Apr 24, 2018

TCMFF Prefunc: 7 Reasons I Dig Nancy Kwan

Nancy Kwan in 1964/Image Source

I adore Nancy Kwan. She's smart, charismatic, and brilliant in anything she does, whether it is a comedy, drama, or musical. When it was announced she would be attending a screening of The World of Suzie Wong (1960) at TCM Classic Film Festival 2018, I did a cartwheel and wrote it in my schedule in permanent ink. To celebrate this momentous occasion, I have compiled a list of seven things I dig about Nancy Kwan:

1. I'll start from the beginning, Flower Drum Song (1961), the first film I saw featuring Nancy Kwan. Her performance in the I Enjoy Being a Girl number is such lively fun (B.J. Baker provides the vocals). As I watched her, all I could think was how much fun it would be to be friends with her: go shopping, have lunch, gossip...

2. Of course the true beginning of Kwan's film career was The World of Suzie Wong (1960). Only twenty and she grabbed a lead role for her debut! She's wonderful as Suzie, because she perfectly captures the character's innate dignity. Perhaps she has been forced to make a living in a profession that can be degrading, but at her core she is always a queen.

3. I love Nancy when she is bad. In this delightfully mod scene from The Wrecking Crew (1968) she tangles with Sharon Tate while looking super fab in a mini dress. Two of my favorite actresses facing off in a martial arts battle, choreographed by Bruce Lee? Yes please. It's like the filmmakers consulted me. I just wish it had been a longer fight:

4. My favorite Nancy Kwan flick features the actress in the kind of role I wish she'd gotten more often. In The Wild Affair (1963/65), she plays a sharp-witted, adventurous office worker on the verge of matrimony who plans a crazy company party. She's also delightfully hip in her Mary Quant costumes and Vidal Sassoon hairstyle.

5. It is frustrating that because of her race, Kwan did not get the array of roles her talent warranted. You could not blame the actress for feeling bitter about the lack of opportunity she found even after being discovered. She has been productive in her reaction to her past though, becoming a passionate and articulate advocate for Asian actors in the American film industry. I admire her for striving to make the profession more fulfilling for future generations, both by speaking out and creating opportunities by launching her own independent film productions. Here she speaks about the lack of opportunity on CNN in 2010:

6. I love how Kwan can leave herself open to fate, but at the same time take control of her destiny. In 1970, Kwan returned to her home in Hong Kong to care for her ailing father. She had only planned to stay for a year, but instead ended up remaining for seven years and founding Nancy Kwan Films. The company primarily produced commercials for viewers in Southeast Asia.

Nancy and her father/ Image Source
7. Always the compassionate activist, Kwan processed her grief over her son Bernie Pock's 1996 death from AIDS by producing a movie about him and writing the book Celebration of Life-Memories of my Son, the proceeds from which she donated to AIDS charities.

Kwan continues to be an asset to her community, sharing her wisdom, spirituality, and the power of her still vibrant platform to make the world a better place. I am looking forward to seeing this wonderful lady in person! 

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