A FATHER speaks to his daughter in Cantonese. Although she understands what he is saying, she replies in English. Later, the young woman - an aspiring actress - goes for an audition and is told: 'You are trying to be what you're not. You should be more Chinese.' The woman leaves, confused. What does being 'more Chinese' mean? Her plight may well represent that of many overseas-born Chinese today who have lost touch with their roots and cannot quite decide whether they are still Chinese or whether they now belong to the culture they were brought up in. So, what makes these Chinese - North American Chinese, in particular - tick? How do they identify themselves? These questions have led Canadian film-maker Kalli Paakspuu into a 'sweet and sour' project that has taken her more than two years to complete. Sweet and Sour: When East Meets East will be the title of the award-winning film-maker's short film on the subject of Chinese identity. The one-hour 16 millimetredocumentary explores the identity concerns and new directions in cinema of ethnic Chinese film-makers from Canada, the United States, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Paakspuu will attempt to tell the stories of these Chinese-on-the-fringe through a series of interviews with film-makers and a short story adaptation, set against railroad imagery and music from Hong Kong-born folk singer, May Ip. Among the film-makers Paakspuu has interviewed for the documentary are Hong Kong-born director Wayne Wang (Joy Luck Club), producer Janet Yang (Joy Luck Club), actress Sandra Oh (Double Happiness) and Hollywood director David Cronenberg (M Butterfly). 'I'm really looking at identity and how film constructs identity and these kinds of things,' said Paakspuu, who was in Hong Kong recently to present a seminar and film exhibition on 'Women's Perspective in Cinema' at the Chinese University. 'I'm interested in how popular culture creates certain desires and goals and projections for individuals. I think we are as much a product of that culture as we are of home culture and community culture. 'Having so many friends in Canada from Singapore, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, I see that this whole idea of being Chinese is specific, yet blurry for most Canadians. A lot of Canadians don't even know that Chinese people are speaking different languages.' The language and dialect differences intrigue Paakspuu. 'In Canada, we have classes for Cantonese as a second language for some of the second and third-generation Canadian Chinese,' she said. 'A lot of children of Hong Kong Chinese there don't speak Cantonese easily. They may have heard it as a child at home and while they are comfortable speaking to their parents, they still feel they need some language upgrading outside. That talks about getting back to their roots.' Paakspuu cites the example of a family who ran a restaurant. 'They spoke their own kind of Cantonese, with a mixture of other dialects, and while they had no problems communicating among themselves, people outside their family could not understand them. 'The mother told me that she was very hurt one day when she overheard some customers calling her son 'stupid' when he could not understand what they were saying.' Paakspuu also found it very interesting that a mainland friend of hers who had gone to Canada had to communicate with other Chinese in English. 'This friend would have friendships with Canadian Chinese females and the only language they could speak in was English because she couldn't speak Putonghua and he couldn't speak Cantonese.' It was this friend who influenced Paakspuu into doing the project while she was making another short film on censorship of the arts and met Kevin Feng Ke, who was involved with sculpting the Goddess of Democracy statue before the Tiananmen massacre. Sweet And Sour: When East Meets East marks a departure for Paakspuu, who started her career in film and video in 1975. She made her first short film in 1978, October Alms, which won her the drama award at the International Film and Television Award in New York. Since then, Paakspuu has worked mainly on subjects dealing with the arts and feminist issues. The 43-year-old film-maker grew up surrounded by Chinese immigrants - her parents lived in a neighbourhood with predominantly Chinese residents and her father had a store a block down from Chinatown - and although she admitted that 'interest had been growing for some time', the project was not one she would have been involved with if not for Feng. 'He asked me if I would be interested in filming all these ethnic Chinese film-makers and asking them about being Chinese. Normally I wouldn't say yes to this kind of thing but I was interested in Kevin and I thought it would give it such a richness having a writer from the mainland and myself who was Canadian,' she explained. Having Feng as co-director and interviewer has helped Paakspuu see both sides of the coin. One of the things that struck Paakspuu most was that the people they interviewed had two different answers, depending on who asked the question. 'The answers were the kind expected by someone from mainland China and what they thought somebody from North America would want to know. It made it much richer. If I had done the interviews myself, I would have just got an answer that fitted that expectation about what a non-Chinese would want to know,' she said. It was not only language and expectations that split the Chinese community, Paakspuu found, but also when they arrived in their new country. 'Hong Kong immigrants in the '80s and '90s are coming in at a different level of entry than those in the past who had to work their way up - it sometimes takes generations - to claim their status in the new society,' Paakspuu said. 'The Hong Kong immigrants come in at the level that has evolved and some of the [older] Chinese feel that Hong Kong is going to run the show. 'For example, in Scarborough [Toronto], they are going to open a Chinese cultural centre and the Putonghua-speaking Chinese think that it will just serve the Cantonese-speakers.' Paakspuu has also noted a surge in American-born or Canadian-born Chinese who are searching for their roots, especially those involved in the arts. 'I meet many Chinese in Canada and very few have friendships or relationships with other Chinese. There are some in the arts who have no connection at all with other Chinese,' she said. 'There is a polarity between trying to be American or Canadian and trying to know more about being Chinese. 'Having some history makes you stronger than having it all obliterated. I think people fluctuate with how they look at where they come from.' And, indeed, in one of the interviews, Wayne Wang describes how he swung from one extreme of trying to be too American to the other of being too Chinese. 'There was a time that I was only eating Chinese food, talking Chinese, and in the end I realised that was not the right way either,' he said. After two years of extensive interviews, the most fascinating thing that Paakspuu found about the Chinese was how strong the Confucian tradition was in their lives. 'It's just a feeling that I get. For instance, in China, where they have communism, the Confucian background makes it a very different experience to what you get in the socialist Soviet Union. It was what I found most interesting,' she said. Once all the filming is done, the hardest part of the whole project will begin for Paakspuu: putting the whole thing together. 'Coming up with the right structure is going to be difficult. 'I'm still wondering whether the Asian sensibility and the Asian American sensibility really should be in one film,' she said. 'But the film should be finished by February and, hopefully, make it to the Hong Kong International Film Festival.'