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Film / The World of Suzie Wong

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The World of Suzie Wong is a 1960 romantic drama film directed by Richard Quine, based on the 1957 novel of the same title by Richard Mason.

American architect Robert Lomax (William Holden) is an aspiring artist who relocates to Hong Kong for a year to see if he can make a living as a painter. On the Star Ferry en route to Hong Kong Island, Lomax meets Mee Ling (Nancy Kwan), a seemingly proper young woman of lofty social status. When he arrives to the island, by chance, he sees Mee Ling leaving a run-down hotel in the Wan Chai district, and in the bar next door, he is bemused to find Mee Ling again, this time dressed in a slinky red cheongsam and in the company of a sailor, where it becomes clear that she's actually a call girl. This time, she calls herself Suzie Wong.

Robert asks Suzie to model for him. As they get better acquainted, she begins falling in love with him, but he tries to dissuade her, although he finds her very appealing.

This film contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Deviation: The film has Suzie being revealed to have a young son as a plot twist. In the book she tells Robert casually early on.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Two minor examples.
    • Mei Ling is just a fake name Suzie gives Robert in the film when she first meets him. In the book it's explained this is her Chinese name, and Suzie is the anglicised version of it. At her son's funeral, she says that Meiling is his middle name, so it could be her Chinese name here too.
    • Gwenny has the spelling of her name changed to Gwennie.
  • Adaptation Personality Change: Suzie in the book is far more cynical and combative. Nancy Kwan saw her as more of The Pollyanna who was more hopeful about improving her situation, so she's a Wide-Eyed Idealist in parts.
  • Adaptational Early Appearance: Kay in the book doesn't come in until after Suzie and Robert have split up. She's featured much earlier in the film.
  • Adaptational Nationality: Robert goes from British in the book to American in the film.
  • Adaptational Ugliness: Robert in the film is much older and less conventionally handsome than in the book. The man on this cover for instance.
  • Adapted Out:
    • There are several other bar girls who get focus in the book, whom Robert befriends before he even meets Suzie.
    • Rodney, the emotionally abusive American soldier who keeps inserting himself into Robert and Suzie's lives.
  • Age-Gap Romance: In the film Suzie is "not even twenty" (Nancy Kwan was eighteen at the time) and Robert is nearly forty.
  • Age Lift: In the book and play, both Robert and Suzie are in their twenties. In the film Robert is forty and Suzie is eighteen. This appears to be a case of accommodating the actor changes (27-year-old William Shatner for 40-year-old William Holden, 21-year-old France Nuyen for 18-year-old Nancy Kwan).
  • Almost Kiss: Robert and Suzie after their first date, which gets interrupted by a sailor knocking on their door.
  • Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: Suzie's reaction when Robert reveals he wants her to pose for him instead of sleeping with him. She's apparently afraid of her girlfriends telling her she's slipping.
  • Artists Are Attractive: Both Suzie and Kay spend some time throwing themselves at Robert.
  • Asian Airhead: Gwennie Lee, although she's more innocent than actually stupid.
  • Asian Hooker Stereotype: Suzie is a prostitute who falls hopelessly in love with a Caucasian man who at first refuses to return her feelings. Notably this one is justified by Suzie being orphaned for most of her life. At one point when Robert says her job is what's preventing them being together - she fires back that she has to make money somehow and asks if he'd feel better seeing her begging on the streets.
  • Asian Speekee Engrish: The Asian women who appear do some of this, mostly dropping pronouns. Gwennie also pronounces 'Robert' with an l, and he even attempts to correct her.
  • Bathos: At her funeral for her son Suzie gets Robert to write a letter of introduction - as a Call-Back to the letter O'Neill gave him when he first arrived in Hong Kong. She then gets him to put it on the funeral pyre so her son can go anywhere in the afterlife.
  • Bespectacled Cutie: Gwennie Lee is Suzie's cute friend, portrayed as dorky and endearing. This is helped by her glasses.
  • Betty and Veronica: Robert is torn between the classy Kay (Betty) and the exciting Suzie (Veronica).
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Kay it turns out does not like being rejected.
  • Bowdlerise:
    • The film cuts out Suzie getting tuberculosis (though she does recover in the book). When she disappears at night to hide her attacks from Robert he mistakenly thinks she's gone back to work.
    • In the book Suzie gets imprisoned for stabbing another prostitute, which is toned down to her getting into a Cat Fight with Minnie Ho.
  • Brick Joke: Robert jokingly asks Gwennie Lee to knit him a pair of socks early in the film. Near the end, she produces a pair of socks.
  • Casting Gag:
    • Nancy Kwan plays a poor prostitute who makes up stories about being rich. In reality she had quite a privileged upbringing.
    • Suzie Wong was fully Chinese, but her actress Nancy Kwan was actually half-Chinese, half-Caucasian, due to having a Chinese father and a Caucasian mother, and in fact she was given mild Yellowface to look more Chinese. This is especially Hilarious in Hindsight (although perhaps hilarious in a "cringe" way) when one considers that the exact opposite happened in a previous film featuring William Holden in a interracial relationship with a woman of Chinese ancestry set in Hong Kong, Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, where his love interest was described as "Eurasian", seemingly to cover the fact that she was played by the very much Caucasian Jennifer Jones in very obvious yellowface.
