The World of Suzie Wong (film)

The World of Suzie Wong is a 1960 British-American romantic drama film directed by Richard Quine and starring William Holden and Nancy Kwan. The screenplay by John Patrick was adapted from the stage play by Paul Osborn, which was based on the novel of the same title by Richard Mason.

The World of Suzie Wong
Original poster
Directed byRichard Quine
Produced byRay Stark
Written byJohn Patrick
Based on the play by Paul Osborn
StarringWilliam Holden
Nancy Kwan
Music byGeorge Duning
CinematographyGeoffrey Unsworth
Edited byBert Bates
World Enterprises, Inc.
Worldfilm, Ltd
Paramount British Pictures, Ltd[1]
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
November 10, 1960 (US)
Running time
126 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
United States
Box office$7,300,000 (US/ Canada)[2]


American architect Robert Lomax moves to Hong Kong for a year to see if he can make a living as a painter. Whilst aboard the Star Ferry, en route to Hong Kong Island, he surreptitiously sketches fellow passengers, including a smartly dressed young woman of seemingly lofty social status. She eventually introduces herself as Mei Ling, then accuses him of stealing her purse and demands his arrest. Fortunately, someone else finds Mei Ling's misplaced purse. They eventually shake hands then go their separate ways.

With limited financial resources, Robert looks for an inexpensive room in the teeming Wan Chai district, a poor area known for prostitution. By chance, he sees Mei Ling leaving a run-down hotel there. Inside, he astounds proprietor Ah Tong by renting a room for a whole month - rather than by the (more typical) hour. In a bar next door, he is bemused to see Mei Ling again, this time dressed in a slinky red cheongsam and in the company of a sailor. He approaches her; she now says her name is Suzie Wong, and that they have never met before. Eventually, Suzie admits who she is, laughing that she had him fooled.

The following day, Robert visits a banker to set up an account. The banker's secretary and daughter, Kay O'Neill, is immediately attracted to the newcomer.

Robert asks Suzie to model for him. As they become better acquainted, he learns she was forced into her profession as a means of survival when she was ten years old. She begins falling in love with him, but he tries to dissuade her, although he finds her very appealing. Meanwhile, he is also pursued discreetly by Kay. At a dinner party she is hosting, Robert meets Ben Marlowe, whom he recognizes as one of Suzie's clients, with his wife.

Ben offers to make Suzie his mistress, and she accepts in order to make Robert jealous. When Ben reconciles with his wife, he asks Robert to break the news to Suzie. She is so hurt by the rejection that Robert finally admits he loves her.

Initially, the two are very happy, but their relationship becomes strained. One day, Robert follows Suzie on one of her periodic disappearances. He finds her visiting the infant son she has kept hidden from him. He accepts the child. When his paintings fail to sell, he finds himself facing financial difficulties, and both Kay and Suzie offer to give him money, but his pride will not let him accept. When Suzie pays his rent and offers to resume working as a prostitute to help him, he drives her away in a fit of anger. Realizing his mistake, Robert searches for Suzie. When he finally finds her, he learns her baby has died in the annual flooding, and the two commit themselves to each other.



France Nuyen, who had played the role of Suzie Wong in the Broadway production opposite William Shatner[4] and was familiar to film audiences from her appearance in South Pacific, originally signed to reprise the role on screen. After five weeks of location shooting in Hong Kong, the cast and crew – including original director Jean Negulesco – moved to London to film interiors.

Nuyen was involved romantically with Marlon Brando at the time, and his rumoured affair with Barbara Luna was causing her distress. She began to overeat, and before long was unable to fit into the body-hugging silk cheongsams her character was required to wear. Unwilling to halt production until she could get her weight under control, executive producer Ray Stark replaced her with Nancy Kwan, who was touring the United States and Canada as the understudy to the lead in the road company performing the play. Stark had auditioned her for the film but at the time thought she was too inexperienced to handle the lead.[5]

Stark also fired Negulesco and replaced him with Richard Quine. Everyone involved in the completed Hong Kong scenes was required to return to reshoot them with Kwan, and all the unpublished publicity with Nuyen, including an article and photo layout for Esquire, had to be redone.[5]

The film's title song was written by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen. Artist Dong Kingman acted as the film's technical advisor[6] and painted sets for the film. The movie features location filming in Hong Kong, and art direction and production design by John Box, Syd Cain, Liz Moore, Roy Rossotti and R.L.M. Davidson at the MGM British Studios.

