#102) The Curse of Quon Gwon (1916/1917)

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#102) The Curse of Quon Gwon: When the Far East Mingles With the West (1916/1917)

OR “Where’s the Rest of Me?”

Directed & Written by Marion E. Wong

Class of 2006

For some reason this version has music and fake title cards throughout. You can watch the unaltered version on the film’s Wikipedia page.

The Plot: This is a tough one. The film begins with text explaining that what you are about to see are the first two reels of an incomplete silent film with missing title cards. As far as I can tell the story concerns a Chinese couple living in America who have started to assimilate to western culture, much to the anger of a statue of a Chinese god, who places a curse on the two. After that, your guess is as good as mine.

Why It Matters: The film’s discovery and restoration are discussed in the NFR’s brief write-up, as well as the film’s claim to some of this country’s earliest ethnic filmmaking.

But Does It Really?: Due to its lost status, I could easily label this a “Belloq film” and move on. But unlike other rediscovered silent films, this one actually has more historical significance behind it. “Curse of Quon Gwon” was written and directed by a Chinese woman, a rarity of both ethnicity and gender. And because this was all done outside of the Hollywood studio system, it’s also one of the first surviving independent films. Check your basements, Oakland. Let’s find those missing reels! Or at least some title cards so I can find out what the heck is happening!

Everybody Gets One: Marion E. Wong created the Mandarin Film Company after visiting China at 16 years old and seeing the stark differences between eastern and western culture for the first time. With financial support from her uncle, Marion wrote, directed, and produced “The Curse of Quon Gwan”. She also designed the costumes and cast her family in various parts, including her sister as the lead. When the film failed to receive a distribution deal after its premiere, Marion shut down her film company and never spoke of the film again. Her children were unaware she had ever made a film until after her death in 1969.

Other notes

  • This may be the only film on the list that mentions its NFR standing in the opening.
  • Despite no title cards, we do get a main title, which predates the “Bonanza” set-your-title-on-fire technique by over 40 years.
  • Pretty sure they dissolve to the same scene at one point.
  • One of the indoor scenes is pretty windy. Obviously this film follows the then-common film practice of shooting sets outside (It saves you a fortune on lighting equipment).
  • Marion E. Wong definitely showed promise as a filmmaker. If nothing else, she understood the power of the close-up.

Legacy/Further Viewing

  • While researching his documentary “Hollywood Chinese”, Arthur Dong came in contact with Marion’s grandchildren, who gave him the surviving two reels of “The Curse of Quon Gwon”. After turning the reels in to the Academy Film Archive, they were restored and featured prominently in Dong’s film.

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