Looking for ‘Hollywood Chinese’

Move over, Grauman’s. To film lovers, “Hollywood Chinese” has for nearly a century referred to that ersatz Chinese pagoda that boasts among its 210 celebrity footprints Tom Mix’s horse and “Star Wars” robot R2-D2 — but only one Chinese name, John Woo, who was not added until 2002.

Another “Hollywood Chinese” is the cure for that invisibility, however.

Arthur Dong’s lively new documentary spans the history of the overlooked Chinese-American contribution to film, beginning with lost genius Marion Wong, whose 1916 film “The Curse of Quon Gwon” Dong helped restore.

Dong intersperses clips from more than 100 films with interviews of a dozen-plus film icons, including Joan Chen, Nancy Kwan, Wayne Wang and Ang Lee.

Despite the severity of the racism delineated, “Hollywood Chinese” deliberately avoids preachiness.

“I want the audience to have good time — there’s humor, glamour, music,” says Dong, an Oscar- and Emmy-nominated director (“License to Kill,” “Family Fundamentals,” “Coming Out Under Fire”), who also wrote, produced and edited this time around.

“Of all my films, this is the one most made to be seen in a theater — I made this film for film-lovers,” Dong says. “You need the light shining through the celluloid, the energy coming through the screen.”

The documentary has aroused controversy not for its content but for the image in the film’s poster, white actor Paul Muni in yellowface for in the 1937 film “The Good Earth.”

Dong stands by his choice: “It’s important, because yellowface has been one of the main ways that Chinese people have been represented on screen.”

Although yellowface may have disappeared — Rob Schneider’s shocking turn in “Chuck and Larry” notwithstanding — bias is still alive in more subtle ways, Dong says.

In the hit film “Juno,” he notes, Juno’s Asian classmate has a thick accent and yips anti-abortion protests in pidgin. “And this is the only Asian character! What this is saying is that Asians are still foreigners, we’re still not seen as American.”

Just how significant the film’s reclamation of history is can be seen in its extraordinary coup at the Golden Horn Film Festival, the Chinese equivalent of the Oscars. “Hollywood Chinese” was not only selected as the first documentary ever shown opening night, but won best documentary as well, despite being made in English.

Dong, whose first feature-length film “Sewing Woman” — made while he studied film at San Francisco State University — was nominated for an Oscar, plans to take a break from directing to focus on raising his 5-year-old son.

His hiatus may not last too long, though. He heartfelt commitment is evident in his voice when he says of his son, “He is exactly who I need to make these films for.”

CREDITS

Hollywood Chinese

Starring Joan Chen, Nancy Kwan, Wayne Wang, Ang Lee

Written and directed by Arthur Dong

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour 29 minutes

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Chelsea Hung, who owns Washington Bakery and Restaurant in Chinatown with her mother, said the restaurant is only making about 30 percent of pre-pandemic revenues. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Chinatown’s slow recovery has business owners fearing for the future

Lack of outside visitors threatens to push neighborhood into ‘downward spiral’

San Francisco Symphony Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen and members of the orchestra were thrilled to be back inside Davies Symphony Hall on May 6 in a program for first responders featuring string works by Jean Sibelius, George Walker, Carl Nielsen, Caroline Shaw and Edward Grieg. (Courtesy Stefan Cohen/San Francisco Symphony)
SF Symphony makes joyful return to Davies Hall

Esa-Pekka Salonen conducts program for first responders and community leaders

Students in an after-school community hub move quickly through a social circle as they play a game at the Mission YMCA on Friday, May 7, 2021. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Parents scramble for ‘Summer Together’ spaces

City program offering free camps sees high demand, confusion over enrollment

Jazz pianist and composer Jon Jang is an instructor at Community Music Center in the Mission District. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Jon Jang composes bittersweet symphonies

Musician-activist’s works are steeped in civil rights history

Keith Doran, left, and the author celebrate a short but successful outing on El Capitan. (Courtesy photo)
Climb on: 50 lessons in 50 years, part 3

Series offers tips for adventurers seeking fulfillment outdoors

Most Read