Walter Mencken 9:29 a.m., Dec. 26
Nancy Kwan in Person & Hopefully Hou in 35mm at Asian Film Festival
Even though October is still a few months off, it's never too early to tout news of the San Diego Asian Film Festival's upcoming lineup.
This year SDAFF will honor Nancy Kwan, the renowned Eurasian actress who helped to shatter the Hollywood race barrier with her performance in The World of Suzie Wong (1960). At the time, featured roles for Asians in American films were still largely reserved for Caucasian actors (Jennifer Jones in Love is a Many Splendored Thing, Alec Guinness in A Majority of One, Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's) given an "Oriental" makeover. Producer Ray Stark bravely cast the 20-year-old newcomer to acting opposite William Holden in the starring role of an impetuous prostitute.
Chaz and Roger Ebert with Nancy Kwan at the Hawaiian International Film Festival.
Ms. Kwan will attend the festival to screen To Whom It May Concern: Ka Shen's Journey, a feature-length documentary based on her life and work. I can't say for certain, but if I were a betting man, I'd wager the farm that there will be a supplementary screening of Suzie Wong and possibly even Flower Drum Song. Ms. Kwan was never more alluring than when under the lush Technicolor gaze of cinematographer Russell Metty's lens.
Flower Drum Song
It has become a running joke that every year come festival time, I put in a call to director Lee Ann Kim. In less than thirty-seconds after the opening pleasantries are swapped, I drop His name. (No, not Marty. Even I know better than to order Italian when dining in Chinatown.) The Caller ID-equipped Ms. Kim once went so far as answering the phone with, "Hi, Scott. Sorry, but I couldn't get anything by Hou Hsiao-Hsien for this year's festival."
If I have to be remembered for something, my unyielding admiration for one of world cinema's world-class practitioners isn't a bad way to go through life.
Usually I wait until August to place my call. Yesterday there was a message on my machine from Lee Ann informing me that that the Festival is toying with the idea of showing a 35mm print of A City of Sadness, a drama concerning the 1947 Taiwan massacre known as the "2/28 Incident." The film took home the Golden Lion Award at the 1989 Venice Film Festival.
Lee Ann wanted to know if I thought it worth the festival's time to show the film. Quality never entered into the discussion. Lee Ann knows the Power of Hou. She also knows better than to give HHH the DVD treatment, but the cost it would take to ship a 158-minute feature from Taiwan to the United States is astronomical.
If ever a local Festival Director took risks and valued the importance of exposing an audience to challenging, well-respected art films, it's Lee Ann Kim. This is a Hou Hsiao-Hsien picture that has never played town, not a sequel to Johnny Yune's They Still Call Me Bruce. I reminded her of the SRO crowd HHH's These Three drew when the Festival booked it several years ago. I trust that there will be no problem filling one of the 200-seat theatres at UltraStar's Mission Valley Hazard Center. The question remains, how many screenings of the film will it take to accommodate the overflow?
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