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Banned in the U.S.A.

Thursday, November 5, 1992
The Tong Man
William Worthington USA, 1919

Introduced by Stephen Gong. Jon Mirsalis on Piano. Stephen Gong is PFA General Manager, a lecturer in Asian American Studies at UC Berkeley, and an authority on the films of Sessue Hayakawa. Seeking creative control over his films, Japanese American actor Sessue Hayakawa established Haworth Pictures in 1918. (See also The Dragon Painter, December 4.) The first year out, he produced and starred in The Tong Man, a somewhat incendiary melodrama set in San Francisco's Chinatown. The story concerns a Tong hatchetman who refuses to murder his sweetheart's father. All manner of criminal activity-murder, extortion, drug dealing, kidnapping-transpires in this action-packed version of Romeo and Juliet whose delicate heroine is played by Helen Jerome Eddy, an obviously Anglo actress. The Tong Man's mismanagement of cultural imagery is ironically undercut by the subtle but daring possibility that a non-white leading man could win the love of a Caucasian actress. Nevertheless, the questionable depiction of Chinese culture caused an uproar in the community; an injunction against the film's exhibition was sought by San Francisco's Six Companies, and denied.

• Written by E. Richard Schayer, from the novella The Dragon's Daughter by Clyde C. Westover. Photographed by Frank D. Williams. With Sessue Hayakawa, Helen Jerome Eddy, Marc Robbins, Toyo Fujita. (64 mins, Silent, B&W, 16mm, From Em Gee Film Library)