Jadin Wong’s appearance in I Drink Your Blood is perhaps the biggest surprise in this film. Like Bhaskar, she had a well established career at the time of the film, and also like Bhaskar, had established herself as a dancer. Wong was seventeen years older than Bhaskar–she’d have been celebrating her 100th birthday a couple months ago had she not passed away at 96 in 2010–and was a pioneer for Asian-American women in Hollywood, who, beyond dancing, had a well established career as a singer, was one of the first Asian-American female stand-up comedians, and frustrated at the lack of Asian-Americans on stage and in film, she started her own company and became a talent scout and agent all by the time IDYB came around. Eventually her career was celebrated in the US Congress and she was invited by President Ronald Reagan to visit the White House. All this begs the question: why on earth would such a pioneer take a roll in a cheap exploitation flick, especially one in which she portrays the Asian stereotypes she spent her career trying to overcome?
Before we try to get to that question, let’s have a look at Wong’s career. She was born in Marysville, California on May 24, 1913. At 17 she was sneaking out to perform with a young Danny Kaye, who also would have become a centenarian this year. She left home at an early age for Hollywood and danced in the streets for change and slept on park benches at night. She also performed at Chinese-American nightclubs, in places along the so-called “Chop Suey Circuit”. Later, these were the experiences she was most known for and was sought out for her perspective on these experiences by scholars of Chinese-American identity and historians. Wong was discovered by actor/director Norman Foster who took Wong to meet his then-wife, Claudette Colbert. This was apparently a fruitful meeting, as it led to her getting a bit part in Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation (1939), as a dancer. You can see the 26-year-old Wong in this clip, at 2:45-:53 in the background:
Wong toured as a dancer in the 1940s with her first husband and dance partner, Li Sun, before their divorce and spent a couple years in the 1950s entertaining troops in Europe with Bob Hope, and Josephine Baker. She was a friend of Noel Coward. She married again in 1960, to Broadway powerhouse director Edward Dowling (1895-1976) and in these years she transitioned away from dance, and reinvented herself as a stand-up comedienne. She was pioneering again, becoming one of the first Asian-American women comics. She recalled:
A booker in the Catskills said, ‘You’re a dancer, you’re a woman and you’re Chinese. It’ll never work. If you’re so funny, say something funny.’ I told him ‘Fuck you!’ and I got the job. … I’m unusual for an Asian girl. They’re very subservient. I’m very nice to people, but I’m not your average Chinese girl– I kick tush. [source]
In the 1970s, just after I Drink Your Blood hit, she reinvented herself once again, this time as an agent for other Asian-American performers on stage and film. Her clients included Lou Diamond Phillips, Bai Ling, and Lucy Liu, among more than 400 others, but this reinvention was a reluctant one–it came when her own agent’s office burned down, and after thirty years as an agent she became known as the foremost scout for Asian performers in New York, and a tireless advocate of Asian-American performers aged 8 to 80. She is remembered for blazing a path through racist stereotypical roles that were commonplace in her early career. Wong established the Jadin Wong Educational Fund to continue the work of supporting Asian-American performers.
This brings us to Wong’s performance in I Drink Your Blood. In this film, she is nearly silent, and seems to play the part of the inscrutable Asian–one whose ways are all but totally incomprehensible to non-Asians. She is cruel, enjoys the shocking violence visited upon the hippie cult’s victims. Her most exploitive scene, apart from being splattered with blood early on in the film (see top pic) was her demise (sorry, I don’t warn of spoilers for 40-odd-year old films!) by self immolation in one of the final scenes of the film. It brings to mind the self immolations of Buddhist monks during the Vietnam War, which was very much a going concern in 1969-70.
As interesting as Wong’s career and role in this film is, I have not been able to find much about how she came to be in this role. The question we started out with in this post remains unanswered as of this writing: why did Wong agree to be in this film? The histories of her career do not mention IDYB among her film accomplishments. The academic writing using her as a source or as a subject–usually in the context of Chinese-American identity or film history do not mention Wong in IDYB either. This leads me to think that either a) there were, in yet another similarity with Bhaskar, more than one actress named Jadin Wong floating around at this time, or b) that the real history and lore of exploitation cinema is preserved and retold by us fans, as opposed to historians or “serious” film magazines, critics, etc. This is a point that Stan Hyde made on his interview on Kaijucast a couple episodes ago in relation to how the history and lore of Toho Studios and the Godzilla films is preserved.
As of this writing, I have two leads to see if we can find more information on Wong and IDYB. First, I’ve emailed one of the scholars who interviewed Wong, but this being summer, I don’t expect a timely response. If I hear anything noteworthy, I’ll make a point of providing an update. Second, there is a small collection of Wong’s “ephemera” at the New York Public Library. That is:
The Jadin Wong ephemera spans approximately 1930-1996, and consists of clippings, photographs, programs, advertising materials, reviews, correspondence, etc. Seven folders consist of clippings and photocopies of clippings from articles about the career of Jadin Wong, including the Life magazine cover story of December 1940 devoted to the Forbidden City, San Francisco nightclub where Asian performers entertained a mostly white clientele. There is also material devoted to FORBIDDEN CITY, U.S.A., a 1989 documentary film devoted to the nightclub and its performers in which Jadin Wong appeared.
New York is just a few hours away by train, and I’d love to go see the collection and see if I can scare up other leads. But I’m not optimistic, since there’s no mention in this description of any ephemera related to I Drink Your Blood. My gut tells me that probably what happened was that Wong met IDYB director David Durston socially–they both were New Yorkers–and this was, again like Bhaskar, probably a fun little lark for Wong to appear in a campy horror flick.