GO: Hollywood Chinese is Film History Being Re-Written

Have you ever taken a film history class? I have, twice. Both times, the presence of Asian Americans was hardly noticeable, but the Academy Museum is helping to re-write film history. If you can’t wait for the history books to catch up, and you shouldn’t, be sure to catch the series, “Hollywood Chinese: The First 100 Years,” 4 November 2022 to 27 November 2022 at the Academy Museum in Los Angeles. The program was curated by California native Arthur Dong.

Dong was born in the same San Francisco hospital as Bruce Lee and recalls there were five movie theaters in San Francisco’s Chinatown and they all screened films from Hong Kong. In that respect, he was lucky to have grown up seeing, not Chinese Americans represented, but Chinese represented in all aspects of life–good or bad, ugly or beautiful, smart or stupid, honest or dishonest, brave or cowardly. That was something many citizens and residents of the US can’t claim. Dong believes this is what “helped to nurture a multifaceted self-image.”

It was only later that he ventured into art houses that showed Hollywood representations of the Chinese such as the 1937 Academy Award-winning “The Good Earth” and the 1932 “The Mask of Fu Manchu.” Films like these served as a catalyst for his studies and his documentary “Hollywood Chinese” that also expanded into a book, exhibition and now this film series. To get through this program you have to be ready to view yellowface and hear offensive slurs, but Dong suggests that the audience take Bruce Lee’s suggestion: “Be like water.”

“Hollywood Chinese: The First 100 Years” also is part of the museum’s November Oscar Sunday series. The full schedule is below:

4 November 2022 (Friday) 7:30 p.m.:

  • “Hollywood Chinese” (2007): This screening includes a post-screening conversation with filmmaker Dong, moderated by Academy Museum and President Jacqueline Stewart. The film won a Golden Horse Award for Best Documentary.

5 November 2022 (Saturday) 2 p.m.:

  • “Daughter of the Dragon” (1922) Anna May Wong stars opposite of Japanese American actor Sessue Hayakawa as the evil daughter of Fu Manchu (Warner Oland) Hayakawa is Ah Lee, a secret agent determined to bring Fu Manchu down.
  • “King of Chinatown” (1938): Wong is Mr. Mary Ling and with her father Dr. Chang Ling (Sidney Toler), she helps end the violence against her oppressed neighbors.

5 November 2022 (Saturday) 7:30 p.m. With special guests James Hong, Dennis Dun and Peter Kwong.

  • “Big Trouble in Little China” (1986): Set in Chinatown, this is fantasy martial arts action-comedy is a modern day fable where hero Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) fights against Chinese black magic. Directed by John Carpenter. Hong played an ancient Chinese sorcerer. Kwong plays an elemental master and a martial artist.
  • “Black Widow” (1987) Debra Winger plays Justice Department agent from Washington DC who begins to investigate a series of deaths of rich, middle-aged men by a woman who goes by many names (Theresa Russell). James Hong appears as a drug-addicted investigator.

6 November 2022 (Sunday) 7:30 p.m.

  • “Lost Horizon” (1937): This film received seven Oscar nominations including including Best Picture, and produced wins for Film Editing (Stephen Goosson) and Art Direction (Gene Havlick, Gene Milford).

11 November 2022 (Friday) 7:30 p.m. Prescreening conversation with Nancy Kwan to discuss working with Bruce Lee and James Shigeta.

  • “Walk Like a Dragon”(1960) Directed and co-written by James Clavell (“Shogun”). Jack Lord plays a cowboy in the 1870s who meets a Chinese woman (Nobu McCarthy) who is forced to work as a prostitute. The cowboy buys her and they fall in love. Shigeta plays a jealous Chinese man.
  • “Enter the Dragon” (1973) Directed by Robert Clouse and written by Michael Allin, this film stars Bruce Lee as a martial arts instructor from Hong Kong who is recruited to infiltrate the private island of a suspected crime lord.

12 November 2022 (Saturday) 2 p.m. Six Early Films (1900-1929)

  • “Massacre of the Christians by the Chinese”
  • “The Heathen Chinese and the Sunday School Teachers”
  • “That Cink at Golden Gulch”
  • “The Curse of Quon Gwon” (1917). Earliest known feature film by an Asian American.
  • “Lotus Blossom”
  • “The Letter” One of Paramount’s first sound films.

