The Free China Junk (image 1)

We did not even know how to sail in the big wide ocean – not to talk about in a narrow channel

Screened as part of NZIFF 2010

The Free China Junk 2010

Directed by Robin Greenberg

Robin Greenberg (Huloo) uncovers the remarkable adventure of five inexperienced young fishermen who set off from Taiwan in 1955 to cross the Pacific in an old junk. Frank and funny interviews complement superb colour footage of their voyage.

100 minutes Colour and B&W / DigiBeta

Director, Producer

Associate producers

Michele Turnure-Salleo
Gavin Laurie

Photography, Sound

Clay Westervelt
Christian Bruno
John Chrisstoffels

Archival footage

Calvin Mehlert


Gavin Laurie

Additional sound

George Turnure


Jim Kimo West


Paul Chow
Loo-Chi Hu
Reno Chen
Marco Chung
Benny Hsu
Calvin Mehlert
Hans Van Tilburg
Charles Mehlert

World Premiere

Soundings Theatre, Te Papa, 18 July 2010

New Zealand filmmaker Robin Greenberg uncovers the remarkable adventure of five young fishermen who set off from Taiwan in 1955 intending to cross the Pacific in an old junk. The plan: to sail to San Francisco, then haul the boat across the US to take part in a trans-Atlantic yacht race. Though none of them had any experience of junks or the open sea, they charmed the notoriously xenophobic government of the day into not only permitting their improbable project, but also attaching the country’s name – Free China – to the ill-equipped boat.

US-born Greenberg first met Loo-Chi Hu, one of these adventurers, in Christchurch in the late 80s, by which time Hu was an internationally respected mariner and Tai Chi master. In researching Huloo (NZIFF08), her portrait of this deeply charming man, she interviewed the three surviving fellow crew. They in turn pointed her to Calvin Mehlert, the young American vice-consul who had issued their US visas, then asked to join and film the voyage – on vibrant colour stock supplied by the CIA.

The political reverberations of their exploits are implicit in Greenberg’s account, but it’s the personal tales that animate her film. The old sailors speak with the sharp good humour of men who have lived life to the fullest and can look back with zero sentimentality at their youthful cockiness: apparently bristling egos and the absence of team spirit didn’t hamper their progress one bit. The American diplomat takes a rosier view, but it’s his beautiful footage of lithe, antsy young men scrambling across the ocean that renders their dash for freedom as eternally fresh as the voyage of the Argonauts. — BG

“It'd be hard not to be entertained by this doco.” — Darren Bevan,