Virtually each working Asian actor in Hollywood can hint their path again to Bruce Lee and Anna Could Wong.

The Chinese language American display screen legends are usually talked about the way in which one talks about revered ancestors. One was a martial arts icon, the opposite an actor who stood out through the silent movie period regardless of enjoying girls who had been both submissive or dragon women. Each are credited with demonstrating Asians could possibly be extra than simply extras for motion pictures about China or Chinatown.

Though Wong was born in 1905 in Los Angeles and Lee in 1940 in San Francisco, their households prefer to think about they crossed paths.

“They might have. Nicely, they might have seen one another at like a celebration or one thing,” stated Anna Wong, the elder Wong’s niece and namesake.

“My father was an actor when he was a baby in Hong Kong. So, you recognize, he could have seen a few of her movies that got here throughout,” Shannon Lee chimed in. “He cherished to see Hollywood movies as nicely when he was younger.”

Bruce Lee, left, who performs Kato in “The Inexperienced Hornet,” and Chinese language-American actress Anna Could Wong.
– Related Press file pictures

Lee and Wong had by no means met earlier than doing a current joint Zoom interview with The Related Press. They found parallel experiences defending the legacy of a member of the family who occurs to be an icon of each Hollywood and Asian America.



They’ve seen their family’ reputation ebb and stream over many years. They’ve grappled with bogus long-lost little one claims, bizarre licensing requests and on-screen portrayals out of their management. However they’ve additionally seen how the fascination continues: There are museum reveals, TV present tasks and an American quarter tribute.

With “The whole lot In all places All at As soon as” poised to snag trophies on the Oscars on Sunday — notably for Asian forged members Michelle Yeoh and Ke Huy Quan — each girls mirrored on how issues have modified because the blatantly racist practices that permeated Wong and Lee’s heydays.

Lee has a “smooth spot” for Yeoh as a result of she got here from kung fu cinema like her father. She’s thrilled for Yeoh’s recognition, particularly as a result of for thus lengthy Hollywood used Bruce Lee to justify casting Asians solely as characters there simply to karate chop.

“After all she’s doing motion within the movie however being acknowledged for her artistry and her performing and for all of that’s actually heartwarming for me to see,” she stated. “And Ke as nicely who … as a younger child was very type of stereotyped and he was put in a field due to it.”



It is particularly phenomenal in comparison with Anna Could Wong’s period, based on her niece.

“Again in these days, nobody had an Asian man and an Asian lady within the lead roles,” Wong stated. “It is loopy how far we have come. However then once more, how far are we?”

Whereas Lee was 4 when her father died, Wong by no means met her aunt. She knew her as “the beautiful woman” within the photos her father — Anna Could Wong’s brother — stored round the home.

“When he began telling me concerning the fairly woman, I used to be wanting to understand who she was,” Wong stated. “After which I grew to become obsessed together with her movies and seeing every kind of issues.”

Each grew up listening to tales of how Anna Could Wong and Bruce Lee fought arduous in opposition to stereotypes, but had been generally caught in unwinnable conditions.

After gaining fame in motion pictures like “The Thief of Bagdad” and “Shanghai Categorical,” Anna Could Wong suffered one of many biggest disappointments of her life in 1937. She misplaced the lead function of a Chinese language villager in “The Good Earth” to Luise Rainer, who was white. Rainer went on to win a greatest actress Oscar.

The youthful Wong brings this up on the lecture circuit. Millennial audiences “discover it utterly irrational to say, ‘OK, so let’s take a Caucasian individual and make them as much as seem like an Asian individual and … nobody will discover,'” Wong stated.

Anna Wong, niece of the late actress Anna May Wong, left, poses with Shannon Lee, daughter of the late martial arts actor Bruce Lee, at Douglas Park in Santa Monica, Calif. They both discovered parallel experiences protecting the legacy of a family member who happens to be a Hollywood and Asian American icon.

Anna Wong, niece of the late actress Anna Could Wong, left, poses with Shannon Lee, daughter of the late martial arts actor Bruce Lee, at Douglas Park in Santa Monica, Calif. They each found parallel experiences defending the legacy of a member of the family who occurs to be a Hollywood and Asian American icon.
– Related Press

“It is really an excellent factor that right now’s era thinks that that is loopy,” Lee added.

Even incomes a lead function did not essentially imply a giant payday for Asian expertise. Earlier than Bruce Lee went to Hong Kong and made hits like “The Large Boss” and “Fist of Fury,” he was Kato in “The Inexperienced Hornet.” The TV sequence premiered in 1966, solely lasting a season and carrying a large pay disparity.

“If you take a look at the pay stubs after which they are saying what everybody’s getting paid, he is like manner down on the underside,” Lee stated. “Hopefully, there’s modifications taking place there.”

Neither actor was ever nominated for an Oscar. However the 2020 Netflix miniseries “Hollywood” depicted an alternate universe the place Anna Could Wong — performed by Michelle Krusiec — received an Oscar. It created a nuisance for her niece and a reminder of a tragic time within the actor’s life.

“After that sequence got here out, folks stated, ‘Do you have got her Oscar?'” Wong stated. “I am pondering, ‘You understand that that sequence was fictionalized, proper?'”

Quentin Tarantino’s 2019 flick “As soon as Upon a Time… in Hollywood” featured a fictitious scene of Bruce Lee choosing (and dropping) a struggle with Brad Pitt’s stuntman character. His daughter criticized the cameo as nothing however “horrible tropes,” even penning an op-ed in The Hollywood Reporter.

“With this one movie now everyone’s like, ‘Oh, that is what Bruce Lee was actually like,'” Lee instructed the AP. “No, that was not what he was like in any respect.”

Anna Could Wong died in 1961 at 56 and Bruce Lee died in 1973 at 32. All these years later, the curiosity in them hasn’t abated.

In a complete coincidence, each households not too long ago signed on as producers of biopics. Lee is working with Oscar-winning director Ang Lee (no relation), Wong with “Loopy Wealthy Asians” star Gemma Chan.

“Ang is a really earnest, gracious man. I believe he desires to make a very nice movie,” stated Lee, who’s been engaged on her film for a number of years. “I might say on this second I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Wong virtually walked away from her challenge when a number of self-proclaimed “Anna Could Wong specialists” reached out to producers — however they reassured her they’re “not going to take these folks on after we can have an precise relative of Anna Could Wong.”

They each additionally obtain (and sometimes deny) regular merchandising proposals like Anna Could Wong teacups and Bruce Lee soccer helmets, snack bowls and tin guitars.

“I suppose I’ve to say it does converse to the love that folks have. So I am grateful for that,” Lee stated.

Each girls hope folks take away classes in perseverance when taking a look at Bruce Lee’s and Anna Could Wong’s lives. They had been “symbols of what is doable,” Lee stated.

“For them to have gotten the chance to get on the display screen, within the first place meant that they’d extraordinarily large power, superb work ethic after which they had been capable of accomplish the inconceivable in a roundabout way,” she added.

Tang is a member of The Related Press’ Race and Ethnicity group. Comply with her on Twitter at @ttangAP.


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