Five Blind Dates: Luck and love in Australian rom-com

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
Five Blind Dates is Amazon's first Australian original film.
Five Blind Dates is Amazon's first Australian original film. Credit: Amazon Prime Video

About midway through Australian rom-com Five Blind Dates, Chinese lion dancers start prancing and drumming outside tea shop of the movie’s lead character, Lia.

The lion dancers gobble up a head of lettuce that was hanging in the doorway and then spits it back out towards Lia and her friend Mason. The pair clap their hands in glee and get on with their day.

For many viewers, they might not have even spotted the lettuce or maybe they had a fleeting moment of confusion. For Asian-Australians, there will be no explanation necessary. The lettuce is considered lucky and when the lion returns it to a business owner, it’s wishing them prosperity.

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Five Blind Dates co-writer and star Shuang Hu wanted her film to have these little moments that were familiar to diaspora audiences. And they didn’t need to be spoonfed to non-Asian audiences because it’s the cultural texture that exists in real life.

Five Blind Dates is Amazon's first Australian original film.
Five Blind Dates is streaming now. Credit: Amazon Prime Video

But the opportunity to front a rom-com movie with a distinctly Chinese-Australian bent wasn’t a given. Hu, who moved to Australia with her family when she was five years old, wrote Five Blind Dates because there were no rom-com lead roles for which she could audition.

“There were no stories to be told,” Hu told The Nightly. “So, it came from a selfish point-of-view. I was trying to give myself work as a Chinese-Australian actor. It was hard to find to find employment and a sustainable living in Australia.

“I was motivated by all these Asian stories that were coming out internationally, especially America, and I thought, ‘Why doesn’t Australia have a movie or rom-com with a lead Asian cast?’. So, I was like, ‘I’m going to write it. I’m going to do it’.”

With co-screenwriter Nathan Ramos-Park, Hu pitched the story and found a home at Amazon Prime Video, which has released Five Blind Dates as its first Australian original film this week, coinciding with both Valentine’s Day and the Lunar New Year. It’s a marriage of two traditions, just like the movie, and just like Hu. “It was a joy to be able to mesh my two cultures and tell a story based in my home country,” she added.

Five Blind Dates is centred on Lia, who is struggling to keep open the tea shop her late grandmother helped to fund. During her sister’s engagement party, a fortune teller divines that she will meet her soul mate during her next five dates, and that person will also be the key to saving her business.

She, begrudgingly, allows her family to set her up on blind dates, which leads to some wild scenarios that only happens in the suspend-your-disbelief conventions of a rom-com. There’s the super-rich, polyamorous entrepreneur (Desmond Chiam), the earnest and woo-woo yoga instructor (Rob Collins) and a family friend (Jon Prasida) who may be projecting his feelings for someone else onto Lia.

There’s also her childhood friend Richard (Yoson An) with whom she had a falling out some years ago but their sparkage remains.

Five Blind Dates is Amazon's first Australian original film.
Hu had previously starred in The Family Law and Ronny Chieng: International Student. Credit: Amazon Prime Video

Anyone who’s seen more than two rom-coms knows where this might be going. What’s different is whose story it’s telling through the universal prism of a wish-fulfilment romance.

For An, who was born in China but was raised in New Zealand, he grew up watching rom-coms but never saw one told from an Asian diaspora experience until Crazy Rich Asians.

“So, this is really refreshing,” he said.

Filmed in Australia almost two years ago, Five Blind Dates features familiar sites in Sydney and Townsville. Lia’s tea shop sits inside an old Vietnamese restaurant next to the Strawberry Hills hotel in Surry Hills, while it also filmed on location at Coogee Beach’s Wylie’s Baths. Wylie’s resident cat, Mr Boots, even visited the cast and crew.

An said the cast would bond by eating at yum cha places around Sydney, including East Ocean and the former foodie fave but now closed Zilver in Haymarket. “I think how we got along off-set with the connections we built translated to when we’re on screen together,” An said.

The actor, who has starred in international productions such as Mulan and Plane and Kiwi projects including Creamery and The Luminaries, said he was excited for global audiences to see the specificities of the diaspora experience in Australia and, by extension, New Zealand.

“And it’s so much fun to work on a comedy,” he added. “The set is just lighter in general.”

When it came to hiring a director for Five Blind Dates, Hu wanted someone who could understand the emotional stakes for the story’s characters.

“We wanted to find a director who had an Asian background,” she explained. “That was really important for us that they could culturally understand the story.”

Five Blind Dates is Amazon's first Australian original film.
Hu with Rob Collins as one of Lia’s suitors. Credit: Amazon Prime Video

The production nabbed Shawn Seet, who had worked on SBS drama Hungry Ghosts among a slew of other credits including the 2019 Storm Boy remake and ABC series Barons.

“He’s half-Malaysian so he really understood all these cultural elements,” Hu said. “He knew it was important that Lia not let her grandma down, that’s family piety is very important in Asian culture.

“That’s not to say it’s not important in Western culture but sometimes those priorities are not there. We live in a Western world where an independent individualism is above the group collective, whereas it means so much to Lia to have this tea shop succeed in her grandma’s honour and her grandma’s name. Shawn understood that.”

For Hu, who now lives in Los Angeles, she still considers Australia home. And there was never any question where she wanted her story to be set and where she was going to pitch it.

“This is a story that had to be told as an Asian-Australian story that could unite cultures,” she said. “It is a melting pot because I’m a melting pot of China and Australia. Many people will be able to relate to it.”

Five Blind Dates is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video

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