Nine Dragons entwines a murder mystery and colonialism

A new play running at the Gateway Theatre in Richmond, B.C. delivers part murder mystery, part social critique.

Play runs at Richmond's Gateway Theatre and 'hints at things that are relevant to us in the Lower Mainland'

Toby Hughes and John Ng in the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre's 2017 production of Jovanni Sy's Nine Dragons. (Tim Nguyen)

The cat-and-mouse play Nine Dragons, which debuted this week at the Gateway Theatre in Richmond, B.C. is fashioned in a similar vein to Jordan Peele's 2017 film, Get Out. 

Peele's film used the guise of horror to probe systemic racism, delivering a caustic social critique.

Playwright Jovanni Sy offers a murder-mystery play that drips with elements of film noir, while raising issues of discrimination.

"I've inverted the point of view of a popular genre so that I can examine really interesting questions about race, identity and colonialism," said Sy, who's also the theatre's artistic director. 

John Ng plays detective Tommy Lam. (Tim Nguyen)

Nine Dragons is staged in Hong Kong in 1924, when it was under British rule.

The play's protagonist, Tommy Lam, is a local detective investigating a serial killer who preys on women.

But Lam's bigger struggle is the prejudice he encounters from his English supervisors. 

"You're treated as a second-class citizen," said John Ng, who plays the detective.

"You're paid considerably less than what European officers would be paid. And you're treated quite unfairly." 

'It's not a preachy play'

Sy said a murder mystery is an ideal vehicle to explore issues of race and colonialism.

The play's prime suspect is Victor Fung, the son of one of the wealthiest families in Asia. 

"There's a duality to the cat-and-mouse game that Tommy and Victor play," Sy said. 

Victor opts to assimilate, whereas Tommy fights against the colonialism and is treated as a second-class citizen, Sy said. 

Daniel Chen plays Victor Fung. (Tim Nguyen)

The play also raises social issues that are pertinent to the province today. He noted there is an ambivalence to the deaths of the women, at first, because they're Chinese.

"You can certainly see parallels ... with missing and murdered Aboriginal woman."

"I can say it's not a preachy play," Sy added. "It's not an issues play. It hints at things that are relevant to us in the Lower Mainland in 2018." 

Nine Dragons runs until April 21. 


With files from Vivian Luk