Tag Archives: Li Ling-Ai

June 28, 2012 — A Visit to Yale and Chinese Exclusion

The recent FINDING KUKAN shoot at Yale Uni­ver­si­ty brought out the per­pet­u­al stu­dent in me.  You can’t help but be awed by the vault­ed ceil­ings and Knights of the Round Table atmos­phere of the Hall of Grad­u­ate Stud­ies where my inter­view with Yale Pro­fes­sor of Amer­i­can Stud­ies Mary Lui took place.

Photo of Yale Graduate Studies Building

Yale Grad­u­ate Stud­ies Build­ing on York Street

The build­ing reminds you how much his­to­ry has come before you and how much you are igno­rant of.

Photo of Robin Lung at Yale

Direc­tor Robin Lung at Yale

 

For­tu­nate­ly the halls of learn­ing at Yale are pop­u­lat­ed by peo­ple like Mary who ded­i­cate their lives to gath­er­ing knowl­edge and dis­sem­i­nat­ing it to peo­ple like me.

 

Robin Lung interviews Mary Lui for FINDING KUKAN

Robin Lung inter­views Mary Lui for FINDING KUKAN

 

In try­ing to under­stand the social cli­mate that prompt­ed Li Ling-Ai and Rey Scott to risk mon­ey and life to make KUKAN, Mary Lui remind­ed me that the behav­ior of Chi­nese Amer­i­cans like Li Ling-Ai was still gov­erned in part by prej­u­di­cial immi­gra­tion laws enact­ed against the Chi­nese — the most infa­mous one being the Chi­nese Exclu­sion Act passed in 1882.

Signature Page of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act

Sig­na­ture Page of the 1882 Chi­nese Exclu­sion Act

Meant to keep cheap labor from enter­ing the US, the exclu­sion laws end­ed up doing much more than that. From restrict­ing the for­ma­tion of Chi­nese fam­i­lies, to ren­der­ing the few Chi­nese women around at the time exot­ic crea­tures with ques­tion­able back­grounds the Exclu­sion Laws had neg­a­tive reper­cus­sions on even the rich­est and most edu­cat­ed Chi­nese Amer­i­cans.  It’s no won­der that with so few Chi­nese Amer­i­cans around that stereo­types and mis­con­cep­tions about them would form.

Vintage Valentine Card

Vin­tage Valen­tine Card

 

I came back to Hawaii much bet­ter pre­pared to appre­ci­ate the his­toric bill recent­ly passed by Con­gress to offi­cial­ly apol­o­gize for the prej­u­di­cial laws that tar­get­ed Chi­nese and oth­er Asians in Amer­i­ca for over 80 years.

 

Judy Chu

Judy Chu intro­duced Apol­o­gy Bill for Chi­nese Exclu­sion Laws

 

One of the stereo­types I had about my own eth­nic back­ground was that Chi­nese don’t make waves and pas­sive­ly accept their fate, let­ting bygones be bygones.

Action Call Post­ed by the 1882 Project

The coura­geous efforts of peo­ple like Con­gress­woman Judy Chu and orga­ni­za­tions like the 1882 Project belie that stereo­type and bring a new val­i­da­tion to the his­to­ry of Asians in Amer­i­ca that will hope­ful­ly prompt more sto­ries about an era of exclu­sion that we still don’t know enough about.

Are there ways that exclu­sion laws have affect­ed your life?  Let us hear from you.

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February 15, 2012 — A Fashion Interlude

Recent­ly I had the good for­tune of meet­ing one of Ling-Ai’s nieces who had saved many of Ling-Ai’s papers and pos­ses­sions.  I am cur­rent­ly por­ing through doc­u­ments and pieces of paper, look­ing for clues that tell more about the mak­ing of KUKAN.  It can be a tedious job.  So I took an after­noon off to explore some of Ling-Ai’s fash­ion acces­sories that had been painstak­ing­ly packed away.  Ling-Ai had an obvi­ous flair for fash­ion.  And the vin­tage clothes lover in me went gaga as I opened this eye-catch­ing tres MOD turquoise hat box. 

Photo of Li Ling-Ai's Hat Box.

