December 15, 2015 — Year in Review (Part 2 — Shadow Play & Female Filmmakers in Vermont)

In July, after more than five years of work on the film, we offi­cial­ly wrapped prin­ci­pal pho­tog­ra­phy on Find­ing KUKAN. Hooray! With the sup­port of the Nation­al Endow­ment for the Arts we were final­ly able to col­lab­o­rate with the cre­ative genius­es behind Shad­ow­Light Pro­duc­tions and Blind Design to pro­duce and film the gor­geous shad­ow the­ater recre­ations for our film. The month we spent in a dark­ened stu­dio ware­house space in Oak­land was an expe­ri­en­tial les­son for me in break­ing through fear and frus­tra­tion to cre­ate mag­ic – the kind of mag­ic that can only occur by work­ing with oth­ers. You can view some behind the scenes pho­tographs of our work process HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.

Cast & Crew for FINDING KUKAN Shadow Scenes

Cast & Crew for FINDING KUKAN Shad­ow Scenes


The fall brought anoth­er major gift – being accept­ed as one of the four doc­u­men­tary fel­lows at the NALIP ARC Female Film­mak­er Res­i­den­cy in North Troy, VT. Besides get­ting to see the fall col­ors and gor­geous VT land­scape, I was able to work­shop an ear­ly rough cut draft of Find­ing KUKAN with a group of super tal­ent­ed and sup­port­ive female film­mak­ers of diverse back­grounds. Their feed­back and encour­age­ment con­tin­ues to inspire me to take this film to a new level.

2015 NALIP ARC Residency Participants

2015 NALIP ARC Res­i­den­cy Par­tic­i­pants (pho­to by Adele Pham)

Thanks to the sup­port of hun­dreds of peo­ple, we are on track to pre­miere Find­ing KUKAN in 2016 to cel­e­brate two major anniver­saries – the 75th anniver­sary of the bomb­ing of Pearl Har­bor, and the 75th anniver­sary of the Acad­e­my Award doc­u­men­tary cat­e­go­ry. Much work on the film still needs to be done: music com­po­si­tion, visu­al effects, sound design, col­or cor­rect­ing, and licens­ing our archival ele­ments. But we are tak­ing a lit­tle hol­i­day break to cel­e­brate a very reward­ing year and toast to the many adven­tures ahead.

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December 15, 2015 — Year in Review (Part 1 — Back to China & NEA Award)

I’m wrap­ping up 2015 by post­ing our mid-year newslet­ter first: I was thrilled to return to Chongqing this past April with FINDING KUKAN’s producer/editor Shirley Thomp­son and our translator/advisor Dax­ing Zhang to com­plete an his­toric trans­fer of KUKAN to Chi­na 74 years after it was first released in America.

Zhou Yong and Robin Lung

Zhou Yong and Robin Lung com­plete his­toric trans­fer of KUKAN to China.

After my July 2014 trip to Chongqing, Pro­fes­sor Zhou Yong, head of The Chongqing Research Cen­ter for the War of Resis­tance, imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­nized the great his­toric val­ue of KUKAN. He began work­ing with us to acquire a copy of the film, and after 9 months of detailed email exchanges back and forth, we final­ly suc­ceed­ed in reach­ing an agree­ment. The trans­fer helps bring a big part of miss­ing his­to­ry to Chi­na by mak­ing it pos­si­ble for peo­ple all over Chi­na to watch KUKAN for the first time and to study it and write about it for many years to come. In Chongqing and Bei­jing, we watched KUKAN bring tears to people’s eyes as they viewed it. It was a mov­ing tes­ta­ment to the pow­er of film, and I have to thank our many sup­port­ers for that expe­ri­ence. Click HERE for more pho­tos from our trip.

Shirley Thompson, Daxing Zhang, and Robin Lung

Shirley Thomp­son, Dax­ing Zhang, and Robin Lung

While in Chi­na we received news that the Nation­al Endow­ment for the Arts award­ed FINDING KUKAN with a Media Arts grant. We are very proud to receive this hon­or which places us in the same group as hal­lowed insti­tu­tions like Lin­coln Cen­ter and The Met. The award meant that we could final­ly pro­duce and film the his­tor­i­cal mon­tages we’ve been plan­ning with our cre­ative part­ners Shad­ow­Light Pro­duc­tions and Chris Do of Blind design stu­dio. Check Part 2 of our 2015 wrap up for a report on our July adven­ture into shadowland.

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December 2, 2014 — Year in Review (Part 3 — July FIRST TRIP TO CHINA!)

After four months, I’m still try­ing to digest all the new expe­ri­ences and things I learned on my first trip to Chi­na in July – a study tour focused on World War II his­to­ry. Cur­rent­ly the aver­age high school world his­to­ry class in the Unit­ed States spends less than 15 min­utes a year teach­ing about World War II in Asia. Back in my day, it was even less than that. So this trip was a real eye-open­er even though I’d been study­ing up on the sub­ject for the past few years. A fel­low­ship from the New Jer­sey chap­ter of The Alliance for Learn­ing and Pre­serv­ing the His­to­ry of World War II in Asia (ALPHA) and a gen­er­ous dona­tion from Dou­glas Ho and the Beat­rice M.H. Young Foun­da­tion made my whole trip pos­si­ble. I’m grate­ful to them and all my trav­el­ing com­pan­ions who enhanced my experience.

