Movie night: The World of Suzie Wong

The ferries in Hong Kong hadn’t changed much from 1960 when this movie The World of Suzie Wongwas made, until I visited in the mid-to-late 90’s.  I remember picking up the book in a hotel lobby, or got from a fellow expatriate. I’ve been looking for a chance to watch the movie since I was going to MTV’s to kill time in air-conditioned comfort between classes.   MTV”s were private cubicle/ rooms where you could watch from a huge selection of movies.  It was generally social for most people.  They tended to be fire-traps, but attractive to young people wanting to get away from their parents.  IMBD summarizes the movie:

Robert Lomax tired of working in an office, wants to be an artist. So he moves to Hong Kong to try his hand at painting. Finding a cheap hotel he checks in, only to find it’s used by prostitutes and their ‘dates’ who meet in the bar downstairs. Since he never picks up any of ladies, they all want to know more about him. Eventually he does hire one to model for him, but soon falls in love. But, since he’s on a limited budget, he can’t afford her exclusively, and doesn’t want to ‘share’ her. Written by Brian W Martz <>

I liked the novel, because it spoke openly (though not graphically) of the sex-trade. and  it noticed details of the culture that seemed so simultaneously prosaic and exotic, such as the way women in Asia put always sit at the front of a chair, and put their handbags behind them on the seat.  I could also relate to checking into a hotel to discover later it functioned primarily as a brothel.

I’m not sure the movie is true enough to the book. I can’t remember the hotel owner pampering a cat.   Chinese in South East Asia tend to treat cats as pariahs, but Cantonese are a unique culture.  I also don’t think the Suzie character looked very Asian.

There were some redeemable moments.

  • the movies shot on location in HK in the 1960’s.  Not as built up, but he natural landmarks are there, and the boats hadn’t.
  • The boy and girl clouds  story Suzie tells is a Chinese metaphor for sexual love, see Xin Qianlong
  • the open discussion of racism – and how if you mix with Chinese girls “your own people won’t accept you.”
  • the importance and meaning  of Face.

I waxed nostalgic a bit, but it seemed lighter than I remembered.  I am different now, and it was made for a movie audience.

I’d forgotten how centeral the theme of miscegenation was to the story.  Maybe that was part of what struck me back when I read the novel.