The film plods along at times and you have to be patient with it. It is a little uneven, but you'll notice Dupont using techniques that feel ahead of their time - fast cuts, dissolves, long shots, flashbacks, and some great camera angles. Several times he puts us 'behind the scenes' or in places with common people, which feel (and probably were) highly authentic. Wong's main dance number seems to be a strange mix of Thai and Hawaiian, but it's certainly interesting to watch, and is no more odd than a lot of the other dancing shown in this movie and others from the period. I also loved how Dupont how shot the scene, including a shot of her shadow. The trial at the end seems to drag things on unnecessarily, but includes a nice plot twist. Sure, it all could have been tightened up, but considering it for the time, and the fantastic role and performance Wong gives, it gets a high review score from me.
It's strangely disheartening to me to discover that people think Anna May Wong was buried in an unmarked grave. It's true that she isn't buried under the name "Anna May Wong." She was buried under the name Wong Liu Tsong, her birth name. She wasn't considered for the lead role in [i]The Good Earth[/i], a role she wanted a great deal. Instead, the actress cast was German-born (and still alive, at 103!) Luise Rainer. I have often lamented the careers of women who got their start in the pre-Code days and were then hampered by the fact that the roles at which they excelled were no longer available to them. However, it was much worse for actresses like Wong. Take the problems with being a woman at a time when women's roles weren't great and combine them with the problems of being any ethnicity other than white at a time when even Chinese and Japanese characters were usually played by white actors.
Large amounts of the plot are unnecessarily complicated. In short, however, Shosho (Wong) is a dishwasher at a London nightclub. She dances for the rest of the staff; it gets her fired, because she is distracting them from their work. Nightclub dancer Vic (Cyril Ritchard) quits, because he's planning to go off to Hollywood, and it turns out that he was the main draw for the audience, not conceited Mabel (Gilda Gray). Mabel, it's worth noting, who rejected Vic for nightclub owner Wilmot (Jameson Thomas). Wilmot rehires Shosho, this time as a dancer, and she's a huge hit. Mabel is furiously jealous. Also jealous is Shosho's boyfriend, Jim (King Hou Chang). Which is fair enough, because Shosho and Wilmot fall for one another, and Mabel and Jim are both pretty upset about it. There are all sorts of unhappy confrontations back and forth among the various characters, but it doesn't take a genius to work out that things aren't going to end well for Shosho.
Because, you know, Asian woman. While pre-Code only technically refers to talkies, it is true that Hollywood movies were basically unregulated at the time--and this was British and therefore not actually subject to the Code anyway. However, one of the problems in Wong's career was that audiences weren't in general comfortable with watching Wong in romantic relationships with white actors. Even if there had been much in the way of Asian actors (because it still counted as "miscegenation" if they were playing Asians!), they apparently showed her basically no respect. She didn't want to put up with it, and she shouldn't have had to. Then again, who did that leave for her to act opposite? She was hampered in her role opportunities because of the limits on whom she'd be allowed to share the screen with. This may be why I'm not sure I've ever actually seen a movie with her in it before. She had limited opportunities, and she knew it. How could she not?
It's also a bit of a stereotypical Chinese thing going. When Shosho sends Wilmot to buy her a costume, she tells him that the only place to go is a place with the helpful name of "Chinese Restaurant." In what I'm reasonably sure is the London Chinatown, though I admit I'm not all that familiar with London's ethnic divisions. And you know, I'm fine with her sending a little business to the people she cares about; I think the owner of Chinese Restaurant is Jim's uncle, and she still is in a relationship with Jim at that point in the story. However, there's some weird corruption going there. Not on Shosho's side, but on the uncle's, I guess. He just gives off a weird vibe that I can't put my finger on. Maybe it's because he's a silent movie Chinese character. While the roles for female characters were limited, at least they weren't all supposed to be sleazy, and pretty much all the male ones were. Even the so-called heroes had something a little unpleasant to them.
Probably the most ironic moment in the movie is when a couple of people are dancing in a club that is, shall we say, not quite so exclusive as Wilmot's. And they get yelled at, because the woman is white and the man is black. And they don't allow that kind of thing at his club. I have no doubt that Anna May Wong herself spotted the irony, because how could she not? It's okay that Shosho dances for the white people, and it's even okay if Wilmot shows interest in her, though we all know it won't end well. But it's different when it's a Chinese woman and a white man, after all. That isn't threatening (except to Mabel, of course). The social order remains as it was, the more so given the ending of the movie. But if a Chinese man had been the one to make a sensation with a white woman, that would have been considerably more shocking. Unfortunately, that's still true even today; how often do you see Jet Li have a white woman as his romantic lead? Then again, at least Jet Li still has a career, even if it's just making [i]Expendables[/i] movies.
