King of Chinatown (1939)
Director: Nick Grinde
Runtime: 58 minutes
Inspired by the life of Chinese-American physician Dr. Margaret Chung (1889-1959), King of Chinatown begins with a brief montage of a Chinese New Year celebration that feels nearly documentary. Though the film is clearly fiction, there is an ease and naturalness in the performances of Anna May Wong, as Red Cross doctor Mary Ling, and Philip Ahn, as a lawyer out to expose corruption, that is a direct, albeit subtle, rebuke to Hollywood caricature (including the yellow-face in its own midst). Despite its faults, King of Chinatown’s matter-of-fact feminist impulse and the performances of Anh and Wong are something to behold (not to mention a very young Anthony Quinn).
Daughter of the Dragon (1931)
Director: Lloyd Corrigan
Runtime: 71 minutes
Rating: PG (Some Violence)
The first sound flick of pre-code stars Anna May Wong and Sessue Hayakawa, Daughter of the Dragon is part of the Fu Manchu series of yellow peril films. However, this revenge tale also features its Asian characters speaking different versions of what we would consider standard American English, instead of the broken “Asian accent” found in many of the Hollywood films that followed.
This film is featured in the strand Chinatown Origin Myths, part of the Constellating Histories: Encountering Asian American Diasporas Onscreen programme. For the full programme lineup please click here.
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