2014 ALPHA Study Tour group on the Shanghai Bund (photo by Louis Au)

2014 ALPHA Study Tour group on the Shang­hai Bund
(pho­to by Louis Au)


Toron­to ALPHA orga­nizes the study tour to help high school teach­ers cre­ate cur­ricu­lum mate­r­i­al cur­rent­ly miss­ing from class­rooms. Although we did pause for pho­to-ops and many great Chi­nese and Kore­an meals, much of the tour was spent in study and reflec­tion on seri­ous top­ics, and once-in-a-life­time meet­ings with sur­vivors of the war.

Shang­hai was our first stop and a good prepa­ra­tion for what was to come, shat­ter­ing many pre-con­ceived notions that I had about Chi­na and main­land Chi­nese peo­ple. First of all, I was not inter­ro­gat­ed by immi­gra­tion or strip searched by cus­toms offi­cials or “shanghai’ed” by the taxi dri­ver.  In fact, as the taxi took me to our hotel from the Pudong Air­port late Fri­day night, Shang­hai seemed dis­ap­point­ing­ly west­ern.  The miles of tall apart­ment build­ings lead­ing into the cen­tral part of the city remind­ed me of the sub­urbs sur­round­ing NYC. The bill­boards adver­tised west­ern lux­u­ry brand goods and fea­tured Hol­ly­wood movie stars like George Clooney. As soon as we neared the cen­ter of the city we also hit NYC-style traffic.

Shanghai is a vibrant mixture of old and new, east and west

Shang­hai is a vibrant mix­ture of old and new, east and west


Since I’m a lazy blog­ger with a poor mem­o­ry, I refer you to fel­low trav­el­er Don Tow’s excel­lent wrap-up of our trip and my room­mate Debra Maller’s day by day blog to get a bet­ter idea of all the sites we vis­it­ed and peo­ple we spoke to.

My study tour roommate Debra Maller with our tour documenter Louis Au outside the Shanghai Jewish Refugee museum. Proud that the Chinese took in Jews during WWII when other countries turned them away.

My study tour room­mate Debra Maller with our tour doc­u­menter Louis Au out­side the Shang­hai Jew­ish Refugee muse­um. Proud that the Chi­nese took in Jews dur­ing WWII when oth­er coun­tries turned them away.


For me, learn­ing of the abus­es of women dur­ing the war was par­tic­u­lar­ly emo­tion­al. The real­i­ty of the sit­u­a­tion hit home for me when we vis­it­ed a for­mer “com­fort sta­tion” in Shang­hai, the for­mer res­i­dence of the Chen’s, a wealthy fam­i­ly who fled Shang­hai when the Japan­ese mil­i­tary invad­ed the city in 1937.


Outside Shanghai "comfort woman" house with Betty Ma and tour organizer Judy Cho (photo by Louis Au)

Out­side Shang­hai “com­fort woman” house with Bet­ty Ma and tour orga­niz­er Judy Cho (pho­to by Louis Au)


The Japan­ese mil­i­tary took over the house to use as a broth­el for their troops and forced women that they kid­napped to live there and pro­vide sex to the men.  About 40 women were kept in the house dur­ing the war.  It was a pow­er­ful emo­tion­al expe­ri­ence to be in the actu­al loca­tion where these women were impris­oned and abused. The place felt haunt­ed.  I could sense the help­less­ness of the women who were forced to ser­vice the men and the despair they must have lived with.

Courtyard of Shanghai "comfort women" house

Court­yard of Shang­hai “com­fort women” house


Second floor room of Shanghai "comfort women" house (photo by Louis Au)

Sec­ond floor room of Shang­hai “com­fort women” house (pho­to by Louis Au)


The fact is that sex­u­al slav­ery and the abuse of women still goes on all over the world.  How can we stop it?  On the last leg of our trip I was heart­ened to meet the Kore­an grand­mas in Seoul, sur­viv­ing “com­fort women” who had become activists to help oth­er women suf­fer­ing sex­u­al abuse. Their abil­i­ty to sur­vive to find enjoy­ment and pur­pose in life made me real­ize that human­i­ty is also capa­ble of great good. Their activism and com­mit­ment to shar­ing very painful per­son­al sto­ries so oth­ers might not have to suf­fer was deeply inspirational.


Grandma Gil, one of the Korean "comfort women" we met at the War and Women's Human Rights Museum in Seoul

Grand­ma Gil, one of the Kore­an “com­fort women” we met at the War and Wom­en’s Human Rights Muse­um in Seoul


86 year old Grandma Gil continues to advocate for women in weekly demonstrations in Seoul.  She was forced into sexual slavery at 13 years old.

86 year old Grand­ma Gil con­tin­ues to advo­cate for women in week­ly demon­stra­tions in Seoul. She was forced into sex­u­al slav­ery at 13 years old.




Don Tow, Robin Lung, and Judy Cho at memorial to Kim Hak-Soon, the first woman to publicly testify to being a sexual slave to the Japanese military during World War II

Don Tow, Robin Lung, and Judy Cho at memo­r­i­al to Kim Hak-Soon, the first woman to pub­licly tes­ti­fy to being a sex­u­al slave to the Japan­ese mil­i­tary dur­ing World War II


Many of the World War II atroc­i­ties we learned about on the tour are com­pi­la­tions of per­son­al his­to­ries that have almost been lost and are only now being able to be told due to the dili­gent work of indi­vid­ual schol­ars or brave indi­vid­u­als who have gone pub­lic with their sto­ries despite the pub­lic shame or gov­ern­ment dis­ap­proval that has come with it.  As our learn­ing ses­sions con­tin­ued, I began to see that every coun­try and every gen­er­a­tion with­in each coun­try has a dif­fer­ent way of remem­ber­ing his­to­ry and using his­to­ry to forge a path to the future. There are also forces in every coun­try that cause large chunks of his­to­ry to be sup­pressed or for­got­ten. Amer­i­ca is no excep­tion. How much of our own his­to­ry has been lost or for­got­ten? And why?

