There was lack of official documentation on Wan’s birthday, birthplace or other personal information. She was even mistaken as a man because of her androgynous name. Yet, this legendary filmmaker had worked as a director and a screenwriter for an astounding number of 31 films. A pioneer of her time but was almost entirely forgotten in the history of Hong Kong cinema.
During the 1930s and 1940s, Wan worked under Hou Yao, one of the leading Chinese film directors. Between 1937 and 1939, she was Hou’s apprentice, assisting in directing and screenwriting. She became Hou’s work associate and later his life partner. Wan was most productive, mainly co-directed works, between 1939 and 1941. Besides Hou Yao, she also worked closely to Hung Chung-ho, Sammo Hung’s grandfather. These two filmmakers were big influences to Wan.
Hou was a film poet and “National Defence” film pioneer. Wan made eight films during her apprenticeship, four of those were “National Defence” films. After the release of Goddess (1940), Wan’s directorial and writing debut, Shaw Brothers (Singapore) Limited hired Wan and Hou to make Malay films in Singapore. After co-directing six films, they were jailed during the Japanese Occupation (1942-45). Hou was eventually executed by the Japanese army in 1942.
Patriot in Southeast Asia
After the ordeal, Wan stayed in Singapore and made two Chinese-language films, Spirit of Overseas Chinese (1946) and Miss Nanyang (1947). Shot in Singapore, Spirit of Overseas Chinese was about the contrast between the indifference among overseas Chinese and the devotion of the refugees towards war-torn China while Miss Nanyang unusually focused on the subject of comfort women during the war, reflecting Wan’s care for the war victims. She left the industry after, but came out of retirement to write the script of Love Torn in 1963.