March 20th, 2009
Hollywood Chinese

From the sexed-up Suzie Wong to the kung fu fighting Bruce Lee, THIRTEEN’s American Masters tackles issues of race and representation in Hollywood Chinese. Watch a preview:

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The 90-minute film illuminates a century of Chinese American cinematic history, from rare silent classics such as Marion Wong’s The Curse of Quon Gwon (1916) to the contemporary critical and commercial success of Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005). Timed for broadcast during Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, American Masters: Hollywood Chinese premieres nationally Wednesday, May 27, 2009 at 9 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings). The film features a treasure trove of clips, punctuated with personal accounts from the movie industry’s most accomplished Chinese and Chinese American talent.

“American Masters is proud to share with our viewers the extraordinary stories of pioneering Chinese and Chinese American artists in Hollywood,” says Susan Lacy, creator and executive producer of American Masters, a six-time winner of the Emmy Award for Outstanding Primetime Non-Fiction Series. “Their immeasurable contribution to American cinema continues today with a new wave of critically-acclaimed Asian films and Oscar-winning blockbusters. The film gives strong perspective to this little-known chapter of motion picture history.”

American feature films often portray the Chinese as exotic and devious characters – or simply the “other” – reflecting the entertainment industry’s inherent racial prejudices as well as its fascination with the Far East. Hollywood Chinese features candid interviews and back lot stories from artists in front of and behind the camera, including Joan Chen, James Hong, David Henry Hwang, Nancy Kwan, Ang Lee, Christopher Lee, Justin Lin, Luise Rainer, Amy Tan, Wayne Wang, and BD Wong.

The documentary chronicles the full gamut of Chinese representation in Hollywood. It brings to light the controversial yellowface casting of Luise Rainer in The Good Earth (1937) and the stereotyped caricatures played by Chinese American actors such as James Hong in Bloodsport 2 & 3 (1996 and 1996). It also addresses the eventual trend of Asian empowerment in films such as Flower Drum Song (1961) staring Nancy Kwan and the film-adaptation of Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club (1993) directed by Wayne Wang.

American Masters: Hollywood Chinese is a production of DeepFocus Productions, Inc. Productions in association with WNET.ORG and the Center for Asian American Media for PBS. The film is produced, directed, written, and edited by Arthur Dong. Susan Lacy is the creator and executive producer of American Masters.

American Masters is produced for PBS by THIRTEEN. To take American Masters beyond the television broadcast and further explore the themes, stories, and personalities of masters past and present, the companion Web site offers interviews, essays, photographs, outtakes, and other resources. American Masters is made possible by the support of the National Endowment for the Arts and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional funding for American Masters is provided by Rosalind P. Walter, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Jack Rudin, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, and public television viewers.

Major funding for Hollywood Chinese provided by Center for Asian American Media, Ford Foundation, California Council for Humanities’ California Stories Initiative, National Endowment for the Arts, Media Arts Fellowship, Gee Family Foundation, Independent Television Service, with funds from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and public television viewers.

For more about Chinese American culture, explore the Chinese American Museum online or at its home in historic downtown Los Angeles. Beginning October 23, 2009, Arthur Dong, director of AMERICAN MASTERS: HOLLYWOOD CHINESE, will present Hollywood Chinese: The Arthur Dong Documentary Collection at the museum.

If you would like to purchase Hollywood Chinese on DVD, visit

  • Bob McArthur

    Ed. I just stumbled on this upcoming PBS film which I thought you’d want to see. You can watch outtakes from the program on the pbs site as well. I watched a couple of these brief interviews- quite nice… Bob

  • Richard Gardner

    TCM recently had a silent film from about 1927 or 8 that stared Dolores Costello and Warner Ohland. This was prior to his work as Charlie Chan but he played a Chinese villain in this one. The film’s name escapes me now. He was a Chinese continually referred to as a Chinaman in the film and Costello was the granddaughter of a Spanish Royal landgrant family from the late 18th century or there abouts. There were some Chinese actors and actresses in the film, but I don’t recall their names. Besides Ohlund’s Chinese characterization and Costello’s portraying of a descendent of early Spanish settlers in California. Despite these inappropriate depictions for our time, the film was very entertaining.

  • boston progress radio – asian american music » Hollywood Chinese: a chronicle of Chinese in American film

    [...] week, Emily Lawsin brought to our attention that Arthur Dong’s film Hollywood Chinese will air on PBS later this month, and tonight, WGBH will have a free screening at their studio in Brighton! This [...]

  • American Masters (PBS): Hollywood Chinese – – AMXF – AMWF,AMBF,AMHF,AMLF,AMAF Social Networking Community

    [...] This will air in my area this coming Weds on ‘GBH. American Masters website with preview: Hollywood Chinese – Introduction | American Masters | PBS The film’s official website: Hollywood Chinese | The Chinese in American Feature Films | an Arthur [...]

  • Must see TV « Let’s Talk about Race

    [...] See the trailer. [...]

  • Martin Hechtman

    Anna May Wong Film Siren of the 20 & 30ies
    Key Luk played number 1 son in Charlie Chan series

  • Michelle

    Did I miss Anna May Wong in this description? She left Hollywood for Europe, because of the roles she was relegated to here; surely that’s part of the story?

