Chinese Film from 1916 is a rare gem


When filmmaker, and San Francisco native, Arthur Dong uncovered the earliest known Chinese-American feature film, he was amazed. The 1916 film was still preserved on highly flammable nitrate film stock.

"It was pretty nerve racking because it could exploded, or it could have been all jell, or it could have been just powder," said Arthur Dong, a filmmaker.

92 years ago, Marion Wong wrote, directed, and shot a feature film in Oakland. Her cousin was the star in the movie called "The Curse of Quon Gwon."

"If you put it up against other films of that era, it's pretty first rate," said Dong.

They were Chinese-Americans using cutting edge technology of the time.

"And very few women were making films, not to say men were making films at that time. So for a woman who is also Chinese American to be doing this is astounding," said Dong.

"It was a major, major discovery. Archival discovery," said Stephen Gong.

Gong is the executive director of the Center for Asian American Media. He says the American Academy of Arts and Sciences considers this a gem.

The Asian images you see in this silent film are in stark contrast to the ones people were viewing in the big Hollywood movies of that time.

Most silent films portrayed Asians as mysterious, opium smoking deviants, and most were based on popular melodramatic plays.

"They're almost Victorian story lines. You almost see nothing of the real lives and real issues that face regular people, and here we have it being Chinese American. Here we have it for the Chinese in 1916," said Gong.

"The Curse of Quon Gwon" is about Chinese assimilation into American society.

"And it tells you also how important it is for people to tell their own stories. So what a great find that somebody was trying to tell that story and share it with us," said Gong.

During a one-time only viewing of "The Curse of Quon Gwon," at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland, the audience will get the full effect.

"Music of Wurlitzer Organ"

It'll be accompanied by the mighty Wurlitzer the way silent movies were shown back in 1917.

"This is not only Chinese American history, but this is really film history in general," said Dong.

There's a one-time screening of "The Curse of Quon Gwon" Wednesday night at Oakland's Grand Lake Theatre and in San Francisco.

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