For years Lucy Zee thought maybe she had dreamed a hot and steamy TV series set in Auckland’s boy-racer underworld. But it was very real, and there hasn’t been anything quite like it since.
In the middle of the 00s, New Zealand was struck with boy-racer fever. You couldn’t step outside your house without hearing the percussive sounds of a butterfly exhaust valve. You know, the one that sounds like rrrrrrrrrrrnnnnnggggg-pshhhhhhtttttttttt.
But it wasn’t just the streets that it took over, it began to leak into our mainstream media too. The late Jonah Lomu tricked out his ride with a huge Fusion sound system (rumoured to have been the loudest car stereo in the world); Dei Hamo debuted his chart topping single ‘We Gon Ride’ with a boy-racer themed music video (if you watch closely, you can actually catch a glimpse of The Real Pod’s Jane Yee doing a cameo); and best of all, our boring commercial breaks were blessed with the energetic new hot guy from Mag and Turbo Warehouse.
But New Zealand’s love affair with boy-racing did not stop at cars, music videos and sexy adverts. We also managed to do the most and produce a full six-episode season of the half-hour scripted drama Ride With The Devil.
The show was based around the life of a troubled Asian teenager fresh from Shanghai to Te Atatu. He befriended a bad-boy boy racer who exploited him for his money, then dabbled in performance cars, accidentally kidnapped a man and almost lost his virginity in the back of a souped-up Subaru WRX. His cousin Amy, meanwhile, led a double life – one as straight-A student and the other as the leader of an all-girl boy-racer crew. Produced by Isola Productions with funding from NZ On Air, the storylines were taken from real-life news stories and situations and the cars and stunts were also just as real.
You might be thinking ‘No, I don’t remember a show like this. This can’t be real. Stop writing fake news for clicks.’ But I can 100 percent guarantee you that this show was very real. It’s just that unless you were watching TV2 at 11pm on a Tuesday night circa 2007, then I’m saddened to say you completely missed this insane, auto-erotic, action-packed show.
To be honest, I did wonder for a while if it was all just a hallucination. I would bring it up in conversation with friends and colleagues and no one knew what I was talking about. I spent a good chunk of my early 20s wondering if I had totally fantasised a TV show about Asians having sex and driving expensive cars, or maybe I was confusing it with my own personal life. Was any of it real? Fortunately, I found myself working with an ex-Isola employee for a hot minute and when I mentioned the name of the show one day a producer choked on their sparkling water, looked straight at me and said “You actually watched it? No one watched it.” My world and my sanity was whole again.
I felt sane, but also saddened. How could a show, groundbreakingly starring two Kiwi-Asian leads, have been completely forgotten by New Zealand? Was it because the show was placed in a graveyard slot of 11pm on a Tuesday night? Was New Zealand not ready to be confronted with teen sex, illegal street racing and drugs? Or was the show just bad?
You cannot find this show anywhere. There are no VHS’s, no DVDs, no remastered version on Netflix. Nothing, nowhere. But there is a trailer on YouTube and I also have the greatest reference of all, my memory. With this knowledge, let’s go through what I thought was good and bad about the iconic show that was Ride With The Devil.
The good stuff
This show’s primary star was Chinese-New Zealand actor Andy Wong. He was also in Shortland Street and Power Rangers prior to filming RWTD (yeah I am abbreviating it now), but this was his first role as the main player of a TV series. And if that wasn’t huge enough, this was the first network television show in New Zealand history to star an Asian lead.
The themes may have been problematic and the show may not have been successful but this was an entire decade ago and we haven’t had a show starring an Asian since. If the success of Asian-led shows like Fresh Off The Boat, Dr Ken and Huang’s World are anything to by, perhaps now’s a perfect time to try again?
Celebs Celebs Celebs
Nothing makes me more couch-slappingly giddy than a celebrity cameo and RWTD had heaps. Appearances from Xavier Horan, Anna Hutchinson, Angela Bloomfield and Lynette Forday (all with honoured Shortland Street credits), just made the production seem so much flashier and hopefully enticed the three people who watched it, to keep watching.
If you were a car enthusiast, the vehicles used in the show were a kind of like celebrities too. The production used real boy racers to film the race scenes – so if you were all over the Performance Car message boards and forums, you’d have recognised those cars for sure.
The bad stuff
If you wanted stereotypes, this show ticked all those boxes. Rich Asians ✓ Brown criminals ✓ Slutty women ✓ Drunk boy racers ✓ White guy who thinks he’s black and probably says the n-word ✓
It all sounds so bad now and I promise you it was bad 10 years ago too. Sure all story characters need a full arc and a turning point in their development but damn, can we get some less problematic backstories for a change? Not all Asians are rich, brown people aren’t criminals, women aren’t on this earth for your objectification and boy racers are actually pretty safe drivers – and as for the white guy who thinks he’s black, they generally do suck but also #NotAllWhiteMen.
I keep trying to remind myself that it was 2007, perhaps one of the ugliest years of all time. But was it this ugly? Look at the graphics. Look at this tramp stamp. This tramp stamp was their title card, I pray that it is not a real tattoo and that someone was not paid for this tragic attempt.
This is proof this show was real. I watched every single episode and I actually loved it at the time because I finally got to see a Kiwi Asian on TV who wasn’t a doctor or a dead sex worker. The cast was young, the themes were edgy and it catered to my Fast and The Furious fantasy needs. But as a grown adult woman now, I can’t ignore the issues that the show had.
Did this show perpetuate Asian stereotypes? Did it make boy racers look worse to the public? Was the treatment of women on this show enabling negative behaviour towards them? Yeah, maybe it would have if anyone actually watched it.