FINDING KUKAN investigates the story of Chinese Hawaii-born Li Ling-Ai, the un-credited female producer of KUKAN, a 1941 Academy Award-winning color documentary about World War II China that has been lost for decades.
In the late 1930s, China is in dire straits. The country will collapse under Japan’s military onslaught if they doesn’t receive outside help. Firebrand Li Ling-Ai wants to jolt Americans into action with a new medium -- 16mm Kodachrome color film. She hires Honolulu Advertiser photojournalist Rey Scott to travel to China and capture a citizen’s perspective of the war-torn country. Their landmark color film KUKAN screens for President Roosevelt at the White House, is called “awesome” by the New York Times, and receives one of the first Academy Awards for a feature documentary in 1942.
When Hawaii-based filmmaker Robin Lung learns that Li Ling-Ai is only listed as a Technical Advisor in KUKAN’s credits and that the Oscar for KUKAN went to Rey Scott, she suspects that Li Ling-Ai deserved more credit than she got. So she embarks on a 7-year quest to learn the truth and uncovers what might be the only surviving complete print of KUKAN along with a stash of articles and documents about the film.
As the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences struggles to restore the badly damaged 16mm print of KUKAN, the film becomes a detective story. Lung pieces together clues that emerge in her meticulous research, including tracking down Li Ling-Ai’s true involvement in the film, her relationship with Rey Scott and the amazing story of how the film was shot during one of the most devastating bombing raids of the war that resulted in mass destruction. The film also explores the challenges that Li went through as a Chinese American woman from Hawaii and the gender-inequity of the time.
Set against war-torn China, just prior to the December 7, 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor, FINDING KUKAN uses rare archival footage and innovative historical re-enactments to create an unforgettable portrait of these filmmaking pioneers.
This film is nominated for the Halekulani Golden Orchid Award for Best Documentary.