DISCLOSURE: I am an accredited guest of CAAMFest 2014 for my contributions as a member of the Screening Committee and content writer. I am not compensated for reviews of films I’ve viewed for the listed duties or films I view on my own accord, such as this one.
Ah, all the things you can do on the World Wide Web these days: Not only can you email, use social media, blog, amongst other things that are either useful or looked down upon, but you can create your own video series exclusively for Web viewing. Webseries is becoming a popular form of media and it’s especially exceptional for artists who otherwise would not easily be able to find a niche on traditional television or film to showcase their talents. On Sunday, I think I found my favorite webseries and I hope it becomes yours too after you read on.
CAAMFest (Formerly the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival) has screened several webseries in recent years. As part of their CinemAsia program this year, they brought a gem from New Zealand entitled Flat3. I was immediately drawn to putting Flat3 on my list of screenings to check out this year because it revolved around three young female flatmates who were navigating through their living situation, friendships, work, and romance. It simply sounded like a webseries that I could relate to and while we’re all one in womankind, I really wanted to see Asian women in leading roles to play out these stories because God knows that’s rare to see. In a delightful series of 12 seven-minute webisodes, I laughed out loud continuously. I felt touched. I wanted to punch some characters in the face while I wanted to hug others. I saw myself in the girls onscreen and through a strong mix of clever writing and silly humor, I felt like Flat3 delivered some important statements about being a young Asian woman in society while being extremely entertaining and not taking itself that seriously.
Flat3 was created by Chinese-Kiwi actresses JJ Fong, Perlina Lau, and Ally Xue, who star in the series. Roseanne Liang, the director of the acclaimed film My Wedding and Other Secrets (Which screened at the 2012 festival), later hopped on-board as director and writer. After missing out on funding from New Zealand on Air, the team worked on an initial budget of $1000. The second season, which premiered in the fall of 2013, was funded through an Indiegogo campaign that raised $5,440 USD. A third season will be hitting YouTube (WARNING: Autoplay in link) and Vimeo sometime this year, as this time around, the team received approved funding from New Zealand on Air.
At a Q&A after the Sunday afternoon screening at New People Cinema in San Francisco’s Japantown, Liang said she drew up some inspiration for the series from female-centric American hits like Sex and the City and Girls, as well as fellow webseries Awkward Black Girl and the UK version of The Office. Diana Wichtel of The New Zealand Listener described it as “Girls meets Flight of the Conchords, with a touch of Bridget Jones’s Diary. Also a dash of Eagle vs Shark, in the flat party scene in which geeks in disturbing fancy dress party down.” I only have adjectives to describe it—adjectives like “odd,” “risque,” “quirky,” and “wacky.”
Each of the flatmates has a distinct personality, and the first three episodes of season 1 (Episodes 1-6) introduces them individually. Lee (Xue) is the shyest one of the group. Her art history degree has her questioning her career path, and she’s extremely self-conscious about her flat chest. After having enough of living at home, she moves in with her friend Jessica (Fong), who’s best friends and flatmates with Perlina (Lau). In episode 2, we get a glimpse into Jessica’s career aspirations as an actress and how she deals with a dramatic break-up. Then there’s Perlina, who lacks social etiquette. She comes off as inconsiderate and her flatmates even accuse her of being racist. Supporting characters include current and former flames, equally awkward co-workers, and a stereotypically-named Asian guy named Jackie Chan (Mike Ginn).
In both seasons (Season 2 spans episodes 7-12), you can expect to see the laugh-out-loud debauchery that comes out of a superhero-themed flatwarming party, speed dating, a drunken night out on the town, sabotaging ex-boyfriends, picking up hitchhikers, babysitting, and bad decisions. No leaf is unturned when it comes to sex either: Breast augmentation, pubic hair maintenance, erotic fiction, role-playing, feminine hygiene, and bodily fluids are all addressed in very frank but non-explicit manner (Liang said during the Q&A that she just noticed how racy the series really was when watching episodes). However, it’s done in a way that’s empowering and refreshing, not trashy.
Underneath the overall hilarious nature of the series, Flat3 also presents some sad realities about living as a young Asian woman, backtracking to a previous statement I made in this post. One of Lee’s struggles is pertinent to all women where she can’t accept her body image. On type and in the first episode where she is presented with silicone boob enhancers from an unlikely source, her nonexistent chest doesn’t sound so bad to make fun of. In season 2, it becomes clear that she is serious about wanting implants—possibly for the wrong reasons—and in Episode 11 “Team Building,” this issue is addressed in a more serious and emotional way. Jessica’s story about wanting more acting roles that don’t stereotype her is much more specific to Asian women, and that’s exactly the reason why festivals like CAAMFest exist. That’s why Flat3 is a webseries and why it was created in the first place, so that its actresses could have a platform to display their comedic chops. In a March 2013 interview with New Zealand’s The Big Idea, Xue said, “We got together and thought there aren’t enough diverse roles for us. It’s either the shy one, the dragon lady, or the prostitute.”
Yes, Flat3 uses such stereotypes, but it does so to challenge the norm, and adds much more depth that won’t be found in mainstream television shows and films featuring this demographic. Personally, this is what I’ve always wanted to see more out of Asian women in media and what I hope more people are able to accept so that they can be successful on wider platforms—that they’re witty, funny, ambitious, creative, and empowered but also vulnerable. They’re not just sidekicks or sex objects, but real people with full, multifaceted, and relatable experiences. The only potential problem I see with the series is that the romantic pairings mostly consisted of the sometimes-fetishized one of Asian girl-White guy. In fact, an audience member directly asked Liang about this observation during the Q&A. Her response was that the pool of young castable Asian actors in New Zealand was very tiny. To give you an idea of how tiny that pool is, she said that the actor who played Jackie Chan was flown in from LA. However, she added that this was something she wanted to address in the upcoming season.
On a deeper personal level, Flat3 is a wonderful and lovable piece of innovative work that embodies the complex experience of the 20-something (Maybe early 30-something) Asian (Or Asian-American) female. However, you don’t have to be young, Asian, or a woman to appreciate comedy gold. If you love to laugh and enjoy your humor a little bit rude and kind of weird with lots of pop culture references including autocorrect text fails, then Flat3 is a must-watch webseries for you.
You can follow and watch the series as well as find more info about the production and cast through its official website at Flat3Webseries.com. To get you started though, I’ve embedded the series’ first episode right here. Enjoy!