Part documentary, part fever dream, a performance artist discovers the untold onscreen and offscreen histories of Los Angeles Chinatown as she sings a familiar movie tune to aging residents faced with a rapidly developing neighborhood. Captured on iPhone, Street Angel is an ode to the resilience, joy, and voices of an often overlooked community that has provided an exotic backdrop for the Hollywood film industry for decades.
Michelle Sui – Director, Producer
Shanhuan Manton – Director of Photography, Producer
Spencer Lee – Editor
Michelle Sui – Key Cast
Eugene Moy – Key Cast
Jimmy Wong – Key Cast
Part documentary, part fever dream, Street Angel follows a wandering singer as she moves through Los Angeles Chinatown and its bus stops, street corners, gift shops, and art galleries, interacting with different passersby and audiences as she sings a refugee song from 1937 Chinese film Street Angel. The delight of the aging immigrant residents she encounters, who listen to this familiar tune with utmost attention, creates an opening for a conversation with an often overlooked group in this rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. Rarely spoken of stories of Chinatown’s past––both onscreen as a backdrop for Hollywood movies and offscreen as a home for the displaced––reveal the pride and resilience of a community looking to an uncertain future.
Street Angel is fueled by the complex and rarely spoken about history of displacement and role-playing in Los Angeles’s Chinatown alongside a visual experiment in reclaiming agency in the Oriental female archetype, a trope of strange delight and exoticism for much of cinematic history. The film captures a moment in time as the neighborhood changes, creating a way for us to remember the joy, ingenuity, and voices of the people who live behind the facade.
I hope the conversations documented in the film invite an opening for further discussions between the local communities in Chinatown and a broader audience around the world so that the audience’s perception of Chinatown widens and becomes more nuanced so that what was once strange can be familiar.
Michelle Sui is a Chinese-born, Los Angeles-raised actor, writer, and director. Her cross-genre film, theatre, and new media works have recently been presented in Germany, Italy, the Republic of Georgia, and throughout the U.S. Her production company Nü House creates documentary work that facilitates conversations across borders and connects diverse artists and communities in different cities worldwide.