Our group after touring the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall

Our group after tour­ing the Nan­jing Mas­sacre Memo­r­i­al Hall


The Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall is built near the site of a mass grave of 10,000 victims and displays some of the remains excavated near the site. A gruesome reminder of the horrors of war.

The Nan­jing Mas­sacre Memo­r­i­al Hall is built near the site of a mass grave of 10,000 vic­tims and dis­plays some of the remains exca­vat­ed near the site. A grue­some reminder of the hor­rors of war.


At the John Rabe House study tour leader FLora Chong and Judy Cho greet Nanjing Massacre survivor Ding Zheng Lan who was sheltered in the Safety Zone created by Rabe and several other westerners who remained in Nanjing during the massacre in 1937.

At the John Rabe House study tour leader FLo­ra Chong and Judy Cho greet Nan­jing Mas­sacre sur­vivor Ding Zheng Lan who was shel­tered in the Safe­ty Zone cre­at­ed by Rabe and sev­er­al oth­er west­ern­ers who remained in Nan­jing dur­ing the mas­sacre in 1937.


Nothing like restorative noodle soup after studying about wartime massacres. One of my favorite China meals was at the Nanjing airport.

Noth­ing like restora­tive noo­dle soup after study­ing about wartime mas­sacres. One of my favorite Chi­na meals was at the Nan­jing airport.


Why would you eat at the airport McDonalds when this is available?

Why would you eat at the air­port McDon­alds when this is available?


The high­light of my trip came after the offi­cial study tour was over and I trav­eled to Chongqing, the wartime cap­i­tal of Chi­na where much of KUKAN was filmed. I was able to stand at the very place that Rey Scott filmed scenes of the bomb­ing of Chongqing that made KUKAN famous.

View of Chongqing from the south bank of the Yangtze

View of Chongqing from the south bank of the Yangtze


I also screened KUKAN for a group of about 30 his­to­ri­ans in Chongqing.They were clear­ly moved by the scenes of their city being dec­i­mat­ed by the Japan­ese bombs. They had nev­er heard of KUKAN before even though many of them had spent their aca­d­e­m­ic careers study­ing the war. The film rep­re­sent­ed the most com­plete record of the bomb­ing of Chongqing that they had ever seen and con­tained a trea­sure trove of images from all the loca­tions in Chi­na where Rey Scott filmed.They applaud­ed Li Ling-Ai and Rey Scot­t’s hero­ic effort in mak­ing the film and my effort to bring it to their atten­tion. As a strug­gling film­mak­er, know­ing that a piece of work can have an impact beyond one’s life­time helps keep me moti­vat­ed when the chips are down.  I hope to have more news about a return trip to Chi­na soon.

Scholars in Chongqing view the 1941 KUKAN - screened in China for the first time.

Schol­ars in Chongqing view the 1941 KUKAN — screened in Chi­na for the first time.


Chongqing's central shopping square is anchored by the People's Liberation Monument, built in 1945 to commemorate the victory over the Japanese in WWII. It was renamed in 1950 to commemorate the Communist conquest of the area. Even monuments change to fit the popular mood of the times.

Chongqing’s cen­tral shop­ping square is anchored by the Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Mon­u­ment, built in 1945 to com­mem­o­rate the vic­to­ry over the Japan­ese in WWII. It was renamed in 1950 to com­mem­o­rate the Com­mu­nist con­quest of the area. Even mon­u­ments change to fit the pop­u­lar mood of the times.

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November 29, 2014 — Year in Review (Part 2 — New York in June)

New York in June could only be made pos­si­ble by the hos­pi­tal­i­ty of long­time friend Peer Just. A free place to stay in New York meant that I could fun­nel some of our funds towards film­ing two cru­cial inter­views with Asian Amer­i­can schol­ar Judy Wu and the award-win­ning author Danke Li. Both pro­vid­ed impor­tant insights into Li Ling-Ai’s moti­va­tions and how World War II trans­formed the every­day lives of women in both the Unit­ed States and Chi­na. Answer­ing the last-minute call for cam­era help were our New York go-to DP Frank Ayala and anoth­er long­time friend Ruth Bonomo.

Leaving NYC home base for a day of production on Long Island -- first the subway, then the train, then the ferry.

Leav­ing NYC home base for a day of pro­duc­tion on Long Island — first the sub­way, then the train, then the ferry.


Judy Wu, author of DR. MOM CHUNG, took time out from her Port Jefferson vacation to sit for a great interview. Ruth Bonomo pitched in as DP on short notice, providing wheels, camera and lights. Judy's family fed us a great spaghetti dinner beachside. Signing K for KUKAN!

Judy Wu, author of DR. MOM CHUNG, took time out from her Port Jef­fer­son vaca­tion to sit for a great inter­view. Ruth Bonomo pitched in as DP on short notice, pro­vid­ing wheels, cam­era and lights. Judy’s fam­i­ly fed us a great spaghet­ti din­ner beach­side. Sign­ing K for KUKAN!





