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Race & Hollywood: Asian Images in Film (Tuesdays & Thursdays in June)
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,The World of Suzie Wong

The World of Suzie Wong

First a novel by Richard Mason and then a successful stage play by Paul Osborn, Ray Stark's film production of The World of Suzie Wong (1960) tells the story of an expatriate American architect named Robert Lomax (William Holden) who pursues a new career as a painter in Hong Kong. He finds his perfect model in Suzie Wong (Nancy Kwan), a beautiful prostitute whose lifestyle creates personal problems for the couple. While the budding romance between William Holden and Nancy Kwan is the main focus of The World of Suzie Wong, the real star of the film is the city of Hong Kong. As noted by renown film critic Bosley Crowther in his New York Times review: "The image of Hong Kong is brilliantly and sensuously conveyed, all crowds and colors and noises and even allusive smells. Mr. (Ray) Stark and his company went out there to shoot a good part of their film, and they got it - at least, enough of it to give you the illusion of being there."

Indeed, producer Ray Stark and most of the cast and crew were in Hong Kong more than once for the filming of The World of Suzie Wong. Initially, Frances Nuyen, who played the role of Wong on the stage, was cast in the lead with Jean Negulesco directing. After the first shoot was completed, the entire company returned to a sound stage in London to shoot the interiors. Around this time, Nuyen learned that her lover at the time, Marlon Brando, was romancing actress Barbara Luna back in Hollywood. Extremely depressed by this current state of affairs, Nuyen began overeating and was soon bulging out of her expensive silk costumes. Stark quickly replaced her with Nancy Kwan who was already familiar with the part after appearing in a U.S. road company version of the play. Stark also fired Negulesco from the production and hired Richard Quine as his replacement. After the London scenes were finished, everyone flew back to Hong Kong to re-shoot the exteriors with a new lead actress and Quine at the helm.

According to Bob Thomas in Golden Boy: The Untold Story of William Holden (St. Martin's Press), the leading man was more than happy to show Quine the sights of Hong Kong from the back of a Vespa motor scooter. Holden said to him, 'You gotta see Hong Kong before you can make this picture - right? So you're going to see it. Get on!' Quine clung tightly to Holden as they roared into the drizzly night. They visited bar after bar in Kowloon, consuming large quantities of Johnnie Walker Black Label and dancing with bar girls pursuing Suzie Wong's profession. At two-thirty in the morning, they rode to the waterfront, where Bill awakened a family who owned a motorized sampan. "We want to go to the Hong Kong side," Bill said, adding a few words in Cantonese and a flash of currency for persuasion. Another tour of the bars ended in the incongruously named Maxime's, where Quine played piano and Bill the bongos with a jazz band composed of Italians. They returned to Kowloon by the sampan, boarded the Vespa, and rode back to the Peninsula Hotel. 'Okay, now you've seen Hong Kong,' Bill said. The two men showered and dressed and reported for the start of the Hong Kong locations for The World of Suzie Wong."

While female audiences enjoyed the glossy soap-opera plot of The World of Suzie Wong, most critics focused on some of the film's obvious weaknesses: William Holden was too old for the role of a struggling painter (the actor was 42 at the time), Nancy Kwan was too wholesome and pristine in appearance to be believable as a streetwalker, and the film rarely addressed the true horrors of Hong Kong prostitution with its high mortality rates, rampant diseases, and sordid working conditions. Obviously, the film's detractors missed the point - The World of Suzie Wong is a romantic fantasy concocted by Hollywood. It's also quite pleasing to the eye and the cinematography by the great Geoffrey Unsworth (he photographed Becket (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Cabaret, 1972) and the Hong Kong locations are reason enough to visit The World of Suzie Wong.

Producer: Hugh Perceval, Ray Stark
Director: Richard Quine
Screenplay: Richard Mason (novel), Paul Osborn (play), John Patrick
Cinematography: Geoffrey Unsworth
Editing: Bert Bates
Art Direction: John Box
Music: George Duning
Cast: William Holden (Robert Lomax), Nancy Kwan (Suzie Wong), Sylvia Syms (Kay O'Neill), Michael Wilding (Ben Marlowe), Jacqui Chan (Gwennie Lee), Laurence Naismith (O'Neill), Bernard Cribbins (Otis), Andy Ho (Ah Tong). C-127m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Jeff Stafford VIEW TCMDb ENTRY

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