The film premiered at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.


Although set in Wanchai, the film featured locations from around Hong Kong, sometimes misrepresenting their geographical proximity for cinematic effect. The film serves as a valuable historical record of 1960s Hong Kong. Locations seen in the film include Tsim Sha Tsui, Central/Sheung Wan (especially around Ladder Street), Yau Ma Tei, Sai Ying Pun, Aberdeen and Telegraph Bay.[7]

Critical reception and reputation

The film is rated 43% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes based on seven reviews with an average rating of 5.8 out of 10. 68% of the audience reviews on Rotten Tomatoes said they liked it with an average score of 3.7 out of 5.[8]

When the film was released it attracted a mixed response. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times observed that sceptics could assume "that what we have here is a tale so purely idealized in the telling that it wafts into the realm of sheer romance. But the point is that idealization is accomplished so unrestrainedly and with such open reliance upon the impact of elemental clichés that it almost builds up the persuasiveness of real sincerity. Unless you shut your eyes and start thinking, you might almost believe it to be true." He added, "Mr. Patrick's screenplay contrives such a winning yum-yum girl that, even if she is invented, she's a charming little thing to have around . . . And a new girl named Nancy Kwan plays her so blithely and innocently that even the ladies should love her. She and the scenery are the best things in the film."[9]

Variety said, "Holden gives a first-class performance, restrained and sincere. He brings authority and compassion to the role. Kwan is not always perfect in her timing of lines (she has a tendency to anticipate) and appears to lack a full range of depth or warmth, but on the whole she manages a fairly believable portrayal."[10]

Some years after the film's release, the London listing magazine Time Out commented that because the film is "denied the chance of being honest about its subject, it soon degenerates into euphemistic soap opera, with vague gestures towards bohemianism and lukewarm titillation."[11]

In 2013, the Japanese American Citizens League called out the film as part of "a persistent strain in our culture that refuses to move beyond the stereotype of Asian women as exotic and subservient."[12]

Awards and nominations

Nancy Kwan was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama but lost to Greer Garson in Sunrise at Campobello. George Duning was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score but lost to Dimitri Tiomkin for The Alamo.

DVD release

The film was released on Region 1 DVD on June 29, 2004. It is in anamorphic widescreen format with an audio track and subtitles in English.

See also


  1. The World of Suzie Wong at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. "All-time top film grossers", Variety 8 January 1964 p 37. Please note this figure is rentals accruing to film distributors not total money earned at the box office.
  3. "Suzie Wong, Revisited". Forbes. Retrieved November 16, 2014.
  4. The Broadway League. "Internet Broadway Database". Retrieved September 11, 2011.
  5. Feldman, Edward S., Tell Me How You Love the Picture. New York: St. Martin's Press 2005. ISBN 0-312-34801-0, pp. 43–51
  6. designformation (May 12, 2000). "More About". Dong Kingman. Retrieved September 11, 2011.
  7. Gwulo: The World of Suzie Wong
  8. The World of Suzie Wong on Rotten Tomatoes
  9. Crowther, Bosley (November 11, 1960). "The Screen: 'World of Suzie Wong'". New York Times.
  10. "''Variety'' review". Variety. December 31, 1959. Retrieved September 11, 2011.
  11. "''Time Out London'' review". Time Out. London. Retrieved September 11, 2011.
  12. "JACL Statement on Katy Perry AMA Performance". Press Statement. Retrieved September 10, 2015.
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