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This is a DVD extra on the CHARLIE CHAN IN Egypt DVD. It's about a real life Hawaiian detective named Chang Apana who was, in some ways, the inspiration for the Chan character. However, despite the film pointing this out many times, I really felt that Apana was extremely different from Chan--being skinny and a totally fearless cop who was far more macho than the rather sedate Chan. Also, unlike Chan, Apana was not a homicide detective but made his name fighting illegal gambling and drugs in the early 20th century. Oddly, I actually found Apana far more interesting than Chan and didn't want to hear about the supposed similarities. Instead, I'd really love to see a movie based on the life of this rather crazy and fearless lawman. In this sense, it's a really fascinating film and it left me wanting to know more. Very good stuff--just don't forget to watch it after you see CHARLIE CHAN IN Egypt.
An interesting documentary about the presumed inspiration for Earl Derr
Biggers' character of Charlie Chan. It's about twenty minutes long and
consists of several apparently knowledgeable talking heads with some
interpolated period photos and a bit of movie footage.
Chang Apana, a tough, wiry guy, joined the Honolulu Police Department some years before Biggers happened to vacation there in 1919. Hawaii at the time was a territorial possession, of course, and not a favorite vacation spot or retirement community as it is now.
Biggers stayed in a small hotel on Waikiki. Yes, they were still small. When he asked for his key, the manager told him there were no keys, that all the rooms were left unlocked. This evidently started Biggers ruminating. What a neat and exotic place to set detective stories. On returning to the states Biggers read the Honolulu newspapers about their most prominent police officer, Chang Apana, who had been born in China, spent time in Hawaii, sent back to China for a while, then returned to Hawaii permanently.
The first story appeared in the mid 1920s and into the 1930s, a period of florescence for pulp mysteries. It gave us Sam Spade in addition to Charlie Chan.
The Chan of the stories was nothing like Chang Apana. Apana was stern, scarred, sometimes pitiless, and he investigated opium smuggling and illegal gambling. In at least one instance he rounded up a married couple suspected of suffering from leprosy. He carried around a bull whip. And he never investigated a case of murder. Apana, like Charlie, had many children but then so did everyone else, and Apana was not suave and wise. He hated school, was unlettered, and didn't drive.
In fact, the characters of Charlie Chan and Chang Apana are so different from one another that it's a bit of a surprise to hear claims that the real detective provided the inspiration for the fictional. As far as it's possible to judge from this documentary, Biggers never made any such statement. One wonders whether that identification is a kind of "factoid" -- a belief that resembles an interesting fact but lacks substantiation. Did you know that Australians grind kangaroo road kill into their McDonald's hamburgers? They don't, but it's interesting, isn't it?
The interviewees seem to know what they're talking about, though, at least as far as Chang Apana is concerned. I trusted most the guy from the Bishop Museum, a repository of Hawaiian history and culture, and I found Apana's granddaughter, Sheri Kagimoto, to be the cutest.
As a fictional character, Chan has always been less than enchanting. He's easy enough to parody but he lacks the human foibles necessary to turn a character into an icon. Sherlock Holmes had his cocaine, Hercule Poirot had his vanity, but what has Charlie Chan got? Enumerated sons and a penchant for fortune-cookie apothegms. "Hurricane like ex wife -- always get house." I've never read any of the stories but the entertainment value of the movies generally comes, not only from the shuffling Charlie Chan, but from his sidekicks or from subsidiary characters. Of these, Mantan Moreland was probably the best.
Just discovered on Google Video this extra originally from one of the Fox Charlie Chan DVD's. It's about the actual Honolulu police detective Chang Apana who author Earl Derr Biggers based his fictional Hawaii sleuth on. Actually, this Apana person was very tough and investigated illegal gambling as opposed to the murders usually associated with Chan. Among the people interviewed were a couple of younger relatives named Karl and Sheri Kagimoto as well as a few current members of the state capital city police. This was a fascinating document for anyone interested in the inspiration of this popular detective from the early 20th century. So on that note, I recommend The Real Charlie Chan.
This interesting short documentary is available as an extra feature on
the recently (2006) issued DVD of CHARLIE CHAN IN Egypt. It concerns a
Chinese cop in Honolulu who flourished from 1898 through 1934 by the
name of Chang Apana.
While there is little doubt that the idea of a pidgin-speaking police officer in Honolulu was the inspiration for Earl Derr Biggers' character of Charlie Chan, Apana was not, of course, Chan. He was a tough, beat-pounding cop who has become something of a legend in Honolulu, and this documentary, which includes interviews with his grandson, with the curator of the Honolulu Police Department and other experts, is a well-done piece. It's worth your time to look at it if you're looking at the movie it accompanies.
The Real Charlie Chan (2006)
*** (out of 4)
You have to give Fox credit, it took them forever to put their Charlie Chan titles onto DVD but when they finally did, they didn't just give us promotional piece extras. Instead they really did do some homework and give fans extras that could help make them understand the character more. This 21-minute featurette takes a look at Chang Apana, a tough guy who worked for the Honolulu police and the man who most believe Earl Derr Biggers' modeled the character Chan after. With interviews from historians and Chang's family, we get to hear about his tough ways and it's somewhat amazing that no one tried to do a movie on his life. Either way, we're told some pretty interesting stories about how he joined the police force and what Hawaii was like at the time. The most fascinating stories come from how tough Apana was because he was constantly getting beaten, stabbed and he was never afraid to go after anyone. Fans of Chan will certainly enjoy this featurette as it gives you a better idea of who the real guy was.
Cool featurette on the Charlie Chan in Egypt DVD. It tells the story of the real-life Hawaiian detective Chang Apana. Earl Derr Biggers apparently based Chan somewhat on this man, although I should stress LOOSELY based. The real man bore no physical resemblance to Charlie Chan and was a rough and tumble kind of cop, rather than the gentle brilliant detective we all associate with Charlie Chan. He was a Hawaiian cowboy before joining the police! Can you see Charlie Chan as a cowboy? This guy sounds like he was an amazing character and I wonder why no movies have been based on his actual life. The people featured in this short tell some pretty crazy stories about him, such as when he was thrown out of a second-floor window and still got up and made the arrest! He wasn't a homicide detective, however, as Chan mostly was. Instead he primarily investigated smuggling and gambling. I haven't done any research to verify the claims made in this short about Apana, so please nobody jump down my throat if his legend is exaggerated. But, as he is presented here, he sounds like an interesting character who led a full life.
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