China To Bristol, Anna May Wong In Java Head

China To Bristol, Anna May Wong In Java Head

Static Mass Rating: 3/5
Optimum Home Entertainment 

Release date: June 20th 2011
Certificate (UK): PG
Running time: 80 minutes

Year of production: 1934

Director: Thorold Dickinson and J. Walter Ruben

Cast: Anna May Wong, John Loder, Elizabeth Allan, Ralph Richardson, Herbert Lomas and George Curzon.

Have you ever stepped foot in a different country and immediately felt you were an alien there? Not just to it’s culture, but to it’s people; that your experiences, customs and everything you’ve been brought up with was just as foreign to them as they were to you?

Set in Bristol in the 1800’s, Java Head is the story of a Chinese princess, Taou Yuen (Anna May Wong), who follows her new husband, Gerrit (John Loder), a young English sea captain from a wealthy shipping family, back to England where she becomes entangled in a long standing family feud.

Java Head

While Gerrit is handsome, intelligent and definitely a catch, he lacks both the understanding of Yuen’s culture and how to treat a new wife. Prior to meeting her, he was in love with a local girl, Nettie (Elizabeth Allan), but her deeply religious father kept them from marrying because of a disagreement with his father many years before.

As Yuen struggles to fit in it creates a rift between them and soon Gerrit is meeting up with his former lover once more in secret. As the meetings continue, it becomes clear to him, and to us, that he really loves Nettie and not Yuen.

It’s a poignant and at times heartbreaking story as we watch how Yuen is ostracised by society for her looks and her beliefs.

Java Head

Her clothing and make-up stands in stark contrast to the restrained Victorian setting, as do her outspoken and direct way of addressing people. Gossip about her start to become the favoured past time in the community.

Looking at it now, I can’t help but wonder of how much of the story Wong related to. She was the first Chinese American movie star and the first Asian American to become an international star with a career spanning four decades. Although she was born to second-generation Chinese-American parents, Wong was for a time being pigeon holed into stereotypical supporting roles by Hollywood so she had a lot of those ideas to rise up against.

Java Head

While the families continue to feud, tensions are also rife between Gerrit and his “landlubber” brother who wants to convert to steamships, to the disgust of his father. There’s also evidence that he’s secretly dealing in contraband.

Optimum’s double bill release also includes another Anna May Wong classic, Tiger Bay (1934). In this one, Wong plays Lui Chang, a nightclub owner who refuses to be intimidated or driven out of business by a group of thugs.

Unfortunately there are no special features, but that doesn’t get in the way of these films being very enjoyable. Wong is captivating, enigmatic and able to steal any scene she’s in with her subdued, subtle and yet striking performance and delivery style. Both films serve as a good introduction to an international star and icon.

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