  • Cat Fight: Suzie attacks Minnie Ho when she mistakenly thinks Robert paid for her services. (He helped her with a currency exchange problem.)
  • Catchphrase:
    • "No talk" is Suzie's in the first act of the film. Robert turns it into a Gag Echo when he discovers her true identity.
    • After the above incident, "for goodness sake" becomes Suzie's.
  • Cerebus Call-Back: A playful scene of Suzie showing Robert the proper way to use chopsticks comes halfway through the film. In the third act, when Suzie is missing, Robert looks at his chopsticks sadly - reminded of her.
  • Cerebus Retcon: Suzie's habit of making up lies about herself is portrayed as amusing at first. Then once her sad roots are revealed, they're played much sadly.
  • Character Development:
    • Robert begins as a slightly uptight and condescending expat who has some hidden prejudices about Asians and prostitutes in general. Through his time in Hong Kong, he learns to let go of these prejudices in the name of love.
    • Suzie starts out as a Troll who likes to make up fanciful lies as a coping mechanism for being treated like second-class all her life. Likewise she learns to let people in and value her own self-worth.
  • Composite Character:
    • Ah Tong is just the bell boy in the Nam Kok in the book. In the film he's the owner of the hotel.
    • The other bar girls have their traits shared between Gwennie Lee and Minnie Ho.
  • Cuddle Bug: In the book Minnie Ho is described as someone who hugs everybody. This isn't as prominent in the film, but she is very affectionate with Robert.
  • Culture Clash: Robert, a respectable businessman-turned-artist, and Suzie - a Hong Kong prostitute.
  • Cute Oversized Sleeves: Gwennie Lee wears cardigans and hand-hiding sleeves to emphasise her cuteness.
  • Death of a Child: The death of Suzie's infant son is what drives her and Robert to get together for good. In the book another prostitute is said to have a baby that died of neglect.
  • Drama Bomb: The film is mostly a straightforward love story until the last ten minutes when an earthquake kills Suzie's son.
  • Ethical Slut: Despite being a prostitute, Suzie is still shown as a good character and ideal match for Robert. Prostitution is shown to be a Fallen-on-Hard-Times Jobnote 
  • Exact Words: Suzie gets a sailor to take her into the bar. And once they're inside, she says he's done all she asked of him.
  • Graceful Ladies Like Purple: Suzie is wearing a cute lilac dress when she first poses for one of Robert's paintings.
  • Green-Eyed Monster:
    • Robert's jealousy comes out when Suzie accepts Ben's offer to be his mistress.
    • Kay's comes out once she discovers Robert's love for Suzie.
  • Henpecked Husband: Ben is implied to be one, hence why he's seeing prostitutes in the first place.
  • High-Class Call Girl: Suzie likes to think she's this. In the book it's explained that all the girls who work the Nam Kok see themselves as superior to streetwalkers. Suzie at least makes enough to support Gwennie when she's in financial trouble. It's also said that she was originally much higher class - working in a dance hall - but had to leave after one of her clients got her pregnant.
  • High-Class Gloves: Suzie starts wearing these after she becomes Ben's mistress.
  • Honor Before Reason: Robert's pride won't allow either Kay or Suzie to support him financially. He's actually furious when Suzie pays a bill for him.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold:
    • Gwennie Lee is a kind-hearted soul who is friendly to everyone.
    • Suzie is a more complicated example of this. She has to go through Character Development learning to trust and not treat people so harshly.
  • Hufflepuff House: Suzie has another friend called Wednesday Lu who only shows up in the group scenes, and doesn't get any singular focus like Minnie or Gwennie. (In the book she's called Wednesday because that's her day to go to the free clinic to get tested for STDs.)
  • Hypocrite: O'Neill appears to be liberal when it comes to interracial relationships but then blackmails Robert into not getting with Suzie - citing her status as a reason why they shouldn't be together.
  • I Am Not Pretty: Gwennie Lee feels this way. Or rather she bluntly says she has "no sex appeal" because of her glasses.
  • I Just Want to Be Special: Suzie seems to want a more glamorous life than what she's got.
    "I not dirty street girl. I not dirty street girl!"
  • Insane Troll Logic: Suzie gets beaten up by a client who won't take no for an answer. To save face, she tells the other girls Robert hit her in a fit of jealous rage - as in her mind, that means he loves her. Literally everyone else is startled by this.
    "So sorry you not have nice man to beat you up."
  • It Amused Me: Suzie's justification for making up lies about herself.
  • Lady in Red: Suzie is often clad in red dresses, showing she's The Vamp. It's notable that she's wearing the red cheongasm when Robert first discovers her real identity.
  • Leitmotif: The melody to the love song about the clouds that Suzie sings recurs throughout the movie's soundtrack.
  • Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: Kay is blonde and frequently wears white (Light). Suzie is dark haired and wears more bold colours (Dark). Kay is also born into a life of privilege and has very little cares, while Suzie has a Dark and Troubled Past.
