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Race & Hollywood: Asian Images in Film (Tuesdays & Thursdays in June)
Remind Me

Anna May Wong - Frosted Yellow Willows: Her Life, Times & Legend

In the early 1990s, a well-known director at a reception following the screening of a Kurosawa film brought Anna May Wong to Elaine Mae Woo's attention. Elaine admitted that she new nothing about Anna. The director shook his head, said a couple of words and then walked away. It was at this point, that Elaine swore that she would learn about Anna before she would ever see this director again. This is how the making of Anna May Wong: Frosted Yellow Willows: Her Life, Times, and Legend began. Nearly ten years in the making, this biographical documentary film is finally being presented to the public. Interviews were conducted with members of Anna's family, childhood friends and people who worked with her. Without the support of individuals: Nancy Kwan, Kevin Brownlow, A. C. Lyles, Judy Yung, Philip Leibfried, Leonard Maltin, Law Kar, many other film historians, archives, academic institutions and devoted Anna May Wong admirers, this film would never have been made.

With disarming sensuality and commanding presence, Anna May Wong defined the role of the exotic Asian woman in early Hollywood cinema. Anna May Wong: Frosted Yellow Willows: Her Life, Times, and Legend (2008) tells the story of a Chinese-American woman who endured many hardships and heartaches to become an international star of film, stage and television. At the young age of 16, she was handpicked to star in Technicolor's two-color picture, The Toll of the Sea (1922). She caught the eye of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. who would cast her as the seductive Mongol slave in his ambitious epic, The Thief of Bagdad (1924). She bewitched silent moviegoers with the mixture of sweetness, vulnerability, and sultriness that she infused into her characters. As the silent era transitioned to talking-pictures, Anna's characters also transformed. In Shanghai Express (1932), Anna displayed keen wit and intelligence that challenged the star power of Marlene Dietrich. Anna never stopped searching for challenging film roles in Hollywood and abroad. She performed on stage and "one-woman" performance throughout England and Europe. During World War II, she used her fame to promote the China War Relief efforts. She entertained American and Allied troops, sold war-bonds, and donated her furs and jewelry. By the end of the war, the public had grown weary of Asian-themed films and even Hollywood had little need of Anna. In 1951, Anna retreated to television beginning with her own television show. Now, after many years of relative obscurity, a younger generation has begun to discover her.

Narrated by Nancy Kwan
Producer/Director/Screenplay: Elaine Mae Woo



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