Filmmaker Arthur Dong Releases DVD Collection

November 1, 2010

Award-winning Chinese American filmmaker Arthur Dong is releasing a DVD box set entitled Stories from Chinese America: The Arthur Dong Collection, Vol. 2. The films include Hollywood Chinese, about Chinese actors and characters in US Hollywood films and Forbidden City, U.S.A., about the Chinese American nightclub scene during WWII; both are feature length documentaries. Included in the collection are also three short films that are part of the "Toisan Trilogy": Sewing Woman, Lotus and Living Music for Golden Mountains. These works span 25 years of Dong's filmmaking, and is his second DVD collection. His first collection is Stories from the War on Homosexuality.

There are coinciding events in Los Angeles and San Francisco (for event information, see below). As part of the release, there will be a world premier of the newly scored 1916 silent film, The Curse of Quon Gwon, by Marion Wong. This is the earliest known Chinese American feature film, and one of the first made by a woman, which Dong helped rescue while he was making Hollywood Chinese. The film is newly scored by Judy Rosenberg. The Academy Film Archive restored the nitrate film in 2005. IN 2006, the Library of Congress selected the film as to be a part of the National Film Registry. 

I interviewed Dong and one of Wong's nieces for an article when Hollywood Chinese was making the theater rounds a few years back. The story behind The Curse of Quon Gwon is absolutely fascinating. Marion Wong cast many of her family members, including sister-in-law Violet Wong, who was then around 20 years-old, as the star in her silent film. Sadly, the film was never released to the public. For decades -- presumably, since 1916, so for nearly a century -- the film reels sat in a basement in Berkeley, CA. 

I talked to Mai Lon Gittelsohn, Violet Wong's daughter, about her mom as the star of this silent film. Gittelsohn said that she never heard about this film until she was an adult. It seemed like the project was a dream, lost. Here's what Gittelsohn said in an interview two years ago:

"Mother really didn't talk about it. I think that somehow in these immigrant families, families that had to work so hard, they're so busy with the process of survival that she forgot about it. I think it was just a forgotten period of her life. She was quite young. I think it was quite an exciting period of her life."

And to think, now it will have a world premiere, of the remaining reels at least, and its place in film history. Below are details about two upcoming events:

On Nov 6, in LA, Visual Communications presents the DVD release and screening at 3 pm. Dong will be present to show the extra footage available in the set. For the Hollywood Chinese collector's edition alone, there're 3 1/2 hours of extra footage. Tickets are $10-12.

On Nov 13, San Francisco State University and its Asian American studies department will host a screening from 12-3 pm at the Four Star Theatre. Dong will also be present. This is a fundraiser for Asian American studies programs and students at SF State. Co-presented by the Center for Asian American Media. They are asking for a minimum donation of $25. 

* Corrected from original version, which stated that Violet Wong was around 16 years-old when she starred in The Curse of Quon Gwon.


Momo Chang

Senior Contributing Editor

Momo Chang is the Content Manager at the Center for Asian American Media, and freelances for magazines, online publications, and weeklies. Her writings focus on Asian American communities, communities of color, and youth culture. She is a former staff writer at the Oakland Tribune. Her stories range from uncovering working conditions in nail salons, to stories about “invisible minorities” like Tongan youth and Iu Mien farmers. She has freelances The New York Times, WIRED, and East Bay Express, among other publications.