GOLDEN GATE GIRLS
Directed by S. Louisa Wei
Official Selection, 2013 Hong Kong International Film Festival
Filmmaker scheduled to attend
GOLDEN GATE GIRLS begins with memories. Of director Esther Eng’s intelligence. Of friends working on Eng’s films in Honolulu or New York. We see a picture of the slick-haired San Francisco-born director, and lobby cards for her films like Mad Fire Mad Love. That’s just about all we have left of one of Asian American cinema’s most fascinating and elusive figures, the savvy and dandyish director Esther Eng, who as a queer, female director in California in the 1930s and 40s was so far ahead of her time we’re still struggling to keep up.
Director S. Louisa Wei begins her journey in 2009, when she uncovered boxes of Eng’s personal photos found discarded near San Francisco’s airport. Wei brings these photos with her as she tracks down Eng’s surviving family and friends. Memories of an old colleague coalesce into a tribute to one of American cinema’s forgotten pioneers. Wei strings the recollections together with archival images, animation, and most valuably, the little remaining footage of Eng’s films like Golden Gate Girl, which also has the designation of being Bruce Lee’s first onscreen appearance.
Eng remains something of a mystery throughout. She slips from San Francisco to Hong Kong and back again with a private determination. And yet the portrait that emerges is a vivid one. It’s the dream of Asian-ness in the U.S. more generally – that of Anna May Wong, Pearl Buck, James Wong Howe, and Soong May-ling – at a crossroads in history. If Eng remains elusive, it’s because, like so much of Asian American women’s history, she had been rejected as inconsequential – until now. –Brian Hu
Co-presented by: Bionic Sisters Productions