Not Past It - Colonists, Criminals, and Nic Cage

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Hey, not past it listeners.

It’s that time again this week the historical.

Domino effect is back.

That’s when we tell you a series of many history stories that lead you through time in a chain reaction and we’ll end up in a completely different place from where we started and the past, we’ve gone from a Nazi battle to a hit movie musical.


A candy, Baron to the sexy green Eminem.

And today’s Journey, well, it might just rip your face off from gimlet media.

This is not past it a show about the stories.

We can’t quite leave behind.


Someone plannin on today’s episode we’re going back. 180 years ago, this week to August 29th 1842 when an important treaty change the geopolitical makeup of East Asia and will snake our way through history and land and Hollywood’s biggest night, the dominoes are all lined up and we’ll knock over the first one.


After the break, How are you doing today?


I’m alright.

How are you?

I’m doing okay doing okay.

I’m in today, we are going on a winding Journey from sea to shining sea.


Okay, the Seas aren’t so shiny, but we will be traveling a bit and embarking with me on today’s history.

Domino Journey as Fox film critic, and culture, reporter, Alysa Wilkinson.

Thanks, it’s great to be here.

I imagine you watch a lot of movies.

Are always watching movies.


Yes, that’s curious.

Anything that you’ve seen lately that you’ve been really into, well, August is a bit of a dead zone but also this summer, I’ve been thinking a lot about how many movies feel like they’re maximalist.

So like everything everywhere all at once or even I think baz.


Luhrmann’s Elvis is a kind of broken movie, but it has its charms.

And most of its charms are that it goes really hard and there’s a lot of movies like that, I just like that.

I think that’s great.

Mice mice.

Well, this may become relevant a little bit later in our journey, okay?


But first, you know, this is a History Podcast so we are going to get into some history.


Are you ready?

I am ready.

I love history.

Let’s go.

Well, we’re starting our journey with a major war between Great Britain, and China before I get to that first, Domino, we need a little backstory on the relationship between these two countries.


And for that, we’re going to eight.

In the 39 on the South China Sea.

So, this war between China and Great, Britain.

It’s a naval war with cannons, men, falling overboard, and part of why they’re fighting is because of trade.


And there’s one Chinese commodity in particular, that Britain cannot get enough of Now Alyssa.

What do you think that?

Could be oh and I’ll give you a clue.

It’s something they both have in common.

I mean the answer that Springs to mind immediately is T was it?


T is correct.


Okay good it’s all about tea.

The British are known for loving their Cuppa.

Mmm-hmm they’re also after silk and Porcelain so this war is happening in the early 1800s and for the past 200 years, great.


Had been grown their empire with colonies, like India, the Pacific Islands, the so-called new world.

So, you know, they’re, they’re used to being the big guys on top so to speak, but when it came to trade with China, that actually wasn’t the case.

So China had become a booming agricultural economy and one of their major cash crops was like, we said t and they knew how valuable that tea was, they would pretty much only accept silver and Change for it, and they would only let westerners trade into one port.


So China’s in this position of power, when it comes to trade, so it was really expensive for the British to buy tea and other goods from China in the 1700s British merchants try to come up with you know, like a clever way to make some cash and clever isn’t very heavy quotes.


Here, they needed something that would make the Chinese dependent on them.

Something that would flip the switch back in their favor.

So British Traders started selling a product of their own to China.

Now, do you have an inkling?


As to what that may be.


And now remember Great Britain has an entire Empire at their disposal if that’s any clue.



I don’t know.

I don’t even know what you would what you sell.

Hmm I’m coming everything that’s running through.


My head is, if is a British food that I know can’t be right?

A lot of clotted cream.

Yeah, they got the Chinese hooked on clotted cream.

It’s good stuff not quite their product that they start pushing.

And China is opium.


Oh well, yeah, a little more addictive than clotted cream, perhaps that that you can get hooked on that.


So, so Brittany starts smuggling opium grown in India to China, right?

And Great Britain.

As a result starts raking in the profits.


So it’s kind of like an addiction trade, you know, opium 40.

T similar levels of it?

Yeah, yes.

On the same level.


Now obviously China is not on board with this and this tension escalates which brings us back to the South China Sea.


We’re British and Chinese ships are battling it out and this war becomes known as the first Opium War, lasted three years and saw Great Britain occupy the major city of Nanjing and Destroy several Chinese, Forts and ships.


The British powered by their steam ships and their Superior technology.

They easily beat the Chinese.

Some 20,000 Chinese soldiers were killed or wounded while the British only had a couple hundred casualties.

So it’s, you know, it’s very uneven.


