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Paramount Studios presents
The World of Suzie Wong (1960)

"I feel very sorry for you, Robert. You not big man. You little man. And little man have small heart."
- Suzie Wong (Nancy Kwan)

Review By: David Krauss   
Published: July 13, 2004

Stars: William Holden, Nancy Kwan, Sylvia Syms, Michael Wilding
Director: Richard Quine

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (frank but tasteful depiction of prostitution)
Run Time: 2h:05m:56s
Release Date: June 29, 2004
UPC: 097360660845
Genre: romance


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B B+AB D-

DVD Review

Back in 1960, the world of Suzie Wong may have seemed exotic, titillating, even a little shocking, but global awareness and a severe loosening of social mores in the intervening 44 years has turned Richard Quine's film into just another turgid romance with Asian overtones. Its controversial elements—interracial coupling and prostitution as a normal way of Asian life—have lost their edge, and though The World of Suzie Wong deals with them and other issues in a frank, adult manner, an irritating self-consciousness pervades the film that keeps viewers at a trans-Pacific distance.

Quine tries his best to immerse us in the culture, but the stilted screenplay foils his efforts at every turn. The movie's opening sequences remain its sharpest, as we arrive in Hong Kong alongside aspiring artist Robert Lomax (William Holden), and experience the city's fascinating mix of grit and beauty through his virgin eyes. A former architect indulging a midlife crisis, Robert decides to take a sabbatical from his nine-to-five existence and pursue painting for a year. He meets the beguiling, street-smart Suzie on the Hong Kong ferry, where she's masquerading as a spoiled rich girl. They fling barbs at each other, then part. Yet when Robert spies her at a bar-cum-brothel next to his ghetto hotel, he discovers her real profession, and, like most bleeding-heart Americans in a foreign land they don't understand, he tries to help her.

He offers Suzie a job as his model, and begins to casually date her, all the while enduring the consternation and disapproving glances of the prejudiced British elite whom he's courting as future clients. Their thinly veiled prejudice drives a wedge between Robert and Suzie, stalling their burgeoning romance. But over time, as secrets are revealed and he comes to terms with the world of Suzie Wong, Robert gives in to his feelings, and must decide whether to follow his heart or the dictates of a close-minded society.

Hong Kong itself is a major character in the drama, and extensive location shooting makes it a palpable presence throughout. Yet thanks to Geoffrey Unsworth's beautiful cinematography, the city becomes more interesting than the story, making us rue the film's ponderous romance and yearn for a simple travelogue instead. Holden and Kwan (in her film debut) file fine performances, but sparks fail to ignite between them, and their relationship lacks any burning passion or intensity. Maybe 1960 audiences (or the still influential censors) couldn't handle such brazen interracial desire, but the rather clinical depiction of Robert and Suzie's romance seems strange in a film that tries so hard to be both groundbreaking and socially relevant.

On the latter front, The World of Suzie Wong subtly but effectively delineates the clash of Western and Eastern cultures, as well as the underlying tensions between the British occupiers and Chinese natives. Its uncompromising treatment of prostitution is refreshing, but still tame by today's standards. While such substantive elements add meat to the film, its tepid emotions prevent us from becoming wrapped up in Robert and Suzie's affair. Quine's leisurely pacing doesn't help. It takes far too long to bring the lovers together and the talky screenplay stretches many scenes far beyond their logical limit.

Holden navigated similar territory a few years back with the syrupy Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing. The World of Suzie Wong addresses a few of the same themes in a less manipulative manner, but still yearns to scale similar romantic heights. Sadly, the film can't tackle such a tall order.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Paramount has produced a stunning anamorphic transfer for The World of Suzie Wong, filled with bright, vivid color and excellent contrast. The pristine print possesses only the faintest defects, and often provides glorious vistas of Hong Kong. A particular shot on a hotel rooftop, featuring Kwan in a red dress against the city skyline and mountainous horizon is breathtaking. Cinematographer Unsworth has filmed countless classic films (A Night to Remember, Becket, and Cabaret among them), and his fine work here keeps viewers involved during the story's frequent stalls. No edge enhancement or other digital doctoring distracts during this top-notch transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby mono track is free of any age-related imperfections or distortion, and enjoys stable levels and good clarity. Dialogue is always clear and comprehendible.

Audio Transfer Grade: B

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Paramount continues to skimp in the extras department on their catalog releases, offering only 16 chapter stops—nothing more.

Extras Grade: D-

 

Final Comments

The World of Suzie Wong depicts the title character's Asian universe with style and flair, but lacks the emotional depth to keep viewers engrossed in her story. A lush transfer makes the film easy on the eyes, but the heart remains frustratingly unfulfilled.

 


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