A vis­it to New York also meant I got to hang out with Calami­ty Chang, who has vol­un­teered to record tem­po­rary voice over lines that allow us to edit our his­tor­i­cal scenes. Calami­ty con­stant­ly inspires me by her will­ing­ness to embrace her per­for­mance instincts and bare it all in her won­der­ful­ly tongue-in-cheek bur­lesque shows. She also knows her Chi­nese his­to­ry and pro­motes projects like ours that bring it to the fore­front. Her musician/photographer hus­band Mike Webb put in hours of free time as our sound man while dog Chewie qui­et­ly put up with our intru­sion. After a super long record­ing ses­sion on a sun­ny Sun­day after­noon, we all need­ed a New York spe­cial­ty cocktail.


Going over scripts with Calamity Chang.

Going over scripts with Calami­ty Chang.


Musician and Photographer Mike Webb pitches in as sound man to record our temporary voice over tracks.

Musi­cian and Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Mike Webb pitch­es in as sound man to record our tem­po­rary voice over tracks.


Chewie after a long recording session

Chewie after a long record­ing session


One of the killer cocktails I had in NYC featuring cucumber and gin

One of the killer cock­tails I had in NYC fea­tur­ing cucum­ber and gin


Just being in NYC is a real shot in the arm for a film­mak­er. Visu­al stim­u­la­tion is every­where and so are oth­er artists whose very exis­tence and work are like cheers from the sidelines.


Inspiration from Steven Salmieri and his wife Sydney Michelle

Inspi­ra­tion from Steven Salmieri and his wife Syd­ney Michelle


Inspiration from artist, hat designer and jewelry maker Carol Markel

Inspi­ra­tion from artist, hat design­er and jew­el­ry mak­er Car­ol Markel


Inspiration from my husband Paul Levitt who is designing a book with Dana Martin about his visit with Man Ray

Inspi­ra­tion from my hus­band Paul Levitt who is design­ing a book with Dana Mar­tin about his vis­it with Man Ray


More inspiration from a screening and Q&A with D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus

More inspi­ra­tion from a screen­ing and Q&A with D.A. Pen­nebak­er and Chris Hegedus


Before my New York trip I got word that I received a fel­low­ship to go to Chi­na to join a group of high school edu­ca­tors form Cana­da and New Jer­sey on a World War II cen­tered study tour. It would be my first trip there, so Chi­na was on my mind.


Looking ahead to China in July at the Ai Wei Wei exhibit in Brooklyn

Look­ing ahead to Chi­na in July at the Ai Wei Wei exhib­it in Brooklyn


Imagining China

Imag­in­ing China


China Kitsch

Chi­na Kitsch


Li Ling-Ai’s spir­it is also close at hand when I am in NYC. Her great friend Lar­ry Wil­son offered to point out the third floor apart­ment where she spent most of her life on West 55th street. The breeze picked up and the trees out­side the apart­ment did a dance as we looked up to the third floor.



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November 29, 2014 — Year in Review (Part 1- More Editing)

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been a whole year since my last blog. Let me assure you, we have been busy and the film is pro­gress­ing in remark­able ways. It’s just that some­times a Face­book post is eas­i­er to do than putting down a whole blog para­graph. Think­ing back on the past year, I groan at the thought of all the grant appli­ca­tions I wrote, and the many tweaks we made to our work-in-progress video. But I also have a great sense of accom­plish­ment know­ing that the film has got­ten stronger with every grant appli­ca­tion. The year con­tained sev­er­al high­lights, includ­ing break­through edit ses­sions, a pro­duc­tion trip to New York, my FIRST TRIP TO CHINA, and a won­der­ful work-in-progress work­shop on the pres­ti­gious LBGT film fes­ti­val cruise Pride of the Ocean.

Because of the gen­er­ous dona­tions of a lot of peo­ple, we man­aged to get into the edit room sev­er­al times this year. Turn­ing 100 hours of accu­mu­lat­ed footage into a com­pelling sto­ry is a time-con­sum­ing and often tedious process, involv­ing hours of tran­scrib­ing inter­views, log­ging b‑roll footage, writ­ing and re-writ­ing nar­ra­tion lines, and hunt­ing for obscure his­tor­i­cal pho­tos and film footage.

Robin records temporary narration in the sound-proof storage closet at Rubber Stamp Plantation in Honolulu

Robin records tem­po­rary nar­ra­tion in the sound-proof stor­age clos­et at Rub­ber Stamp Plan­ta­tion in Honolulu


Luck­i­ly producer/editor Shirley Thomp­son has the real heart of gold she adver­tis­es and comes to work with a sharp sto­ry­telling scalpel. I took stock after our last edit ses­sion which end­ed the Fri­day before Thanks­giv­ing — we are 1/3 of the way through our rough cut!! And the remain­ing 20 scenes are clear­ly mapped out and ready to be attacked as soon as more fund­ing comes in.


Shirley Thompson and Robin Lung wrap up the last day of a 2-week edit session

Shirley Thomp­son and Robin Lung wrap up the last day of a 2‑week edit ses­sion just in time for Thanks­giv­ing. Count­ing our bless­ings for the many folks who’ve got­ten us this far.


It’s a great land­mark in the life of our film. We could­n’t have got­ten this far with­out the sup­port of over 300 indi­vid­ual donors and the encour­age­ment of film fans from far and wide.


