Joan Chen Honored at San Francisco Asian American Film Festival

By Moira Sullivan

Joan Chen in The White Frog
The San Francisco Asian American Film Festival has acquired an excellent reputation as a showcase of new films by directors of Asian heritage who grew up in America. This year’s  festival runs from March 8-18 with 100 films from 20 countries.
The special spotlight this year is on the Shanghai born actress Joan Chen whose Chinese name is Chen Chong. Joan Chen has lived in San Francisco for the past twenty years and although the designation Asian American didn’t quite fit for her before, it does now, especially with her two children who grew up in the city and her husband Peter Hui, who is a cardiologist in San Francisco. 
Chen was discovered on the rifle range by Mao Zedong’s wife and was selected for the Actor’s Training Studio in 1976. She won best actress in 1980 for her role in Little Flower. Shortly after, she moved to the US and studied acting at Cal State Northridge. Her international film debut was in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor (1987) when she was only 26. 
Chen was interviewed in the documentary Hollywood Chinese (2007) by local filmmaker Arthur Dong and revealed that had she been a white actress her film career would have taken off at that point. Despite nine Academy Awards, she didn’t get a single film offer unlike white actors in the film. Instead, she received marginal roles afterwards. She is perhaps best known to audiences in the USA as Josie Parker in Twin Peaks.
Chen tired of being an exotic symbol in film and turned to directing. Her favorite accomplishment is the film Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl from 1998, which will be screened at the festival. The film is about a young girl who is to take charge of her cavalry youth group in the Peoples Republic of China of the 70s but learns that government officials of the event are corrupt. The film won several Golden Horse awards in 1998 for best picture, best screenplay for Chen, and best actress and actor awards . Other notable recent films starring Chen are Jiang Wen’s The Sun also Rises from 2007 and  Jia Zhangke’s 24 City (2008), which premiered at the Venice Film Festival.
The world premiere of The White Frog directed by Quentin Lee is the opening night film of the festival on March 8 at the Castro Theater. Chen plays the mother of a young man with Asberger's syndrome played by Booboo Stewart, alongside San Francisco BD Wong, who plays the father.
© 2012 - Moira Sullivan- Air Date: 03/07/12
Movie Magazine International