Bonanza: Season 3, Episode 11

Day of the Dragon (3 Dec. 1961)

TV Episode  -   -  Western
7.6
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His search for the two men who kidnapped his bride-to-be, Su Ling, will soon take angry Chinese warlord, General Tsung, from San Francisco to the Ponderosa where Little Joe has been ... See full summary »

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Title: Day of the Dragon (03 Dec 1961)

Day of the Dragon (03 Dec 1961) on IMDb 7.6/10

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Cast

Episode cast overview:
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Su Ling
Richard Loo ...
Philip Ahn ...
Dr. Kam Lee
Mort Mills ...
Gordon
Harry Lauter ...
Barrett
Victor Sen Yung ...
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His search for the two men who kidnapped his bride-to-be, Su Ling, will soon take angry Chinese warlord, General Tsung, from San Francisco to the Ponderosa where Little Joe has been challenged to explain how he won the girl in a poker game. Written by shepherd1138

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Western

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3 December 1961 (USA)  »

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1.33 : 1
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User Reviews

A Chinese woman moves in with the Cartwrights
3 January 2013 | by (Bronx, NY) – See all my reviews

In TV western series of the late 1950s and early '60s, there were occasionally episodes that involved Asian characters, either newly arrived Chinese workers or Japanese travelers in the years after Japan opened up to the west, and they employed some of the Asian and Asian-American actors then active in Hollywood. "Bonanza," of course, had a continuing Chinese character in Hop Sing, the cook for the Cartwrights, and he was played by Chinese-American actor Victor Sen Yung. In the "Bonanza" episode, "Day of the Dragon," unusual circumstances lead to a Chinese woman being installed as a servant in the Cartwright household and conflict arising from a Chinese warlord's claim of ownership of her. In a pre-credits sequence, Little Joe (Michael Landon) winds up unwittingly winning the woman after a card game with two shady characters traveling through Virginia City (Mort Mills and Harry Lauter) who had put her up as collateral without quite making it clear to Joe what they were intending. As the two men ride off, Joe realizes that he's now stuck with Su Ling (Lisa Lu), who had arrived in San Francisco with General Mu Tsung (Richard Loo), after leaving China under hasty conditions, and had been kidnapped by the two men and held for ransom, only to have the General pursue the men with due force, compelling them to flee east to Virginia City. Poor Little Joe doesn't know what to do with her and he takes her back to the Ponderosa in the hope that his father, Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene), will find a solution. Long story short: Su Ling winds up happily working for the Cartwrights, having finally found a degree of safety and security in this new country.

In the course of the episode, Little Joe introduces Su Ling to a Chinese doctor working in Virginia City, Dr. Kam Lee (Philip Ahn), who is impressed with the skills she learned from working at a mission hospital in China and offers her a job as his assistant. Soon, however, General Tsung and his men arrive in Virginia City looking for Su Ling and they eventually force a confrontation with the Cartwrights that leads to some violence and bloodshed. At some point, Su Ling has to make a choice based on what she wants and not on what others want from her.

Early on, it appears that Su Ling might be portrayed as a typically obsequious and subservient Chinese character, humbly referring to herself as "this worthless person" and addressing Little Joe as "Honorable Master," but it turns out that she's a lot more clever than such dialogue would have us believe. She's clearly playing the victim card so that the Cartwrights will allow her to stay and work in some relatively luxurious surroundings, given the comforts of the Cartwright home, the lush beauty of the land, and the proximity of Chinese countrymen close by. There is a scene between Su Ling and Little Joe where they discuss the meaning of freedom. Little Joe points to Su Ling's bird cage and the canary held within. Su Ling makes her point by opening the door of the bird cage and waiting as the canary refuses to fly out, but continues singing only after the cage door has been closed again. By the end of the episode, following the efforts of Mu Tsung to take her back and the offer of a job from Kam Lee, Su Ling finally has some real options open to her and begins to understand the benefits of freedom.

It's a very moving and touching episode and the scenes between Su Ling and the other characters are imbued with a high level of warmth and tenderness based on respect and avoidance of stereotype. What's significant here is that the Cartwright household traditionally has no women in it, yet they welcome a woman and offer her a place in it without demanding anything but honest labor in return. Women who got a foothold in Ponderosa in episodes of "Bonanza" typically wanted something out of the Cartwrights. Su Ling, however, does not represent a threat and it is clear by the end that she will always be welcome if she ever returns.

It's quite rewarding to see some of Hollywood's most prominent Asian actors of the time playing non-stereotyped roles with some layering to them. Even Loo's General Tsung, while clearly the villain of the piece, shows great affection towards Su Ling and clearly wants to marry her and take her back to China. It's obvious in their scene together that she doesn't regard him with fear. He does, in fact, represent a viable option. Ahn's Dr. Lee is an educated and cultured man and someone with obvious devotion to the Chinese community in Virginia City. The Cartwrights' respect for him reveals a level of enlightenment not often found in pioneering western communities. Lisa Lu carries herself with dignity and grace and creates a compelling and most memorable character within a typical hour of network TV in 1961. My only complaint is that there is no interaction between Su Ling and Hop Sing, even though they're in the same household. There's not even a single shot of them together. It would have been nice to have at least one scene of them conversing in Mandarin.

In the "Bonanza" third season box set released by Paramount, this episode comes with audio commentary by Lisa Lu. There are some fascinating behind-the-scenes tidbits and she describes what a great experience it was to work on the show, but I wish there had been an interviewer to guide the discussion and draw her out more with questions about what it was like for Asian performers in Hollywood at the time and an overview of her larger career.

Ms. Lu played a similar character in a 1962 episode of "Cheyenne," called "Pocketful of Stars," which I've also reviewed on IMDb.


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