Three Act paper edit - Done! Thanks to the great writing software tool named Scrivener (no they did not pay me to say that)

Three Act paper edit — Done! Thanks to the great writ­ing soft­ware tool named Scriven­er (no they did not pay me to say that)


Help us get to the fin­ish line in 2015 with a tax deductible dona­tion by click­ing on the red donate but­ton to the right. Con­tin­ue review­ing FINDING KUKAN’s year in the next few posts.…



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October 8, 2013 — Oscar History Giveaways

I’m so thrilled to announce that with one week to go in our “10K in 10wks Keep This Film Alive” cam­paign, we’ve raised 85% of our goal — $8,515 raised with $1,485 to go. The funds will allow us to start edit­ing a rough cut of the film on Novem­ber 12! To cel­e­brate, we are going to give away TWO FINDING KUKAN SOUVENIRS – a large can­vas tote bag fea­tur­ing an image of Li Ling-Ai (the un-cred­it­ed pro­duc­er of KUKAN); and a 18”X24” repli­ca of the orig­i­nal KUKAN poster, suit­able for framing.


FINDING KUKAN Souvenir Tote Bag

FINDING KUKAN Sou­venir Can­vas Tote Bag


18" X 24" KUKAN Souvenir Poster

18″ X 24″ KUKAN Sou­venir Poster



To enter the draw­ing for these Oscar his­to­ry col­lectibles sim­ply “LIKE” our page on Face­book HERE.  If you are already a Face­book fan, you can enter by shar­ing any post on our Face­book Page that is titled “SHARE THIS”.  If you are not a Face­book per­son, you can enter the draw­ing by shar­ing this link in a blog post or email to a friend (make sure to copy info[at]findingkukan[dot]com).  We will pick the lucky two win­ners on Novem­ber 12, our first day of editing.

This sto­ry is empow­ered by the peo­ple who share it.  My heart­felt thanks to all of you for help­ing to keep this sto­ry alive.  Alo­ha, Robin

p.s.  you can still make a tax deductible con­tri­bu­tion to our 10k goal by click­ing HERE.

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The Power of the Press, Part 2 — Roy Cummings

A blog in sup­port of FINDING KUKAN’s 10K in 10weeks “Keep This Film Alive Campaign”.

How was the pio­neer­ing female reporter May Day Lo con­nect­ed to KUKANs co-pro­duc­er Li Ling-Ai? Leads to that ques­tion had dried up for me a long time ago. Then last Novem­ber Hon­olu­lu Star-Adver­tis­er reporter Mike Gor­don wrote a big fea­ture arti­cle about FINDING KUKAN. I received a num­ber of enthu­si­as­tic emails about the arti­cle and one strange phone call.

I’m so mad!” Those were the first words Susan Cum­mings said to me. “I’m sure he knew her. If only he were still here, he could tell you.” She was refer­ring to her hus­band who was no longer alive. To tell you the truth, I thought Susan might be a rav­ing lunatic. But as we talked longer I real­ized that Susan’s late hus­band was Roy Cum­mings. He’d been a reporter at the Hon­olu­lu Adver­tis­er in 1937, the same year KUKAN’s direc­tor Rey Scott start­ed work­ing there. Like Rey Scott, he had roots in Mis­souri. Roy was also notable for try­ing to union­ize the Adver­tis­er at that time. Susan told me he was fired for doing so, was almost run over in a park­ing lot, and black­balled by the Hon­olu­lu Star-Bul­letin too. It would take Roy Cum­mings anoth­er 12 years to estab­lish the Hawaii News­pa­per Guild in 1949. He seemed just like the kind of guy that Rey Scott would grav­i­tate to.

Roy Cummings

Roy Cum­mings found­ed the Hawaii News­pa­per Guild in 1949 (pho­to cour­tesy of Hon­olu­lu Star-Bulletin)


Coin­ci­den­tal­ly Roy’s first wife Mar­garet Kam had been a “per­son of inter­est” to me when I was try­ing to hunt down the real life inspi­ra­tions for the detec­tive Lily Wu. Because Mar­garet was a col­or­ful char­ac­ter too – a Chi­nese actress and reporter in Hawaii who had the gump­tion to mar­ry a white guy at a time when tra­di­tion­al Chi­nese fam­i­lies still frowned upon those things.

Margaret Kam (center) mans the all female copy desk at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin during WWII (courtesy Susan Cummings)

Mar­garet Kam (cen­ter) mans the all female copy desk at the Hon­olu­lu Star-Bul­letin dur­ing WWII (cour­tesy Susan Cummings)


Once I made the con­nec­tion, the con­ver­sa­tion with Susan start­ed spark­ing with names and sit­u­a­tions from Roy Cummings’s past. I men­tioned that I had been try­ing to find infor­ma­tion on the Star Bul­letin reporter May Day Lo, and Susan exclaimed, “May Day Lo was Roy’s first love!” It turns out that Roy and May Day went to jour­nal­ism school togeth­er in Mis­souri. Roy fell in love with May Day and fol­lowed her out to Hawaii.

May Day Lo and Roy Cummings (center) gather with fellow University of Missouri journalism students in downtown Columbia

May Day Lo and Roy Cum­mings (cen­ter) gath­er with fel­low Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri jour­nal­ism stu­dents in down­town Columbia


Now I was the one who was mad that Roy was no longer alive. I felt sure that he’d been acquaint­ed with Li Ling-Ai and Rey Scott in one way or anoth­er. He prob­a­bly could have pro­vid­ed some inter­est­ing sto­ries about the two of them and the mak­ing of KUKAN. Susan gra­cious­ly invit­ed me over to her house in Lanikai to look at Roy’s pho­to­graph from the time peri­od – the next best thing to meet­ing the man in person.

