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Wayne Wang

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Also Known As: John Wayne Wang Died:
Born: January 12, 1949 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Hong Kong Profession: director, assistant director

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Born in Hong Kong and based in America, director Wayne Wang studied photography, film, TV and painting in the US before landing several directorial assignments in his homeland (these included the Chinese episodes of Robert Clouse's "The Golden Needles" in 1974 and a popular TV show based on "All in the Family"). He returned to the US and scraped together $22,000 to complete "Chan is Missing" (1982), a hip, Zen-inspired San Francisco detective story which also carefully dissected prevailing Oriental stereotypes. This landmark independent film became a critical and commercial success for its rare, authentic slice of Asian-American life in a sometimes wildly comic narrative that straddled genres. The film remains an inspirational touchstone for Asian-American filmmakers attempting to get their voices heard in the American cinema.Wang's second film, "Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart" (1984), again centered on San Francisco's Chinese-American community. The film playfully yet poignantly examines familial relationships, particularly between a Chinese mother and her American-born daughter. It also celebrates Asian cuisine with almost every scene having someone eating something. Wang's next project was a...

Born in Hong Kong and based in America, director Wayne Wang studied photography, film, TV and painting in the US before landing several directorial assignments in his homeland (these included the Chinese episodes of Robert Clouse's "The Golden Needles" in 1974 and a popular TV show based on "All in the Family"). He returned to the US and scraped together $22,000 to complete "Chan is Missing" (1982), a hip, Zen-inspired San Francisco detective story which also carefully dissected prevailing Oriental stereotypes. This landmark independent film became a critical and commercial success for its rare, authentic slice of Asian-American life in a sometimes wildly comic narrative that straddled genres. The film remains an inspirational touchstone for Asian-American filmmakers attempting to get their voices heard in the American cinema.

Wang's second film, "Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart" (1984), again centered on San Francisco's Chinese-American community. The film playfully yet poignantly examines familial relationships, particularly between a Chinese mother and her American-born daughter. It also celebrates Asian cuisine with almost every scene having someone eating something. Wang's next project was a resounding flop both critically and commercially. "Slamdance" (1987), the director's first non-Asian subject, starred Tom Hulce, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Harry Dean Stanton in an uninspired melodrama about an underground cartoonist/artist framed for murder. Wang got back on track as one of America's most interesting independent directors, however, with his fourth feature, "Eat a Bowl of Tea" (1989). Within the world of arranged Chinese marriages, a couple and their meddling families played out the universal comedy of getting hitched.

Wang next returned to Hong Kong to make a scathing satire entitled "Life Is Cheap ... But Toilet Paper Is Expensive" (1990). Initially conceived as a documentary, the feature emerged as Wang's most experimental narrative. He moved decisively toward the mainstream with "The Joy Luck Club" (1993), a highly publicized adaptation of novelist Amy Tan's three handkerchief story of Chinese mothers and their American-born daughters. Produced for Disney's Hollywood Pictures, this critically acclaimed film opened to excellent box office in major urban centers. Disney's powerful distribution arm guaranteed the film wider exposure than any previous Wang feature. That combined with good word-of-mouth made "The Joy Luck Club" a solid success.

Wang turned to a non-Asian theme for his next project, "Smoke" (1995), a relaxed and talky character study set in and around a Brooklyn cigar shop. This unconventional feature boasted the first screenplay by respected novelist Paul Auster and an outstanding cast that included Harvey Keitel, William Hurt, Forest Whitaker and Stockard Channing. Though as wispy as its title, the film charmed many reviewers. The filmmakers were so inspired by their colorful milieu that they gathered a somewhat different cast to improvise "Blue in the Face" (1995), a whole new movie in the same setting. The eccentric assemblage included Keitel, Michael J. Fox, Roseanne, Madonna, Lily Tomlin and RuPaul. Wang and Auster served as co-directors. The director went on to helm the feature adaptation of Mona Simpson's "Anywhere But Here" (1999) starring Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman as a mutually antagonistic mother-daughter pairing and "The Center of the World" (2001), a dark look at sexual mores starring Peter Sarsgaard and Molly Parker.

