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The World of Suzie Wong - a Movie and Book Review.

Updated on August 3, 2015

The World of Suzie Wong

The World of Suzie Wong


The World of Suzie Wong, a poignant, bitter-sweet love story between an English painter and a Hong Kong waterfront 'yum yum girl', a prostitute with an innocent heart of gold.

It is post-war Hong Kong, bustling with the immense wave of Chinese refugees from the mainland after the Communist takeover by Mao. Wong Mee-ling has managed, at the age of 17, to persuade her guardian, her uncle, to send her away from Peking to live with his daughter in Hong Kong. Unknown to him, his daughter is a prostitute.

Hong Kong has just been released from the Japanese occupation and money is scarce. Many girls are illiterate. With three million people in the tiny colony one has to do what one must to survive. .Prostitution is the only way to eat every day. This is the world Suzie has landed in.


Hong Kong's Red Light District

19 th C. Hong Kong's Red Light district, named 'Pai Fah'  or 'Flower Arrangement' for the stalls of flower sellers. Gentlemen would buy flowers to bring to the brothels.
19 th C. Hong Kong's Red Light district, named 'Pai Fah' or 'Flower Arrangement' for the stalls of flower sellers. Gentlemen would buy flowers to bring to the brothels. | Source

The original printing of 'Suzie Wong'.

1957 edition. Original 1957 paperback of Suzie Wong. With Suzie's signature backward 'Z'. The Nam Kok Hotel is based on the Luk Kwok Hotel where Richard Mason stayed.
1957 edition. Original 1957 paperback of Suzie Wong. With Suzie's signature backward 'Z'. The Nam Kok Hotel is based on the Luk Kwok Hotel where Richard Mason stayed.

Suzie Wong's World.

Wong Mee-ling, at 17, has been sexually abused by her uncle since puberty, and realises that with no virginity to offer any prospective husband, she has no marriage prospects. She learns from her cousin that prostitution pays a lot more money than the meager wages she earns as a seamstress, so she makes her cousin teach her how to please a man.

After a few years and some adventures in her job, she comes to work at the Nam Kok Hotel in the Wanchai district, a reputable cover for a brothel. Her saucy, piquant beauty soon makes her the favorite of the American and British sailors.

Her kind heart endears her to the other workers at the brothel. In fact, all the prostitutes at the Nam Kok are close friends, caring and covering for one another. They have an honor code that they do not poach one another's 'boyfriend'.

This is Suzie Wong's world, the world of the Hong Kong brothels, of kindness and friendships, of loyalty, of the unstinting helping hand, of desperate poverty. Throughout the story, the girls play their favorite song in the jukebox, the poignant 'Seven Lonely Days'.

Most of the girls think of themselves as 'virgins', for their minds and hearts belong to themselves, inviolate, untouched by their customers. Prostitution is just a job if you are desperately poor and there are no jobs to be had.

Prostitution is semi-legal at this period. The girls have to have weekly medical checkups and must present their paper clearance before the manager at the hotel allows them to work. And they pay tax on their earnings, making prostitution an accepted profession.

The Nam Kok

Robert Lomax's story is told in the first person. He was an English ex-soldier who had gone to Malaya after the war to try working in a rubber plantation. When he discovers he has a talent for art, he decides to take a year off to paint in Hong Kong, supporting himself with his savings.

Penny-pinching takes him to rent a room in the Nam Kok Hotel, which to his amusement he finds is a brothel. He befriends the girls there and genuinely loves them with their simple innate goodness and their hearts of gold. He decides not to sleep with any of them so as not to spoil their friendship. But he frequently chats with the girls at the bar where they pick up customers. All the girls love him.

Before he came to the Nam Kok, he has met Wong Mee-ling in a ferry. She pretends to him that she is the daughter of a rich man and is a virgin about to be married. She disappears before he can can further the acquaintance.

A few days into his stay, he discovers Wong Mee-ling with a sailor, and she finally admits she is not what she told him. And that her name is Suzie Wong.