Li Ling-Ai’s Mod Turquoise Hat Box could be a fash­ion acces­so­ry in itself

 

The con­tents of the box did not dis­ap­point.  I dis­cov­ered three exquis­ite­ly craft­ed lit­tle num­bers.  A pink bro­cade small saucer hat with a stun­ning plume was my favorite.

Photo of Li Ling-Ai's Nick Savage pink brocade hat.

Plumed pink bro­cade hat by Nick Savage

 
I had a lot of fun imag­in­ing the type of occa­sion Ling-Ai chose to wear this hat to.
 
 
Photo of pink brocade hat.
 
Photo of Nick Savage pink brocade plumed hat owned by Li Ling-Ai
While pho­tograph­ing this hat, I noticed the amaz­ing crafts­man­ship that went into it’s construction.
 
Photo of detail from pink brocade hat by Nick Savage

Detail of pink bro­cade hat.

A signed label was sewn into the inside lin­ing of the hat.  Nick Sav­age appears to be the tal­ent­ed milliner who made it.
 
Photo of inside of pink brocade hat
These next two pieces were also made by Nick. And are equal­ly exquisite.
 
 
Photo of gold ponytail hat by Nick Savage.

Gold pony­tail hat by Nick Savage.Gold-banded camel­lia hat by Nick Savage

 
 
 
Photo of gold-banded camellia hat by Nick Savage

Gold-band­ed camel­lia hat by Nick Savage

 

The lit­tle details are mar­velous. Check out the sep­a­rate braid­ed strands that start this gold pony-tail plume.

Photo of gold ponytail saucer hat by Nick Savage

 And the per­fect posi­tion­ing of the bro­cad­ed fabric.
 
Gold ponytail saucer hat by Nick Savage.
The camel­lia on this inven­tive piece was a lit­tle a squished, but I imag­ine it was pret­ty sump­tious when Ling-Ai wore it back in the day.
 
Photo of gold-banded camellia hat by Nick Savage
Gold-banded camellia hat by Nick Savage
 
I could­n’t find any infor­ma­tion on the inter­net about the tal­ent­ed Nick Sav­age.  But I did find a lit­tle label in the inside of this camel­lia hat. 
 
 
 It had a New York City address — 350 East 50th Street — from Google Maps it looks to be a build­ing just off Lex­ing­ton Ave.  If any fash­ion­istas have any more infor­ma­tion on him, please let me know.  I have Mr. Sav­age’s millinery gifts, Li Ling-Ai’s fash­ion sense and her niece’s fore­sight to thank for a won­der­ful after­noon spent in a world of gamorous fantasy. 
 
Black velvet rhinestone and pearl studded hat from Li Ling-Ai's collection.

Black vel­vet rhine­stone and pearl stud­ded hat from Li Ling-Ai’s collection.

 
To top off my post I’ll leave with a few shots of anoth­er gor­geous top­per in Ling-Ai’s col­lec­tion (by an unknown maker).
 
 Detail of Velvet Hat
 

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December 5–10, 2011 — LA Production Shoot

My main rea­son for trav­el­ing to LA was to inter­view Li Ling-Ai’s nephew Andrew Li who was a young boy of 8, liv­ing in Nanking when Rey Scott and Li Ling-Ai began pre-pro­duc­tion for KUKAN.

Photo of Robin Lung talking to Andrew Li

Ann Kaneko films FINDING KUKAN direc­tor Robin Lung meet­ing with Li Ling-Ai’s nephew Andrew Li.

I hoped to find out more infor­ma­tion from Andrew about Ling-Ai’s con­nec­tions in Chi­na at the time. Though I was able to gath­er some valu­able infor­ma­tion from my inter­view, the 5 days in LA turned out to be about so much more — a lot of it behind the scenes stuff that will nev­er make it into the documentary.

Get­ting to know the tal­ent­ed film­mak­er Ann Kaneko was one of the unex­pect­ed bonus­es of the trip. Thanks to gen­er­ous dona­tions from ear­ly FINDING KUKAN sup­port­ers, I was able to hire Ann for a cou­ple of days as my LA Direc­tor of Pho­tog­ra­phy. Hav­ing a dp with a real inter­est in the project and expe­ri­ence with both edit­ing and being a char­ac­ter in her own films was invaluable.

