This week sees the start of Hollywood Chinese: The First 100 Years at The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. The film series, curated by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Arthur Dong who directed the 2007 feature documentary Hollywood Chinese, runs from November 4th – 27th at the museum’s Ted Mann Theater. The lineup includes screenings and double features, with this month’s regular Oscar Sundays at the museum also guest programmed by Dong.
Several of Dong’s own films, including Coming Out Under Fire, Licensed To Kill, and Family Fundamentals, powerfully and insightfully explore anti-LGBTQ+ prejudice in the United States. As part of the series, Dong has curated Gay Night @ Hollywood Chinese on Friday, November 18th, with a double bill of David Cronenberg’s M. Butterfly and Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet. Fire Island director Andrew Ahn is expected to introduce the evening.
“Bruce Lee and I were born in the same San Francisco hospital. In Chinatown, to be exact, where there were five movie theaters, all showing Chinese films from Hong Kong”, shares Dong in his introduction to the series. “The characters may have been Chinese rather than Chinese American, but growing up and seeing faces like mine projected, larger than life, helped to nurture a multifaceted self-image. I eventually discovered art houses showing Hollywood classics like The Good Earth (1937) and The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932). Rather than an offense to my identity, these cinematic (mis)representations of the Chinese struck me as a curiosity for further study, and would lead to the creation of my Hollywood Chinese documentary, book, exhibitions, and now, this film series.”
“I’ve programmed films from cinema’s first 100 years to both critique and celebrate Hollywood’s depictions of the Chinese”, continues Dong, “as well as spotlight groundbreaking Chinese and Chinese American artists who have navigated an industry often ignorant of race. There are studio blockbusters curated alongside forgotten gems – some films are extraordinary, others downright abhorrent. Movies immerse audiences in real time, and by experiencing these films in a contemporary setting, I hope we might gain insight to what was then, and what is now. As Bruce Lee suggested, “Be water”.”
Hollywood Chinese: The First 100 Years at The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures full schedule:
Nov. 4, 2022 | 7:30 pm | Hollywood Chinese
Nov. 5, 2022 | 2 pm | Daughter of the Dragon with King of Chinatown
Nov. 5, 2022 | 7:30 pm |Big Trouble in Little China with Black Widow
Nov. 6, 2022 | 7:30 pm | Lost Horizon
Nov. 11, 2022 | 7:30 pm | Walk Like a Dragon with Enter the Dragon
Nov. 12, 2022 | 2 pm | Six Early Films, 1900–1929
Nov. 12, 2022 | 7:30 pm | The Tong-Man with Year of the Dragon
Nov. 13, 2022 | 7:30pm | 7 Faces of Dr. Lao
Nov. 18, 2022 | 7:30 pm | M. Butterfly with The Wedding Banquet
Nov. 20, 2022 | 7:30 pm | The Sand Pebbles
Nov. 25, 2022 | 7:30 pm | Flower Drum Song
Nov. 26, 2022 | 3 pm | Our Gang: Baby Blues with Charlie Chan in Honolulu
Nov. 26, 2022 | 7:30 pm | The Joy Luck Club
Nov. 27, 2022 | 2 pm | The Arch with Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl
Nov. 27, 2022 | 7:30 pm | The Last Emperor
Nov. 4, 2022 | 7: 30 pm | Hollywood Chinese: With a treasure trove of clips from over 90 films, Hollywood Chinese traces the American film industry’s representation of the Chinese during its first 100 years. Scenes ranging from the first feature film made by Chinese Americans in 1917 to breakout Oscar wins are interwoven with interviews of Chinese and Chinese American artists who reveal stories of working in Hollywood. White actors, such as Luise Rainer and Christopher Lee, recall their yellowface performances to explain the now-controversial practice. Hollywood Chinese, produced and directed by series guest programmer Arthur Dong, is a fitting roadmap to embark on the upcoming film series.
Nov. 5, 2022 | 2 pm | Daughter of the Dragon: After Anna May Wong’s breakthrough romantic role in The Toll of the Sea (1922), Hollywood relegated her to mostly stereotypical villainous parts, including the sadistic daughter of the evil Fu Manchu in Daughter of the Dragon. Wong stars opposite silent film idol Sessue Hayakawa, both in their first American sound film, with both speaking standard English at a time before Hollywood latched on to the common practice of directing Asian characters to deliver dialogue in overblown, accented broken English.