Robert and Suzie grow to love each other, but she cannot give up her job because she has a baby son. She is saving for his education 'so he will not have to be a coolie when he grows up'. Robert is unable to support them, and keeps off Suzie because he cannot share her and she cannot stop working. Her mother love will not give up the dream for her baby.

The baby is chronically sick with a cough, most probably from the crowded conditions under which they live. Unbeknownst to Robert, Suzie has tuberculosis. She successfully hides it from him because they do not sleep together.

Old Hong Kong

Hong Kong in the 50's
Hong Kong in the 50's | Source
Hong Kong harbour in the 50's
Hong Kong harbour in the 50's | Source

Living together

Suzie loses the baby one night to a typhoon. The flimsy structures they lived in had collapsed and been washed away in a mudslide and the baby is found dead. A sorrowful Suzie performs the Chinese burial services for her baby and then informs Robert that she does not have to work anymore.

She moves in with Robert but refuses to marry him, under the pretext that she would ruin his name and his chances of becoming accepted as a famous painter. Abhorrence of miscegenation is alive and well in British Hong Kong in the 1950s. But she makes Robert her object of devotion and they are very happy together. Robert delights in reading to an insatiable Suzie, who is illiterate and a fast learner.

Robert meanwhile is becoming well-known in the art world and starting to make good money. Dealers in America and England have become interested in his work, which centers around scenes of Hong Kong and portraits of Suzie.

The Stars who played Suzie Wong

Tsai Chin, 23, Suzie Wong in London's West End, 1959. Daughter of famous Peking Opera Star who was killed in Cultural Revolution.
Tsai Chin, 23, Suzie Wong in London's West End, 1959. Daughter of famous Peking Opera Star who was killed in Cultural Revolution. | Source
France Nguyen at 18 was the original Suzie Wong, on Broadway with William Shatner, 1958. Picked to play her in the movie but replaced by Nancy Kwan over some problem in an affair with Marlon Brando.
France Nguyen at 18 was the original Suzie Wong, on Broadway with William Shatner, 1958. Picked to play her in the movie but replaced by Nancy Kwan over some problem in an affair with Marlon Brando. | Source
Nancy Kwan 18, picked by executive producer Ray Stark to replace France Nguyen, 1960. She was 'in the right place at the right time'.
Nancy Kwan 18, picked by executive producer Ray Stark to replace France Nguyen, 1960. She was 'in the right place at the right time'. | Source

Suzie Wong Marries

Robert takes Suzie on a short trip to Macau and there she marries him. On the boat home Robert nearly loses Suzie, whose advanced TB causes her to hemorrhage. Some string -pulling by the boat's doctor gets her into hospital as soon as they land in Hong Kong, and Suzie hovers between life and death for a few weeks. Suzie's best friend at the Nam Kok reveals to Robert that Suzie had been refusing to marry him because she knew she was dying.

With transfusions and good nursing care Suzie pulls through.

When Robert is asked by an art gallery in England to come and show his work, he throws caution to the wind and brings Suzie, who has always wanted to see England, Princess Margaret and the Queen. Racism and xenophobia are rife in England, but Suzie, with her naïve good humor and innocence, shames her would-be scoffers and becomes a celebrity in her own right. When Robert is led to believe in his own greatness by the lionising public, Suzie wakes him up and he thanks her for stopping him nearly becoming a fool.

Return to Hong Kong and Home

Robert and Suzie return home to Hong Kong. When all the Nam Kok girls have welcomed them home and have received their presents from Suzie, Robert gets them ready to move to Japan for the foreseeable future. Suzie needs to rest and recover from her tuberculosis in the mountains. She has postponed the cure prescribed for her in order to accompany Robert to England.

On the night before they leave for Japan, Suzie is so unsure of the trip happening that she goes to sleep with the tickets under her pillow.

The movie was a big hit in the 60's. Cinema goers loved it because the plot is both simple and complex. Two very different, lonely people thrive in their love despite all odds. The movie put Hong Kong on the map, and even today there are many night clubs and bars named after Suzie Wong. This simple, tender love story spawned two stage productions, a hit movie, two book sequels and a 2006 ballet by the Hong Kong Ballet company called, simply, 'Suzie Wong'.