  • Light Is Not Good: Kay is blonde and wears white or else light colours, but is revealed to be a racist classist snob.
  • Like Goes with Like: Parodied. Gwennie claims she has "no sex appeal" because of her glasses. The one man who thinks she does? He wears glasses too.
  • Loophole Abuse: As brothels are illegal in Hong Kong, the prostitutes can't enter the bar unless there's a man with them. Once inside, they're free to look for clients. This is Played for Laughs when Suzie drops a guy as soon as he's got her inside.
    Sailor: You asked me to bring you in here!
    Suzie: Now I'm in. Thank you very much.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Robert likes Kay but also likes Suzie, who goes for Ben - who is also married.
  • Madonna-Whore Complex: Although the dichotomy is present with Kay (Madonna) and Suzie (Whore) it's gradually subverted as Robert falls for Suzie and has no interest in Kay - who is soon revealed to be a classist racist Alpha Bitch.
  • Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow: Robert Lomax has a romance with a Chinese woman, the titular Suzie Wong. She's a prostitute, so his career and reputation will be jeopardized if they stay together. They split up for a time but reunite after an earthquake in which her son by a former client is killed.
  • Misplaced Accent: Gwennie in the film has an English accent, and Minnie-Ho has an American one. Their actresses speak with their natural voices. It is possible they learned English from the various sailors they meet, which would explain the accent.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Suzie is played by screen beauty Nancy Kwan with gorgeous long hair and form-fitting cheongasms in many scenes.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: Robert's main reason for not dating Suzie while she's still working as a prostitute. Suzie quite justifiably reminds him that she has to make money somehow, and asks if he'd be happier seeing her begging on the streets.
  • Named After Someone Famous: Suzie's young son is named after Winston Churchill.
  • Not What It Looks Like:
    • Suzie being found in Robert's room by Kay. She's actually his model for the paintings. Partially invoked by Suzie herself, just to mess with Robert.
    • Suzie herself ends up on the other end shortly after. Robert exchanges some money for Minnie Ho and she thanks him with a kiss. Suzie just sees him handing over money and assumes the worst.
  • One-Steve Limit: In the book there are two bar girls called Lulu. In order to tell the difference, one is called Wednesday Lulu and the other Saturday Lulu (after the days on which they have their check-ups).
  • Operation: Jealousy: Suzie becomes Ben's mistress just to make Robert jealous.
  • Platonic Prostitution: Robert only gets the prostitutes to be his models and doesn't sleep with them - mostly because he doesn't have the money to regularly pay for their services. However in the book when he does sleep with one after his break-up with Suzie, he notices their attitudes changing towards him.
  • Racial Face Blindness: "To Americans, all Asians look alike" - Suzie trying to pretend that Robert's drawing isn't of her. In the book, he briefly considers that Suzie and 'Meiling' are two different people, but obviously it's harder to pull off in film and he's not fooled.
  • Real Women Have Curves: Gwennie thinks she's unattractive because she's too thin.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: When Robert rips off the dress Ben bought for her, he tells Suzie "you have no idea what real beauty is."
  • Rewatch Bonus: Suzie's claims that she never rides the ferry make more sense when you know she doesn't want people to find out about her baby.
  • Running Gag: When Robert first checks into the hotel, sailors keep mistaking his room for Minnie Ho's. When he overhears a sailor addressing the actual Minnie, he tells her "I've heard of you."
  • Scenery Porn: Quite a lot of shots show off the city of Hong Kong, and a good portion of the movie was filmed on location. The movie itself is a valuable record of the city during the 1960s.
  • Shameless Fanservice Girl: Suzie of course, though it's mostly done to troll the modest Robert. She even offers to pose naked.
    Robert: No, I've never tried nudes.
    Suzie: Good time to try. (naughty wink)
  • Significant Wardrobe Shift: After she and Robert get together for real, Suzie is shown wearing more casual clothes than her cheongasms. This does have a justification, since she's given up prostitution.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: About half of the dialogue between the two leads is witty back-and-forth.
  • The Three Faces of Eve: Suzie and her friends. Gwennie Lee is the innocent Child, Minnie Ho is the sensible Wife, and Suzy herself is the vampy Seductress.
  • Troll: Suzie is a massive one, particularly towards Robert.
  • True Blue Femininity: Subverted. When Suzie wears an expensive blue dress Ben bought for her, Robert thinks she looks tacky and tears it off her.
  • Tsundere: Suzie is a Type A - mostly playful and teasing but does have a softer side.
  • Unproblematic Prostitution: Played with. Neither Suzie nor her friends have any problems with STDs and they all look gorgeous. However Suzie does get assaulted by a wannabe customer who won't take no for an answer, she became a prostitute because she was thrown out at the age of ten and she ended up pregnant thanks to one of her clients. The book explains that the hotel makes sure they all have weekly medical check-ups.
  • Will They or Won't They?: Robert and Suzie throughout the whole film. They get together for a bit, but split up just to reunite in the end.
  • Yandere: Kay becomes a mild version. When Robert reveals he's been involved with Suzie, Kay pressures her father into blackmailing him to choose her.