Wang took a decidedly lighter turn down mainstream avenue with the glossy Cinderella fairy tale "Maid in Manhattan" (2002) starring Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes as the requisite mismatched lovers from differing social strata--she a housekeeper at a posh New York hotel, he an aspiring senator. Though more pedestrian than his usual efforts, Wang's direction was serviceable but failed to illicit many sparks from the chemistry-impaired stars. He continued down the mainstream path with his direction of the children's film "Because of Winn-Dixie" (2005), the tale of a young girl and her dog who travel about a small Florida town bringing love, warmth and healing with them. The antithesis of his previous efforts, particularly "Center of the World", the family-friendly movie did keep with Wang's continued fascination with characters trapped in a state of longing.

Wang brought a perfectly light, airy touch to his next effort "Last Holiday" (2006), which cannily cast Queen Latifah as a timid, conservative woman who, upon discovering that she has only three weeks to live, embarks on a final fling to a luxe European hotel in an attempt to live her last days to the fullest. Though the director did indulge in a few ill-advised forays into slapstick, he otherwise found a perfect balance between poignancy and fantasy fulfillment, and his theme of characters dreaming of other possibilities shown through yet again, this time more warm and wistfully than before.

VIEW THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

2.
5.
6.
  Because of Winn-Dixie (2005) Director
7.
  Maid in Manhattan (2002) Director
8.
9.
  Anywhere But Here (1999) Director
10.
  Chinese Box (1997) Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
3.
 Chan Is Missing (1982) Narration
4.
 Intimate Portrait: Jennifer Lopez (2002) Interviewee
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Born in Hong Kong in 1949 and lived there until age 17
:
Traveled to the US to study painting, filmmaking, and TV production
:
Returned to Hong Kong after graduation to work in film and TV
:
Returned to California and settled in San Francisco's Chinatown; became involved in community activism
1975:
Made the short film, "A Man, a Woman, and a Killer"
1982:
Feature directing, co-writing, producing and editing debut (also narrator), "Chan is Missing"
1987:
First feature without an Asian subject, "Slamdance"
1990:
Returned to Hong Kong to make "Life is Cheap...But Toilet Paper is Expensive"
1993:
Directed his first major Hollywood feature, "The Joy Luck Club"
1996:
With Francis Ford Coppola and Tom Luddy, formed production company, Chrome Dragon
1998:
First feature to be produced through Chrome Dragon, "Lanai-Loa", starring Angus MacFadyen
1998:
Wrote and directed "Chinese Box"
1999:
Helmed the mother-daughter themed drama "Anywhere But Here"
2001:
Produced, directed and contributed to the story of the erotic romance "Center of the World"
2002:
Helmed the Cinderella-like fable "Maid In Manhattan," starring Jennifer Lopez and Ralph Fiennes
2005:
Directed Annasophia Robb and Jeff Daniels in the family drama "Because of Winn-Dixie" based on the novel by Kate DiCamillo
2006:
Directed Queen Latifah in the comedy "Last Holiday"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

College of Arts and Crafts: Oakland , California -
College of Arts and Crafts: Oakland , California - 1973

Notes

"Explains Wang, 'In all the films I've done up until this point, I've treated my own culture and people with respect and care. I felt this was necessary since US film history doesn't really contain any viable or accurate images of the Chinese in this country. The three films I've done about the Chinese-American experience are a trilogy. "Chan" introduced the American film-going audience to the complexities and contradictions of the Chinese community. "Dim Sum" focused microscopically onto one family and the relationship between a mother and a daughter. "Tea" went back to the source, to the beginning of the Chinese-American family. After these three films, I felt I had fulfilled a certain obligation.'"

--From "Life is Cheap...But Toilet Paper is Expensive" press kit

"I could now be more boldly critical about some aspects of Chinese culture; not Chinese-American culture per se, but Chinese culture in general. There were strong statements about this '5000 years of culture' that needed to be made. That's why "Life is Cheap..." comes out blasting, furnace hot. It takes aim against the inflexibility of tradition, particularly as it manifests itself in Hong Kong, with Western quirks and inequities."

Wayne Wang quoted in the press kit for "Life is Cheap...But Toilet Paper is Expensive"

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Cora Miao. Actor. Appeared in Wang's "Dim Sum".

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