Small Talk

Nancy Kwan at HIFF

October 22nd, 2010

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.

Nancy Kwan

Nancy Kwan

Dr. Lawrence 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

Posted in mom, parent | 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “Nancy Kwan at HIFF”

  1. galekaminari:

    Good Morning, Diane! I was hoping that you would get to see Nancy Kwan! Yay! I had read that she was coming for her movie. What a very moving story! Did you get to see the movie?

    Last weekend, I was suggesting to my daughter that she see the latest Wall Street movie, and told her that we/she had dinner next to Michael Douglas at Orchids a few years ago. She is generally kind of a jaded little kid, but she got this funny star-struck look on her face. Too funny!

    When I was young, during the original Hawaii 5-0 days, we used to love to see Jack Lord walking around town, like at Ala Moana Center. Always in white suit with a white hat, scarf at his neck. No matter how many times we saw him, or how many times we stopped at his house for various reasons, it was always special to see him. I would like to think that we did not get that star-struck look on our faces, but it definitely gladdened our hearts and gave us a thrill. He, and Hawaii 5-0, did so much for Hawaii's visitor industry! He and Marie and their staff were always so kind to us kids who showed up at their doorstep caroling, or asking for canned goods donations, whatever. I remember caroling at the Lord's one Christmas season evening, and as we were leaving, someone from the house came running out, cutting thru the backyard hedge to catch us before we left, to bring us a box of chocolates that the Lords had sent out to us--maybe $ too, but it was the chocolate that interested us! Even though we would soon be back at home base for a party, I remember we gobbled the Lords' chocolate on the spot, under the moonlight and stars, whipped by a salty stiff Kahala beach breeze! Candy never tasted so good! It must have been the Aloha!

    And speaking of Jimmy Borges, I just saw him on Primary Night, when he came in to watch returns with Neil Abercrombie. (I used to see him at Trapper's.) Kelly Hu came too. So did Maya Soetoro-Ng, President Obama's sister, who knows Neil from the days when he was teaching at UH and a close family friend.

    Primary Night, when I told Maya that I had a friend hand-carry leis up for the whole Obama family for the Inauguration, but sadly my friend had only given her one of the leis, Maya said, No, No, they DID get ALL the leis and enjoyed them until entering Blair House just before the Inauguration, where the Secret Service confiscated them as potential bio-hazard. She says that she even has photos of her and the family enjoying the leis on Inauguration Day. That made me happy. It was fun when Jimmy Borges, Maya, and Mazie Hirono all came out of Neil's party at the same time, and had another little get-together in the parking lot, visiting with everyone, including me, just a stray person in the parking lot. So Hawaii!

  2. Titus:

    I attended this event as well and wanted to say "hi" to you, but there were so many people there, I could not find you! (I arrived late, when it was REALLY full.)

Leave a Reply

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. Because only subscribers are allowed to comment, we have your personal information and are able to contact you. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email

Recent Posts

Recent Comments