For all that it boasts an impressive ensemble cast and intricate storyline, SBS’s new historical drama pivots on the choices of one character: Chinese mining camp headman Leung Wei Shing. Acting as a liaison between white interests and immigrant Chinese miners in the Victorian Goldfields of the 1850s, Shing finds himself in the hot-seat when a white woman with links to the Chinese community is murdered. He’s forced to balance his own desires with the needs of his community and the whites’ demands for retribution – and if he can find some justice for the victim, that’s a distant third or fourth.
Thrust into this role is Yoson An, familiar to viewers of SBS’s Dead Lucky and Disney’s live action Mulan. Born in Zhuhai, China, but raised in Auckland, New Zealand, An has done his share of period dramas, but knew when he read the role that he was looking at something special.
Speaking to us from Puerto Rico where he’s currently filming the Gerard Butler vehicle (literally) The Plane, An explains. “There’s something different about New Gold Mountain, and it’s that it’s predominantly told from a Chinese perspective. Now, I’ve never seen that before in any show from Australia and New Zealand, so I thought that was something very special.”
Indeed. Created by another New Zealander, Peter Cox, New Gold Mountain is firmly rooted in the shared experiences of Chinese miners who fled strife in the home country and the played-out booms of the American West to try and strike it rich in the Australian colonies, finding racism, distrust and persecution along with the usual hardships of the prospecting life.
It’s an ambitious series, and its lead character is a complex one. An’s character, Shing, is based in part on the historical figure Fook Shing, who was a headman, or community leader, on the Goldfields before making his mark as the first Chinese detective in Melbourne. But Shing is no virtuous, white-hatted frontier hero; he’s his own man with his own goals, and he’s not afraid to put them ahead of tradition or duty. An nails it; it’s a charismatic turn, as befits a series lead, but he excels at revealing Shing’s complexities and contradictions in subtle and compelling ways.