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For my money, there’s no better streaming service out there—none I watch more, none that provokes as much rabbit-hole research—than The Criterion Channel. And it’s not just because they’ve just piled up a billion influential movies from around the world and left me alone with them. No, the value for me comes from the curated packages of films they put together every month, each with some sort of through-line. Since the service launched, I’ve loved Western Noir, Black Westerns, Pre-Code Paramount, and a 17-film package devoted to Delphine Seyrig (!). The Disney Channel it is not.

August brought us one of the most intriguing sets so far: Hollywood Chinese. Introduced by Arthur Dong’s 2007 documentary of the same name, Hollywood Chinese examines the (almost always) problematic lens through which Hollywood studios have treated both China and its people as subjects.

You really should watch the doc before you dive into the two-dozen films Criterion has put together. It’s fifteen years old, but it’s full of interviews about the problems inherent in this group of movies: Amy Tan, David Henry Hwang, Nancy Kwan, BD Wong … the list goes on, but they all show up to talk about the conflict they felt growing up watching Katharine Hepburn and Luise Rainer and Paul Muni appearing in yellow face in these movies. It’s also interesting to hear what they think of the movies now. 

The list is pretty wide-ranging. From a couple of shockingly troubling early silents through Anna May Wong’s rise, Charlie Chan, and Flower Drum Song, all the way to Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet and the great Joan Chen’s Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl, there’s a pretty broad swath of types and styles of movies on offer. I’ve been making my way through them in order—which seems like the way to do it—and not one of them has turned out to be anything less than fascinating … for better or worse.

About The Author

DG Strong took up knitting in 2014. He lives in Nashville with his sister, her rat terrier and a hound dog named Opal. He has a blog of drawings and faintly ridiculous rambling called The Psychopedia—there are worse ways to spend your afternoon.

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  • DG. So glad you gave a shout out to the Criterion Channel. I couldn’t agree more! I recently subscribed and have been immersed in Czech New Wave Films! ( which led to reading more Czech history and researching recipes…the list goes on!) Love the old Dick Cavett interviews, directors’ commentaries,etc.

  • I recently read Nghi Vi’s Siren Queen, which is a fantasy novel featuring a Chinese American heroine trying to break into (and then keep working in) a fantasy 1930s Hollywood that’s run on rituals and fairy magic and blood sacrifice. I really enjoyed it.

    • I’ll have to look for Siren Queen! Thanks for mentioning it

      Her novellas “Empress of Salt and Fortune” and “When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain” are also very good

      • I love Nghi Vo’s work! A third novella in the series is coming out in October.

        Her first novel was a retelling of The Great Gatsby (with magic, from the point of view of Jordan Baker, who is reimagined as a Vietnamese adoptee) called The Chosen and the Beautiful, which I like much better than the original.

        • I also absolutely adored her novellas and own copies of both! This did remind me that I’ve been meaning to pre-order the third one and I should do that.

  • I started watching the doc and some films this past week. I value Criterion Channel!

  • Thank you for sharing this important documentary and these films

  • Ooh! I’ll have to check that out!!

  • I have always found The Criterion films interesting and occasionally odd, my husband loves them, I’m more wish-washy.

  • Agree. Criterion is the best. All the obscure films that used to be available in the best video rental places but would never make it to Netflix in a million years. The pre-code series was priceless. (Did you catch the nightclub singer’s jaw-dropping ode to marijuana?) Also, I lived in Taiwan as a kid, so movies like The Wedding Banquet, Three Times, etc are a special treat.

  • Would not have made it through the pandemic lockdown without the Criterion Channel!

  • Once again y’all gave me something to start watching that isn’t Marvel or Star Wars related. THANK YOU (although I won’t part with Brit Box/Doctor Who). And just in time for hopefully a rainy week here in Dallas.

  • The Criterion channel is fantastic. Also, I highly recommend the novel “Interior Chinatown ” by Charles Yu. Hollywood, movies, an aspiring actor….it is great and really original.

  • Oh my gosh, Mr. Strong, you are a wonder! Thank you! Here in Tucson we have an independent movie rental store, which is a treasure, but I did not know of the Criterion Channel.

  • Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    Love CC. Love the Chinese curation and wish they had lots more of Chinese cinema in general. But one of the things I like best about Criterion is that when I get the urge to watch just a clip of something—the coronation scene from Ivan the Terrible Part I, or the Shanghai Lil number at the end of Footlight Parade, or the conversation between the squire and the muralist in Seventh Seal, or Lana Turner, Judy Garland, and Hedy Lamarr dripping in bling in the “You Stepped Out of a Dream” number from Ziegfeld Girls, or that crazy surrealistic ballet in the Red Shoes, or any fight scene with Toshiro Mifune—it’s all right there. Criterion is my favorite.
  • We’ve been subscribers since Criterion launched its streaming service and every penny is well spent. we watched the documentary you mention last weekend and it was absolutely fantastic. Haven’t had time this week to delve into some of the movies but hope to this weekend.

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