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

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