Photo of Ann Kaneko with Julio and Ceiba

Ann Kaneko with Julio and Ceiba

Wit­ness­ing Ann bal­anc­ing her ded­i­ca­tion to her work with the demands of rais­ing her 8‑month old daugh­ter Cei­ba was a real inspi­ra­tional shot-in-the-arm too.

Andrew Li inspects photographs

Andrew Li inspects photographs

As I lunched with Andrew Li, his daugh­ters Por­tia and Quin­cy, and his wife Gil­da I got a sense of the rich life Li Ling-Ai had beyond KUKAN and the pro­found rip­ple effect that per­son­al sto­ries can have through time and space.

Photo of the Reading Room of the Margaret Herrick Library

John Zain­er talks to Ed Carter in front of the $500,000 King Kong poster that dec­o­rates the Mar­garet Her­rick Library’s read­ing room.

 

Film­ing B‑roll scenes of Ed Carter at the Mar­garet Her­rick Library intro­duced me to this gor­geous build­ing and amaz­ing film his­to­ry resource for the first time (I am already think­ing of excus­es to return to spend more leisure­ly hours there).

Photo of Ann Kaneko and Rebecca Bozzo in Margaret Herrick Library

Ann Kaneko and Rebec­ca Boz­zo prep for a shoot at the Mar­garet Her­rick Library

It also gave me an excuse to hook up with the peren­ni­al­ly upbeat Rebec­ca Boz­zo again. Bec­ca is a ded­i­cat­ed young film­mak­er who shares a pas­sion for old movies and has been a FINDING KUKAN sup­port­er from almost day one.

photo of Dan & Denise Levenick with Robin Lung

Dan & Denise Lev­enick with Robin Lung

Dan & Denise Lev­enick invit­ed me to their home in Pasade­na to view their moth­er’s home movies and pho­tographs of 1930s Hawaii. Besides giv­ing me anoth­er rea­son to mar­vel at the gen­eros­i­ty and kind­ness of strangers, Dan and Denise pro­vid­ed me with pre­cious “before-my-time” knowl­edge of my home town.

Photo of AMPAS Preservationist Joe Lindner

AMPAS Preser­va­tion­ist Joe Lind­ner describes how curled the KUKAN film print is.

Talk­ing to AMPAS Pres­re­va­tion­ist Joe Lind­ner about the ardu­ous process of restor­ing KUKAN gave me new insights into the pre­cious nature of old film, the his­toric val­ue that even old home movies have, and the galling num­ber of films that have been destroyed by time.

Photo of Ille-Heid Zainer

Ille-Heid Zain­er and her fresh baked bread.

photo of John Zainer

John Zain­er’s 1971 VW Van was the per­fect LA pro­duc­tion vehicle.


Final­ly my hosts in LA, John and Ille-Heid Zan­er, pro­vid­ed me with an inti­mate view of what liv­ing in LA can be like, invit­ing me to neigh­bor­hood par­ties, pro­vid­ing home-cooked meals after long days of shoot­ing, chauf­fer­ing me around in vin­tage vehi­cles, and shar­ing Ille’s sis­ter Elke’s amaz­ing Christ­mas cook­ies with me.

Elke’s Cook­ies

The result is that after my 5‑day pro­duc­tion shoot in LA, a city that I once had a very low opin­ion of, I can’t wait to go back.

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December 1 to 31, 2011 — Producer/Director Robin Lung Featured on Career Changers TV

Although I’m more com­fort­able being behind the cam­era than in front of it, I agreed to be pro­filed on OC 16’s Career Chang­ers TV show in order to get the word out about FINDING KUKAN.  Pro­duc­er Rich Figel and Cameraman/Editor Stan Chang man­aged to boil my life of job-hop­ping down to a suc­cinct 4 min­utes or so.  Even bet­ter, the lead in and out of the piece made peo­ple real­ly want to see the work-in-progress trail­er and learn more about KUKAN.  The show airs through Decem­ber on dig­i­tal chan­nel 16 or 1016 in Hawaii.  The show is rebroad­cast Fri 2:30pm, Sat 6:30pm, Sun 12:30am, Mon 9:00am, and Wed 2pm and Thur 8:30pm through Decem­ber.  If you can’t catch it, here is a low res­o­lu­tion version.

