Part documentary, part fever dream, a wandering songstress discovers the unspoken onscreen and offscreen histories and realities of Los Angeles Chinatown as she sings a familiar movie tune to aging residents faced with a rapidly developing neighborhood.
Developed and directed by Michelle Sui, Street Angel follows a wandering songstress as she moves through Los Angeles Chinatown and its bus stops, street corners, gift shops, and art galleries, interacting with different passersby and audiences as she sings a refugee song from the 1937 Chinese film Street Angel. The delight of the aging immigrant residents she encounters, who listen to this familiar tune with utmost attention, creates an opening for conversation with an often overlooked group in this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. Rarely spoken of stories of Chinatown’s past––both onscreen as an exotic backdrop for Hollywood movies and offscreen as a home for the displaced––reveal the pride and resilience of a community looking to an uncertain future.
This short hybrid documentary film is fueled by the complex, harrowing, and rarely spoken about history of displacement and role-playing in Los Angeles Chinatown alongside a visual experiment in reclaiming agency in the Oriental female archetype, a trope of strange delight and exoticism for much of cinematic history. Street Angel began in 2018 as a series of public pop-up performances by Michelle Sui in and around Chinatown, honoring and activating the spaces and histories in this neighborhood. This 2020 film is a culmination of these performances and conversations from the past two years, exploring the mirage of identity and reality in Los Angeles, a city forever locked in the liminal space between real and artifice.
A Nü House Production
Directed by Michelle Sui
Director of Photography Shanhuan Manton
Edited by Spencer Lee
Composed by Michelle Sui
Sound Mix and Design by Emily Chan
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Supported in part by California Arts Council and Automata