King of Chinatown: Under contract with Paramount, Anna May Wong embarked on a series of films upon which she exercised more input, starting with Daughter of Shanghai (1938), about which Wong declared, “We have the sympathetic parts for a change.” King of Chinatown casts Wong as a prominent Chinese American doctor raising funds for the Red Cross in war-torn China, inspired by the real-life Chinese American physician Dr. Margaret Chung. This fictionalized crime drama features Korean American actor Philip Ahn as Wong’s romantic interest, playing a lawyer out to expose corruption in the underbelly of Chinatown.
Nov. 5, 2022 | 7:30 pm | Big Trouble in Little China: James Hong gives a showstopping performance as sorcerer Lo Pan in this cult favorite. Directed by horror-meister John Carpenter, Big Trouble in Little China takes a supernatural spin on Hollywood’s Chinatown tropes, populating the neighborhood with mystical beings. Kurt Russell plays an antihero, but he’s not the typical white savior—he’s an outsider who’s clueless without his Chinese American friend Wang Chi, portrayed with modest aplomb by Dennis Dun. Veteran actor Victor Wong offers crusty comic relief as a sorcerer-cum-tour bus driver.
Black Widow: With over 500 acting credits to his name, including scene-stealing performances in Chinatown (1974), Blade Runner (1982), and Kung Fu Panda (2008), James Hong counts Black Widow as one of his favorites. In this crime drama centered on the case of a murderess, Hong first appears mid-point as a drug-addicted investigator. For the role, the actor drew upon his improvisation training and bi-cultural background: “I just say the lines that are in my head, and of course what’s in my head is cussing out in Chinese to Debra Winger—all patterned after all those Chinese people who came to my dad’s herb store in Minnesota.”
Nov. 6, 2022 | 7:30 pm | Lost Horizon: This Frank Capra-directed classic is emblematic of how Hollywood constructed paradise—by way of China. The Oscar-winning art direction presents an opulent Shangri-La, yet the story is predicated on the subjugation of the Chinese by white saviors and colonialist, missionary ideals. The National Film Registry considered the film differently, however, when in 2016 it honored the film as “an emotional respite to an American public seeking escape from the Depression and yearning for their own personal utopias.” Lost Horizon received seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, and produced wins for Film Editing (Stephen Goosson) and Art Direction (Gene Havlick, Gene Milford).
Nov. 11, 2022 | 7:30 pm | Walk Like a Dragon: James Shigeta was a Japanese American singer whom Hollywood studios recruited to shape into a leading man – even casting him opposite white lovers. In the western Walk Like a Dragon, Shigeta portrays a Chinese immigrant who defies racism in 1870s California, winning a shoot-out against Mel Tormé and winning the girl, a formerly enslaved Chinese woman (Nobu McCarthy) who was previously saved by Jack Lord’s character Linc Bartlett. Lead roles for Shigeta diminished after Flower Drum Song (1961) as the Hollywood studio system faded—but that didn’t stop Shigeta from working, including as the iconic Joseph Takagi in Die Hard (1988).
Enter the Dragon: Martial arts films were popular with Chinese audiences since the 1920s but it took Bruce Lee’s star power for the genre to catch fire worldwide. Born in San Francisco, Lee ignited his movie career in Hong Kong, experienced a frustrating career in the United States, and returned to Hong Kong where he directed and starred in hit films that caught the attention of Warner Bros. This all culminated with Lee’s seminal blockbuster, Enter the Dragon. “For Asian Americans, Bruce Lee wasn’t just exciting and cool. He was somebody who very deeply moved us, because he was us.”—Nancy Wang Yuen, media scholar.
Nov. 12, 2022 | 2 pm | Six Early Films, 1900-1929: For much of the history of Hollywood filmmaking, movies often portrayed Chinese as the “other” in a “them vs. us” hierarchy. Early movies, in particular, exploited this dichotomy, illustrated by the now-absurd—but no less damning—examples in this program. Yet, this era also saw productions from pioneering Chinese American filmmakers who aspired to elevate onscreen representations of themselves. The films are as follows: Massacre of the Christians by the Chinese, The Heathen Chinese and the Sunday School Teachers, That Chink at Golden Gulch, The Curse of Quon Gwon, Lotus Blossom, and The Letter.
