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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 13, 2007

Nancy Kwan creates own opportunities

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Nancy Kwan

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'RAY OF SUNSHINE'

5:30 p.m. Sunday

Hawai'i Theatre

$28; $175 VIP ticket available (call 284-5413)

528-0506, www.hawaiitheatre.com

Doors open at 5:30 p.m., pre-show entertainment at 6 p.m. with Nohelani Cypriano and the Beautiful Hawai'i Revue, followed by movie screening

Also: Kwan will be a model in the 2Couture "Cherished Heritage" fashion show at noon Saturday at The Royal Hawaiian hotel's Monarch Room; presented by the Chinese Women's Club of Honolulu; $55; 737-9046

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NANCY KWAN

Birth date: May 19, 1939

Birthplace: Hong Kong

Ethnicity: Chinese father, Kwan Wing Hong; English-Scottish mother, Marquita Scott

Claim to fame: Starred in "The World of Suzie Wong" (1960) and "Flower Drum Song" (1961)

A triple threat: Acts, sings, dances

Little-known Hawai'i facts: Co-starred with Jack Lord in the pilot of "Hawaii Five-O," now on DVD; filmed Disney's "Lt. Robin Crusoe, U.S.N.," with Dick Van Dyke on Kaua'i

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In "Ray of Sunshine," Nancy Kwan plays a jazz club owner who befriends an aspiring pianist. Seymour Cassell, right, also appears in the independent film.

Tim Considine

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More than 40 years after Nancy Kwan caused a stir as William Holden's love interest in "The World of Suzie Wong," the pioneering Asian actress still feels Asians don't get a fair shake in landing movie and TV roles.

"We're still a minority," she said by phone from her Los Angeles home. "There's still a lot that needs to be done for Asians to get the roles they deserve. You need to first develop and write the roles. And cast the roles. That's the only way to sustain a career, if you're an Asian actor."

That's why Kwan and her producer-director husband, Norbert Meisel, write and mount their own scripts and projects. They'll screen their latest, "Ray of Sunshine," Sunday at the Hawai'i Theatre as a benefit for the Hawaii Rotary Youth Foundation.

Kwan and Meisel enlisted friends, supporters and investors to get their independent show on the road.

Made on a modest budget, "Sunshine" is about Rachael (Cheyenne Rushing of "Boys Don't Cry"), an aspiring pianist. She takes on the disguise of a boy and leaves a troubled life in California to search for her footloose musician father (former Honolulan John Phillip Law of "Barbarella" fame) who abandoned her as a child. Kwan portrays Miss Lily, a jazz club owner who befriends the pianist and harbors a dramatic secret.

In "Sunshine," Kwan dances in the finale, tapping a lifelong interest. "Dance and music are universal languages," Kwan said. "Everyone can identify with song and dance in some way or another."

The couple's process works like this: "Periodically, we want to do a film, and we have a group of actors, cinematographers and friends who help develop a script. We raise the funds and we make the film. We had a world premiere in Kansas City recently."

"It's a labor of love," Meisel said. "Commercially speaking, Hollywood now wants a lot of action, a lot of sex. We don't have any of that." So while the big studios aren't throwing cash at the duo, "We have found some people who really like this kind of art film that has something to say."

Kwan is already tinkering with a new screenplay for a bigger-budget project. "It's about four kids from Los Angeles, who find a vibrating door." It's the entrance to a middle kingdom, "with monkeys and creatures and some special effects ... with Buddhism elements, too.

Best of all, she said, "I'll play a witch. A threatening one which is fun. The thing is, small film or big film, you put in as much energy."

Reach Wayne Harada at wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com.