You’re lopsided and the war ultimately comes to an end in 1842 when Chinese and British officials signed a resolution treaty called the Treaty of Nanjing, okay.

Now, you know, the deal between Great Britain and China and Brings us to our first, Domino.


All right.

So on August 29th, 1842 180 years ago this week, China signs, the Treaty of Nanjing and this treaty has a couple of shocking elements.

Britain May China pay reparations.


They also made China.

Open up multiple ports to Western trade that had previously been closed again.

Trying to reverse this balance of power in their trade relationship.


And so, You know, all the control that China wants had, they lose that.

But most importantly for this story, the treaty mandated that China hand over one important Island to the British as a colony, right?


You think you know which one that was?


This is Hong Kong, right?

Sure is yep.

The British arrived on its Shores during the war and decided to take it for themselves.

So Great Britain now has Hong Kong and it establishes a colonial government to run the island.


And it may not come as a surprise, but the colonial government isn’t doing much for the, Chinese and Indigenous populations in Hong Kong.

So, the non-british locals had to establish their own support systems.

Things, like protection resources, jobs and to do that.


They turn to a long-standing Chinese tradition.

So, and Mainland China going back.

Hundreds of years.

There had been these secret societies or Mutual Aid, associations.

You know, like groups of families or neighborhoods that would ban together, you know, to offer social and economic support to each other and back, then they were called Triads.


Alyssa, is that term familiar to you?

I mean, I usually think of that as just three things together, so not in this context, I guess.

Gotcha, gotcha.


Well, let me tell you what the tryouts in Hong Kong were all about.

So in the late 1800s, while Hong Kong was developing Paying into this Western city under British, rule, Triad stepped in to fill the void that the cops and the colonial government left.


And one of the big things these Triads were doing as they helped people find jobs.

So for example, this one Triad called Yeon was acting like a labor union, you know, collecting fees, making sure people got paid that sort of thing.

But while Triads were helping citizens of Hong Kong, find jobs, they were also doing this other thing.


Make money now, if you are in this position, but do you think you would turn to?

You know, what new lines of Revenue?

Are you going to open up?


I’m thinking right now about all the organized crime movies I’ve ever seen.



I mean you know what are they what are they doing?

They’re doing illegal trade they’re providing protection.

There may be helping people get work or all of those kinds of things.

Yeah you are.

So on point that is exactly right.

Movies have treated me.


Well yeah so yeah the Triads they start to get a little riskier.

They Go from these like neighborhood organizations to organized crime dabble in drugs.

Prostitution racketeering, you know, the greatest hits greatest dance.


The thing is, the British colonial police force, they’re aware of what’s going on with the Triads.

The police just aren’t very effective.

They’re more concerned about other stuff, like, you know, protecting free trade for the British.

However, every once in a while, they would arrest a drug dealer or the head of a brothel to sort.


Of Keep Up Appearances, which brings us to our second, Domino.

So one Triad member that gets targeted by the British colonial police.


Is this guy named ding?

Sick ho, but people in Hong Kong called him limpy.

Ho or crippled, ho, okay.

Yeah, but particularly PC but no but descriptive this could very much very specific the name.


He got the name because he walked with a limp after getting injured.

In a street fight as a teenager.

So this is the a real tough guy stuff.

Okay and Limp.

He’s you know, doing crimes selling heroin bit of a callback to the OPM and he’s having run-ins with the cops.


Now, at this point, the relationship between the Triads and the colonial police has been entrenched in Hong Kong for decades and in 1960, limpy gets arrested, but once he gets out of jail, his drug dealing, Operation gets even bigger.


Okay, he joined forces with another Triad guy.

And the two of them established a new very successful, heroin operation cash started, really flowing in, you know, limpy ho Rose to the top and eventually he became one of the most notorious Triad bosses in Hong Kong’s history.



Okay yeah, doing quite well for himself.

People speculate he was in control of over 1,000 foot soldiers, huh?

Um and he was making a ton of money today’s equivalent of around 250 million u.s. dollars a year.


Mmm you know, he invested in a bunch of real estate hotels, that kind of thing.

You know, you can kind of imagine this guy walking around Hong Kong with big stack of cash in his pocket and I’m like bulging, you know?

And edgy mr.

Monopoly my however, he did not get to keep all of the money that he made.


Because there were important people, he had to pay to make his business run.

Do you have any idea as to who limpy home I’d have had to pay?

I mean, if I were guessing I would say probably the police, right?

Yeah, it was.


So today’s the cops.


Cops and Mobsters never too far apart.

It seems the relationships between the tribe members and cops were notoriously close, especially with the rank and file.


Many of whom were Hong Kong locals by the way.



And you know limpy?