Susan Cummings with portrait

Susan Cum­mings with Wyeth portrait


Susan Cummings hunts for clues her husband's photo albums

Susan Cum­mings hunts for clues in her hus­band’s pho­to albums

Roy’s pho­tos put more flesh and blood on what had pre­vi­ous­ly been mere­ly names on a page. They also gave me some insight into the lifestyle Rey Scott must have expe­ri­enced when he first arrived here.

Aloha Tower in the mid 1930s (photo courtesy Susan Cummings)

Alo­ha Tow­er in the mid 1930s (pho­to cour­tesy Susan Cummings)


Roy Cummings's Waikiki Shack

Like Roy Cum­mings, Rey Scott holed up in Waiki­ki when he first got to Hawaii. Could his room have looked like this? (pho­to cour­tesy of Susan Cummings)


But the pho­tos didn’t do much to fill in the gaps of the KUKAN sto­ry. In fact they brought up more ques­tions than answers. Susan her­self was mys­ti­fied as to what hap­pened between May Day Lo and Roy. Why had he mar­ried Mar­garet Kam instead of May Day? She’d nev­er thought to ask Roy about it when he was alive. I want­ed to know if any­one had saved May Day’s papers and if Ling-Ai’s let­ters or clues to KUKAN were amongst them.

Roy Cummings and May Day Lo in downtown Honolulu

Roy Cum­mings and May Day Lo in down­town Hon­olu­lu (pho­to cour­tesy Susan Cummings)


Egged on by mutu­al curios­i­ty Susan and I exchanged a flur­ry of emails and research find­ings in the next few weeks. Susan proved to be a will­ing and able sleuth, and togeth­er we found out some very inter­est­ing things which I’ll share in future posts. For now I want to pay trib­ute to the “father of the Hawaii News­pa­per Guild” and thank the ghost of Roy Cum­mings for putting Susan and I togeth­er. Of course the “pow­er of the press” had a lot to do with it too.

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The Power of the Press: Part 1– May Day Lo

A blog in support of FINDING KUKAN’s 10K in 10weeks “Keep This Film Alive Campaign”.

In the Lily Wu detec­tive nov­els by Juani­ta Sheri­dan one of the col­or­ful side­kicks is a female reporter named Steve (Stephanie Dugan) who fun­nels infor­ma­tion to her two ama­teur detec­tive friends Lily and Jan­ice. Since many of her fic­tion­al char­ac­ters are based on real life peo­ple, I won­dered if Sheri­dan based Steve on some of the ball­sy female reporters who were break­ing into news­rooms in the 1930s. So my ears pricked when I heard that Li Ling-Ai had a jour­nal­ist friend in the 30s and 40s named May Day Lo. Yes, that is her real name, and no she was not even born in May.

May Day Lo at the University of Missouri (photo courtesy Susan Cummings)

May Day Lo at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri (pho­to cour­tesy Susan Cummings)


In the mid 1930s May Day Lo made his­to­ry by being one of the first Asian Amer­i­can women hired to report for a major dai­ly news­pa­per. The pro­gres­sive Hon­olu­lu Star-Bul­letin hired Lo and Ah Jook Ku after they grad­u­at­ed from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri Jour­nal­ism School. May Day Lo also broke ground at Jour­nal­ism School by being the first “exchange stu­dent” accept­ed there (remem­ber, Hawaii was still a ter­ri­to­ry and not offi­cial­ly part of the Unit­ed States).

May Day Lo Exchange Student at University of Missouri

How does a girl from Hilo get to Mis­souri in 1933?


Notably, in 2010 when the Asian Amer­i­can Jour­nal­ists Asso­ci­a­tion put togeth­er a list of pio­neer­ing Asian jour­nal­ists, a major­i­ty of them were from Hawaii. AAJA his­to­ri­an Chris Chow com­ment­ed, “Hawaii was more open to mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism. There was recog­ni­tion that this is an impor­tant mar­ket and you’d bet­ter well serve them (Asian-Amer­i­cans) if you want to make any money.”

Back in the 30’s, the Star Bul­letin seemed to cov­er sto­ries about local Asians more com­pre­hen­sive­ly than the rival Hon­olu­lu Adver­tis­er.  And May Day Lo’s byline was on sev­er­al ear­ly arti­cles writ­ten about Li Ling-Ai, includ­ing the one that prob­a­bly prompt­ed Adver­tis­er reporter Rey Scott to call Li Ling-Ai into his office for an inter­view on that fate­ful night in 1937 when plans for mak­ing KUKAN were first hatched.


Li Ling-Ai appears on the front page of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 1937

Reporter May Day Lo gives front page cov­er­age to fel­low Chi­nese Amer­i­can pio­neer — Li Ling-Ai (aka Gladys Li)


I love know­ing that a petite Chi­nese woman who was raised by a rev­erend in Hilo was the first exchange stu­dent at the pres­ti­gious Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri School of Jour­nal­ism and that the pow­er of her pen brought atten­tion to anoth­er pio­neer­ing Chi­nese young woman in a way that changed her life for­ev­er. I want­ed to find out more about May Day Lo, espe­cial­ly when I found an intrigu­ing let­ter from her to Li Ling-Ai:

July 31, 1941,
Dear Li Ling Ai,
Now that I am home again, it all seems like a dream that I met you and all the oth­ers in New York and had such a won­der­ful time…. Please give my Alo­ha to Mrs. James Young, Rey Scott and Mr. Rip­ley when you see them.

