'We want representation': Kung fu star creates Western Sydney film showcase

2 July 2021

From bullied ‘underdog’ to kung fu star, Maria Tran has carved out an impressive career as an actress, writer, martial artist and filmmaker. Now, she’s fighting off the stereotypes attached to a Western Sydney suburb by showcasing the work of local filmmakers.

Growing up as a Vietnamese Australian in Western Sydney, Maria Tran didn’t see herself or her community reflected in mainstream television. She certainly didn’t recognise the “dangerous Fairfield” she saw in the news, with coverage of her hometown often centring on criminal and gang activity.

A kung fu aficionado, Maria was obsessed with action movies from Hong Kong, Vietnam and China, and dreamt of one day starring alongside the legendary Jackie Chan.

“Me and my friends would go to the local park and make kung fu action films in Cabramatta,” Maria told The Feed.

“We didn't have a lot of gear. So we'd bring out the mattresses to use as crash mats… We’d get the council bins, wheel them out and stand on them to film.”

Before starring in international films, Maria made her own kung fu movies with her friends in Cabramatta.

Maria has always felt a sense of injustice about how stories from her local area have been told.
“I always grew up wanting to be the hero in my stories, even though going to school, I was always a kid that got bullied,” she said.

“I always thought ‘what if I’m actually the underdog?’.

“We want to see representation. We want to see ourselves on TV and if we couldn’t, [we thought], we’ll just make our own films.”

Eager to capture the Fairfield she knows and loves, Maria has created ‘The Cyber Connect Showcase’.

Maria now runs workshops for aspiring film makers and artists in southwest Sydney.
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The virtual event will showcase 12 films made right before lockdown by artists and filmmakers from Fairfield.

“I feel the vibrance of the community. I feel the festivals, I feel the family,” Maria said.

“I don’t see this other side that the mainstream sees.”

Maria’s career is the stuff of her childhood dreams. She’s starred in indie movies in Australia, coordinated screen fights overseas, and even worked with her idol, Hong Kong superstar Jackie Chan.

She’s achieved all this despite having no formal training in acting, which she had to forego mainly because her “parents couldn’t afford it.”

Maria has worked alongside stars like Jackie Chan.

Like many ‘underdogs’, Maria feels that she’s been underestimated but has gone on to prove her doubters wrong.

“Sometimes, people will throw you these comments like ‘we didn’t expect you to be so commanding and know how to work a set’,” Maria said.

“And I'm like, ‘What's your expectation? That I'm just a small Asian girl that would say yes to everything.’.

“I was so stuck doing the work that I didn’t realise I was game-changing a field.”

Maria has learnt this strength and resilience from her mother - a South Vietnamese refugee, who owned a hot bread shop.

“She was very ballsy. She had a very thick accent and she used to get thrown a bit of racism,” Maria said.

“But instead of going quiet, she was very feisty, just like a gangster lady. She was like ‘this is just how I am… every woman is strong’.”

Maria said you don’t see enough characters like her mum - a strong, proud woman with a thick accent - on Australian TV. And that’s what her film showcase is battling against.

Maria Tran is a Vietnamese-Australian film maker and actress.

Maria said it aims to prove “that people from the community, who might not have access, [can] show something more than what the status quo can offer.”
In recent weeks, Fairfield has been hit with a different kind of stigma, now seen as the centre of NSW’s growing COVID-19 outbreak.

“At the height of anxiety and the uncertainties in Fairfield, this [film showcase] is going to emerge,” Maria said.

“We've brought [these stories] together for people to watch to escape and not have to think about what's going on.

“And also to be reminded that when we're out of [lockdown], we should be focusing on these hidden stories, these stories of empowerment.”

Maria worked with local artists from diverse backgrounds to produce a series of films connected to the Fairfield LGA.

Register here to attend the film showcase virtually on August 6.