World of Suzie Wong, The (1960): Richard Quine’s Interracial Melodrama Starring William Holden and Nancy Kwan (Racism)

Opening at Radio City Music Hall, the country’s prime showcase, on November 10, 1960, The World of Suzie Wong was one of the year’s top-grossing pictures, despite mostly negative reviews.
The movie, directed by Richard Quine, was loosely based on a minor stage play about a young American artist (William Holden) and a Hong Kong prostitute (Nancy Kwan). Once acquired for the big screen, the material was  tamed (sexually) and then blown out of proportion with a typically glossy Hollywood treatment.
Shot in Hong Kong in Technicolor and CinemaScope, the movie benefited from its travelogue elements, and from the appearance of William Holden, then at the peak of his stardom, even if he was too old to play the part.
In this sanitized screenplay, there was no hint to suggest the true facts of prostitution–the profession’s disease, high mortality rate, sordid conditions. Instead, audiences were offered a schmaltzy interracial romance between Holden, then 42, as an American architect, who decides to take a one-year-sabbatical to try painting, and Nancy Kwan, as his pretty, squeaky-clean girlfriend-prostitute.
Dreamy and delusional, she imagines her origins to be from wealth and social prominence. Suzie Wong plies her trade amidst fantasy. Upon meeting Holden, she offers to be his “steady girlfriend,” and the world-weary man rebuffs her on the grounds that he has had enough love and only wants to paint. As a result, Suzie becomes his model, which gives the director plenty of opportunities to display the beautiful Kwan in various poses.
Meanwhile, he is pursued by Sylvia Syms, the daughter of an English banker, who promises to help him sell his paintings London. Wishing to settle down and marry him, Syms is repelled by his involvement with Suzie, whom she snubs.
For her part, Suzie goes through as series of humiliations, when she is dropped abruptly by a middle-aged millionaire (Michael Wilding).
Holdent then takes her as his mistress, only to find out that she always looks for excuses to be gone. Following Suzie, he realizes that Suzie is the mother of a baby raised by someone else
Melodrama kicks in when Suzi wishes to resume work in order to support him and her baby. which hurts his macho pride, causing a break-up. In one of the few “harsh” scenes, Holden tears Kwan’s dress off when she shows up in his place dressed up like a western prostitute.
Predictably, the separation is not for too long. When he learns that the house where her baby lived collapsed during rainy landslide, he proposes to marry her; you see, all along, Suzie was a good mother, making sure that her baby gets respectable, traditional Chinese burial services.
Holden is too old (and looks worn out and older than his age from drinking) to play the aspiring young artist in Hong Kong who falls for a Chinese prostitute. The weak script, and the restrictions of the Production of Code in the name of bourgeois taste and morality made the movie worse.
Director Quine, realizing the inherent limitations of the material, understandably devotes most of his attention to the Hong Kong locations.
One of the top-grossers of 1960s, the film reaffirmed the stature of William Holden as a major star.
 
Cast
Robert Lomax (William Holden)
Suzie Wong (Nancy Kwan)
Kay O’Neill (Sylvia Syms)

Ben (Michael Wilding)
Gweene Lee (Jacqueline Chan)
Mr. O’Neill (Laurence Naismith)

 

Credits
Director Richard Quine
Producer Ray Stark
Screenplay John Patrick
Camera Geoffrey Unsworth
Editor Bert Bates
Music George Dunning

Art Director John Box

 

Running time: 130 Minutes.