Finding KUKAN


Documentary Films | 2016 | 75 minutes

Stranger Says:

Living in a world that historically erased contributions and innovations of women and people of color, it’s no surprise that Li Ling-Ai isn’t often mentioned in film history books. In this fascinating documentary, filmmaker Robin Lung tries to give Li the credit she deserves: the female producer of KUKAN, the documentary that revealed the horrors of World War II China to US audiences. Finding KUKAN tracks Lung’s nearly decade-long search for the last existing copies of KUKAN and her struggle to learn the legacy of one of documentary filmmaking’s unsung heroes. It’s worth suffering through the overwrought transitional scenes.

SIFF Says:

It was the first documentary to ever win an Academy Award®, so why have so few people heard of KUKAN: The Story of Unconquerable China and the woman behind it? Li-Lang “Gladys” Ai was a second-generation Chinese woman born in Honolulu, Hawaii, in 1908. Her love and respect for Chinese culture inspired her to create the documentary with American photojournalist Rey Scott about war-torn China and its resistance against Japan in World War II. Filmed in color and featuring shocking ground-level footage of the bombings in Chungking, KUKAN was the first film available to the U.S. that portrayed China in a factual, unprejudiced light, and in 1942 won the Oscar® for Best Documentary—yet Li-Lang, despite her involvement in the story’s conception and funding, sadly went uncredited, and the film became lost and eventually forgotten. Finding KUKAN director Robin Lung embarks on a seven-year quest to discover as much as she can about Li-Lang Ai and her involvement, and to see if any of the film can be salvaged and restored. Featuring clips of Li-Lang’s final interview in 1993, conversations with her living friends and relatives, archived footage, and correspondence between her and Scott, Finding KUKAN celebrates this female filmmaking pioneer and shines a light on what is undoubtedly an essential piece of cinematic and world history.

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Film Credits
Robin Lung
Kelly Hu, Wan-Chao Chang, Clay David, Daniel Dae Kim, Richard Balin
SIFF 2017