The Dragon Painter
Dir. William Worthington
On DVD 04/16/10
Remembered mostly for his magnificent performance as the Japanese officer in The Bridge over the River Kwai, few filmgoers realize that Sessue Hayakawa was one of the great stars of the silent cinema. In many films he played a dashing, romantic lead - a rarity for Asian actors in Hollywood, even today. Hayakawa became so popular and powerful that he was able to start Haworth Pictures to control his own destiny. The Dragon Painter was the finest of the Haworth productions. Beautifully acted, gorgeously shot (with Yosemite Valley filling in for the Japanese landscape), and lovingly directed, the film is an absolute marvel.
Hayakawa plays Tatsu, an artist living as a hermit in the wilds of Japan. Thought mad by the local villagers, he believes that his princess fiancée has been captured by a dragon. His obsession leads to artistic inspiration. It isn't until a surveyor comes across Tatsu in the mountains that his genius is discovered. The surveyor informs the famed artist Kano Indara about his discovery. Kano is desperate to find a male heir to teach his art, but when Tatsu meets Kano's daughter (played by Hayakawa's wife, Tsuru Aoki) and sees only his lost princess, a clash of wills brings the household to the brink of disaster.
Long considered lost, The Dragon Painter was rediscovered in a French distribution print and brought to the George Eastman House for restoration with the original tints. The film survives today as a tribute to Hayakawa's great artistry and a shining example of Asian-American cinema.
Soon after his arrival in Hollywood in 1913, William Worthington began his career in the motion pictures as an actor. Becoming a director the very next year, he later co-founded Haworth Pictures and directed most of Hayakawa's films (though Hayakawa claims that he himself directed most of the scenes he appeared in). He retained both acting and directing careers through the mid-1920s. He then settled for small, mostly uncredited, roles up until his death in 1941. Some films he appeared in include The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse, Boys Town, Young Dr. Kildare, Angels with Dirty Faces, Union Pacific and Abe Lincoln in Illinois. In 1927, he founded a short-lived company with inventor Harry K. Fairall that brought stereoscopic (3-D) films to the public. (Source: New York Times, February 20, 1927).
Directed by William Worthington Written by Richard Schayer Produced by Haworth Pictures Corporation Cinematography by Frank D. Williams Score by Mark Izu
The full-length feature, Thomas Ince's The Wrath of the Gods (1914), starring Sessue Hayakawa, Tsuru Aoki and Frank Borzage. Restored tinted print courtesy of George Eastman House.
A copy of the script for The Wrath of the Gods, courtesy of George Eastman House.
How to Build Your Own Volcano by Jack Theakston.
1921 short subject, Screen Snapshots (1921) with Sessue Hayakawa, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and Charles Murray (courtesy of Larcas Productions).
The Dragon Painter press kit.
The original novel by Mary McNeil Fenollosa in PDF format.