  • triscribe » Stuff

    [...] Channel 13 at 9pm, on “American Masters” – a presentation of “Hollywood Chinese.” Something to look forward to [...]

  • Stephen Gong

    Richard, the film you refer to is OLD SAN FRANCISCO, and it has the added distinction of being one of the few Vitaphone features that Warner’s released in the late 1920s. Essentially, it was a silent film with a record music and effects soundtrack that the projectionist synched up from a disc player in the projection booth.

  • » Hollywood Chinese

    [...] PBS stations will air tonight (May 27, 2009) a 90 minute showing of American Masters, titled Hollywood Chinese, produced in 2008. The film covers a century of Chinese involvement in Hollywood cinema. The film [...]

  • humpday « news from the flip front

    [...] “Hollywood Chinese” airs tonight on PBS. Watch it! [...]

  • beth fargis-lancaster

    We are going to watch this tonight!

  • Rachel Gordon

    Where can I get a full list of all the movies mentioned? That would be very helpful.

  • Michael Gnat

    IMDB lists 3 Costello-Oland films; one Gardner means would seem to be Old San Francisco (1927), which includes Anna May Wong & Chinatown sequences. Oland’s character name, however, is listed as Chris Buckwell.

  • Kay Nony

    This is one of the best programs of its genre that I have seen. Kudos to the interviewees who could recognize artistic quality (Lorre’s Mr. Moto, for instance) and actor’s need to make a living even within a flawed ethnic rubric. Real-life people are simply too boring; Hollywood therefore always exaggerates whether for good or bad. Mr. Moto and Charlie Chan and Mr. Lee are just as unreal and untrue as avatars for Chinese ethnicity as Rooster Cogburn and Dirty Harry are for whites. The proper place to expect realistic depictions of real groups of people is documentaries, not Hollywood blockbusters. The interviewees seem to understand this, even while wishing for more positive fictional role models.

  • Anne Ishii

    Wonderful doc.

  • C.Most

    Thank You. Thank You for the amazing program Hollywood Chinese on American Masters. It was an unparalleled and authentic conversation about Chinese and Chinese Americans and their ethnic depiction in Hollywood. Seeing the cause and effect of artistic license and cultural learning through the experiences of those who have broken out of their ethnic classifications and truly expressed their humanity was and is an example of the best we can be. Bravo!

  • Douglas Lee

    Thank you for this amazing insight into the long and conflicted history of Chinese and Chinese-Americans in Hollywood. Only with this awareness can their talent be truly realized going forward.

  • Spot50B

    I watched the doc last night and I can’t remember the name of the indy movie from the early-mid 80’s featuring a Chinese American taxi driver in San Francisco (black and white I think). Can someone give me the name?

  • Diane D

    Thank you for this wonderful presentation. I think it so sad that in this country,Chinese Americans were/are treated like second class citizens. It shames me.

  • Peter Gong

    I viewed a small sample and hoping to catch the full episode. Flower Drum Song which I have seen many times, though there are some things are hard to imagine; but I overode it for it had an Asian cast that sang, danced, and acted. Perhaps I looked at it as an artist, and the fact I grew up in Greenwood, Mississippi during 1970’s gave a point of view differs from those who grew up in California.

  • Jenn E.

    Spot50B, the independent film they discussed was Chan is Missing. I was interested in that, as well. If you’re a Netflix user, you can order it streaming or on DVD.

  • Chi

    Will there be another showing?

  • Enlai Weng

    A truly interesting look at the evolution of Chinese American cinema. It makes me think how narrowly focused it has been and how far it still needs to go.

  • Keith Krevs

    An amazing chronicle and one that has stood too long untold!

  • Henry Chan

    Hollywood Chinese reminds modern Chinese American still got lots to give to the film industry. lol

  • Movie Database

    sweeney todd, V for vendetta, waynes world, bill and ted exccelent adventure, bill and ted bogus jurny, the golden compass

  • Don

    When and where can folks buy the DVDs of “Hollywood Chinese” and “You Don’t Know Jack Soo.”?

  • Cathy

    Does anybody know where I can purchase this film or if it can be purchase? I would like a copy .This film is a great inspirition to all individuals, esp. to us Asians!

  • martin

    why was there no ANNA MAY WONG biggest asian star ever there is a great documentary on her YELLOW WILLOWS watch that and there is the first star of chinese descent she had it all

  • Keith Owen

    According to 20th Century Fox (the reissuer of the
    original Charlie Chan films) & Wikipedia, WARNER OLAND
    was the first to portray CHAN in talking motion pictures.
    His first film ‘Charlie Chan Carries On’ circa 1932
    is forever lost due to the destruction of any known
    prints. That film now only exists as ‘ERAN TRECE’ (’There Were Thirteen’) which was the Spanish speaking version
    filmed with an international cast. It starred Manuel Arbo as Chan.This version was shot using the same sets and
    costumes as ‘Carries On’. There were also three silent
    Chan films which are also lost (not featuring Warner Oland). Those were ‘The Chinese Parrot’ (1927), ‘His Captive Woman’ (1929) & ‘Behind That Curtain’ (1929).
    The Character, Charlie Chan, was created by author Earl Derr Biggers and evolved from his novel ‘House Without A Key.’
    Warner Oland starred in sixteen CHAN films and it should be noted that Oland was so involved in the role that he,

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