The advantage of on-the-spot geography does a great deal for the screen version of The World of Suzie Wong. The ultra-picturesque environment of teeming Hong Kong brings a note of ethnic charm to the production, and amounts to a major improvement over the legit translation by Paul Osborn of Richard Mason’s novel.
Suzie Wong is the story of an artist (William Holden) who has come to Hong Kong to devote one year to ‘learning something about painting and something about myself’. Before long, he is also learning a great deal about Suzie (Nancy Kwan), a kind of titular leader of a band of lovable, warmhearted prostitutes (are there any other kinds?). After resisting temptations of the flesh and giving her the brush for an admirable period, Holden eventually succumbs to the yen. Complications ensue when it develops Kwan has a child.
The love story makes much more sense with the substitution of the mature Holden for the younger hero of the play. That and the scenery are the major improvements.
On the decidedly negative side are three passages in which realism is virtually abandoned for theatrical effect. (1) Kwan, beaten up by a sailor, proudly displays her bloody lip to the girls as a token of Holden’s jealousy, (2) Kwan and Holden dine on salad dressing so as not to reveal her illiteracy to a ‘stuckup’ waiter, and (3) Holden impulsively tears Kwan’s dress off when she turns up in his room looking like the western version of what she is.
Holden gives a first-class performance, restrained and sincere. He brings authority and compassion to the role. Kwan is not always perfect in her timing of lines (she has a tendency to anticipate) and appears to lack a full range of depth or warmth, but on the whole she manages a fairly believable portrayal. Michael Wilding is capable in a role that has been trimmed down. Jacqui Chan is convincing as a B-girl sans sex appeal, only one of the group (outside of the heroine) left with an identity in the screen translation.