Belt yourself in for a high-revving new local drama about young Asian migrants and petrolhead culture on the streets of Auckland

Key Points:

Saturday night, Queen St: The blinding glare of headlights fills the street as cars slowly cruise the strip.

Turbochargers tick over at traffic lights, while teenagers hang out of windows, shouting taunts above the surging engines. Beeping horns, squealing tyres and hollering bystanders all add to the cacophony.

It's a scene any Aucklander will recognise. A typical Saturday night in the city. And one that writer Murray Keane instantly saw as the setting of his new series, Ride With the Devil.

Writer, director and creator of the series, Keane has always been a bit of a petrolhead.

"I used to come up from Helensville on Friday nights in a MK III Zephyr. It's the same thing now, just with different cars and different people."

It wasn't until years later, wandering the length of Queen St one night, that Keane had the idea to film the street scene.

"I just thought, 'This looks fantastic. If I could just bring a camera down here and start shooting what's going on in Queen St, we could do something really interesting'."

That was five years ago. Keane set to work making a pilot, Burnout, which looked at the car culture of Auckland. The pilot was well-received, but failed to get funding from New Zealand on Air. Another big project had been given the green light so Burnout was put on the backburner.

Four years later, Keane reassessed the idea and decided to add a different point of view to the series.

Enter Lin, played by Andy Wong, a student from Beijing, struggling to come to grips with his new hometown.

"We had the idea of basing it around an Asian family, of bringing Andy's character from Beijing and having him arrive in Auckland and going, 'My God - where is everybody?'."

TVNZ loved the idea, and with NZ On Air Innovation Initiative funding, the six-part series got the go-ahead. It is the first time a mainstream New Zealand drama has featured an Asian lead character, a fact which drew Wong to the role.

"I really like the Asian storyline. It is quite important to me. Being an Asian male actor, there isn't a lot of work around. You get guest roles [Wong once played Li Mei's fiance on Shortland Street] for one or two days, but that's about it.

"I think the Asian male in New Zealand society has been misrepresented, so when I saw the opportunity to change that ..."

At the beginning of the series, Wong said his character fulfils most Asian stereotypes. But as the series goes on, he breaks out of the cultural cliche.

Keane sees the series as a journey.

"You have to like Lin enough to go with him on that journey. After a while, you forget that he's Asian."

Making a series based on a foreign culture presented a host of problems for the Kiwi director, including trying to write, direct and edit a scene in Mandarin, which he couldn't understand.

"There were four of them in the car having a row in Mandarin. Not only couldn't I write it, but I couldn't edit it because I didn't know what they were saying. Andy had to translate everything for us."

Casting was also a struggle for the director, due to the limited number of Asian actors working in New Zealand.

"They were probably the funniest, funniest auditions I've ever done. I was such a softie. People would do their auditions and even though they were terrible, I couldn't tell them to go away. So I'd get them to do it again," he recalled laughing.

Despite initial difficulties, Keane came away with a strong cast, including a host of former Shortland Streeters _ Lynette Forday, Angela Bloomfield and Anna Hutchinson.

Along with Wong, who was born in Hong Kong and came to New Zealand 16 years ago, Keane brought on other Asian advisers to help make the series authentic.

"We weren't trying to be culturally sensitive, we were trying to be culturally representative," explained Keane.

The director also wanted to represent the boy racer culture of New Zealand - something which has been widely condemned by the general public. Keane said he wanted to stir controversy and raise debate on the topic.

"One of the things we did when we went from Burnout to Ride With the Devil was give huge moral consequences to the journeys of the characters.

"When we introduce Angela Bloomfield's character into the mix, she speaks for those people [who don't approve of boy racers]."

That's not to say there isn't a certain amount of glamour associated with the cars. Throughout our interview, Keane refers to the starring vehicles as the "hero cars".

Working with a limited budget, one of problems facing production was rounding up the vast number of souped-up vehicles needed to shoot the series.

Fortunately, it was easily solved when Keane put a call into some South Auckland car clubs.

"The car club people were great. They just came to us in droves," Keane recalled.

"The thing about doing something on cars is you meet people who are really passionate about them.

"They were just so happy that this programme was being made that they would go out of their to help us and show up with their cars."

As for the hero cars, which were "thrashed" by the stunt drivers, the vehicles were provided by Fast Fours and Turbos, while Mag and Turbo Warehouse agreed to patch up the cars with new tyres after filming.

"If we were paying for everything outright, we never would have been able to do it," said Keane. "We relied on people's generosity."

The limited budget also saw Wong do some of his own camera work while in Hong Kong. The part-time actor, who is in the middle of his final year of med school, was about to leave on holiday when he was told the series had been greenlighted.

Not one to miss an opportunity, Keane called Wong and told him to find a camera and start shooting.

The footage appears in episode one of the series, which debuts on TV2 next Tuesday.

Keane is hopeful it won't be the last international shoot the series sees. With plans to sell the programme to Asian networks, Keane already has ideas for season two.

"The biggest car show in the world is held in Beijing. We'd love to go and shoot there."

But with no word on whether a second season will go ahead, the director knows it is just wishful thinking.

"Of course we would like to expand on it. There's a lot of material out there, a huge amount. But that's out of my control."

LOWDOWN
What: Ride With the Devil
Who: Starring Andy Wong, Lynette Forday, Angela Bloomfield and Anna Hutchinson.

When: Tuesday, 11pm, TV2