From the age of 21 until her retirement from the screen at 35, Esther Eng (Ng Kam-ha) made five feature-films in America plus five in Hong Kong. Before 1950, she was the most prolific woman filmmaker in the history of Chinese cinema and perhaps its first feminist director.
Esther wanted to see Chinese-American films soar beyond their "Chinatown" base and into mainstream American theatres without sacrificing their cultural roots. In the end, the System defeated her but she remains one of the most remarkable figures of America's "ethnic" cinema.
Jewish cinema offers a parallel since American-made Yiddish films achieved limited but wide distribution throughout Jewish communities in Europe and North America. Likewise, Chinese films circumnavigated the globe, through a diaspora that embraced the "overseas Chinese" in America, the Pacific and Southeast Asia as well as mainland China itself.
Esther's envisaged "crossover" only occurred in 2001 with the world-wide triumph of Ang Lee's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the first wholly sub-titled film to enjoy blanket distribution throughout the USA. It earned 10 Academy Award nominations and, ultimately, four Oscars.
No brief introduction could adequately describe her active film life let alone her later career as an honoured restaurateur. She merits an undeniable place in the history of world cinema and we simply ask why normally astute film historians have ignored her? God knows she was visible enough.
Ng Kam-ha died in January 1970 in New York. She was interred in San Francisco.
And this is her story.
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For a more detailed biography, see MORE ON EE.
For a list of her films, see FILMOGRAPHY.
Copyright Frank Bren, 2001 and 2010. Site enquiries to Frank via firstname.lastname@example.org Selected images of Esther Eng and stills from her films are reproduced by kind permission of Esther's sister, Sally Ng Kam-ping. others come from Frank Bren's private collection