Hello giant Triad boss that he was he paid Kickbacks to one policeman in particular whose name was Lee lock, okay.

Yeah, so Lee, he was a Chinese staff, sergeant in Hong Kong.


He had risen through the ranks really quickly.

He was even awarded the colonial police medal from Queen Elizabeth herself.

So Prominent prominent dude in the police force.



However, you know, he’s there looking like The Shining Star of the police.


Meanwhile, he’s actually controlling divisions of Triad gangs and running major swaths of Hong Kong.

He’s forcing gangs to pay him Kickbacks for every business that they open up.

So, you know, the infamous limp ‘who is actually kind of, under the thumb of Lee lock mmm, limpy.


How had to pay leak?

Twelve hundred dollars a day to run his Install.

This is like The Sopranos ratcheted up to 112.

Seriously, seriously, she loves downhill when he goes up, it’s that simple.

And you know, it’s not just limpy, that’s on the hook.


Lee has basically like, every mobster drug dealer, paying him these Kickbacks, so cops and Triads are basically getting rich off of each other mmm-hmm, but the wealth flowing into their hands did not trickle down.

Now, there were dramatic Class disparities in Hong Kong.


At the time, the rich were very rich, the poor were very poor.

There were slums throughout the city.

And in 1953 one of these slums burned down in a massive fire, that displaced close to 6,000 people.

And this firewood make a big impression on one little kid.


In particular, who would grow up to change, Hong, Kong’s, relationship with the rest of the world in a big way, huh?

And we will get to that after the break.


Welcome back, Fox film critic and culture, reporter, Alysa Wilkinson.

And I have just made our way from the signing of the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842 to the underhanded dealings between the Triads in the cops in the 1960s.


All right, so Alyssa if you remember when we left off all this crime and Corruption meant that Hong Kong was dealing with widespread poverty and when a massive fire in the slums left, thousands on the streets, there was one kid Who was left homeless for the next year of his life.


He grew up in the 1950s and 60s, witnessing this Triad violence, and that stuck with him.

It ended up shaping his career path.

As a huge movie director, in Hong Kong, and in the US and that takes us to Domino.

Number three, Alyssa.


Do you know who that person might have been?

This is where my my knowledge tends to break down.

There’s a there’s a lot of interesting directors from that region but I I would love to know who it was specifically, sure.


So that kid grew up to become the famous filmmaker John, Woo, of course, of course, of course, yeah, he started directing movies in the late 60s.


How familiar are you with John Woos work?


Well, with his American or his Hollywood work.

I, you know, obviously I’ve seen, I mean, who hasn’t seen face off, right?

But I haven’t delved into a lot of his work from Hong Kong but I, you know, obviously he’s the most famous.


He’s the one that people think of yeah, Faceoff, truly a classic.

Yeah, I mean, that is cinema, right?

We are, we are getting there.

We will unpack face off but pretty face off.


You know, Wu’s career, as a director really took off in Hong, Kong in the mid-80s and 1986, he released a movie called, A Better Tomorrow.

And this would be the blueprint for the Triad film, genre, the movie is full of all of these like crazy drawn-out gunfights And that became his trademark intense long action scenes that are as choreographed as a Broadway musical and is high emotion as any good mob film.


And actually one of John was most famous setups is kind of like that Spider-Man meme, where each guy is pointing a gun at someone.

And each guy also has a gun pointed at them.

He does that in a bunch of his movies, specifically face off and the killer.


Hmm and fun fact John, Woo Style.

Ended up inspiring a lot of Hollywood directors.

Most notably Quentin Tarantino huge fan.

I mean see it all in all all over his work, huh?

Okay so after John Woo directed A Better Tomorrow, his name was on the map.


He was doing his thing and one of his biggest Blockbusters came out in 1997, it’s an American movie with perhaps one of the greatest story premises of all time.

We’ve kind of covered this already.

But dude, Know which movie I’m talking about?


This must be faced off.


Sure is face off a banana.

Shown with a bananas promise.



And that takes us to Domino number for now.


It seems like you are a fan of the movie.

How would you for somebody who’s never seen it before?

How would you describe what Faceoff is cos?

I mean, the thing that sticks in my head is that There are face transplants that are going on as kind of a method of like, subterfuge and revenge and it’s Nick Cage and John Travolta, which is just like a pairing for the ages.


And, you know, there’s sort of this moment where someone says, you know, I’m just gonna take his face off.

And so, you always know you’re watching a good movie.

When someone says the title of the movie in the movie, I’d like to take his his face.


But the fact that this is accompanied by face transplant, procedures is just, it’s just a chef’s kiss, it’s a great, great Bananas, movie to watch.

