Special guest: Post-screening conversation with writer/director Joan Chen.
ESCAPE FROM HOLLYWOOD
“Hollywood—all the girls look at white men as if they are gods.”—Lisa Lu, Actor
Success for female Chinese actors in Hollywood demands perseverance to confront not only sexism, but also racialized exotification. For two such women—Lisa Lu and Joan Chen—paths away from Hollywood were key to artistic fulfillment.
Lisa Lu’s first Hollywood role was as a bar girl in China Doll (1958). Frustrated with typecasting, Lu travelled to Hong Kong for The Arch, portraying a woman in 1700s China confined by rules of chastity. The film was made by one of Hong Kong’s earliest female directors, Tang Shu Shuen, and considered the region’s first art film to reach international audiences. Mixing naturalism with techniques like freeze frames and double exposures, the black-and-white film was co-edited by Les Blank and co-photographed by Satyajit Ray’s frequent cinematographer Subrata Mitra. The Arch launched Lu’s distinguished acting career in Asia, which then thrived transnationally in America (The Last Emperor, The Joy Luck Club, Crazy Rich Asians).
Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl
After her breakthrough appearance in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987), Joan Chen was offered parts that mainly exploited her ethnic allure. She recalled, “If I didn’t leave Hollywood, I would have never directed Xiu Xiu”—and leave she did to direct and co-write Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl. The independently produced film centered on a young girl relocated to the countryside during China’s Cultural Revolution. Exquisitely shot on location in Tibet, Xiu Xiu won seven Golden Horse Awards, including director and writer nods for Chen.