Dragon Lady

In a week of belting rain, so loud right now it’s hard to shake of an illusory feeling that it’s raining INDOORS, we boldly ventured out to see a show in the Edinburgh Fringe — Dragon Lady: Being Anna May Wong.

I’ve never reviewed theatre, and the greater intimacy makes it harder to say negative things about a solo performer/playwright who was just standing a few feet in front of us in a small venue, giving it her all. So while I could recommend the piece to somebody looking to learn a little about Wong, an important figure in American cinema, as the first Chinese-American star, I couldn’t recommend the piece as theatre, but I don’t really want to get into knocking it around too much. Alice Lee is certainly beautiful enough to play Wong, and with stronger direction could perhaps have sustained a more modulated performance, but the messy sprawl of a life has defeated her efforts to structure a narrative.

But we learn —

That Irving Thalberg preferred to cast Luise Rainer as a Chinese woman in THE GOOD EARTH, leaving Wong, the only Chinese actor in a yellowface cast, to play the only unsympathetic part.

That Wong made three successful films in Germany (but we don’t hear about her rumoured friendship with Leni Riefenstahl or relationship with Marlene Dietrich).

That she has an unhappy love affair with songwriter Eric Maschwitz, who wrote These Foolish Things, inspired by his longing for her.

“The sigh of midnight trains in empty stations
Silk stockings thrown aside, dance invitations
Oh, how the ghost of you clings
These foolish things
Remind me of you…”

6 Responses to “Dragon Lady”

  1. I’m gobsmacked by that fact about “These Foolish Things.” Some days it’s my favorite song, and to learn that it was inspired by Anna May Wong–wow.

  2. It’s one of my favorites too. And my favorite rendition of it is a duet by Jane Birkin and Jimmy Rowles used for the soundtrack of Bertrand Tavernier’s exquisite Daddy Nostalgie

  3. Ah, Tavernier! Must write about him soon, I do like his work. The British broadsheet critics have been terribly dismissive of him lately.

  4. Here’s Bryan Ferry. One can easily imagine him having an affair with Anna Mae.

  5. Wong’s three shining hours in cinema are her turns in “Picadilly” (she’s so modern it hurts), “Shanghai Express” (she upstages Dietrich with little more than an arched eyebrow) and “Daughter of the Dragon” (despicable, but entertaining)./

  6. Daughter of the Dragon is reviewed elsewhere on this site! It’s good fun. Toll of the Sea is well worth a look, especially for the Technicolor, and I found her later B-films very enjoyable: she gets to be sympathetic in them.

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