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Featured DVD Review: To Whom It May Concern: Ka Shen's Journey

October 11th, 2012

To Whom It May Concern: Ka Shen's Journey - Buy from Amazon

Nancy Kwan, a.k.a., Ka Shen, starred in The World of Suzie Wong. The film was a big success and critics praised her performance. She was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actress - Drama and even won the Golden Globe for Most Promising Newcomer - Female. This success led to roles in Flower Drum Song, but it wasn't long after that that she sort of faded away. She had roles in smaller movies and as guest shots on TV shows, but her career never matched its beginnings. Documentarian Brian Jamieson wanted to know what happened to her career.

The Movie

The film begins with audition tapes with Nancy Kwan before we bounce back to today and her being honored at the performance of the ballet based on the movie that first made her famous. We then switch back to her family and her childhood. Nancy Kwan's father, Kwan Wing Hong, was Chinese living in Hong Kong. Her mother, Marquita Scott, was an English actress also living in Hong Kong. Despite the societal norms, the pair fell in love and married. However, while they loved each other, it was 1939 and the rest of society wasn't as accepting and bigotry put a lot of strain on their marriage and it didn't last. 1939 wasn't just the year Nancy Kwan was born, it was the year World War II came to Hong Kong. Because Kwan Wing Hong spoke perfect English, he was recruited to be a spy. And when the Japanese conquered Hong Kong, the family fled to mainland China where the father helped rescue downed pilots. She hasn't even started school and her life is already fascinating.

This is not a typical Hollywood exposé. It is much more personal and much more intimate. We do hear quite a bit about the state of Hollywood movie industry, specifically about the practice of whitewashed casting. There were a few Asian actors, but most were relegated to supporting roles. Asian actors only started getting leading roles in the late 1950s, but that trend turned out to be short-lived and by the mid-1960s, Asians were no longer being cast in major roles. While this is an important piece of the film, the film spends more time talking about her family life and to her friends. This especially turns dramatic in the last third or so of the film when it discusses some personal tragedies. It is during these parts of the film that it is at its best.

The Extras

The only extras on the DVD are the trailer and two image galleries.

The Verdict

Even if you don't know a lot about Nancy Kwan, To Whom It May Concern: Ka Shen's Journey is still worth checking. It tells both about the movie industry and how for a long time ethnic minorities were underrepresented (and in many cases still are) but it also tells a deeply personal and emotional story. There are not a lot of extras on the DVD, but it is worth checking out. And if you are a Amazon Prime member, you can stream The World of Suzie Wong for free.

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