________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 14 . . . . March 17, 2006


The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam.

Ann Marie Fleming (Director & Writer). Ann Marie Fleming & Svend Erik Erikson (Producers). Ann Marie Fleming, Ruth Vincent, Bruce Alcock & Rina Fraticelli (Executive Producers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2003.
90 min., VHS or DVD, $99.95.
Order Number: C9103 079.

Subject Headings:
Entertainers - China - Biography.
Magicians - Biography.
Long Tack Sam.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Elizabeth Larssen.

*** /4

Who was Long Tack Sam? To modern audiences, the name does not produce even a flicker of recognition. Yet in his day, he was a great magician, acrobat and an internationally known vaudeville performer as he traveled the world with his troupe. This documentary film traces the history of the filmmaker's great-grandfather, Long Tack Sam, as Fleming tries to uncover the history of her relative who had been forgotten by both the family and the world. At the outset of her journey, Fleming explains that she knows little about him other than that he was very short and he was a magician. It turns out he was one of the foremost Chinese magicians and vaudeville performers whose career lasted well into the post-World War II era. While many of us remember other high profile performers with whom Long Tack Sam worked, people such as the Marx Brothers or George Burns. Long Tack Sam is largely forgotten due to the fact that, unlike many of his associates, he refused to make the transition to Hollywood in order to star in movies. Why did he shun the film industry even when it became clear that it was the future? He strongly disagreed with Hollywood portrayals of Asians who were often villainous characters, and he forbade anyone in his family to appear on film.

     This gem of a film is highly entertaining and would be useful in a high school classroom setting as instructional support -- it covers major world events of the early to mid-twentieth century from a truly unique perspective. Of equal importance is the fact that it deals with issues of race, interracial marriage, and the problems faced by Long Tack Sam, his wife and their children.

     Perhaps the main drawback is that the film could have benefitted from a more judicious use of editing – at 90 minutes, it is slightly too long and starts to lose focus in the last 30 minutes. Ann Marie Fleming intersperses amusing cartoon animations of Long Tack Sam with her narration and interview footage – a technique that is sure to hold student interest in a classroom setting.

     Overall, The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam is an engaging journey that provides a snapshot of the twentieth century from the perspective of a truly magical individual.


Elizabeth Larssen divides her time between her position at a public library and her studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, where she is pursuing a degree in Library and Information Studies.

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