Nancy Kwan

b. May 19, 1939

In the pantheon of radical Asians/Asian-Americans in cinema, the two most notable figureheads were Anna May Wong during the silent film era and of course Bruce Lee, who went from TV sidekick to kung-fu movie star in the 1970’s. When Anna May Wong died in 1961, it was fitting that another Asian actress rose to fame around the same time and would serve as the one to pass the torch from the former to the latter.

Nancy Kwan made her debut showcasing her singing and dancing talents in a few Hollywood adaptations of Broadway plays including The World of Suzie Wong and Flower Drum Song. She would then become a fashion icon after being the first to model Vidal Sassoon’s bob haircut for her role in the 1963 film The Wild Affair.

After doing a few more movies as the token hot Asian girl, she eventually starred in the 1968 Dean Martin film The Wrecking Crew, where she met up with another destined Asian-American star: Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee served as the film’s stunt/martial arts coordinator and trained both Nancy and actress Sharon Tate for their fight scenes. Although not amazing by any means (all the Matt Helm movies were like the American Austin Powers basically, or vice versa), the film has historical significance not only with Bruce Lee’s involvement, and Chuck Norris’s first acting role, but was also the last film that Sharon Tate acted in (Manson’d!).

Many many years later, the circle would be complete when Nancy Kwan starred in the Bruce Lee biopic Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story and in 2007, narrated the Anna May Wong documentary Anna May Wong: Frosted Yellow Willows.

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