Sunset Blvd. is a “classic” that a majority of film fans have seen at least once in their lives. It is so iconic that the Brannan sisters, from Pure Entertainment Preservation Society, have decided to dedicate a blogathon to it! Because I’ve already seen Sunset Blvd., I choose a film that was new to me. As it is a brand-new year, I wanted the first movie of 2021 to be a fresh step forward. After looking through William Holden’s filmography, I selected the 1960 picture, The World of Suzie Wong! Whenever I think of William, I always think of Joe Gillis from Sunset Blvd. But, as a movie fan, I know that William, acting wise, is more than this iconic role. Therefore, I am grateful to be given this opportunity to explore more of his film work!
Things I liked about the film:
The acting: Since I’ve only seen Sunset Blvd. and Stalag 17, there’s only so much I can say about William Holden’s acting abilities. What I will say is how William’s performance in The World of Suzie Wong was consistent! From what I remember, William’s characters in Stalag 17 and Sunset Blvd. were serious and had their guard up due to being suspicious of those around them. In The World of Suzie Wong, his character was similar to those from the two previously mentioned movies. However, a major difference was how those characteristics were softened a bit. This was because William’s character, Robert, had a love interest, which is different from his characters in Stalag 17 and Sunset Blvd. I am not familiar with Nancy Kwan as an actress. Despite this, I really liked seeing her performance in this film! It reminded me of the portrayals from actresses in the “Golden Age” of film, where leading ladies not only worked well with other cast members, but were able to, talent wise, stand on their own. While starring as Suzie, Nancy was able to pull off a performance that was captivating, emotional, and memorable! Another performance I enjoyed seeing was Jacqueline Chan’s! As Gwennie Lee, she was able to use her on-screen personality to her advantage. The other female characters in The World of Suzie Wong carried themselves with a sense of sophistication, making themselves seem more mature than they really were. With Gwennie, her personality was joyful, carrying a youthful heart wherever she went. This creative decision helped Jacqueline stand out among the cast!
An educated and aware protagonist: In a story where a protagonist travels to a different country or new place, it can be easy for the screenwriter(s) to create a character that romanticizes a location to the point of being arrogant or clueless about that specific place. With Robert from The World of Suzie Wong, that was certainly not the case! While in Hong Kong, Robert tries to educate himself about his surroundings. When trying to find a hotel, he speaks Chinese to a police officer. Even though he didn’t memorize the question, it shows Robert was willing to go out of his way to learn the language of his temporary home. Robert also seems aware of the people and the customs of Hong Kong. When talking to a business associate, Ben, Robert senses that Ben is attempting to pursue a romantic relationship with Suzie for the wrong reasons. He stands up to Ben and reminds him how Suzie is a person with feelings. Everything I just mentioned effectively drives home a point Suzie made about “a boy cloud with a good heart”.
The use of color: A film’s color palette can help make a scene visually appealing as well as present creative ways to showcase various hues. With that said, I found the use of color in The World of Suzie Wong to be very interesting! At the bar next to Robert’s hotel, all of the female characters wore bright colors. This nicely contrasted the location of the bar itself, a place that didn’t feature a lot of color within the interior design. Color was also used in other ways throughout the movie. One example was the O’Neill family’s home, where a set of red seat cushions provide the only splash of color in their primarily white dining room. Another example is present when Robert tries to find Suzie in the city. Though this scene is brief, the colorful neon lights within this space nicely stand out against the city’s darkness.
What I didn’t like about the film:
The concept of “keeping face”: Throughout the film, Suzie and her friends talk about “keeping face”. One night, Gwennie asks Robert if he will enter the bar with her. She tells Robert that if she were to enter the bar by herself, she wouldn’t be able to “keep face”. Later in the film, after Suzie is physically injured by a drunken sailor, she tells Robert to say that he hurt her so she can “keep face”. Because there were no explanations for what “keeping face” was or why it was important, this concept ended up confusing me.
The run-time: The World of Suzie Wong is a little over two hours long. Personally, I don’t think this specific story needed its run-time. In fact, the film could have easily been set at an hour and thirty minutes. This might be achieved by shortening some of the movie’s longer scenes. One of them is when Suzie journeys to an undisclosed location for reasons unknown to Robert. In an attempt to find answers, Robert follows Suzie all the way to this undisclosed location in a scene that lasts about two minutes. When there are multiple scenes that are longer than necessary, they add up to a run-time that doesn’t feel justified.
An inconsistent relationship: While William Holden and Nancy Kwan had good on-screen chemistry, the on-screen relationship of their characters was inconsistent. Throughout the film, Robert and Suzie’s relationship was “on again/off again”. It also doesn’t help that Robert and Suzie don’t officially become a couple until about forty minutes into the movie. I understand that relationships take time to develop and that they contain good and bad moments. However, when a story includes a couple trying to pursue a romantic relationship, the relationship itself needs to be consistent enough for the audience to stay invested in.
My overall impression:
The World of Suzie Wong is a film that gets hurt by its run-time. This two-hour story could have been an hour and thirty minutes, with longer scenes cut shorter to move the story along faster. This also would help Robert and Suzie’s relationship officially start a lot sooner. Without spoiling the movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, I will say The World of Suzie Wong is much sadder than I expected. I am aware of everyone experiencing different situations in their lives. However, the sadness in this movie made the story feel like there was a gray cloud hanging over the characters’ heads. There are aspects of this film that I appreciate. One of them is the protagonists sharing an interracial relationship in a time when that idea wasn’t commonly shown in cinema. I also appreciate some of the film’s artistic merit, such as the acting performances and the use of color within various scenes. In the end, though, I found The World of Suzie Wong to be a just ok start to 2021.
Overall score: 6.4 out of 10
Have you seen The World of Suzie Wong? Has a movie ever enticed you to travel to its featured location? Tell me in the comment section!
Have fun at the movies!