Remembering Elizabeth Sung

We are saddened by the loss of Elizabeth Sung, a longtime friend to VC and advocate for APA filmmakers. We are thankful for her work on screen and behind the screen, as a patron to the arts and mentor to emerging artists. It was no coincidence she was the first person to be featured on our Humans of VC campaign. 

Elizabeth's family asks that those wishing to honor her make a donation to the Elizabeth Sung Memorial Scholarship Fund. Proceeds will be used to expand opportunities for emerging Asian Pacific American media artists. Click here to donate.

See below for a thoughtful memory of Elizabeth Sung by VC Staffer Abraham Ferrer:

"Four Big Reasons Why I'm Down With Elizabeth Sung:

The month of May has been decidedly gloomy this year, with just about every day enveloped in cold overcasts that, on some days, will never yield to sunshine. This prolonged Depeche Mode/The Cure weather just got a might bit gloomier with the news that Elizabeth Sung, a longtime acquaintance and friend to Visual Communications, the organization I work at, passed away sometime on Tuesday, May 22 at age 63. Speaking for myself, I've known Elizabeth for over twenty years, and while she is beloved among our community as a veteran Hollywood luminary who became THE go-to actress for the "Cantonese mother knows best" and "Tiger Mom With a Heart of Gold" roles that are steak-and-potatoes of Asian American independent cinema and beyond, I became in awe of her as a person who sought to excel both in front of and behind the movie camera. That was apparent in 1999, the year that she brought THE WATER GHOST, a short thesis film project from the AFI Women's Directing Workshop, to the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. Starring the late and sadly-missed Hiep Le, THE WATER GHOST announced Elizabeth's desire to break through the silo of network soap operas that have sustained her career throughout the 1990s. The film also typified the stylishness, elegance, and humility that characterized her personality away from the spotlight.

In two decades' time, there have been other things that distinguished Elizabeth Sung from the rest of the pack:

1) Elizabeth Was All About Controlling Her Story and Perspective: while today it might be dismissed as "old-fashioned" and dated, for its time, THE WATER GHOST was moody and ethereal, and treated its source material with respect. That was due in no small part to Elizabeth's deft storytelling, adapting a story she concocted with her husband, screenwriter Peter Tulipan, and brought to life with bravura performances by actors Hiep Le and Yi Ding. I remember the film as a highlight of the Film Festival that year, distinguishing itself apart from likewise stellar efforts from the likes of Dai Sil Kim-Gibson, Philip Kan Gotanda, Tom Huang, Michael Kang, Lela Lee, Chi Moui Lo, Domingo Albert Magwili, Greg Pak, Kimi Takesue, Jessica Yu, and many others that year who would return time and time again to the Film Festival with new works.

2) Elizabeth Made "Steezy" Look Easy: She went on to star in a such a boatload of feature-length and short works that it seemed that Elizabeth was a annual fixture on our Film Festival Red Carpet. And in all the times I've seen her, she ALWAYS looked good on the Red Carpet. All the time. Every time. And with seemingly little or no effort.

3) Elizabeth Worked for What She Wanted: On more than one occasion, Elizabeth contributed more than a bit of "sweat-equity" in exchange for benefits that other actors considered beneath them. Case-in-point: a few years after bringing THE WATER GHOST to the Film Festival, she offered to put in serious volunteer hours in exchange for tickets to allow her husband to attend some of our most popular filmmaker panels that year. And this wasn't just a few minor, sir! The grrrl stuffed envelopes. She performed membership mail-outs. She paper'd Little Tokyo with program flyers. And she even learned to update our membership and sponsorship databases so that we wouldn't lose track of our supporters. And after all that — from my recollections, three weeks' worth of 20-hour-a-week volunteer work — she STILL looked fabulous on that Opening Night Red Carpet. Deng! Not even RuPaul works as hard as she did for those valuable plus-one tickets. That showed me something right then and there...Elizabeth Sung was NOT too proud to work for what she wanted. Besides, she said at the time, she saw a way to help out VC with something other than paying for tickets. #hollah

4) Elizabeth Is Our Legacy: Elizabeth started coming around to VC with her husband Peter at a time when I was becoming acutely aware that many of her contemporaries were themselves entering "legend" status. That roll call is as stellar as it is astounding. Kieu Chinh, veteran Vietnamese American actress who has over time grown into the types of roles that Elizabeth herself was cast in. Takayo Fischer, whose career spans generations. Amy Hill, longtime Bay Area actress and comedienne. Nobu McCarthy, lead actress of FAREWELL TO MANZANAR and former Artistic Director at East West Players. Sharon Omi, whose path to longevity has prompted her to produce as well as act. Beulah Quo, co-founder of East West Players. And on and on and on. To me, Eiizabeth and those ladies were VC's "guardian angels," luminaries of stage and screen who oftentimes were foul-weather friends to the organization, the ones you could count on when times were lean. And believe me, there certainly were some lean times around here.

In a way, I can't be sad that Elizabeth is no longer with us. Instead, I'm grateful to have had her friendship, and I think the entire Asian Pacific American acting and filmmaking community should be thankful that she had our collective backs over the thirty years that she worked in front of and behind the camera. As a sort of keepsake, I went back into the VC Photographic Archive Time Machine and pulled out this image of Elizabeth preparing to lense a scene as part of a cinematographers' workshop sponsored by the Eastman Kodak Company. This image, made back in 2009 by Kris Mendoza, still amuses and inspires me: Elizabeth, always looking to get back behind the camera, leading a team of budding cinematographers, shooting 35mm FILM, and probably scheming in the back of her mind how to make her next film with such extravagant movie-making equipment. Ahhh, but by this time, I know — or knew — Elizabeth. She would somehow find a way. And — in her charming yet unassuming way — look fabulous doing it."

Elizabeth's family asks that those wishing to honor her make a donation to the Elizabeth Sung Memorial Scholarship Fund. Proceeds will be used to expand opportunities for emerging Asian Pacific American media artists. Click here to donate.