Thomas Ince initiated the first Hollywood films with Asian stars, bringing Tsuru Aoki and Sessue Hayakawa to the screen, as I outline in my Ince biography. Despite the departure of Hayakawa and Aoki after a year, Ince returned on occasion to topics redolent of his their series.
In 1918, THE MIDNIGHT PATROL (Select Pictures Corp.), originally entitled THE DRAGON'S SHADOW, pitted the honest resolve of the Irish in cleaning up the corruption of Chinatown. The Irish are represented by both cops and a courageous woman who leads a Chinese rescue home, a character who was based on Miss Donaldina Cameron of San Francisco, "whose sensational slave girl rescues are known throughout the country," according to the original synopsis. Patricia O'Connell (Rosemary Theby) is rescued by patrolman Terry Shannon (Thurston Hall), and love ensues as he works his way up the ranks of the force. Placed in charge of the Chinatown Squad, he must battle the traffic in opium, slave girls, and gambling, led by Wu Fang (Kino). Although Shannon is blamed for the resulting tong war, he captures Wu Fang's assistant, Sing Bok (Yamamatto), and saves five girls being smuggled ashore. A desperate Wu Fang abducts Patsy, but Terry prevails, and becomes the city's new chief of police. Although presenting an initial dichotomy between Irish honesty and Chinese corruption, THE MIDNIGHT PATROL ultimately offers a complex interplay of morals and ethnicity. Wu Fang not only exploits his own people, as represented by the "slave girls," but is ultimately dependent on a corrupt political boss, Jim Murdock (Charles French).
Such topics continued in Ince's filmmaking; in 1921, Carey Wilson wrote two stories of the Far East for Ince, "Pearls and Pain" and "The Heathen." "Pearls and Pain" was produced that year as THE CUP OF LIFE. However, like so many films of the time, it did not include any Asians in the principal roles. In 1922, Ince had planned to film a Richard Connell Saturday Evening Post short story, "Scout Wong," whose theme was Americanization, and based on the true story of the first Chinese Boy Scout troop in the United States and probably the world.
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