Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Anna May Wong: Why Didn't Anyone Tell Me About Her?

I noticed on netflix the documentary film by Lisa Ling "Inside North Korea" was on instant play.  So, I watched it.  Then I went on youtube and proceeded to look into the history of the past 60 years of Korea's split.  Then I started reading articles on North Korea's recent military activity.  Then I started reading up on what is and isn't allowed in North Korea--the majority falling on the latter end of that spectrum.

The hours slipped away to reading atrocity after atrocity.  

But, not soon after the fourth or so hour researching North Korea, I came across an article describing the heirs to the regime.  The author described the sister of Kim Jong Ill, Kim Kyong Hui, as an "old battle axe."  Apparently, she does not at all fulfill the 'sexy' portion of that old battle-axe-of-a-stereotype, The Dragon Lady.

So, after all that, what am I going to discuss in this week's blog?

Not North Korea.  


The only thing I will say on that front though, is that I feel North Korea is like the biggest LARP* in action of George Orwell's 1984.  Only, I almost want them to love their Big Brother--just as Winston Smith was forced to in the end.  

That brings me to my First-Ever....

Philosophical Question of the Week!   

Ask yourself:   If physically and psychologically you are made to fear for you and your family's lives day after day--in the vein hopes that you will grow to believe it is a good thing you're oppressed--would you rather a) give in and believe or b) fight and live in fear?  

Think about it.  No, really, really think about it.  I think most of us would actually act differently from what we hope we would, which is why North Korea is the way it is.  

**End Philosophical Question of the Week**

I repeat:  the following article will have nothing to do with North Korea.  I just happened to find some bit of light-hearted (meaning filled with racism, sexism and xenophobia but no LARP-ing) history while slogging through tonight.  And that's Anna.

Anna May Wong (Wong Liu Tsong) to be exact.  

Pst.  White people:  She's not Korean.

Doesn't she just have the perfect embodiment of the 1920s bob?

Regardless, I wanted to bring her up because NO ONE told me about her until I discovered her myself, late last night, while researching the phrase "Dragon Lady," thanks to Kim Jong Il's sister.  Thanks, Kim Kyong Hui!  You crazy alcoholic, megalomaniac, you.

"Dragon" has been used as a derogatory reference term for women, dating back to the 1800s.  But, there is no known documentation of the phrase Dragon Lady until Milton Caniff's 1930s comic strip, Terry And the Pirates, which literally had an asiatic female pirate character called The Dragon Lady.  Anyhoo, the wallflower/dragon lady stereotype for asian women, as we all know, kind of took off in the hollywood scene of the early 20th century.

That's where Anna comes in.

Anna rocks.

She was American, born in 1905 near the Chinatown of Los Angeles and was not only the FIRST Chinese-American actress onscreen, but was also the first Asian-American International star.  She began as a silent-film actress but amazingly was able to make the crossover easily into Talkies.  Bam!  How about them apples?

She got into the movie business on her own gumption (her parents were like "You're crazy.  Why are you trying to be a film star?") AND she continued to be faced with rejection by the hollywood scene.  She routinely was passed over for the lead roles:  you know that novel The Good Earth about Chinese Peasantry from the 1930s that we were all forced to read in high school and then were forced to watch the movie in 6th period English?  Anna was after that role, but in the end she was passed over for the role by the (white) German Actress, Luise Rainer.  And then Rainer went on to win an oscar for the performance.  Ouch.  But, on the positive side, Rainer's performance in that film didn't impress me at all.

Anna May Wong, however, does.

So, I wanted us to remember Anna.  She's fabulous.  She was smart, she had a lot of self-confidence, given that everyone around her kept telling her she shouldn't and, regardless of the bigger role rejections, she made a name for herself in a time that was fiercely xenophobic due to the depression and heightened international tensions of the 1930's.  Plus, when handed her first Talkie, she recorded it in three different languages--can you say overachiever?

Plus, she looks damn good in a tux.

Honestly, there's no competition with these kinds of women.  So, I've decided I'm just going to give up my life-long dream right of becoming the first Chinese-American film star.

You're disappointed, I know.   But, at least we're not in North Korea.


*If you don't know what LARP-ing is, then congratulations.  This is a good thing.


  1. Hmm... this makes me imagine a LARPer invasion of North Korea. Lightning Bolt.

  2. Can we do that? Let's just drop a bunch of LARPers into the middle of North Korea.

  3. Unfortunately, yellowfacing still exists.

  4. Crystal-- It's true. And it's weird, considering how many Asian people there are in America (...well...on the coasts, at least...) that there is no mainstream modern film that is set in modern times where the lead ingenues are Asian. I wish this woman was still alive--can you imagine being that confident to be like "I don't care you don't believe in me or want to treat me equally--you're STILL going to hire me and LIKE it!" ? I sure as hell can't.

  5. I mean, Dragonball Z is a prime example of yellowfacing still existing. Although, the entire premise of that series doesn't help when all these hyped up dudes go super saiyan and suddenly they are blonde and have blue eyes...