Yeah, well, that’s like a perfect description.

I mean, who cares about the details, right?


That’s beside the point.

It’s the, we’re here for the faces.

I’ve been chasing this guy ever since I joined the force.

And now, after all this time, I finally figured out a way to trap him.

I will become him.


Yeah, absolutely.

It is incredible line reading there from John Travolta.

Ionic iconic role.

Yeah, sure.


So just to cover the plot a little bit, the movie begins with John Travolta, as a good FBI agent and Nicolas Cage as a sociopathic murderer.


And as you said, they switch identities and also their literal faces as you do.

Yeah, it’s one does to exact Revenge.

Like Freaky Friday.


Right Spain?

I same idea.

Yeah, good grounded storytelling.


So you know we said, John, where was this really influential director?

You know, kind of like the Godfather of this Triad genre.

And when face off comes out, even though it’s an American Film, it has a really big impact on Hong Kong Cinema so much.


So that two directors from Hong Kong, Alan Mac and Andrew Lau decided to make Their own movie inspired by face off.

Oh, good.

Yeah, a bit more realistic doesn’t have the face transplants.

I know not quite so exciting.


This movie came out.

In 2002, it was a little less well-known and the US.

Yep, it was infernal Affairs.


A great film actually really really spectacular film.

Yeah, it sort of follows a similar idea to face off the cop and mobster identities are intertwined.


And there’s an undercover cop who infiltrates, the mob, and a high-ranking cop who’s actually a mobster and their hunting each other for the entire movie.

Now, this film also does incredibly.

Well, it won the best film at the Hong Kong film Awards and even gained an international audience it did so.


Well that Brad Pitt be Brad Pitt and his production company, they buy the rights to infernal Affairs so that they can make the Hollywood remake which they do they move forward.

Word with creating the American version of infernal Affairs.

And do you know what, that movie ended up being called?


I sure do.

That is the 2006 movie.

The Departed directed by Martin Scorsese.


Which I think I saw before I saw infernal Affairs but I certainly enjoyed both of them greatly.

Yeah, The Departed, the Departed classic.


And that brings us to our fifth and Final You got something, you wanna ask me how, I guess, how.

Recently have you seen The Departed?

Yeah, so I mean, I think I saw it when it came out and then I’m not sure, I’ve actually watched it again since, but it’s sort of has this same setup.


But we’ve got Leo DiCaprio and we’ve got, you know, Mark Wahlberg and Matt Damon.

And my family is all from South Boston and so One thing that has always stuck in my head is, there’s a scene where Jack Nicholson’s in a back room at a ba, you know, at a bar with them with some other guys and he, he breaks a guy’s arm that’s in a cast over a pool table to kind of make a point.


You know, he’s the mob boss and on the wall is a sign that says Dorchester or duchesse de if you’re from there and I remember seeing it and saying my grandpa grew up there and so it feels like family but the movie did super super L won a bunch of oscars, you know, in a ton of other Awards.


And I think it kind of rehabilitated for a lot of people certainly Wahlberg as an actor and maybe DiCaprio in some ways to MMM.

Yeah, that’s interesting.

So I was somebody who is from Boston, do you feel like do they get it right?

How’s the Boston representation?


Well, so it’s you know, it’s all my family that’s from Boston.

I know I have never lived there but according to my dad’s twin brother who is a welder in worked on The Big Dig.


Yes, it is exactly what he knows from growing up.

I think the only piece that they pointed to was deeply unrealistic is that Jack Nicholson refuses to wear a Red Sox hat, but other than that, we’re in the right area.



Not enough.

Red Sox representation.

Well, yeah, you know, you mentioned some of the big names attached to the film, Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Wahlberg, Jack, Nicholson plays the big scary mob boss.

Listen, Matt, Damon a young, Matt.


Damon is in it.

Hmm, however, probably the biggest name you’ve mentioned him before.

Is the director on the musee Martin Scorsese, mmm-hmm, and this is the movie.

That one’s Marty has first best director at first, and only best director Oscar first.


And only best director somehow wild.

I know, right.

Probably the best American director alive, but, you know, that’s how the Oscars go or you will get to that, we will sort of like that.

One of the directors of infernal Affairs.


Andrew Lau actually commented on The Departed.

This is what he said, of course, I think the version I made is better, but the Hollywood version is pretty good too.

Scorsese made the Hollywood version.

More attuned to American culture, which I don’t know about you, but to me, that sounds like a very tactful way to be like, yeah.


Americans have bad taste backhanded compliment.

Yeah, yep.




I mean not disagreeing unfortunately.


Well, you know, I won’t give away any spoilers for our audience but it is worth noting that in some Key Parts.