May Day Lo had been in New York right around the time when KUKAN pre­miered at the World The­ater just off Broad­way! She had met both Rey Scott and Robert Rip­ley – two key play­ers in Li Ling-Ai’s life at the time. Could May Day hold clues to some of the unsolved mys­ter­ies sur­round­ing KUKAN?

Unfor­tu­nate­ly May Day had died in a trag­ic car acci­dent in 1986. May Lee Chung, edi­tor of the ACUW pub­li­ca­tion that doc­u­ments so many pio­neer­ing Chi­nese women’s lives (see oth­er posts about this “Orange Bible”), could remem­ber clear­ly the cir­cum­stances of May Day’s death. But she did not know what had become of May Day’s only child David, some­one who might be able to tell me more. The trail remained cold until the Pow­er of the Press struck again in 2011. Stay tuned…

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Soo Yong – Another Chinese Woman We Should Know More About – Part 2

A blog in support of FINDING KUKAN’s 10K in 10weeks “Keep This Film Alive Campaign”.

A fam­i­ly sto­ry often told about Soo Yong (born Ahee Young) is that when she was four or five years old her father became grave­ly ill and sum­moned the fam­i­ly to hear his last words.  But Ahee was miss­ing.  The fam­i­ly searched all over for her. They final­ly found her in Wailuku town.  She was com­plete­ly mes­mer­ized by the per­for­mance of a Chi­nese opera troupe who had come to town.  This is Soo Yong’s ear­li­est dra­mat­ic memory.

Chinese Opera Performers in Hawaii

Chi­nese Opera Per­form­ers in Hawaii


Si it must have been a dream come true for Soo Yong when in 1930, at 28 years of age, she was cho­sen to accom­pa­ny the most famous Chi­nese opera star of all time on a six-month tour of America.

SooYong & Mei Lanfang

Soo Yong acts as Mis­tress of Cer­e­monies for Mei Lan­fang’s 1930 tour of America


Mei Lan­fang was also idol­ized by Li Ling-Ai whose dra­mat­ic inter­ests were stirred up by Chi­nese opera per­for­mances her father took her to when she was a young girl. Dur­ing his 1930 tour Mei stopped in Hon­olu­lu and Li Ling-Ai had a chance to meet him.

Members of Hawaii's ACUW greet Mei Lanfang

Pho­to from the ACUW pub­li­ca­tion TRADITIONS FOR LIVING


A year or so lat­er Li Ling-Ai left on her sec­ond trip to Chi­na and told news­pa­per reporters she intend­ed to study with the great man – a lofty goal for a recent grad­u­ate of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawaii.  I won­dered if Soo Yong’s insid­er posi­tion embold­ened Li Ling-Ai to approach the great Mei for lessons.


Honolulu Star Bulletin article about Li Ling-Ai

Hon­olu­lu Star Bul­letin Arti­cle from August 6, 1932


I found no sub­se­quent men­tion of Li Ling-Ai study­ing with Mei Lan­fang.  But sev­er­al biogra­phies of Li state that she stud­ied pri­vate­ly with the famous dancer Chu Kuei Fang.  It was hard to find any men­tion of Chu Kuei Fang on the inter­net and I began to doubt Li Ling-Ai’s claims.  But in Soo Yong’s per­son­al scrap­book that was donat­ed to the Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawaii, I dis­cov­ered Chu list­ed as a per­former in a 1930 pro­gram for Mei Lanfang’s tour.


1930 Mei Lanfang Tour Program

Chu Kue-Fang per­forms on the same pro­gram as Mei Lanfang


Chu must have been very accom­plished to share stage time with the great Mei Lan­fang.  I won­der if this old pho­to, found amongst Li Ling-Ai’s pos­ses­sions, is of Chu Kuei Fang.  If any­one can pos­i­tive­ly iden­ti­fy the man in the pho­to, please let me know.

Li Ling-Ai with Chinese dancers

Could the man behind Li Ling-Ai be Chu Kuei-Fang?


Soo Yong and Li Ling-Ai also shared a pas­sion for help­ing their Chi­nese home­land dur­ing the Japan­ese inva­sion of the coun­try.  As ear­ly as 1937 Soo Yong was per­form­ing in ben­e­fits to aid Chi­nese refugees.

December 1937 Soo Yong hosts tea for China Relief

Decem­ber 1937 Soo Yong hosts tea for Chi­na Relief


1937 was also the year that Li Ling-Ai sent Rey Scott to Chi­na so that the sto­ry of the peo­ple of Chi­na could be told in pho­tographs and film – the film would even­tu­al­ly become KUKAN.  Whether Soo Yong was a role mod­el for Li Ling-Ai or sim­ply anoth­er extra­or­di­nary Chi­nese woman who became a polit­i­cal activist when war came we might nev­er know.  But one thing’s for cer­tain — we should def­i­nite­ly know more about her than we do.



