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The Dragon Painter

Distributed by Milestone Films & Video, PO Box 128, Harrington Park, NJ 07640-0128; 800-603-1104
Producer n/a
Directed by William Worthington
DVD, color, 53 min.
College - Adult
Film Studies, Asian Studies

Reviewed by Oksana Dykyj, Head, Visual Media Resources, Concordia University, Montreal

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
Date Entered: 5/19/2008

This highly anticipated DVD release exceeds expectations. Not only did Milestone Film and Video make accessible an important film from historical and aesthetic standpoints, the print transfer is from a tinted nitrate print circulated in France during the time of the original release, the only known surviving copy of the film. It was restored in the late 1980s by the George Eastman House. Having seen the print at a screening at the Museum of Modern Art about 8 years ago, the DVD transfer faithfully reproduces the subtlety of the tinting. On this DVD release, the hauntingly beautiful music was composed by Mark Izu.

Although best-known for his work on David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Sessue Hayakawa was a Japanese-born actor who enjoyed immense fame and popularity in Hollywood in the mid-teens to early 1920s. He became famous with his role in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Cheat (1915) opposite Fannie Ward. Hayakawa subsequently formed his own production company, Haworth, with William Worthington to ensure better control over his own product. ,em>The Dragon Painter (1919) was the ninth of the twenty-two features produced by Hayakawa and employed his stock company of Japanese actors which included Tsuru Aoki, who is his love interest in this film and was his wife off-screen. The film is a kind of allegorical tale of what happens to creativity when longing is fulfilled. The loss of inspiration in relation to the achievement of love was Hayakawa’s attempt to show American audiences a different view of Japanese culture without the stereotypic melodrama and conflict found in popular films with “oriental” characters or plot-lines.

As with most Milestone DVDs, this one includes numerous bonus materials: A rare silent 1921 Screen Snapshots short film starring Charles Murray, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and Sessue Hayakawa. It also contains PDF files of the original Dragon Painter novel, and in the stills gallery, the original illustrations from the novel, as well as publicity material from the original release. Two essays and the script for the bonus film are also included on the disc. The Wrath of the Gods, a 1914 60-minute feature film produced by Thomas Ince and starring Sessue Hayakawa, Tsuru Aoki and future director Frank Borzage, is an incredibly rare film and probably should not have been relegated to the bonus material but rather been featured along with The Dragon Painter. Milestone aided in the restoration by inserting missing intertitles from the original script.

This DVD is an essential part of any film collection dealing with film history and the history of Asian-American film. Highly recommended