The Departed is almost a scene for scene remake of infernal Affairs.

So you know you could argue that it is sort of a whitewashing of the original.


Which brings us to a topic that you have covered quite a bit as it relates to the Oscars and the academy.


You know, the academy has been criticized for having quite a narrow perspective on Um, you know, one that is reflective of a predominantly white American audience, a predominantly white voting body.


And, you know, sometimes just blatantly ignoring or disregarding filmmakers of color or non-american filmmakers.



And one really egregious example of this was at the award show the year, The Departed one.

There was this moment when the announcer said who won best adapted screenplay and they got one very important detail, very wrong.

I’m going to play you a clip and let’s see if you can catch the error and the Oscar goes to William Monahan for The Departed.


William Monahan base to screenplay about Boston, Mobsters on the Japanese film infernal Affairs of no reactions.

Oh no, that’s also probably pre-recorded.


So they really Apparently box that.


Oh dear.

Yeah, pretty bad.

Not subtle mistake at all.

So yeah, they call they call infernal Affairs movie with Hong Kong all over it.

My college effing, he’s off.




And you know this feels related more broadly to the way that the Oscars deal with International films in general.

Yes we have for example like what used to be called the foreign language film category is now the International Film category but hmm So that’s a slight change.


But yeah, but they haven’t actually changed the requirements.


They haven’t and the category is a mess.

I mean you know.


Should I explain briefly how it works?


Yeah you’ve covered this a lot so I’m curious about what’s your take on it.


So okay, so formerly foreign language I believe two years ago was changed to International because there’s a lot of problems with the designation of a foreign language, film the way a movie can be nominated in that category, is that according to Academy rules, every country gets us to decide who it’s nominating body is, and then they get to pick a film that they want to be their entry at the Academy Awards.


That means you’ll never have to films from Hong Kong in the category because they can only pick one.

So this means essentially that a lot of films never get recognized, right?

Because some other film got picked in its place.

And there’s lots of examples of this where You know, maybe a filmmaker has curried favor with the nominating body and their country.


And the obviously better film is just not going to be nominated.

And then there’s this long list and then the academy voters, kind of, when I went down to five and then pick among the five and for a long time, European films had the edge there, I think films from Africa, almost never make it into that from any African country.


So we get this distorted idea of what Global Cinema is on top of it.

If Film is nominated in that category.

It’s very, very hard for it to be nominated in other categories.

Yeah, you know, it’s interesting, I’ve always wondered, you know, even before the name change about, you know, foreign film International Film that category because like I don’t know you see films from England or Australia get nominated and other categories sometimes.


So it’s like what is a foreign film is?

It is it the country?

It’s from, is it the language?

I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel consistent.

Ain’t ya.

And then there’s other issues there rules around how much of your film needs to not be in English to qualify for the category.


And there was an example a few years ago where this became a big problem because the official language of Nigeria is English and the film that Nigeria picked to represent, it was in English and it was disqualified from the category, even though it was Nigerian film, you know?


It’s just sort of like oddly there’s like all this colonial is baggage.

Um that happens.


The Oscars are almost 100 years old now and they’re like deeply provincial.

When you look into it.

Yeah, these things take time.



But it really comes down to do the Oscars want to be about all movies, rewarding all movies, which it seems like, they kind of do or are they purely about American film?

In which case, what are we doing with these categories?



Yeah, I don’t know, maybe the Oscars.

Just need a dramatic makeover.

You know it’s time.

Get it together, y’all Wow.

Alyssa, we have come to the end of our Domino Journey.


It has been a long and winding road from British political colonialism and China to American cultural colonialism in Hollywood.

You know, illegal opium trade corrupt, police force organized crime fo pause at the Oscars.

All of it can be traced back to some real white guy, strong-arming strong-arming, and then playing dumb and an addictive substances, which you know, An addictive substances.


I have addicted to face off.

So I think a track that across the epithets.

That’s a good thing to be addicted to.

This has been totally fascinating.

Now I’m going to be thinking about this the next time I watch The Departed.

Yeah, have the Opium Wars your head.


Not passed it as a Spotify original produced by gimlet and zsp media, this episode was produced by Naomi Bronner next week.

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The rest of our team, our associate producers, Julie car, Leandro, me Phillip, Lord newcomb’s our production assistant, the supervising producer is Erica Morrison, editing by k.t. feather, and Andrea be Scott fact-checking by Jane.


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The story is that he insisted on wearing a Yankees hat on set, but they obviously can’t have a Boston, mobster, wearing a Yankees hat, so he took it off.


Wow, wow, that’s so interesting to not know that.