Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Film Retrospective: Rediscovering Anna May Wong

Film Retrospective: Rediscovering Anna May Wong

Screenings & Lectures from January 9 to 25

Friday, January 30, 2004
7:00 PM - 10:00 PM
James Bridges Theater
Melnitz Hall
Los Angeles, CA 90095

Friday, January 9 – Sunday, January 25

Anna May Wong was born Wong Liu Tsong in 1905 in Los Angeles, where her family operated a laundry. Wong began her career as an extra at the age of 14 and had several supporting roles before being cast as the lead in the first two-color Technicolor feature, THE TOLL OF THE SEA (1922). A stunning beauty, Wong was the first Chinese American actress to become an international celebrity and appeared in over 50 films, making the transition from silents to talkies and even to television. However, despite her star power, Wong lost some coveted roles to white actors in “yellowface.”

Diabolical Dragon Lady or fragile Lotus Blossom, villainess or victim, Wong’s Hollywood screen persona seemed to oscillate between these two poles. In a wry and telling quote she later reflected, “I think I left Hollywood because I died so often. I was killed in virtually every picture in which I appeared.” Like many of her African American colleagues, she sought greater opportunities in Europe, where she made three remarkable silent pictures, including the glorious and newly restored PICCADILLY, which opens our program, and two German films, SONG and PAVEMENT BUTTERFLY, with director Richard Eichberg.

Wong holds a unique place in Hollywood history as the first Asian American screen goddess. The unique career and talent of this Los Angeles native is long overdue for rediscovery and celebration.

NOTE: There will be a free lecture and program on Saturday, January 10

preceding the film screening. Please see January 10 details.

Friday, January 9

7:30 p.m.

Newly Restored Print from the British Film Institute


(UK, 1929) Directed by E.A. Dupont

In 1929, after several starring roles in Germany, the young Anna May Wong made her way to London to star in her final silent film and her only feature with German-born director E.A. Dupont. In this melodrama of jealousy and murder, Wong plays a scullery maid named Shosho who, while dancing in the kitchen, attracts the attention of her boss and becomes the star attraction at a trendy London nightclub. Dupont lavished Wong with close-ups and glorious costumes, allowing her to easily upstage co-star Gilda Gray. The film also features one of the very first onscreen performances by Charles Laughton, playing a boisterous nightclub patron. The newly restored PICCADILLY played to an enthusiastic sold-out crowd at the most recent New York Film Festival.

Producer: E.A. Dupont. Scenarist: Arnold Bennett. Cinematographer: Werner Brandes. Editor: J.W. McConaughty. With: Gilda Gray, Anna May Wong, Jameson Thomas, King Ho Chang, Cyril Ritchard. 35mm, silent, 108 min. (24 fps).

Rare Archival Print from the British Film Institute


(Schmutziges Geld)

(Germany, 1928) Directed by Richard Eichberg

In the late 1920s, Wong sailed for Europe, hoping to escape the stereotyped roles being offered her in Hollywood. In her first film with German director Richard Eichberg, Wong plays Song, a down-on-her-luck Malayan dancer who becomes involved with a mysterious knife-thrower after he saves her from two thugs. They form a successful act on their own, and Song soon falls for her partner until the return of his former lover sets off a fatal series of events. Wong enchanted film audiences across Europe with her masterfully subtle performance and electrifying screen presence.

Producer: R. Eichberg. Scenarists: Helen Gosewish, Adolf Lantz. Based on the novel Dirty Money by Karl Vollmöller. Cinematographers: Heinrich Gärtner, Bruno Mondi. Editor: Alfred Booth. With: Anna May Wong, Heinrich George, Mary Kid, Paul Hörbiger, Julius E. Herrmann. 35mm, silent with English intertitles, 94 min. (24 fps).

*Live musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla

Saturday, January 10

5:00 p.m.

Lecture by Anthony Chan

Author of the new biography Perpetually Cool: The Many Lives of Anna

May Wong (Scarecrow Press, 2003), Anthony Chan will present an illustrated lecture on Wong’s life and work. The lecture will be preceded by a screening of BOLD JOURNEY: NATIVE LAND (1957), a half-hour television program about Wong's 1936 trip to China. Complimentary refreshments will be served after the presentation.

*Admission is free

7:30 p.m.


(US, 1931) Directed by Lloyd Corrigan

Orientalist archvillain Fu Manchu resurfaces in London, with an undying lust for vengeance directed at the Petrie family, whom he mistakenly blames for the death of his wife and son. Not only is Sir John Petrie shot in his own home, but his son Ronald is at risk of succumbing to the seductive charms of the villain’s equally malevolent daughter Ling Moy (Wong). “Yellow Peril” tropes abound in this fantasy of Eastern threat: wafting incense, ominous shadows, knife clutched under ample Chinese sleeve. DAUGHTER OF THE DRAGON is racist, but ironically, the film is best remembered today for its Asian actors, Wong and Sessue Hayakawa, who bring grace, subtlety and gravity to their stereotyped roles.

