HomeEntertainment & MusicMovieVirtually There: Nancy Kwan in "The World of Suzie Wong" - Weblog

Virtually There: Nancy Kwan in “The World of Suzie Wong” – Weblog

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by Cláudio Alves


Arthur Dong’s documentary Hollywood Chinese language, concerning the difficult historical past of Chinese language and Chinese language American lives on the massive display screen, serves as a place to begin for one of many Criterion Channel’s new collections. Spanning over a century of American filmmaking and 24 movies, this curated program highlights problems with illustration, racism, erasure, and extra. On the identical time, it serves as an opportunity to light up the cinematic contributions of marginalized artists who discovered unlikely success in Hollywood. They have been folks just like the Chinese language-American cinematographer James Wong Howe, Taiwanese director Ang Lee, and Hong Kong-born American actress and dancer Nancy Kwan.

In 1960, Kwan made her movie debut in Richard Quine’s The World of Suzie Wong, turned an in a single day star, and absolutely got here nearer to that elusive Greatest Actress Oscar nomination than most performers of Asian descent…

Printed in 1957, The World of Suzie Wong is a novel by Richard Mason concerning the relationship between a British artist dwelling in Hong Kong and a Chinese language prostitute. Regardless of its recognition, the piece has lengthy been accused of perpetuating dangerous stereotypes about Asian ladies, characterizing its titular protagonist as an unique different whose subservience to males falls according to Western cultural assumptions. Like most of Mason’s successes, the e book regards a international tradition by means of the eyes of a British man, exploring the probabilities of exoticism supposedly inherent to the setting, its folks. The e book has given technique to variations and even an unauthorized sequel.

The primary of these derived works arrived only one 12 months after publication when Paul Osborn penned a stage play that opened on Broadway earlier than shifting to the West Finish in 1959. Joshua Logan directed whereas William Shatner and France Nuyen took on the principal roles. Always reworked all through its authentic run, the textual content turned the idea for The World of Suzie Wong film, whose manufacturing was suffering from issues from early on. The primary problem was casting, with Nuyen initially planning to reprise the position regardless of some producers advocating for various actresses. A type of candidates was Nancy Kwan, who Ray Stark found.

Although missing skilled performing expertise, Kwan was promptly screen-tested for a possible movie adaptation of The World of Suzie Wong and despatched to America for Hollywood performing lessons. Nonetheless, as Nuyen went on to start out capturing the image, Kwan went on tour with the stage present, taking part in a supporting character and serving as understudy for her main girl. When a storm of non-public points made Paramount bitter on France Nuyen as their Suzie Wong, the position was recast with Kwan. Sadly, it wasn’t a simple repair, as 5 weeks of location capturing had already been accomplished by the film’s authentic director Jean Negulesco.

When firing Nuyen, Stark additionally removed the director, bringing Kwan and Richard Quine into the undertaking, which now wanted intensive reshoots to accommodate the modifications. From this chaotic course of, The World of Suzie Wong emerged as an train in romance as an insular expertise by which two folks create an alternate dimension for themselves. The distinction between location capturing and cramped studio interiors highlights a way of bodily displacement, the actors attempting to calibrate their pantomimes of intimacy to acute variations. It is not superb and sometimes fairly offensive, however it’d be a mislead say it holds no curiosity for a cinephile.

Insouciant and insolent, Nancy Kwan enters the movie as certainly one of many unwitting fashions for artist Robert Lomax, reimagined as an American and performed by William Holden. Ferrying by means of the Hong Kong port, he folks watches, capturing strangers’ likeness on his devoted sketchpad. As he modifies seats to seek out higher topics, Lomax spots an attractive younger lady making faces at an older girl’s child. Regardless of the goofy expressions, her magnificence is simple, costumed by Phyllis Dalton in a cinched trench and modern cheongsam. Nevertheless, she would not prefer to be ogled. This turns into obvious when she escapes the draughtsman’s gaze, later accusing him of stealing her purse.

