• Sebastian Mann

Golden Gate Girls (2013) Review


Released to celebrate the centennial of pioneer director Esther Eng’s life, S. Louisa Wei’s 2013 documentary offers a fascinating look into the career of an LGTBQ+ icon.


Esther Eng is a tragically overlooked filmmaker. Mostly active from the early 30s to the late 40s, you’d be forgiven for never having heard of her. She quickly became sidelined by the directorial career of Ida Lupino, who was perceived by many as the heir to Dorothy Arzner, a filmmaker who had worked alongside Eng until 1943.


Staggeringly, between 1943 and Lupino’s debut in 1949, Eng was the only woman directing films in Hollywood - so where’s the recognition?

Golden Gate Girls is a well put-together and informative film

Without Golden Gate Girls (named for her most successful film, released in 1941), Eng would perhaps be doomed to obscurity.


Today, her films have sadly become quite hard to find, and narrator Stephanie Han recounts the difficulties faced by the team in having to painstakingly track down an out-of-print VHS just to get the necessary footage.


Wei’s jazzy portrait of the trailblazing filmmaker is a warm and passionate ode. It simply recounts the story of Eng’s life, framed around the wider contexts of the Second World War, Cantonese opera, and the Chinese-American identity.

Wei chats with a wide variety of scholars and critics, giving a richness to all facets of Eng’s life, from her openness about her sexuality to her creative inspirations and muses.


There are some wonky animated interludes that stick out a little awkwardly against the archival footage and talking heads, but otherwise Golden Gate Girls is a well put-together and informative film that will hopefully bring more attention to a sadly unknown icon.


7/10


Golden Gate Girls has its UK premiere at Hong Kong, Reimagined.