All too often the suburb of Cabramatta in Sydney’s south west is in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. A history of drug crimes, ethnic gangs, unemployment and political murder.
But this belies the rich diversity and cultural contribution it has provided. Now comedian-writer Lawrence Leung is about to show its funny side in his new ABC2 series Maximum Choppage.
“When we were filming a lot of people told me they loved the fact that we were making a heightened, action series because there had been current affairs and documentaries, maybe in the 1990s, that portrayed the archetype of Cabramatta,” he tells TV Tonight.
“So it’s great that we’re making a TV show where people can have a sense of humour to show the light side of the community.”
Leung is best known for his comedic documentaries, Choose Your Own Adventure and Unbelievable, but he now puts those aside for an acting role.
“They were heightened versions of my personality, played for comic effect. What I loved is that there were no other actors in the series. Even my parents played themselves,” he recalls.
“All the experts would react to my character in a kind of Borat way, except that my character was always a bit ‘unknowing.’”
However it’s not the first time he’s had an acting role.
“I had a pretty good lead-up to it because I was acting Offspring. Asians playing doctors are pretty hard to find!,” he laughs.
“It was fun playing a nerdy doctor who had no idea what was going on. It kind of reflected myself because I hadn’t seen the series before.
“I’ve been in front of audiences for many years doing stand-up comedy. Once you’re on the stage you’re playing a version of yourself and telling a story. So it’s no different being in front of a camera, although you can do a second take.
“I’ve also done sketch comedy and theatre shows, so performing with other ensemble actors and getting into their vibe is something you don’t get with a first-person documentary series.”
The comedy is described as a world where brutal gangs terrorise the community with bad karaoke singing and council debates are settled via K-Pop dance battles. The series has three writers, Leung, Duncan Sarkies and Josh Mapleston, inspired by an idea by Timothy Ly and directed by Craig Melville.
Leung says action comedy movies such as Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer are also a favourite.
“Stephen Chow is a hero of mine and also Jackie Chan. They make martial arts films which aren’t like the serious Bruce Lee movies or quite as violent. They were about not taking things too seriously. The hero wasn’t the toughest man with no name who rides into town and beats everyone up because they were invincible. They wanted heroes who had to rely on their resources to win,” he explains.
“The irony is their cowardliness and creativity makes them the hero that the town needs.
“I guess we rely on our smarts and creativity to get out of a pickle.”
But on the question of stereotyping Asian characters, Leung explains that while some are present there he also breaks away from conventions.
“The show is set in Cabramatta and has some tropes and archetypes that are familiar to Asian people. Much like if you take a show like A Moody Christmas and you think about all the archetypes of crazy uncles and families.
“But we also have many that are unfamiliar. For example we don’t have a submissive (female) Flowers. Our character Petal gets into a lot of trouble expressing herself through sensitivity. She would prefer to punch someone than explain her emotions.
“We have mixed race couples and romances, and sometimes the women are saving the men in our episodes.”
Maximum Choppage premieres 9pm Tuesday on ABC2.