 

You can see the nice lead up to the trail­er here.  And a fab­u­lous arti­cle Rich wrote about “The Mys­tery of Li Ling-Ai” here.

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December 12, 2011 — Gifts from the Blogosphere Part II

Besides the beau­ti­ful KUKAN lob­by card, blog­ger Duri­an Dave also sent this evoca­tive pho­to of Li Ling-Ai. 

Li Ling-Ai arrives in LA for KUKAN pub­lic­i­ty tour, 1941

She is caught debark­ing a Unit­ed Air­lines plane in Los Ange­les, arriv­ing from New York where she had moved in 1939 or 1940.  She was in town for the Los Ange­les pre­miere of KUKAN at the Esquire The­ater on Fairfax. 

KUKAN pre­miered at the Esquire The­ater in Los Ange­les on August 15, 1941

Sad­ly, the Esquire The­ater was pur­chased In 1953 Can­ter’s Deli pur­chased the the­ater.  The won­der­ful mar­quee is miss­ing, but sup­pos­ed­ly you can still see rem­nants of the old the­ater in the inte­ri­or while eat­ing your sand­which (an activ­i­ty I have yet to do).   The cap­tion on the back of the pho­to quotes Li Ling-Ai as say­ing “No mat­ter how long nor how hard the strug­gle, Chi­na will win its unde­clared war with Japan. It is grave­ly con­cerned at the threat to the Bur­ma Road con­tained in Japan­ese occu­pa­tion of Indo-Chi­na, but nonethe­less confident.”

It is great proof of the part that Li Ling-Ai played in help­ing to pub­li­cize the film KUKAN and keep the gen­er­al pub­lic aware of what was going on in Chi­na at the time. 

Ling-Ai’s ear­ly affin­i­ty for air­plane trav­el and her desire to learn to fly a plane was one of the first things that impressed me about her.  Pri­or to find­ing KUKAN I had­n’t heard of any Chi­nese women tak­ing to the skies ala Amelia Earhardt.  While research­ing the era, how­ev­er, I’ve dis­cov­ered that there were sev­er­al Chi­nese women who were not­ed pilots in the 30’s — Lee Ya Ching, Mag­gie Gee and Hazel Ying Lee to name a few. 

Thanks to Duri­an Dav­e’s blog– I’ve dis­cov­ered anoth­er Chi­nese Amer­i­can woman who by the looks of this pho­to was not only an ear­ly fly­er but an ear­ly movie direc­tor as well. 

Actress Olive Young behind the cam­era (cour­tesy Soft Film and Duri­an Dave)

Olive Young is bet­ter known as an actress who left her birth­place of Mis­souri to become a film star in Chi­na.  Unfor­tu­nate­ly she seems to have had a trag­ic end and lit­tle is known about her fim­mak­ing career.

Still I can’t help but be inspired by the pho­tographs of these ear­ly Chi­nese ground­break­ing women.  And I won­der what was in the air at the time that caused them to jump in cock­pits and take up cam­eras and attempt count­less oth­er dar­ing feats that had nev­er been attempt­ed by women before?  Thanks to the blo­gos­phere for mak­ing it eas­i­er to explore that time peri­od and find oth­er time-trav­el­ing souls.

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July 23, 2011 — A Visit to the New York City Office of the National Archives

When I first start­ed check­ing to see if Li Ling-Ai could have been the real life inspi­ra­tion for the fic­tion­al detec­tive Lily Wu, I tracked down some of her trav­els through boat records that are avail­able on Ancestry.com.  One of the Ances­try records was a New York Exclu­sion file that list­ed the date of her arrival in San Fran­cis­co.  Going over the notes on the record again, I saw that Li Ling-Ai’s file includ­ed an inter­ro­ga­tion.  Since the inter­ro­ga­tion occurred only a year before Li Ling-Ai met Rey Scott and con­ceived of mak­ing the movie KUKAN, I was anx­ious to read through the inter­ro­ga­tion to see if it con­tained any clues.  In July I final­ly got a chance to vis­it the NYC office of the Nation­al Archives where Li Ling-Ai’s Exclu­sion file is located.

photo of Robin Lung at the NYC office of the National Archives

Robin Lung exam­ines Li Ling-Ai’s Chi­nese Exclu­sion File at the NYC office of the Nation­al Archives

