Directed by Robin Lung
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Robin Lung, Shirley Thompson, and Actress Kelly Hu (voice of Li Ling-Ai) in attendance!
Special Mention Documentary Feature, 2016 Hawaii International Film Festival
KUKAN, featuring stunning 16mm color footage of the Japanese bombing of Chungking (Chongqing), China in 1940, was among the earliest documentaries to have received an (honorary) Academy Award. But with seemingly no extant prints or copies, KUKAN appeared lost to history.
In FINDING KUKAN, veteran documentary filmmaker Robin Lung chronicles her own dogged pursuit to exhume both KUKAN and the fascinating personalities behind its making. Lung was particularly intrigued by Li Ling-Ai, who was credited as a technical consultant but who clearly played a more instrumental role. FINDING KUKAN digs into Li’s past, assembling evidence showing that she was probably the real “producer” of KUKAN. This detective story dovetails into Lung’s quest to recover and restore KUKAN, which takes her into the homes of the descendants of KUKAN’s principal filmmaker, Rey Scott. As Lung collects surviving print footage of KUKAN from various sources, she reconstructs the journey Scott takes to China (via reenactments), speculates about his relationship with Li, and eventually shows precious surviving footage from KUKAN. Unseen for years, this footage — a relaxed Chiang Kai-Shek playing checkers with Madame Chiang, the Chinese army on the march, villagers trying to escape bombing raids, the bombing of Chungking, and a glimpse of Li Ling-Ai — is well worth waiting for.
Intriguing as the KUKAN footage is, Lung is most drawn to Li herself. Funny, defiant, playful, and immensely charismatic, Li’s force of personality shines through as she recounts her exploits in old interview footage. In an era of rampant discrimination against Chinese Americans, Li tells of a colorful past as a playwright, socialite, relief worker and even as a companion and Chinese artifacts consultant for Robert Ripley, of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. While FINDING KUKAN is undeniably impressive as a feat of cinematic sleuthing, it’s at its most compelling in chronicling a woman who lived to the fullest, in a country that wanted little to do with her.
— Ryan Wu
Robin Lung made her directorial debut with WASHINGTON PLACE: HAWAII’S FIRST HOME, a 30-minute film about Hawai‘i’s historic governor’s mansion and home of Queen Lili‘uokalani (aired December 2008). She was the associate producer for PATSY MINK: AHEAD OF THE MAJORITY, Hawai‘i unit producer for VIVAN LAS ANTIPODAS!, and unit producer for NOVA’s Killer Typhoon. In 2015, she was a documentary fellow at the NALIP ARC filmmaker residency.
Executive Producers: Douglas K.T. Ho, Kimberlee Bassford
Producers: Robin Lung, Shirley Thompson
Director: Robin Lung
Writers: Robin Lung, Shirley Thompson
Cinematographers: Frank Ayala, Stanford Chang, Ron Darby, Ann Kaneko, Andrew Truong
Shadow Scene Director: Larry Reed
Visual Effects Director: Chris Do
Composer: Miriam Cutler
Editors: Robin Lung, Shirley Thompson
Choreographer: Wan-Chao Chang
Cast: Kelly Hu, Daniel Dae Kim