Saddled with dialogue written in damaged English, Kwan struggles to transcend a personality whose very conception hinges on stereotypes and fantasies. Moreover, her supply does little to enhance the script, mistaking flat vociferation for a present of charming insolence. And but, it is easy to see why 1960 audiences have been captivated by this unknown actress. She’s magnetic in ways in which override no matter deficiencies her dramatic work would possibly possess, resembling a inexperienced Audrey Hepburn in her first motion pictures proper all the way down to a sure clumsiness with the dialogue. Crucially, she indicators Suzie’s playful misdirection, how a lot of her preliminary presentation is a sport of harmless lies.


Although she calls herself Mei Ling and says she’s the virginal daughter of a rich man, Robert quickly reencounters the younger lady within the Wan Chai district, working the American sailors at a bar. She’s Suzie Wong, the joint’s hottest lady, and a liar who regards the artist with unflappable confidence. Perhaps he wished the stuck-up lady on the ferry, however he’ll quickly get lonely and fall for the girl in pink who now stands earlier than him. Kwan performs the half confidently whereas differentiating Suzie’s interactions with Robert from her normal shtick with purchasers. One seduction is playful and imbued with a shadow of real feeling. The opposite is mechanically vivacious, virtually automated in its motions.

Kwan’s dance coaching is helpful for the bar scenes, her gestures so fluid they acquire a sensuousness that is virtually extra aesthetic than sexual. Her magnificence feels easy, even because the persona of Suzie Wong is pointedly synthetic. We uncover this together with Robert, as the girl unpeels like an onion, layers of aloofness falling to the wayside as her character is revealed, her insecurities, her troubled historical past. Kwan is more proficient at these negotiations of openness than she is at comedy, usually feeling hole each time a scene bends towards the farcical facet of issues. Although, contemplating how puerile the writing is, it is laborious to place all blame on the actress.

When you’ve got a scene the place Nancy feigns home violence for clout amongst her girlfriends, how do you make the fabric sing as a substitute of getting the viewers cringe? Maybe a bolder performer would have performed up the pitch-black comedy of the second, however Quine by no means appears prepared to let his forged discover the darkness inside the love story. The method is surface-level to a fault but additionally awfully demanding to the actors. Kwan, particularly, has to promote Suzie’s infatuation, the profundity of her attachment, whereas by no means fairly articulating what attracts the pair collectively. It is a dangerous gambit that stems from an unbalanced textual content. However, Kwan makes it work by means of charisma and star high quality, the gravitational pull of her on-screen presence.

Notably, Kwan improves because the movie unfolds, her coquettish play substituted by a extra easy romance. By way of actorly peaks, her standout scenes manifest when Suzie is most susceptible. Consider her being in comparison with a European streetwalker by the person she loves or disclosing a secret that would break every little thing, pretending to be different folks within the consolation of shadows or appreciating a form present. The poised silences, the doll-like expressions of sorrow, and the exteriorization of marrow-deep disgrace point out an actress able to greater than what the film gives. In different phrases, Nancy Kwan deserved higher.

Whereas critiques have been combined on the time, The World of Suzie Wong proved to be a business success. Extra importantly for this piece, the film catapulted Nancy Kwan into movie star standing, saying her as certainly one of Hollywood’s latest breakthroughs, a starlet stuffed with potential. A lot in order that Kwan acquired two nominations on the Golden Globes, each for Greatest Actress in a Drama and Most Promising Newcomer. Although she misplaced the previous prize to Greer Garson, she gained the latter alongside Ina Balin and Hayley Mills. Nonetheless, when it got here time to announce the Oscar nominations, Kwan’s title wasn’t introduced. 

As an alternative, AMPAS selected Greer Garson in Dawn at Campobello, Deborah Kerr in The Sundowners, Shirley MacLaine in The Residence, Melina Mercouri in By no means on Sunday, and Elizabeth Taylor in BUtterfield 8. Partly resulting from trade goodwill and all of the press surrounding latest well being troubles, Taylor gained her first of two Greatest Actress Oscars. Alternatively, Kwan would by no means be nominated for an Academy Award. To at the present time, Asian performers are severely underrecognized by AMPAS. This class is particularly unhealthy, however hopefully, that may change quickly. If A24 performs their playing cards proper, Michelle Yeoh would possibly grow to be the primary East Asian Greatest Actress nominee in Oscar historical past.

You’ll find The World of Suzie Wong on the Criterion Channel. The movie can be accessible to hire or buy on different platforms.



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