By Diane Ako
The 30th Annual Hawaii International Film Festival presented and spotlighted one of Asia's most recognizable actresses of all time, Nancy Kwan, with its "Maverick Award." Her newest film, a documentary called TO WHO IT MAY CONCERN: KA SHEN'S JOURNEY, directed by Brian Jamieson screened on Saturday, October 16th at 6:30 p.m. The special event was presented by Dr. Lawrence K.W. Tseu.
I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Kwan at the Opening Night Reception at the hotel I work at. I have actually met her once before at a taping of the Andy Bumatai show in 2008.
A day or so later, I took my parents to sample the food at Orchids, and Ms. Kwan was also dining there with a large contingent. My mom approached her to say hello and remind her of a very old connection.
"When I was a dancer in a show in Las Vegas at the New Frontier Hotel, I met another dancer, Delores Dicen. Delores had previously worked with Nancy Kwan in a different show. When our troupe relocated to England in December, Delores mentioned it to Nancy, who invited Delores to call her brother and introduce herself," reminisced my mother.
"Delores called Nancy's brother, KK, and he picked us up after the show at the Stork Club in Piccadilly Circus and took us over to his grandparent's house in Bath. We stayed over the Christmas holiday. Nancy's uncle was visiting from Hong Kong, and the six of us had a nice time."
Mom says this was right after The World of Suzie Wong had come out (in 1960) and Kwan had become a major star. Was she star-struck at the thought of staying at such a big celebrity's house? "Not really. These were just the people I worked with. But I was really proud that someone of Chinese ancestry was so successful in America. There were so few Asian performers at the time that anyone in the business in any capacity knew each other."
It doesn't surprise me to hear my mom say that Asians at that time were relegated to accepting only the minor or lowly parts. Mom also interacted with Frances Nyugen ("She came to see her friends at our rehearsal in LA, and she helped me adjust my costume zipper"), and worked at Forbidden City with Jack Soo (as emcee of the show, he would tease my mom that "I have to hurry because Vi and Ethel have to take the bus home"), Pat Morita, and Robert Ito ("He would help me warm up for my dance routine"). That's how my mother knows Jimmy Borges - stage name at the time, Jimmy Jay. Jimmy sang at Forbidden City.
Things have changed since my mom's dancing days, and as she reflects on the situation today, she says she's happy with how far Asians have come in American mainstream entertainment media. My mom generally isn't a star-struck type, but even at her age, she still has a little actor crush. "I sure wish I could meet Jet-Li," she says. "He's so handsome."
For a different take on HIFF's opening night reception, please go to my personal blog. I've started posting completely different blogs there. You may want to check it out on occasion for that purpose.
Also reach me via DianeAko.com