The image of Suzie Wong on the Star Ferry in her elegant cheongsam is one of the most iconic images of mid-twentieth century Hong Kong. It is also one of the most troubling. For everything about Suzie and her “world” is false, conjured up by Richard Mason, a British RAF intelligence officer turned writer, living in Hong Kong in the 1950s. And yet the book that was written (and the movie made) about her refuses to leave us. She’s stuck somehow in our collective consciousness as the 2.5 Million Google hits would attest. Is Suzie an empowered young woman or a hapless victim? Is she an example of plucky Cold War Hong Kong or a shameful reminder of the poverty and turmoil of its past. The debate, I’m sure, will rage on (and on) but in the meantime, I think it’s helpful to visit the places that evoke Suzie. The Fenwick Pier, Spring Garden Lane / 春園街, Luk Kwok Hotel 六國飯店 and other locations in and around Wan Chai. These places and the stories about them can help us to dissect the myth and come to terms with why Suzie is still with us today. Perhaps in walking the same Wan Chai streets, we’ll find what it is about her and her story that we love or love to hate so much.
Yes, that’s right, homework. I really feel that if you don’t AT LEAST watch the original movie “The World of Suzie Wong” you’re not going to get the most out of this event. There are many ways both legal and illegal to watch the film. I’ll leave it to you. However, I'll include a link to amazon.com’s streaming service where you can watch it for a couple of bucks. While you’re there you can read the book on the Kindle platform.
Once you’re done with that you can check out fellow Hong Kong Sacred Spaces member Sheridan Prasso’s “Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls, and Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient” An excellent primer of this sprawling topic. I also strongly recommend the autobiographical documentary “To Whom It May Concern: Ka Shen’s Journey”. A film highlighting Nancy Kwan’s important role in Chinese and Asian American Cinema.
For a more local perspective on Suzie Wong, I can recommend the hard to find “My Name Ain’t Suzie 花街時代 ” (trailer here: https://youtu.be/pUPYuC_nCIg) directed by Angela Chan 陳安琪. Intense, a little sad but a nice comparison to WSW.
Movie still from the 1960 film starring Nancy Kwan as Suzie and William Holden as Lomax.