Paramount. Screenwriters: L. Corrigan, Monte M. Katterjohn. Based on the novel Daughter of Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer. Cinematographer: Victor Milner. With: Anna May Wong, Warner Oland, Sessue Hayakawa, Bramwell Fletcher. 35mm, 79 min.

*Restored by UCLA Film and Television Archive


(US, 1932) Directed by Josef von Sternberg

The combined star power of Marlene Dietrich and Anna May Wong propels this melodrama in which two former lovers are reunited on a train during the Chinese civil war. Von Sternberg was arguably one of cinema’s greatest directors of women, and in SHANGHAI EXPRESS he had two illustrious actresses to work with: Dietrich, as the notorious “coaster,” Shanghai Lily, and Wong as her traveling companion, the reformed prostitute Hui Fei. Wong’s outstanding performance was so powerful yet so restrained, that Dietrich felt she had been upstaged. The steam and smoke, the stylized performances, the minimalist but crackling dialogue and the stunning cinematography of Lee Garmes all make for a most enjoyable ride.

Paramount. Producer: Adolph Zukor. Screenwriters: Jules Furthman. Based on a story by Harry Hervey. Cinematographers: Lee Garmes, James Wong Howe (uncredited). With: Marlene Dietrich, Clive Brook, Anna May Wong, Warner Oland, Eugene Pallette. 35mm, 80 min.

*Restored by UCLA Film and Television Archive

Sunday, January 11

7:00 p.m.


(US, 1937) Directed by Robert Florey

After a wealthy importer is murdered by a gang smuggling immigrant workers into San Francisco, an Asian federal agent is sent to crack the case. Meanwhile, the importer’s daughter (Wong) strikes out on her own, determined to avenge her father’s death. Directed by Robert Florey, an avant-garde auteur cum B-movie director, DAUGHTER OF SHANGHAI is a rarity among Hollywood productions of the day—an Asian-themed film with Asian-American actors in the lead roles. Committed to appearing only in films with positive portrayals of Chinese characters, Wong moves beyond the Dragon Lady role, instead adopting the persona of a classic Hollywood heroine: she’s courageous, determined, and even gets the guy—played by her long-time friend, Philip Ahn.

Paramount. Producer: Edward T. Lowe. Screenwriters: Gladys Unger, Garnett Weston. Based on a story by G. Weston. Cinematographer: Charles Schoenbaum. Editor: Ellsworth Hoagland. With: Anna May Wong, Philip Ahn, Charles Bickford, Larry “Buster” Crabbe. 35mm, nitrate, 61 min.

Preceded by:


(US, 1937) Directed by Roy Rowland

This two-reel short with an “oriental” theme offers a rare glimpse of Wong in gorgeous color; she is featured in one scene modeling fashions acquired during a trip to China. Also appearing are Clark Gable, Joan Bennett, Elissa Landi and Charlie Chase.

MGM. 35mm, Technicolor, 21 min.


(US, 1938) Directed by Robert Florey

In her second film with Florey, Wong plays Lan Ying, the “hostess” (read: mistress) of the notorious Stephen Recka (Akim Tamiroff), a powerful Los Angeles gangster who aims to control City Hall by using corrupt politicians. Recka longs to be accepted by high society and eventually discards Lan Ying in favor of a pretty young socialite. In an emotionally wrenching scene, Lan Ying enacts the perfect revenge. The film was based on the play On the Spot, in which Wong made her American stage debut in 1930.

Paramount. Producer: Edward T. Lowe. Screenwriters: William Lipman, Horace McCoy. Based on the play On the Spot by Edgar Wallace. Cinematographers: Karl Struss, Charles Schoenbaum. Editor: Arthur Schmidt. With: Anna May Wong, Akim Tamiroff, Gail Patrick, Anthony Quinn. 35mm, nitrate, 70 min.

Wednesday, January 14

7:30 p.m.

Rare Archival Print from the British Film Institute


(UK, 1930) Directed by Richard Eichberg and Walter Summers

Wong made her speaking debut in this melodrama set in pre-Revolutionary Russia. Wong plays Hai-Tang, a young Chinese dancer who falls for a Russian military officer, but their affair is complicated when the officer’s superior sets his sights on her. The chance to see and hear Wong in a talkie made the film a great attraction to contemporary audiences. By 1930 Wong had toned down the American accent that had previously moved one of her producers to comment, “But oh! that California accent! As thick as the smog that now covers their cities.” Wong also mastered enough German and French to play the role of Hai-Tang in two foreign-language versions shot at the same time, with different male leads.

Producer: R. Eichberg. Screenwriters: Monckton Hoffee, Ludwig Wolff. Cinematographers: Heinrich Gärtner, Bruno Mondi. Editor: Emile de Ruelle. With: Anna May Wong, John Longden, George H. Schnell, Mona Goya, Percy Standing. 35mm, 81 min.

New print from MGM!


(UK, 1934) Directed by Walter Forde

With production values luxuriant enough to rival those in Hollywood, this British musical presents orientalist fantasy at its most glamorous and grotesque. Inspired by The Arabian Nights, the plot revolves around the bandit Abu Hassan, who plans to impersonate Asian merchant Chu Chin Chow in order to sack Baghdad. Although she doesn’t have a lot of screen time, Wong was top-billed as Hassan’s lover, Zahrat—testimony to her box-office appeal. Though her singing was dubbed, Wong’s talent shone in her skillful acting and sensuous dance sequences, no doubt aided by her scintillating costumes.