It was amaz­ing­ly well-pre­served, and I had a lot of mixed emo­tions while exam­in­ing it.  On the one hand, I was excit­ed to see a pho­to­graph of Li Ling-Ai in the file that I had nev­er seen before and let­ters that were hand-writ­ten by her.  Han­dling the doc­u­ments gave me a very vis­cer­al con­nec­tion to the past and to this woman that I have been pur­su­ing for the last cou­ple of years.

photo of Li Ling-Ai's Chinese Exclusion File

Li Ling-Ai’s Chi­nese Exclu­sion File

On the oth­er hand I was appalled that this file exist­ed in the first place.  I had to think about the bla­tant anti-Chi­nese dis­crim­i­na­tion that led to The Chi­nese Exclu­sion Law — the rea­son for the cre­ation of the file I was touch­ing.  I was astound­ed that a U.S. cit­i­zen like Li Ling-Ai (she was born in Hawai‘i in 1908 when it was already a U.S. Ter­ri­to­ry) who had a U.S. Pass­port (doc­u­ment­ed in the file) would have to spend days at the NYC Immi­gra­tion Office in order to get a re-entry form that would make it pos­si­ble for her to come back to her own coun­try after leav­ing it!  And that she would have to sit through an inter­ro­ga­tion to prove that she was authen­tic despite all the oth­er doc­u­men­ta­tion she had made me even more indignant.

 

As a researcher, I was thank­ful to be able to access the reveal­ing infor­ma­tion in the file and draw both the pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive ener­gy from it.  So I have to acknowl­edge the hard work that goes into index­ing, stor­ing and retriev­ing these records.  That day at the Archives I wit­nessed two vol­un­teers who were labo­ri­ous­ly going through files and enter­ing data into lap­tops so that oth­ers like me could find infor­ma­tion about ances­tors and char­ac­ters from the past.  I wish I had got­ten their names and tak­en pho­tos of them if only to pay a small homage to all the oth­ers like them who have helped for­ward my investigation.

photo of documents in Li Ling-Ai's Chinese Exclusion File

Doc­u­ments in Li Ling-Ai’s Chi­nese Exclu­sion File

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July 11–16 Road Trip to Kennesaw & Tallahassee

Director Robin Lung behind the camera

Direc­tor Robin Lung films in Georgia

I was a more than a lit­tle ner­vous as I pre­pared for a trip to Geor­gia and Flori­da to meet descen­dants of KUKAN cam­era­man Rey Scott for the first time.  I was plan­ning to spend a week with Rey Scot­t’s grand­daugh­ter artist Michelle Scott and take a long road trip with her from her home in Ken­ne­saw, Geor­gia to her uncle’s house in Tal­la­has­see.  Michelle was on a mis­sion to find more of her grand­fa­ther’s pho­tographs and learn as much as she could about what he was like as a per­son.  I want­ed to tag along to doc­u­ment her search and poke around myself for addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion about Li Ling-Ai.
Michelle Scott in her studio.

Michelle Scott with a few paint­ings from her KUKAN series

As I packed my suit­case I wor­ried that since Michelle and I did­n’t real­ly know each oth­er the trip could be a total fias­co.  For­tu­nate­ly Michelle and the rest of the Scott fam­i­ly were so open­heart­ed and sup­port­ive that I felt instant­ly com­fort­able after meet­ing them and the trip was more suc­cess­ful than I could have imag­ined.   Wit­ness­ing Michelle’s pas­sion for her art and her com­mit­ment to pre­serv­ing her grand­fa­ther’s lega­cy infused me with new ener­gy to face all of the tedious things that go along with doc­u­men­tary film­mak­ing (like log­ging and tran­scrib­ing footage and writ­ing grant proposals).

Ray Scott

Ray Scott relax­es before interview.

I real­ize that gain­ing access to peo­ple and places out­side of my every­day com­fort zone is one of the immea­sur­able rewards of this process.  I’m look­ing for­ward to what the next road trip will bring me.

Mark Scott and Michelle Scott examine Rey Scott's cameras

Mark Scott and Michelle Scott exam­ine Rey Scot­t’s cam­eras as cam­era­man Kevin Deyo films the scene.

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