German director Ewald André Dupont (uncredited) shows some visual flair with the camera and I love taking in all the details of the furnishing of the sets. But most interesting of all, the film reflects the racial attitudes of the times. Miscegenation may be a dirty word to some - but what is shown (or rather, NOT SHOWN) is very telling...and which probably prevented Anna Mae Wong from becoming a much bigger star.
Valentine Wilmot (Jameson Thomas) notices that his main attraction, dancers Mabel & Vic (Gilda Gray, Cyril Richards) no longer draw the big crowds that once flocked to his popular Piccadilly nightclub. He has to tell the pair that he is seeking fresh talent to liven up his joint. Val's idea of a replacement doesn't go too well with the pair - especially with Mabel when she finds out who their replacement will be - the young chinese scullery maid, Shosho (Anna Mae Wong).
While following up on a drunken customer's (look, it's Charles Laughton in a bit part) complaint about a dirty dish - Val journeys to his scullery and notices one of his dishwashers doing an impromptu dance upon a table. His first impression is to fire the gal for goofing off...but he changes his mind when he notices that she isn't a bad dancer afterall and even sets up a private audition in his office for later that evening, heh!
I suppose it may have more to do with Shosho's skimpy oriental outfit more than her dancing talents (which is besides the point) but she is a hit with the crowd - all to Mabel's dismay. Shosho not only becomes her business competition, but her rival too for Val's romantic affection.
But, Mabel is not the only one perturbed by Shosho's success. There is also Jim (King Hou Chang), Shosho's chinese boyfriend. Passion and jealousies will soon come to a boiling point as the story progresses.
As I mentioned earlier - it's interesting to note what the filmmaker's show or don't show. Not only does the film cut away whenever Val and Shosho attempt to kiss or make love...but even a kiss between Shosho and her chinese boyfriend Jim is hidden underneath folded newspapers!
7.5 / 10
The story creaks like a rusty bedspring, but the whole thing looks and feels good enough for that hardly to matter an iota.
Which is a pity since one scene came out really good. It is set in a pub in London and it addresses directly the rampant racism and segregation dominating all classes of the English society at the time (1920s). It is raw, noir, brilliant. What a shame the rest of the film isn't even half as good.
I will also add that it is one of the most interesting silent film of its period because it touches upon many subjects which were normally censored. Director Arnold Bennett clearly showed a modern view of Western European cinema.
Hence, i would recommend this silent film to cinephiles who enjoy the early days of cinema.
wong plays a scullery maid who gets fired for dancing upon the kitchen table, but the cabret manager suddenly comes up with a whim to hire her as the new attraction while himself is in torid affair with the major cabret star. then the little chinese woman dresses in the mystic buddist garment, swirling her slim shape eccentricly to enchant the men all around. besides she succeeds in seducing the cabret manager as her prey of love, then the manager's caucasion girlfriend comes along to dissuade her of this affair. then a faint cry occurs, wong's gets slaughtered by her fellow chinese boyfriend who is inflicted with simmering jealousy.
privately wong feels quite complacent that she could be able to be an explicit seductress in "piccadilly" without the obstacle of racial segregation. crudely speaking, the stance of this flick's racial politics remains derogatory, and her position is still the sexually compliant oriental female who prawls her way to pander the major white male audience, taking pride at her vindicative sexual triumph as the dialogue suggests: "i wish you give him up, i know you don't love him" "i shall keep the man you cannot keep"...and such defiant attitude would be punished in the 20s american cinema, but the expressionistic german cinema embraces such exotic stimulus with full acceptance.
the poster of "piccadilly" shows a bare-chested anna mae brazenly dances along the melody that might be an urgent pursuit of sexual liberation in oriental woman, OR a pimpish exploitation of volutary prostitution from oriental women, as if she's saying: welcome to my chamber room, i'm here naked awaiting you. such whoring image is, of course, banned by chinese government then since it degrades chinese woman as willing mistress for caucasion males that would be considered a national disgrace in the conservative china.
the primitive stage of feminism in roaring twenties would be to emulate men with your sexual liberty(be free like a man, make love then leave) as the concept of vivacious flapper as well as "phallic woman" starts to proper in society then. anna may wong is a peculiar case as the chinese flapper, so wong's poise of minority feminism would be to rival white woman with your sex appeal to demonstrate your range of freedom as a suppressed oriental female. but just like the rumination of feminism which is faciliating men with your private santuary, anna may wong's cinematic revolution in europe ends in the same errosive retribution.