A Beijing-based Web sensation releases an online short film in which he mimics accents of people from different parts of the world. Xu Lin reports.
Beijing-based Web celebrity and actor Mike Sui recently drew wide public attention with a short film.
In the 12-minute film he is shown mimicking accents from China such as the Sichuan dialect, Cantonese and "Chinglish" (Chinese English) of imaginary people on board the slow green trains that were popular in China from the 1950s to '80s, and gradually disappeared from public view when high-speed rail took over.
In the video, Sui is also heard speaking in several foreign accents.
Sui spent 300,000 yuan (S$65,697) making the film, and says he did so to show his appreciation of Chinese culture, and "give back to viewers who let me change my life".
It's his second such film. The first in 2012 turned him into an online celebrity overnight. Before that, he taught English and hosted social events for little income and only had meager savings.
"I wanted to make everyone laugh and to make something genuine and unique, different from what's online these days," Sui says.
The 29-year-old online sensation, whose real name is Michael Stephen Kai Sui, has a Chinese father and an American mother. He also speaks French, Spanish and Japanese.
Born in the United States, Sui moved to Beijing at the age of 7 because of his parents' work, and learned Mandarin in primary school. He returned to the US when he was 15 and moved to Beijing again in 2005.
It took him about one month to write the story for his green train online film and learn the accents.
"The main thing is dialogues," he says. "Every accent has a catch phrase. I'm an observer of Chinese culture. I want to find small differences (in cultures) and how they clash with each other."
According to Sui, to imitate so vividly, one needs to pay close attention to people in daily life and practice different accents for hours.
He chose to imitate people from places with large populations, such as the provinces of Sichuan and Guangdong in China's south, because he wants them to feel a part of the "big cultural picture".
"It's a place where various people would gather together," he says of the old green trains. "I thought a plane would be fun too, but the train is a specialty and there are very few green trains still running now. I appreciate tradition."
It took only two days to shoot the short film in January last year, but Sui didn't unveil it online until a month ago. "You need the audience to be in the same mood. I put the video online in January 2015 because it's time to go home and celebrate Spring Festival with families. The train will remind them of that too," he says.
The video highlights subjects that Chinese people care about, but in a lighter vein, such as someone singing songs while begging, a swindler with fake injuries to trick people and high housing prices.
"When the public talks about these things, they sometimes express their frustration, such as not being able to buy a house. I point these things out but don't have a solution," he says.
"It is just to show that competition is fierce in China. It's hard to provide for yourself so sometimes people just cheat others for money."
In February, Sui posted a video of himself greeting people for Chinese Lunar New Year in 34 different Chinese accents. The short film, which cost him less than 100,000 yuan to make, became an online hit.
His research for that video involved meeting with one person from each province or region and chatting with them to discover the key phrase from that place, he says. He tried to understand the culture behind each phrase and recorded it and kept practicing from morning to night for about 20 days.
Other than making online short films and working on commercials, Sui works for Chinese TV serials and in movies. He played the second lead in a romance movie by Hong Kong director Jingle Ma, and it will premiere later this year.
"I'm at an awkward moment when people say I'm still an Internet celebrity. It's important to take it to the next level to be mainstream."