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Weekly Mishmash: June 8-14

Warning — obtuse pontificating on obscure old Asian movies to follow:
Daughter of the Dragon (1931) and A Study In Scarlet (1933). Two films that show Asian American actress Anna May Wong’s uneasy transition to early sound. These are both clunky and formulaic programmers in which Miss Wong plays a supporting role to two legendary characters. Daughter of the Dragon finds her doing an okay job playing the offspring of the murderous Fu Manchu (Warner Oland). Truthfully it’s a deadly dull slog and Wong is about the only interesting thing here, but the effort may have been worth it just for the awesome publicity photo below. Wong fares even worse in the cheap-o Arthur Conan Doyle adaptation A Study In Scarlet from two years later. As a murder suspect, she’s lousy and can barely summon up enough energy to bother — our reaction exactly!

Anna May Wong in Daughter of the Dragon

The Goddess (1934). Our second vehicle for Chinese star Ruan Lingyu, following The Peach Girl from last week. This one is also silent, but in every respect it’s miles better than that earlier, more primitive film. In the kind of role that Irene Dunne might have done in the U.S., Lingyu plays a prostitute who tries to overcome social stigmas and raise her son to be a respectable, educated person. Knowing that she committed suicide shortly after this film was made brings a lot of depth to her performance.
Mr. Wu (1927). An occasionally goofy but wholeheartedly entertaining and polished silent starring the great Lon Chaney. Sure, the storyline is silly and dated — Chaney plays a member of Chinese royalty who goes ballistic when his daughter falls for a white man — but I enjoyed the lead performers and the photography/sets/costumes were stunning. Even René Adorée, not looking the least bit Chinese as the daughter, excels in several scens. Poor Anna May Wong essays the tiny role of Adorée’s confidant.
Nine Queens (2000). An exciting Argentinean heist film; I kept thinking this would benefit from a well-made American remake. Lo and behold, it was remade — although “well-made” might be generous based on the reviews I read. The ending reveals a plot hole to rival the Grand Canyon (something Christopher noticed as well), but that didn’t diminish my enjoyment of this briskly paced treat.
19 — Adele. Adele is an emerging soulful British singer-songwriter in the Amy Winehouse mold, and already she’s had several hit singles in the UK. I chanced upon this album at eMusic, which is strange since this type of music’s a bit too mainstream for that site. No matter, it’s an excellent album. Sometimes she can get too navel-gazey and her cockney affectations are hard to adjust to, but like Winehouse she’s a gutsy talent to be reckoned with. The three hits are the highlights — “Chasing Pavements” (on which she sounds bizarrely like Dusty Springfield), “Cold Shoulder” (helmed by Winehouse’s producer, Mark Ronson), and “Hometown Glory” (despite the fact that it was used in a Grey’s Anatomy episode, puke). I also adored her cover of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love”.
Pride and Prejudice (2005). Going in I actually had pretty low expectations for this one (perhaps due to Keira Knightly’s Oscar nomination?), but it was great. Maybe I was used to the airy confection that is the 1940 Greer Garson version, but this film seemed more gritty and realistic and possibly truer to Jane Austen (which I’ve never read). I still don’t think Keira deserved the nom, but she was good — along with Brenda Blethyn and Donald Sutherland as the parents.

One Thought on “Weekly Mishmash: June 8-14

  1. Always happy to welcome a new member to the Nine Queens fan club. The director, Fabien Bielinski, passed away far too young last year, but he did make one other wonderful film, El Aura.

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