2021 LAAPFF News

Lisa Lu to Receive Artist Achievement Award at LAAPFF2021

September 14, 2021
Photo Credit: Fabrizio Maltese (Officina Maltese)

Lisa Lu’s iconic roles as the chilling Dowager Empress in THE LAST EMPEROR (1987), natural-born survivor An Mei in THE JOY LUCK CLUB (1993), and Nick Young’s “Ah Ma” in CRAZY RICH ASIANS (2018), is what elevates her into the Asian American actors pantheon. Her amazing life, starting as a teenager in Kunqu theatre troupe in mainland China, emigrating to the U.S. in the 1950s for university, and eventually having an acting career that would span close to seven decades, makes her truly Asian American Hollywood royalty. 

From her auspicious American debut as Madame Sue-Mei Hung in THE MOUNTAIN ROAD (1960) as a war widow who romances James Stewart, she would be cast in various roles in television, often demeaning or of servitude to white leads — the nicknamed “Hey Girl” in HAVE GUN – WILL TRAVEL and the slave girl Su Ling in BONANZA — just to name a few. By the 1970s, she would co-star in a short-lived TV adaptation of ANNA AND THE KING, as well as cult genre films TERROR IN THE WAX MUSEUM (1973) and DEMON SEED (1977), co-starring alongside Julie Christie. 

Ms. Lu would find more success in the burgeoning Hong Kong film industry and become a successful transpacific actor for many years. She would star in two successful Shaw Bros Studios films, THE EMPRESS DOWAGER (1975) and THE LAST TEMPEST (1976), playing Empress Dowager Cixi (and making it a hat trick by playing this historic figure a third time in THE LAST EMPEROR a decade later). Later in life, she would work with major auteurs like Clara Law (TEMPTATION OF A MONK, 1993), Ann Hui (THE POSTMODERN LIFE OF MY AUNT, 2006) and Ang Lee (LUST, CAUTION, 2007).

Filmmaker Anna Chi has cast Ms. Lu in all of her directorial efforts: BLINDNESS (1998), DIM SUM FUNERAL (2008) and THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MRS. WU (2021), screening this year at the 2021 Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. At the age of 94, Ms. Lu has experienced a storied career, facing adversity (emigrating to the U.S. after the Chinese Civil War that ended with a Communist victory, and finding scarce Asian roles due to Hollywood’s systemic racism), but also built a noble and illustrious legacy that has allowed her to work with some of cinema’s greatest auteurs, from Bernardo Bertolucci to Ang Lee. 

Most of all, she has always been a supporter of the Asian American entertainment scene, and a fixture at LAAPFF for many years. Whenever we are graced with her presence, there is always reverence and respect, as she has paved the way for generations of Asian American artists to strive. Lisa Lu is “Ah Ma” to all of us. It is with great privilege that we honor her with an “Artist Achievement Award,” presented by Pechanga.

— Anderson Le

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