Where are they now?

  France Nguyen. Still appears in movies and TV. She has a Master's in Clinical Psychology and works with abused women and children. Received ' Woman of the Year' award in 1989 for her work.
France Nguyen. Still appears in movies and TV. She has a Master's in Clinical Psychology and works with abused women and children. Received ' Woman of the Year' award in 1989 for her work. | Source
Nancy Kwan at the Grauman's Egyptian Theatre in 2011. She is still very active in the theatre and film world, writing, directing, and acting.
Nancy Kwan at the Grauman's Egyptian Theatre in 2011. She is still very active in the theatre and film world, writing, directing, and acting. | Source
Tsai Chin is an  actress, director, author and teacher.  Her best known recent role was as Aunt Lindo in The Joy Luck Club,1993.
Tsai Chin is an actress, director, author and teacher. Her best known recent role was as Aunt Lindo in The Joy Luck Club,1993. | Source

What are they doing now?

All three women were pioneers of Asian actors in the west when roles were few and far between for Asian actors..

Both Tsai Chin and France Nguyen played Liat in South Pacific, Tsai Chin in London's West End and Nguyen in the movie. And again both played Suzie Wong on stage, one in London and the other on Broadway with William Shatner. They were also both cast in Joy Luck Club in 1993.

Nancy Kwan declined a role in Joy Luck Club because producers would not remove a line that called 'The World of Suzie Wong' 'a horrible racist film'.

All three stars are still acting and keeping very busy in their various second careers.

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    • profile image

      Tanya Quimby 5 years ago

      Wow! What a saga. Such a sad but endearing story.

    • mizjo profile image
      Author

      mizjo 5 years ago from New York City, NY

      Hi, Tanya, thanks for the visit. You're right, this is one of those unforgettable sweet love stories. Very endearing. You should see the state of the paperback I have after all the repeated reads over the years!

    • profile image

      Kenny 5 years ago

      Very nice work ngee ku. You write like a pro :)

    • mizjo profile image
      Author

      mizjo 5 years ago from New York City, NY

      Thank you, Kenny. It's a pleasure to see your name here.

    • profile image

      Mary Lou 5 years ago

      Nice work Joanna Keep it up and you will go places. You have reinvented yourself as a writer.

    • profile image

      . mizjo 5 years ago

      Thank you, Mary Lou, it's such a pleasure to write for you.

    • profile image

      Henry VIII 5 years ago

      Interesting story. Keep up the good work.

    • mizjo profile image
      Author

      mizjo 5 years ago from New York City, NY

      Thanks. I'll keep on writing so long as there are people to enjoy reading my work. Thanks for visiting my site.

    • moretea3 profile image

      moretea3 5 years ago

      Yes, when the film was released, I remember that it was all the rave in those days. I like Nancy Kwan, and she still looks great today.

    • Green Lotus profile image

      Hillary 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Now this Hub brought back memories! I loved the film when I first saw it years ago, and both Nancy Kwan and France Nguyen were amongst my favorite actresses. Remember Nancy Kwan in "Flower Drum Song?"

    • mizjo profile image
      Author

      mizjo 5 years ago from New York City, NY

      Hi, Green Lotus, thanks for visiting my hub. I always thought France Nguyen was exquisite as Liat in 'South Pacific', and of course, Nancy Kwan was also one of my favorites. I do remember 'Flower Drum Song'. I absolutely loved it. I was so upset when she didn't end up with James Shigeta, though it was the other guy she loved. Of course, I had a crush on Shigeta.

    • mizjo profile image
      Author

      mizjo 5 years ago from New York City, NY

      Moretea, do you remember how old we were when the movie came out? I have been searching Netflix for it but seemingly it's not one of their stock. I would love to see it again. It's one of those stories that live for a long time in one, like 'The Thorn Birds', or was it 'Thorn Birds'? Anyway, 'Thorn Birds' left me in a deep blue funk for months.

    • mizjo profile image
      Author

      mizjo 5 years ago from New York City, NY

      Teens....sigh!

