The Whitewash by Siang Lu, Review: Biting black comedy

The Whitewash, Siang Lu’s debut novel is a hard-hitting satire that is scarily closer to fact than fiction. Read my full review.

The Whitewash Synopsis

The Whitewash by Siang Lu
The Whitewash by Siang Lu (University of Queensland Press $32.99)

Glendower Award for an Emerging Queensland Writer

It sounded like a good idea at the time: A Hollywood spy thriller, starring, for the first time in history, an Asian male lead. With an estimated $350 million production budget and up-and-coming Hong Kong actor JK Jr, who, let’s be honest, is not the sharpest tool in the shed, but probably the hottest, Brood Empire was basically a sure thing. Until it wasn’t.

So how did it all fall apart? There were smart guys involved. So smart, so woke. So woke it hurts. There was top-notch talent across the board and the financial backing of a heavyweight Chinese studio. And yet, Brood Empire is remembered now not as a historical landmark of Asian representation that smashed the bamboo ceiling in Hollywood, but rather as a fiasco of seismic proportions.

The Whitewash is the definitive oral history of the whole sordid mess. Unofficial. Unasked for. Only intermittently fact-checked, and featuring a fool’s gallery of actors, producers, directors, film historians and scummy click-bait journalists, to answer the question of how it all went so horribly, horribly wrong.

(University of Queensland Press, August 2022)

Genre: Literature, Humour, Drama

Disclosure: If you click a link in this post and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission.

Book Review

Are you a closet movie buff with a great sense of humour? If so, then Siang Lu’s satirical debut The Whitewash may well be the perfect antidote to your next glum mood.

I’ll admit, it took me a moment to get my head around all the different character names in this blackest of black comedies. Once I did though, the sly cleverness of the creator of the dark farce playing out before me shone through.

The scary truth is, the characters within Siang Lu’s creative literary narrative (presented in docu-style reality show format) are more often than not referencing genuine movie industry history. When the spotlight is directed its way, the movie industry machine across all nationalities basically skewers itself! There are footnotes aplenty (part of the comedic relief) plus an eight-page chapter-by-chapter film appendix.

Sure there is some profanity and lots of non-PG themes, but like any good satire The Whitewash also contains hard-hitting social commentary about identity, the meaning of success and the dark side of capitalism between the farce.

As a kid, I loved that the sheriff looked like me, that my skin was the same colour as his. I loved that he had a horse, and that he was the hero. I remember every line of dialogue. Every look. Everything I learned about how to be a man I learned from Yee Haw!

And this line, in reference to an emerging breed of social media streamers particularly resonated with me:

“There has never been a better time for the monetisation of mediocrity.”

The Whitewash is a modern and thought-provoking debut, best reserved for fans of satire.

Get your copy of The Whitewash from:

Amazon Book Depository Booktopia AU UQP

Read an excerpt from The Whitewash to see if this title is right for you.

More The Whitewash reviews

‘Audacious, original and a kick to the guts — in the best possible way.’ – Benjamin Law, author of The Family Law

‘With its accessible prose and film-history appeal, The Whitewash is an entertaining read from a bold new voice.’ – Jackie Tang, Readings

‘In a style similar to Charles Yu’s Interior Chinatown, Australian author Siang Lu has written a sobering and satirical novel, The Whitewash, to shed light on the ways Hollywood has misrepresented Asians in film, going back more than a century, all while he pays homage to the rich history of the Hong Kong film industry and how it and Hollywood have entwined over the decades.’ – Asian Review of Books 

About the Author, Siang Lu

Siang’s fiction and literary reviews have appeared in Southerly and Westerly. He holds a Master of Letters from the University of Sydney. He has written for television on Malaysia’s Astro network. In 2021, Siang won the Glendower Award for an Emerging Queensland Writer for The Whitewash. He is based in Brisbane, Australia, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Check out his website.

The Beige Index website

The Beige Index

A big data exploration of diversity in popular film co-created by SIANG LU and JONATHAN O’Brien.

The Beige Index is the Bechdel Test for race, exploring ethnic representation in the IMDb Top 250 Films over time. It features hot takes and data visualisation from co-creators Siang Lu and Jonathan O’Brien.

The website’s dataset features more than 10,000 distinct actors across 250 films with a total runtime of 22.5 days. And yes, they watched all of the films, and did all the research on actors both famous and obscure. Did you know Joaquin Phoenix was born in Puerto Rico? Thanks to The Beige Index, now you do. The Beige Index’s data is available for users to explore in a DVD-style shelf, colour-coded by each film’s casting diversity. Responsive chart and table views are also available for data enthusiasts.

This review counts toward my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge 2022.

* My receipt of a review copy from the publisher did not impact the expression of my honest opinions above.