Nov. 12, 2022 | 7:30 pm | The Tong-Man: Japan-born silent screen idol Sessue Hayakawa produced and starred as the titular Tong-Man. Ostensibly a love story set in San Francisco Chinatown, the film’s infusion of lurid hatchet murders and opium tong wars sparked the first legal action known to be filed by the Chinese American community against Hollywood’s depiction of the Chinese. The effort failed, and instead created free publicity and soaring box office receipts. Ironically, the film was supposed to be Hayakawa’s path away from racialized Hollywood typecasting.
Year of the Dragon: With a screenplay co-written by Oliver Stone and director Michael Cimino, this violent vision of 1980s New York Chinatown gang wars triggered nationwide protests by the Asian American community for its racist and sexist portrayals. Bowing to pressure, distributors added a disclaimer denying any intent to denigrate Asian Americans. No yellowfaced white actors were used, but Asian American cast members were caught in a controversial crossfire. The film, ultimately, was a box office flop.
Nov. 13, 2022 | 7:30pm | 7 Faces of Dr. Lao: Tony Randall portrays multiple identities in George Pal’s fantasy set in 1800s Arizona. The title character, Dr. Lao, features Randall in yellowface as he cunningly switches between broken and code-speak English to challenge corruption and intolerant attitudes. Artist and sculptor Wah Ming Chang served on the team that created the film’s Oscar-nominated special visual effects (Jim Danforth received the nomination for this achievement). Chang was also on the team responsible for the Oscar-winning visual effects in The Time Machine (1960). An honorary Oscar was awarded to William Tuttle for his makeup work on 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, yellowface included.
Nov. 18 | 7:30 pm | M. Butterfly: A cross-dressing Peking opera performer-cum-spy and a delusional French diplomat are unlikely lovers in David Henry Hwang’s explosive re-visioning of East/West sexual dynamics in M. Butterfly. Based on Hwang’s Tony Award-winning play set during China’s Cultural Revolution, John Lone and Jeremy Irons portray two men who convolute Western ideals of femininity and masculinity, where the East is submissive and the West is dominant, and where Asian men are feminized and more desirable as female than as male. David Cronenberg directed this richly designed production, which was inspired by a true story.
The Wedding Banquet: Before Ang Lee directed his heartrending examination of repressed homosexuality in the Oscar-winning Brokeback Mountain (2005), he directed The Wedding Banquet, a playful comedy of manners involving a gay Chinese American New Yorker and his white boyfriend who fake a heterosexual marriage to quell nagging parents. The scheme sets the stage for lighthearted explorations of family, self-identity, cultural values, and sexual politics. The US/Taiwan co-production earned an Academy Award nomination for Best International Feature Film, propelling Lee’s career worldwide.
Nov. 20, 2022 | 7:30 pm | The Sand Pebbles: Robert Wise’s follow-up to The Sound of Music (1965) netted eight Oscar nominations, including a Best Supporting Actor mention for Mako’s endearing portrait of a Chinese coolie. Hong Kong and Taiwan provide the locations for this widescreen spectacle—an exotic 1920s China in revolutionary turmoil, where Chinese women are prostitutes and Chinese men are ruthless, where colonialism and missionaries are the norms, and the leading man is always a white savior. The Sand Pebbles kickstarted Mako’s distinguished career in film, stage, and television, and as co-founder of the nation’s leading Asian American theater group, the East West Players, in Los Angeles. Fellow founders James Hong and Beulah Quo also appear in The Sand Pebbles.
Nov. 25, 2022 | 7:30 pm | Flower Drum Song: Flower Drum Song represents a Hollywood milestone for Chinese American representation with its all-dancing, all-singing, and almost all-Asian cast, headlined by James Shigeta, Oscar-winner Miyoshi Umeki, Jack Soo, Benson Fong, Patrick Adiarte, and Nancy Kwan in her follow-up to The World of Suzie Wong (1960); Juanita Hall reprised her yellowfaced Broadway portrayal of Madame Liang. This lavish romantic comedy gave many Americans their first look at Chinatown beyond tourist façades and was later inducted into the National Film Registry for its stories of immigration and cultural assimilation. The musical, with joyful tunes by Rodgers and Hammerstein, earned five Oscar nominations for art direction, cinematography, and costumes, as well as its music scoring, and sound. Hermes Pan choreographed the lively routines.
