was the success of the trailer, which includes performances from Sarah Chang and Chris Pang, a 14-minute film was shot over two days in Fairfield, Smithfield and Cabramatta with Tran's production company, Phoenix Eye.

Tran, who is is currently in production for her action film Echo 8, said using the term Kung Flu was all about "reclaiming power."

"Before we were making it, people were saying don't use the title because you are giving power to racism, but I wanted to reclaim it and open up a discussion through our trailer," the actor, filmmaker and martial artist said.

Behind the scenes of Operation Kung Flu.

Behind the scenes of Operation Kung Flu.

"The main bad guy isn't actually a bad guy in the film. He's kind of misinformed and a little bit ignorant and no one has ever challenged until now which is what is happening in society.

"Racism is no laughing matter, and one of the most difficult topics to address, but what if we made an action film, Asian-centric and led, dealing with all the tropes of racism?

"Everybody has an opportunity to be empowered and explore subject matters. Just because racism seems like such a hard and complex topic doesn't mean people can't still embark on understanding it further through their ways of doing it. For me, that has always been film."

Diversity Arts Australia executive director Lena Nahlous said anti-Chinese and Asian racism in Australia is "not new".

"But the advent of the global pandemic has seen an intensification of physical and verbal attacks," she said.

Maria Tran (left) in action during the film.

Maria Tran (left) in action during the film.

"This has directly impacted on artists who we represent, as reported in to us initially in our Creatives of Colour Impacts of COVID Survey. This important project creates a platform for artists to respond to this through creativity. Making art and sharing stories are powerful ways to engage people in these discussions and provide counter-narratives."

Project Producer Kevin Bathman said: "I am really excited by the possibilities for this project to open new conversations and ways of approaching this issue. We hope that it helps to strengthen communities, while also providing support to the artists whose communities are most affected by COVID-19 Racism."