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Hong Kong Filmart 2010: presents the real Suzy Wong

Salon Films kicked off Filmart with the packed Asian premiere of To Whom It May Concern: Ka Shen’s Journey a documentary about the life of Nancy Kwan who, 50 years ago, became the first Asian actor to take a romantic lead role in a Hollywood film by playing Suzie Wong opposite William Holden in The World of …. Who knew the orioginal was made in colour?

Following the screening, Ms Kwan herself took the stage, along with director Brian Jamieson, to participate in a Q&A. Predictably, given her stature as the territory’s breakthrough artist, she was given a more than warm welcome.

The questions were deferential, though it was hard to tell so early into the day whether this was simply a cultural difference or whether the audience was a little starstruck. It’s not often one gets the chance to chat with someone who once was, or at least played the part of, the world’s most famous hooker.

Questioners harked back to Wan Chai (the area of Hong Kong portrayed in Suzy Wong and, coincidentally, the venue for the conference) and the changes it – along with the rest of the city and its film industry – have seen over the last half-century.

Suzy Wong was a groundbreaker in a number of ways, not only in its dealings with inter-racial relationships, but also in that it was one of the first generation of Hollywood films to be mostly shot on location rather than on studio backlots.

Hong Kong has since then attracted many projects to shoot there, developing from its early use as an ‘exotic’ location to its present full-service (in a strictly non-Suzy sense) offer.

Not slowed down by advancing years, Ms Kwan revealed she currently has two features in development, Journey to the West Gate of Heaven and Jade: Feng Shui Detective. Both are in conjunction with Mr Jamieson, a 30-year veteran of Warner Brothers distribution, handling New Zealand among other territories.

This was followed by a panel discussion on the future of film financing – as least as it affected Asia. The session was moderated by Patrick Frater, CEO of Film Business Asia.

The content of the discussion was a little guarded, with some of the participants obviously unwilling – like producers everywhere – to talk in any detail about current projects and new developments. However, as with many such discussions, co-production and tapping into international markets formed one of the paths down which people are heading – including Ms Kwan, who is putting together financing for her projects in Hong Kong, California and Hawaii.

Ahead of the agreements to be signed between Hong Kong and New Zealand next week, it is interesting to note that there is strong interest here in looking further afield than China to make projects.

Although Wan Chai and its population of happy prostitutes has disappeared since Suzy Wong – if it ever truly existed in the first place – the willingness of the Hong Kong industry to engage with the rest of the world and look to a prosperous future remains unchanged.

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