American Masters: Hollywood Chinese

Wed, 05/27/2009 - 9:00pm
Pictured: Wong Chew Mo and Chow Kun Ling of Grandview Film Company
Credit: Courtesy of National Archives
From the sexed-up Suzie Wong to the kung fu fighting Bruce Lee, American Masters tackles issues of race and representation in Hollywood Chinese, airing Wednesday, May 27 at 9 p.m. on WXXI-TV 21 (cable 11) and WXXI-HD (DT21.1/cable 1011) .The 90-minute film illuminates a century of Chinese-American cinematic history, from rare silent classics such as Marion Wong’s The Curse of Quon Gwon (1916) to the contemporary critical and commercial success of Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005). Broadcast during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, the film features a treasure trove of clips, punctuated with personal accounts from the movie industry’s most accomplished Chinese and Chinese-American talent.

American Masters is proud to share with our viewers the extraordinary stories of pioneering Chinese and Chinese-American artists in Hollywood,” says Susan Lacy, creator and executive producer of American Masters, a six-time winner of the Emmy Award for Outstanding Primetime Non-Fiction Series. “Their immeasurable contribution to American cinema continues today with a new wave of critically acclaimed Asian films and Oscar-winning blockbusters. The film gives strong perspective to this little-known chapter of motion picture history.”

American feature films often portray the Chinese as exotic and devious characters — or simply the “other” — reflecting the entertainment industry’s inherent racial prejudices, as well as its fascination with the Far East. Hollywood Chinese features candid interviews and back-lot stories from artists in front of and behind the camera, including Joan Chen, James Hong, David Henry Hwang, Nancy Kwan, Ang Lee, Christopher Lee, Justin Lin, Luise Rainer, Amy Tan, Wayne Wang, and BD Wong.

The documentary chronicles the full gamut of Chinese representation in Hollywood. It brings to light the controversial casting of Luise Rainer in The Good Earth (1937) and the stereotyped caricatures played by Chinese-American actors such as James Hong in Bloodsport 2 and 3 (both 1996). It also addresses the eventual trend of Asian empowerment in films such as Flower Drum Song (1961), starring Nancy Kwan, and the film adaptation of Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club (1993), directed by Wayne Wang.