12 November 2022 (Saturday) 7:30 p.m. With special guest Dennis Dun following the screening of “Year of the Dragon.”

  • “The Tong-Man” (1919) With Sessue Hayakawa.
  • “Year of the Dragon” (1985) This American Neo-noir crime thriller stars Mickey Rourke as a Vietnam War vet and New York’s most decorated police captain who is cracking down on Chinese organized crime. Dun plays a Chinese American rookie cop who goes under cover.

13 November 2022 (Sunday):

  • “7 Faces of Dr. Lao” (1964): This film stars Tony Randall in yellowface as the titular Dr. Lao in this fantasy-comedy Western about a magical Chinese man bringing his circus to perform for two nights in a small Arizona town where a wealthy landowner tries to buy the land at rock bottom prices. This film was Oscar-nominated for the special effects team which included artist sculptor Was Ming Chang. An honorary Oscar was given to William Tuttle for his makeup work.

18 November 2022 (Friday) 7:30 p.m.

  • “M. Butterfly” (1993). This film, directed by David Cronerberg with a screenplay written by David Henry Hwang is based on Hwang’s Tony Award-winning play.
  • “The Wedding Banquet” (1993). Ang Lee directs this romantic comedy about a gay Taiwanese immigrant who marries a mainland Chinese woman to make his parents happy despite being in a happy long-term relationship with a tall blond American man. The film was nominated for an Academy Award (Best Foreign Language Film) and won a Golden Bear.

20 November 2022 (Sunday)

  • “The Sand Pebbles” (1966) Steve McQueen stars as a US Navy Machinist’s mate aboard a fictional river gunboat USS San Pablo which was patrolling the Yangtze in the 1920s. The boat is nicknamed “Sand Pebble.” The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards and Eight Golden Globe Awards. Colonialism and gunboat diplomacy.

25 November 2022 (Friday) 7:30 p.m. With post-screening conversation with Nancy Kwan.

  • “Flower Drum Song” (1961). The adaptation of the 1958 Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Broadway musical of the same name. Based on Chinese American author Chin Yang Lee’s 1957 novel. Kwan stars as Linda Low, the girlfriend of  the nightclub owner Sammy where she stars. Sammy is supposed to marry Mei Li, but wants to break the marriage contract. The film was nominated for five Academy Awards and two Golden Globe Awards.

26 November 2022 (Saturday) 3 p.m.

  • “Our Gang: Baby Blues” (1941) This comedy short was the 196th “Our Gang” short and introduces Spanky’s friend Lee Wong (Edward Soo Hoo).
  • “Charlie Chan in Honolulu” (1939) Sidney Toler plays Charlie Chan and Victor Sen Yung is “number two son” Jimmy. Toler played Chan in over 20 films from 1938 to 1946.

26 November 2022 (Saturday) 7:30 p.m.

  • “The Joy Luck Club” (1993) Based on the 1989 novel of the same name by Amy Tan, was co-written by Tan with Ronald Bass and directed by Wayne Wang. The film was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Screenplay, Adapted.

27 November 2022 (Sunday) 2 p.m. Post-screening conversation with writer/director Joan Chen.

  • “The Arch” (1968) This Hong Kong drama (董夫人) is about a woman in the 1700s who is confined by the rules of chastity in China.
  • “Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl” (1998) Joan Chen wrote and directed this sensitive story (天浴) about a young girl relocated to the countryside during China’s Cultural Revolution. The film won seven Golden Horse Awards, including director and writer.

27 November 2022 (Sunday)

  • “The Last Emperor” (1987): This epic biographical drama is about the life of Puyi, the last emperor of China. Adapted from Puyi’s 1964 autobiography with screenplay by Mark Peploe and director Bernardo Bertolucci. The film won nine Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Donors to the Academy Museum’s fund in support of AAPI programming include Esther S. M. Chui-Chao, Julia and Ken Gouw, and Dr. Peter Lam Kin Ngok of Media Asia Group Holdings Limited.

For tickets or more information, visit AcademyMuseum.org.

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