Nov. 26, 2022 | 3 pm | Our Gang: Baby Blues: “Every 4th child is born Chinese.” This questionable Almanac factoid ignites Our Gang member Mickey’s fears that his unborn sibling will end up being Chinese. What’s he afraid of? Perhaps he’ll learn something from Eddie and Jennifer Lee, two veteran Hollywood movie extras who portray the parents of a boy rescued from racist bullies by the kids in Our Gang. The Lees’ real-life daughters, Faye and Margie, appeared as Charlie Chan’s kids in Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1939). Anti-Asian violence, racial slurs, Confucianism, and white saviorism: it’s all packed into this ten-minute short that, in the end, is a call for tolerance.
Charlie Chan in Honolulu: Just one of over forty films in the popular Charlie Chan detective franchise, Charlie Chan in Honolulu emphasizes family, with the plot bookended by the birth of a grandchild. A raucous family meal with Chan’s kids opens the film, pushing the patriarch to command, “Save football tactics for gridiron!” Audience members who cringe at the sight of yellowfaced white actors might want to wear blinders and earplugs when Sidney Toler appears as Chan, replete with slanted eyes and dubious aphorisms, in order to enjoy some spirited scenes with Victor Sen Yung and Layne Tom Jr. as his all-American sons.
Nov. 26, 2022 | 7:30 pm | The Joy Luck Club: In the history of Hollywood studio films, only a handful have centered on contemporary Chinese American characters and cast with mostly Asian actors: Flower Drum Song (1961), The Joy Luck Club (1993), Crazy Rich Asians (2018), The Farewell (2019), and Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022). Based on Amy Tan’s novel about mother/daughter relationships, The Joy Luck Club was guided by Tan as co-producer and co-writer and Janet Yang as executive producer, with auteur Wayne Wang directing what became his pivot into main-stream studio filmmaking. Hiring white performers in yellowface was off-limits, and the film boasts an ensemble cast of trailblazing Asian American actors from two generations: veteran actresses Tsai Chin, Kieu Chinh, Lisa Lu, and France Nuyen portrayed the mothers, while Rosalind Chao, Tamlyn Tomita, Lauren Tom, and Ming-Na Wen played the daughters.
Nov. 27, 2022 | 2 pm | The Arch: Lisa Lu’s first Hollywood role was as a bar girl in China Doll (1958). Frustrated with typecasting, Lu travelled to Hong Kong for The Arch, portraying a woman in 1700s China confined by rules of chastity. The film was made by one of Hong Kong’s earliest female directors, Tang Shu Shuen, and considered the region’s first art film to reach international audiences. Mixing naturalism with techniques like freeze frames and double exposures, the black-and-white film was co-edited by Les Blank and co-photographed by Satyajit Ray’s frequent cinematographer Subrata Mitra. The Arch launched Lu’s distinguished acting career in Asia, which then thrived transnationally in America (The Last Emperor, The Joy Luck Club, Crazy Rich Asians).
Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl: After her breakthrough appearance in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987), Joan Chen was offered parts that mainly exploited her ethnic allure. She recalled, “If I didn’t leave Hollywood, I would have never directed Xiu Xiu”, and leave she did, to direct and co-write Xiu Xiu: The Sent- Down Girl. The independently produced film centered on a young girl relocated to the countryside during China’s Cultural Revolution. Exquisitely shot on location in Tibet, Xiu Xiu won seven Golden Horse Awards, including director and writer nods for Chen.
Nov. 27, 2022 | 7:30 pm | The Last Emperor: In 2015, #OscarsSoWhite went viral and fueled a movement that exposed the decades-long scarcity of Academy Award nominations for people of color in acting categories. In the Oscars’ 94-year history, only three Best Picture winners featured mostly Asian casts, and none of these received any acting nominations: Parasite (2019), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), and The Last Emperor, which won nine of nine nominations. This presentation of The Last Emperor not only celebrates the breathtaking imagination of director Bernardo Bertolucci’s epic vison of China, but also gives audiences a chance to reconsider the Academy’s omission of honors for its brilliant cast.
The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures presents Hollywood Chinese: The First 100 Years, November 4th–27th 2022.
Tickets to the Academy Museum are available only through advance online reservations via the Academy Museum’s website and mobile app. Film screening tickets are $10 for adults, $7 for seniors (age 62+), and $5 for students and children (age 17-). Matinees are $5 for all. Ticket prices for Academy Museum members are $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, and $4 for students, children, and matinee-goers. General admission tickets for the museum’s exhibitions are $25 for adults, $19 for seniors (age 62+), and $15 for students. Admission for visitors ages 17 and younger, and for California residents with an EBT card is free.