    • mizjo profile image
      Author

      mizjo 5 years ago from New York City, NY

      I'm sure I would have enjoyed the video!

    • moretea3 profile image

      moretea3 5 years ago

      Hello, Mizjo,

      It's only a guess. It is possible that the standard of living in HK has become absorbed into that of the Peoples' Republic of China over the years.

      The former British colony of Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, and following the liberalization of trade on mainland, Hong Kong's economy would eventually toe the line.

      Perhaps, you would need to visit some day to find out more.

    • mizjo profile image
      Author

      mizjo 5 years ago from New York City, NY

      Would be interesting to see how different it is today from the 1960's of Suzie Wong's.

    • moretea3 profile image

      moretea3 4 years ago

      Mizjo, what better way than to see how different it is today from the 1960s of Suzie Wong's, by the actress herself - namely, Nancy Kwan.

      'Suzie Wong' star shocked at destruction of old Hong Kong

      Agence France-Presse

      First Posted 15:41:00 03/19/2010

      Filed Under: Entertainment (general), Cinema, Celebrities

      HONG KONG ? Actress Nancy Kwan said Friday she was shocked at the wholesale destruction of the colonial Hong Kong that formed the charming backdrop to her classic 1960 film "The World of Suzie Wong."

      The former screen siren said her hometown used to be a "laid-back sea port" with Chinese junks plying its famed Victoria Harbour ? a rare sight these days in the bustling financial hub of seven million people.

      Kwan, 70, visits the former British colony every few years, but said she still could not believe its metamorphosis.

      "Hong Kong was really very charming in those days," she told Agence France-Presse in an interview ahead of the screening of a documentary about her life at the Hong Kong International Film and TV Market forum on Monday.

      "I can't believe it ? every time I come back it's like going to a new city... I loved the old colonial buildings in Hong Kong, but now they've torn them down. It's terrible."

      Among those buildings was the since-rebuilt Luk Kwok Hotel in Hong Kong's Wan Chai district, where late actor William Holden's character meets and falls in love with the charming Suzie Wong, a Chinese prostitute played by Kwan. ...

      Source: webcitation.org/63dvgI58b

      There, you have it!

    • moretea3 profile image

      moretea3 4 years ago

      Who better to comment on how different it is today from the 1960s of Suzie Wong's than the star herself, Nancy Kwan.

      Source: webcitation.org/63dvgI58b

      'Suzie Wong' star shocked at destruction of old Hong Kong

      Agence France-Presse

      First Posted 15:41:00 03/19/2010

      Filed Under: Entertainment (general), Cinema, Celebrities

      HONG KONG ? Actress Nancy Kwan said Friday she was shocked at the wholesale destruction of the colonial Hong Kong that formed the charming backdrop to her classic 1960 film "The World of Suzie Wong."

      The former screen siren said her hometown used to be a "laid-back sea port" with Chinese junks plying its famed Victoria Harbour ? a rare sight these days in the bustling financial hub of seven million people.

      Kwan, 70, visits the former British colony every few years, but said she still could not believe its metamorphosis.

      "Hong Kong was really very charming in those days," she told Agence France-Presse in an interview ahead of the screening of a documentary about her life at the Hong Kong International Film and TV Market forum on Monday.

      "I can't believe it ? every time I come back it's like going to a new city... I loved the old colonial buildings in Hong Kong, but now they've torn them down. It's terrible."

      Among those buildings was the since-rebuilt Luk Kwok Hotel in Hong Kong's Wan Chai district, where late actor William Holden's character meets and falls in love with the charming Suzie Wong, a Chinese prostitute played by Kwan.

      The iconic film catapulted Kwan ? born to a Chinese father and Scottish mother ? into the spotlight as the first Asian woman to star in a Hollywood film.

      Kwan, who now lives in the United States and has appeared in dozens of films and television shows, chalks up her discovery by a Hollywood producer as a matter of fate.

      "I was very lucky. Everything in life is about timing and if it's not meant to happen, I don't care what you do it's not going to happen."