Producer: Michael Balcon. Screenwriters: Sidney Gilliat, L. DuGarde Peach, Edward Knoblock. Based on the musical by Oscar Asche and Frederic Norton. Cinematographer: Mutz Greenbaum. Editor: Derek N. Twist. With: Anna May Wong, George Robey, Fritz Kortner, John Garrick. 35mm, 93 min.

Preceded by:


(UK, 1930) Directed by Jack Harrison

An amusing oddity, this Sherlock Holmes spoof features dancing marionettes “Herlock Shomes” and “Anna Went Wrong.”

16mm, 8 min.

7:00 p.m.


(US, 1922) Directed by Chester M. Franklin

Clearly inspired by Madame Butterfly, THE TOLL OF THE SEA provided Wong with her first starring role. Lotus Flower, a beautiful Chinese maiden, rescues a young American when he washes ashore. The two begin a doomed affair that results in the birth of their son. For Wong, Lotus Flower was the first of many tragic heroines she would eventually play—Asian women who would pay the ultimate price for their love affairs with white men. Wong’s luminous beauty, expressive face and masterful acting abilities were already evident here, at the young age of 17. THE TOLL OF THE SEA was the first feature film produced in the two-color Technicolor process. The UCLA Film and Television Archive preserved the film from the original 35mm nitrate camera negative, restoring its stunningly brilliant colors.

Producer: Herbert Kalmus. Scenarist: Frances Marion. Camera: J.A. Ball. Editor: Hal C. Kern. With: Anna May Wong, Kenneth Harlan, Beatrice Bentley, Baby Moran. 35mm, silent, approx. 45 min. (22 fps).

*Restored by UCLA Film and Television Archive

Rare Archival Print from the National Film Archive



(Germany, 1928) Directed by Richard Eichberg

Love, lust, greed and art don’t mix well in this silent melodrama that moves from the circus to bohemian artists’ studios to the French Riviera. In her second film with Richard Eichberg, Wong plays Mah, the star performer in a circus acrobatic act. When fellow performer Koko murders Mah’s partner, she is blamed for his death and forced to flee. Mah finds work modeling for a handsome artist and soon falls in love with him. But the lascivious Koko follows her, worsening her predicament as she tries to clear her name. Though she was praised for her part, some critics claimed that Wong, shown stylishly dressed in contemporary fashions, wasn’t portrayed as “exotic” enough.

Screenwriter: Hans Kyser. Based on the novel by Adolf Lantz. Cinematographers: Heinrich Gärtner, Otto Baecker. With: Anna May Wong, Louis Lerch, Alexander Grananch, E. F. Bostwick, 35mm, silent with English intertitles, 90 min. (24 fps).

*Live musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla

Sunday, January 25

2:00 p.m.

Rare Archival Print from the National Film Archive


(UK, 1934) Directed by J. Walter Ruben

In her final British star vehicle, Wong plays a Chinese princess who follows her new husband Gerrit, a young Englishman from a wealthy shipping family, back to 19th century Bristol. The husband’s conservative family is scandalized by the arrival of his bride, whose sensational clothing and make-up stands in stark contrast to the restrained Victorian setting. They refuse to accept the stranger, preferring that Gerrit rekindle his courtship of Nettie, a local girl. Cultural differences come between the young couple when the husband rejects his wife’s religious faith and confesses his love for Nettie. JAVA HEAD is notable for its frank depiction and implicit critique of the fetishizing of Asian women.

Producer: Basil Dean. Screenwriters: Martin Brown, Gordon Wellesley. Based on the novel by Joseph Hergesheimer. Cinematographer: Robert G. Martin. Editor: Thorold Dickinson. With: Anna May Wong, John Loder, Elizabeth Allen, Edmund Gwenn, Ralph Richardson. 35mm, 68 min.

Rare Archival Print from the National Film Archive


(UK, 1934) Directed by J. Elder Wills

In TIGER BAY, one of three British productions starring Wong released in 1934, she plays the beautiful and heroic Liu Chang, dancer and proprietor of a rowdy cafe who fights to save a young woman from a gang of thuggish sailors. British censors insisted that the setting be relocated from London to the fictional South American town of “Tiger Bay,” a port city filled with gangsters, petty thieves, prostitutes and “all the riff-raff of the seven seas.” Legendary British director David Lean earned one of his first screen credits as an editor for the film.

Producer: Bray Wyndham. Screenwriter: Jon Quin. Based on a story by J. E. Wills and Eric Ansell. Cinematographer: Robert G. Martin, Alan Lawson. Editors: David Lean, Ian Thomson. With: Anna May Wong, Henry Victor, Rene Ray, Lawrence Grossmith. 35mm, 68 min.


All films screen at the James Bridges Theater in Melnitz Hall, located on the northeast corner of the UCLA Westwood campus, near the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Hilgard Avenue.

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