Lisa Lu Honored with Lifetime Achievement at Asian World Film Festival

by Ting Ting Xu November 2, 2018
Actress and HFPA member Lisa Lu receives lifetime award

michael tran/getty images

For 76 years the HFPA has been comprised of film journalist reporting on Hollywood for publications in their home countries. But through the years some members have also worked in the industry. Ting Ting Xu reports on one of our more decorated members.

 

On November 1st, 2018, the 4th Annual Asian World Film Festival (AWFF) honored Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) member and actress Lisa Lu with the Snow Leopard Lifetime Achievement Award at the festival’s closing night ceremony.

Born in Beijing in 1927, Lisa Lu started out on the small screen appearing frequently in American television shows in the late 50s. Through six decades in her prolific career, Lu also worked as a bilingual journalist at Voice of America and a contributing writer for World Screen – one of the biggest film magazines in China. She worked hard to consciously, authentically represent Asian culture, always careful to not feed and perpetuate stereotypical representations.

After three years of playing small roles in television, Lisa Lu got her feature film debut in the war adventure The Mountain Road (1960) in which she plays a courageous Chinese war widow who helps a U.S. Army major played by James Stewart in the last days of World War II.  However, because there were not a lot of Asian parts in Hollywood at the time, Lu struggled to find more film roles, regardless of how captivating she was in her previous work.  But she continued and persevered, eventually earning the nickname “One Take Lisa” for her ability to portray her character and deliver great performances with just one take. 

Although Hollywood had always been the epicenter of filmmaking, in the late 1960s, the cinema industry was beginning to grow and thrive across the globe in the Far East. Lu found herself in the middle of this growth, discovering that she was being offered more challenging and interesting roles from places like Taiwan and Hong Kong as opposed to the ones being offered to her stateside.  Lu was honored with three prestigious Golden Horse Awards - Taiwan’s equivalent to the Academy Awards- for her work in the films The Arch (1968), The14 Amazons (1972), and The Empress Dowager (1975).

Her success in Asia carried over to America as Lu took on roles in films like Demon Seed (1977) and Saint Jack (1979). At the age of 60, Lisa Lu was asked to reprise her role as Empress Dowager, this time for legendary director Bernardo Bertolucci in his film The Last Emperor (1987).  The film would go on to win nine Oscars and four Golden Globes.

Soon after her success in The Last Emperor, Lu was cast in Wayne Wang’s iconic The Joy Luck Club (1993).  The film became only the second feature-length movie to feature a majority Asian cast since Flower Drum Song (1961). At the time when the film was released, it garnered positive reviews. Film critic Roger Ebert picked it as the fifth of his top ten movies of that year.

In her 70s and 80s, Lisa Lu mainly acted in Mandarin-speaking films as China gradually became a big market for cinema, offering roles that were more attractive than the roles Hollywood had.  That is until the summer of 2018.  Warner Brother’s release Crazy Rich Asians, the first major Hollywood studio picture with a predominantly Asian and Asian American cast since The Joy Luck Club.  In Crazy Rich Asians, Lu plays Ah Ma, the matriarchy of the richest family in Singapore.  The film was a box office smash hit, having made a total of 233.9 million dollars so far with sequels already announced.  And of course, Lisa Lu will return as Ah Ma in those sequels and she says she cannot wait for the film to be released in China on November 30th in 2018.

Lu just finished the production of a feature adaptation of China’s greatest classic novel Dream of the Red Chamber set to be released in summer 2019. Starting this December, she will tour with a theater play A Dream Like a Dream in Beijing, Shanghai, and Chongqing.

In her acceptance speech at AWFF, Lisa Lu shared some words with the young generation in the film industry. “It takes more than passion to accomplish a good film. What is more important is always to be a good person before becoming a good actor or filmmaker,” Lu said in her inspirational speech, “it means you should support the truth even when it’s unpopular; it means you should protect your most prized possession in the world, your integrity. That’s been my creed for my whole life, and now it’s your turn to decide what you want to cultivate and achieve in your lifetime.”