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Daughter of Shanghai
Year: 1937
Philip Ahn and Anna May Wong
Director: Robert Florey
  Producer: Harold Hurley
  Cast: Anna May Wong, Philip Ahn, Charles Bickford, Buster Crabbe, Anthony Quinn, Lee Ching-Wah, Maurice Liu, Layne Tom, Jr., Wong Wing, Bruce Wong
  The Skinny: A Chinese-American woman seeks to avenge her father's death and expose an immigrant smuggling ring in Daughter of Shanghai, a remarkably progressive portrayal of Asian Americans featuring screen starlet Anna May Wong.
Review by Calvin McMillin:      Considering the current status of Asian Americans in Hollywood films, Daughter of Shanghai is a remarkable cultural find. Given the film's "Oriental" theme, one half expects to see white actors in yellow face, yet Daughter of Shanghai is, in fact, a starring vehicle for Anna May Wong, the first Asian American woman to become a Hollywood star. Although some stereotypes remain, the film portrays Asian Americans in an extraordinarily positive manner, giving this standard B-movie plot an added element of cultural importance. Even better, it's actually pretty entertaining.
     The story kicks off when a group of thugs approach well-to-do Chinatown merchant Quan Lin (Ching-Wah Lee) in the hopes that he'll participate in their immigrant smuggling scheme. When Quan Lin rejects their offer, he unknowingly signs his own death warrant. Later in the evening, the thugs make an attempt on the lives of Quan Lin and his daughter, Lan-Ying Lin (Anna May Wong). Thought to be dead along with her father, Lan-Ying escapes unharmed and flees to the home of the wealthy Mary Hunt (Cecil Cunningham), a matronly woman whose friendship with the Lin family has always seemed sincere. Little does Lan-Ying know that the kindly Mrs. Hunt is actually the shadowy mastermind pulling the smugglers' strings! While FBI agent Kim Lee (Philip Ahn) is on the case, Lan-Ying decides to take matters into her own hands, following the clues all the way to the smugglers' island way station. Using both her wits and feminine charms, Lan-Ying succeeds in winning the confidence of her enemies, but soon learns she may need help in bringing her father's killers to justice.
     Although there is a certain amount of exoticism on display in Daughter of Shanghai, its usage is somewhat subversive. In one instance, Lan-Ying signs up to be a showgirl at the island bar. On the surface, it seems like an exploitative act, but in actuality Lan-Ying is using her "exotic" looks to lull the bad guys into a false sense of security. It's clear she's trying to get closer to them in order to thwart their smuggling racket and avenge her father's death. And interestingly enough, Philip Ahn isn't just Wong's co-star, but also her love interest. Rather than pair Lan-Ying off with a white actor, the filmmakers instead give Kim Lee a prominent role as quite possibly the first Asian American FBI agent in Hollywood history. To have Asian actors not only headline the film, but thwart a cast of entirely Caucasian antagonists in a mainstream American movie is in itself a pretty revolutionary choice both for that time and even today. With its progressive attitude and fairly exciting plot, Daughter of Shanghai is perhaps one old film worth dusting off. (Calvin McMillin, 2005)
  Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen