Anna May Wong (1905-1961) emerged from turn-of-the-century Los Angeles to become Old Hollywood's most famous Chinese American actress, a screen siren who captivated global audiences and signed her publicity photos "Orientally yours." Now, more than a century after her birth, Yunte Huang narrates Wong's tragic life story, retracing her journey from Chinatown to silent-era Hollywood, and from Weimar Berlin to decadent, prewar Shanghai, and capturing American television in its infancy.
Huang delights in details such as these — memorable yet mostly forgotten. He acknowledges there are other biographies of Wong, including Graham Hodges’ 'pioneering' volume and Anthony Chan’s Perpetually Cool. With Daughter of the Dragon, Huang is offering something different, presenting this as the third volume of his 'Rendezvous With America' trilogy, which has included books about Charlie Chan and the conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker. Daughter of the Dragon is biography embedded in cultural criticism ... the book is clearly intended as a form of reclamation and subversion ... Huang is a wry and generous storyteller; the Anna May he evokes stepped out from the limited roles she was relegated to and turned to writing as a way of showcasing her curiosity and wit.
Sympathetic ... Because Mr. Huang relies heavily on secondary sources, the star’s inner life remains frustratingly opaque. But Daughter of the Dragon offers a lively tour through Wong’s world and filmography, and the film stills and portraits included throughout are a particular pleasure
[Huang] mostly avoids simplifying her into an easy icon of empowerment or an object of pity ... Huang seems so concerned with meticulously building the world around Wong that his picture of Wong herself starts to dim. As a consequence, Wong feels sometimes less like a flesh-and-blood figure and more like a prop through which Huang conducts his survey of Asian American history ... Daughter of the Dragon has its lapses. But it soars when Huang resists treating Wong as a hapless victim of American history and digs deeper to reveal the shrewd, resilient soul beneath.