EXCLUSIVE: Cuban star Mario Cimarro and Hong Kong actress Nina Paw Hee-Ching are joining the cast of historical scripted drama series Coolie, produced by Meileen Choo’s Singapore-based Cathay Film Company.
Inspired by the little-known history of enslaved Chinese “coolies” in Cuba in the 1860s, the English and Chinese-language series features a multinational ensemble cast from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Cuba and Colombia.
Previously announced cast members include Hong Kong rising star Louise Wong (A Guilty Conscience, Anita); Taiwanese actor Joseph Chang (Eternal Summer); Colombian actor and TV personality Mauricio Henao (La Herencia); and Cuban actors Camila Arteche (Sergio & Serguei) and Sian Chiong (La Mexicana y el Guero).
Cimarro is known for his roles in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet and Colombian series Pasión de gavilanes, while Paw won best actress at the Hong Kong Film Awards for Ann Hui’s The Way We Are and also has credits including Fearless and Lost In Time.
The eight-episode series will be directed by Taiwanese-American filmmaker Arvin Chen whose credits include episodes of Apple’s Pachinko, as well as films Au Revoir Taipei, Mama Boy and Love In Taipei.
Choo, an industry heavyweight known for running the prominent Cathay Organisation, is the series’ creator and showrunner. In-Ah Lee (Land Of Plenty, The Way I Spent The End Of The World) is on board as executive producer and Ed Buhr (Unhung Hero) is producing.
The series will shoot in the Dominican Republic and Panama with principal photography scheduled to start in December 2023.
Set during the mid-1800s, when the African slave trade was outlawed throughout the Americas, the series follows indentured servants from China, known as “coolies”, working on plantations in Cuba where they were initially treated as slaves. They eventually integrated into Cuban society and fought for independence from Spain side by side with Cubans.
Wong will play a young Chinese girl, Chulin, who sets off from southern China to marry a political exile working on a sugarcane plantation in Cuba. There, she finds the sympathetic, non-slave owning plantation owner plotting for independence from Imperial Spain, aided by Chinese indentured servants and African slaves seeking freedom.
Cimarro will play Captain Salvador Santiago, a multi-lingual sailor, whose ship transports coolies to Cuba. Paw will play Chulin’s grandmother, a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, who arranges for her granddaughter to marry an indentured Chinese worker in Cuba, to pay off a family debt.
Series creator Meileen Choo said: “We’re beyond excited to have Mario and Nina join the cast of ‘Coolie’ and fully embrace the on-screen diversity and authenticity we’ve architected with purpose to tell this story.”