Do Nothing And Do It Well is currently screening at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival. An Australian documentary, as you can see above in the poster, it's the neglected true story of Melbourne's radical Chinese cabinetmakers whose militant union defied racial stereotypes and struck fear into the White Australian establishment. They rocked the streets of Melbourne at the turn of the 20th Century and repainted the streets you thought you knew. Written and directed by Liam Ward, it has a run time of 50 mins.
First let me say, this is a standout fantastic documentary about the working class Chinese history in Melbourne - Australia. There are no actors in this film. Just a series of newspaper clippings, a fictionalised dead narrator from the past, and one from the present, and the filmmakers family history. Kinda sounds pretty boring, just going through newspaper clippings right? You couldn't be further from the truth. The personalised narrative is so well presented in chronological order, against a soundtrack that is pumping, it'll keep you engaged and gobsmacked to learn a part of Melbourne's history that you've probably never given a second thought about. It addresses ongoing questions of race, class, and the Australian labour movement. Do Nothing and Do It Well plants a flag of defiance and struggle in the streets.
It starts with a bit of history lesson at the end of the Ming Dynasty around 400 years ago, when Chinese furniture makers had perfected their craft and how for centuries they followed the guidelines of Lu Ban's Manual, the craftsmen's mirror. Guangzhou became the centre of the trade and the elite in Beijing collected Guangzhou work which highlighted the beauty of Chinese wood like Zitan, so revered in Chinese history that they nearly drove it extinct by the end of the 19th century. The fictional narrator's voice tells you he was born in Guyanzhou in 1857 and was a cabinetmaker all his life until he died in Melbourne in 1927. That establishes his expertise in his trade and craft.
This story drives home how Australia's policies affected not just the Chinese immigrants, but the Indigenous as well. They had to fight labels like cheap Chinese labour; made by aliens; made by yellow workers and many other demeaning tag lines that ensured long hours for little money. The doctrine of the equality of man was never intended to apply to the equality of the Englishman and the Chinaman, and the 1901 Protectionist Party's racial discrimination wanted no dark hues. Even though Melbourne's economy was booming in the 1880s, the furniture trade was struggling. Imports and mechanisations threatened the industry but it was easier to blame the Chinese workers who were painted as slave labour. It was a time unions were growing rapidly and great strikes shaped Australia's history. From the killing sprees to the opium trade, a stolen dog looted from the Chinese Emperor's summer palace as a special gift for dog stealing, drug dealing, criminal Queen Victoria, to the abhorrence of the lust the Chinese men had for the white women and their interracial marriages to our current streets of Chinatown, you will learn a lot from this very engaging documentary and the fight one has to have, for being born a different colour.