Loong Koon-tin (left) plays Donald Trump (right) in a new Chinese opera that satirizes contemporary politics.
Culture

Donald Trump is making Chinese opera great again

Apr 09, 2019

Before Donald Trump became president, before he was a real estate mogul and reality TV star, he was separated at birth from a long-lost twin brother who grew up in China.

At least, that’s the story feng shui master Li Kui-ming tells in a new Cantonese opera called Trump on Show.

Loong Koon-tin (left) and Chan Hung-chun play Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in a new Chinese opera that satirizes contemporary politics.
Loong Koon-tin (left) and Chan Hung-chun play Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in a new Chinese opera that satirizes contemporary politics. / Photo: Dickson Lee/SCMP

Using a centuries-old art form characterized by high-pitched singing and elaborate costumes, the show satirizes contemporary U.S. politics. Its four-night run in Hong Kong is already sold out.

Li, who wrote the play and also manages the opera house that’s staging the performance, calls Trump on Show a black comedy, though it might better be described as a farce.

In the story, Trump is separated from his twin brother during a trip to China in the middle of World War II. The twin brother grows up in an orphanage and experiences the hardships of China under Mao Zedong, including the famine of the Great Leap Forward and the political zeal of the Cultural Revolution.

Loong Koon-tin (center) plays both Donald Trump and his twin brother in the Cantonese opera “Trump on Show.”
Loong Koon-tin (center) plays both Donald Trump and his twin brother in the Cantonese opera “Trump on Show.” / Photo: Dickson Lee/SCMP

After Trump becomes president, he’s reunited with his long-lost brother, who acts as a bridge between Asia and the U.S. At one point, Trump even meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and advises him on how to turn his country’s economy around by working with Coca-Cola on a ginseng-infused soda, according to The Washington Post.

Li previously said he was inspired by the story of Barack Obama’s real-life half brother, Mark Obama Ndesandjo, who now lives in China.

“I thought, ‘Wow, Obama has a brother who was in China and now speaks Mandarin,’” Li told Hong Kong outlet MATV, according to Coconuts. “What if Trump had a twin brother who was also left in China and looks almost exactly like him and also speaks Mandarin?”

Soothsayer-turned-playwright

Li, who built a career on telling fortunes for the rich and famous, is no stranger to writing eccentric Cantonese operas.

Li Kui-ming (center) is the playwright behind “Trump on Show.”
Li Kui-ming (center) is the playwright behind “Trump on Show.” / Photo: Dickson Lee/SCMP

He’s long been a fan of the art, and his previous piece, a Cantonese opera about the love life of Mao, attracted near sell-out crowds during its five-night run at the Sunbeam Theater in Hong Kong in 2016.

The theater, which will also host the latest production, was on the verge of closure in 2012 when Li stepped in to save it.

Cantonese opera was once a popular form of entertainment in the region, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s, but its popularity waned with the advent of television and online video.

“I want people to see that Cantonese opera is creative, full of energy, and contemporary.”

“I want people to see that Cantonese opera is creative, full of energy, and contemporary,” Li says. “I want people to see that it’s a fun production.”

Indeed, Li’s work often steers clear of sensitive historical events in favor of telling whimsical and fanciful stories.

His first Mao opera received criticism for glossing over the leader’s atrocities, including famines and purges.

“Sensitive issues will always stir unhappiness,” Li says. “As a playwright, I want to bring positive energy to society.”

Li Kui-ming’s plays often steer clear of sensitive historical events in favor of whimsical and fanciful stories.
Li Kui-ming’s plays often steer clear of sensitive historical events in favor of whimsical and fanciful stories. / Photo: Dickson Lee/SCMP

Mao will again have a cameo in Trump on Show. The main roles of Mao, Trump, and the U.S. president’s twin will be played by Cantonese opera star Loong Koon-tin.

Promotional posters for the show, in which Loong is dressed in a blond wig and wearing Trump’s characteristic overlong red tie, have become a familiar sight in Hong Kong subway stations.

A promotional poster for “Trump on Show.”
A promotional poster for “Trump on Show.”

Loong, for his part, is excited to break out of the traditional roles associated with Cantonese opera and play a contemporary character like Trump, Coconuts reported. It’s in line with Li’s goal to bring the old art form into the 21st century.

“One important characteristic of Cantonese opera is the elaborate style,” Li says, “but with world politics already so dramatic, putting it on stage just seemed the perfect fit.”

Adapted from an article first published in the South China Morning Post.

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