Thousand Pieces of Gold, newly restored in 4K and re-released after 30 years, is a wild west romance about Chinese immigration. It was directed by Nancy Kelly adapted from a fact based novel by Ruthanne Lum McCunn. Anne Makepeace wrote the screenplay. Pretty dang good women-cred for 1990!
Thousand Pieces of Gold stars Rosalind Chao and Chris Cooper.
Lalu (Chao) was sold by her father during a period of starvation in China. She was taken across the ocean and delivered to Hong King (Michael Paul Chan) who ran a saloon in a gold mining town in Idaho. Hong King planned to use her as a source of income – well, you can figure out how.
Jim (Dennis Dun) delivered her and a big load of other goods to King. They became friends on the long trek, and Lalu was broken-hearted when Jim left her there.
Charlie (Cooper) befriended her and defended her from all the ruffians in the town. He saved her several times. Finally, he rescued her from the saloon and took her to live with him in his cabin. He told her she was free. She immediately went into business for herself, planning to make enough money to return home to China.
Lalu became friends with one of the working girls in the town, Berthe (Beth Broderick).
Lalu was a fighter and a feminist. She’d bite and kick and pull out a knife if a man had the nerve to come close to her, including Charlie. She learned English very quickly. That was a little hard to believe, since her English developed immediately and grammatically. Lalu’s command of English was one tipoff that this was a film from 1990 and not today. (That and the tender, unlined faces of the stars!)
This was a classic western, but from a different perspective. It looked at the way Chinese workers were brought to America and how they were treated here. I doubt if there are any other Westerns that told the story of an unwilling Chinese woman dropped into a foreign environment and forced to survive alone.
Director Nancy Kelly teamed up with Kenji Yamamoto and formed Kelly+Yamamoto Productions. This company has created and produced a number of notable films.
You can see this beautiful film on Prime Video and Sling TV. I recommend it.
Here’s the trailer for the re-release.