Soo Yong: Another Chinese Woman We Should Know More About — Part I

Could the Chinese American actress Soo Yong have been an inspiration for the fictional Lily Wu? (photo courtesy of Barbara Wong)

Could the Chi­nese Amer­i­can actress Soo Yong have been an inspi­ra­tion for the fic­tion­al Lily Wu? (pho­to cour­tesy of Bar­bara Wong)


I’m start­ing a 10-week blog-a-thon in sup­port of our 10K in 10weeks “Keep This Film Alive Cam­paign”. The goal: get us back into the edit room on Octo­ber 15 to fin­ish a rough cut of FINDING KUKAN. What bet­ter way to kick off that effort than to re-vis­it my search for LILY WU – the fic­tion­al detec­tive cre­at­ed by author Juani­ta Sheri­dan. Accord­ing to Lily’s friend and Wat­son-like com­pan­ion Jan­ice Cameron, “Lily is a chameleon. She can change effort­less­ly into what­ev­er char­ac­ter the occa­sion requires…” Lily is also smarter, sex­i­er and more world­ly than most of the Cau­casian char­ac­ters she runs into.


Chinese Women Pioneers in Hawaii

This book, pub­lished by the Asso­ci­at­ed Chi­nese Uni­ver­si­ty Women of Hawaii, is a won­der­ful col­lec­tion of short bios

While try­ing to locate the real life inspi­ra­tions for Lily Wu I recall por­ing over what I now think of as THE ORANGE BIBLE (see pho­to above) and stop­ping short at the entry for Soo Yong. Why? Because Soo Yong was a Chi­nese movie star from Hawaii! She appeared glam­orous and gut­sy, run­ning away from a restric­tive small town life in Wailuku, Maui for the more cos­mopoli­tan Hon­olu­lu where she put her­self through school at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawaii and then Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty in NYC. She was just the kind of woman who might have inspired Juani­ta Sheri­dan to cre­ate Lily Wu. 
But my inter­est in Soo Yong tailed off when I dis­cov­ered that Soo Yong had left Hawaii before Juani­ta Sheri­dan arrived there, mak­ing it unlike­ly that the two women were friends. 

My inter­est in Soo Yong was re-ignit­ed when Li Ling-Ai’s sole sur­viv­ing sis­ter men­tioned that Ling-Ai had spent time in Hol­ly­wood and had been friend­ly with a Chi­nese actress from Maui. Sure enough, a key­word search through the Los Ange­les Times brought up a 1936 arti­cle plac­ing Soo Yong and Li Ling-Ai togeth­er in Hollywood:

“East is east and west is west, and the two of them met last Tues­day after­noon at Joine Alderman’s Salon. The east was per­son­i­fied by a love­ly Chi­nese lady whose name and voice are poet­ry itself, Li Ling Ai. Clad in her native black satin robes, embroi­dered in gold and sil­ver and shin­ing col­ors, she told the forty or so debs who com­prise the salon about her native coun­try. … And her words about the beau­ties of Pekin and her stud­ies in ancient phi­los­o­phy were trans­lat­ed to the debs by anoth­er Chi­nese-robed lady, Soo Yung.”

The gos­sip col­umn inac­cu­rate­ly assumed that Ling-Ai could not speak Eng­lish and Soo Yong was there mere­ly as a trans­la­tor, but it whet­ted my appetite to learn more about Soo Yong. Could she have been a men­tor or role mod­el for Li Ling-Ai?


Clark Gable and Soo Yong in The China Seas

Clark Gable and Soo Yong in The Chi­na Seas


Being an old movie nut, one of the first things I did was rent one of the Clark Gable movies Soo Yong had been in, Chi­na Seas. Although the movie depicts most Chi­nese in stereo­typ­i­cal coolie roles, Soo Yong con­vinc­ing­ly plays a high-brow Chi­nese aris­to­crat who out-class­es Gable’s ex-girl­friend played by Jean Har­low. This small 1935 role would lead to Yong play­ing two parts in the 1937 hit The Good Earth. She was also Jack Soo’s moth­er in Flower Drum Song and had sup­port­ing roles in Sol­dier of For­tune with Clark Gable, Peking Express with Joseph Cot­ton, and Love is a Many Splen­dored Thing with Jen­nifer Jones. Why we don’t know much about her may be because she was nev­er able to have a full-fledged Hol­ly­wood movie career.

In 1935 Soo Yong advised islanders that Asians have "A Chinaman's Chance" of breaking into Hollywood.

In 1935 Soo Yong advised islanders that Asians have “A Chi­na­man’s Chance” of break­ing into Hollywood.

In the 1930s Soo Yong was inter­viewed by Loui Leong Ho
p for the Hon­olu­lu Star-Bulletin:

When asked about the pos­si­bil­i­ty for local-born ori­en­tals to break into the talkies, she sim­ply said, “A Chi­nese has a Chinaman’s Chance.” Explain­ing fur­ther on this point Miss Young stat­ed that at present the Hol­ly­wood stu­dios are name crazed. If there’s a pro­duc­tion which required an ori­en­tal to play the part, the Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­ers would invari­ably select one of their more famous actors or actress­es.”

Unfor­tu­nate­ly not much has changed in Hol­ly­wood, and Asians still strug­gle to find star­ring roles on the big screen.

SooYong Lecture brochure

Soo Yong, Inter­preter of Chi­na to America

Soo Yong would even­tu­al­ly make a liv­ing on the lec­ture cir­cuit, per­form­ing enter­tain­ing Chi­nese mono­logues to edu­cate audi­ences around the coun­try about Chi­nese cul­ture. As of this date Soo Yong does not even have a Wikipedia page, but we should def­i­nite­ly know more about this pio­neer­ing Chi­nese Amer­i­can actress. Stay tuned for part two of this blog where I’ll write about some amaz­ing dis­cov­er­ies I found in Soo Yong’s per­son­al scrapbook.

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