      The documentary, entitled "To Whom it May Concern: Ka Shen's Journey," a reference to Kwan's Chinese name, traces the ups and downs of her career and life, including the death of her only son in 1996 at age 33.

      There, you have your answer, Mizjo.

    • mizjo profile image
      Author

      mizjo 4 years ago from New York City, NY

      It seems like there's a collective action to wantonly destroy and obliterate racial/national pride and culture in the name of progress. It is heartbreaking.

      Unless an age is photographed, recorded and archived, our future generations will not find their roots because they have been buried by mega tons of concrete. Can anyone see the charm in copycat skyscrapers?

      Britain's Prince Charles is one of the last, influential champions of architectural and soil preservation. I think he should adopt HK for a project before it is too late.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 4 years ago from San Francisco

      your title caught my attention. one of my favorite movies. you did an awesome job. thank you

    • mizjo profile image
      Author

      mizjo 4 years ago from New York City, NY

      Hi, Mhatter (Mad Hatter? I like that) . Thanks for visiting, and for your kind comment.

      Yes, 'Suzie Wong' is one of my favorites. I like the book even more. Of course the story I told here is from the book, more than the movie, because it touched the deep romantic core of me.

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 4 years ago from Germany

      Like Mhatter, your title attracted my attention, too. I have seen the movie in a German language tv in the early 80´s before I decided to read the book, to understand the story very well. It was an awesome story and with Nancy Kwan as Suzie Wong, was prefect. Thanks for reminding me this movie. Voted up and very well written. Have a great week!

    • mizjo profile image
      Author

      mizjo 4 years ago from New York City, NY

      Hello again, Thelma. Yes, this is such an awesome story. It must now be considered a classic, up there with many of Bette Davis' movies. My copy of the book - I think it was one of the originals (50cents) - is really almost falling apart but I can't bear to throw it away, even if I were to buy a new edition. I tend to read my classics over and over again, every couple of years!

      You are quite the linguist!

      Thanks for your visit.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      I remember seeing this long ago (with William Holden). It was a chick-flick, but my date was drop-dead gorgeous, so I gave in. I actually enjoyed it.

      Excellent Hub!

    • mizjo profile image
      Author

      mizjo 3 years ago from New York City, NY

      Hello, Will, so nice to see you here. I watched this too, (with W.Holden and Nancy Kwan) and was totally entranced with the romance of the story. Getting possession of the original first printing was icing on the cake.

      Did you end up with your drop-dead gorgeous date? Hmmm.

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Nope. Can't even remember her name!

    • mizjo profile image
      Author

      mizjo 3 years ago from New York City, NY

      I'd say you got a better deal! Stay happy!

    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 3 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      I agree.

    • Nick DeGeorge profile image

      Nick 2 years ago from Gilbert Arizona

      Perhaps late for comments however the desire by older American men for chinese girls remains unabated the websites introducing chinese women have proliferated into million dollar businesses. Wan chai is still as it was except Filpina girls occupy the places in the bar. However if you travel across the bay to Shekou shenzhen the World of Suzie Wong is live and well almost exactly the same .

    • profile image

      Joyce 2 years ago

      Superb blog you have here but I was wanting to know if you knew of any user disoussicn forums that cover the same topics talked about here? I'd really love to be a part of community where I can get responses from other experienced individuals that share the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know. Kudos!

    • profile image

      Elmer 2 years ago

      Thanks for your personal mreoalvus posting! I actually enjoyed reading it, you will be a great author.I will be sure to bookmark your blog and will come back down the road. I want to encourage continue your great job, have a nice holiday weekend!

    • mizjo profile image
      Author

      mizjo 2 years ago from New York City, NY

      Thank you, Elmer, what a nice thing to say! I haven't been checking my blogs for a while, and now, to find this lovely visitor! Have a wonderful life yourself! I might just get off my haunches and start writing again!

    • mizjo profile image
      Author

      mizjo 2 years ago from New York City, NY

      Hello, Nick, you have some interesting information. Yes, poverty propels us into jobs and positions we would not normally aspire to or wish for.

      I hope all those girls have happy endings like Suzie's.

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