Sally's Beauty Spot

12 minutes 16mm 1990

A large black mole above an Asian woman's breast serves as a metaphor for cultural and racial difference in this engaging experimental film. Off-screen women's voices and scenes from The World of Suzie Wong parallel and counterpoint Sally's own interracial relationships and emerging self-awareness. A provocative and stylish meditation on Asian femininity.

"Challenges fetishistic and colonialist forms of representation, wittily tracing a character's move from stereotypical object to sexual subject." (Laura Marks, Afterimage)

"A brilliant meditation." (Richard Fung, Videomaker)

“Former NOW rock critic Helen Lee puts all that post-colonial, post-structuralist, feminist theory to good use in this hybrid film. Here, her sister’s eponymous mole becomes the focus for the problematic construction of Asian female identity within pop culture and beyond.” (Cameron Bailey, NOW Magazine, June 1991)

“In this playful incisive treatment of racial expectations… Sally (questions) the lotus blossom/dragon lady stereotype. The effect is pure hybrid, buttressed by a multi-textured, polyphonic soundtrack.” (Kass Banning)

“In Sally’s Beauty Spot, Lee employs a light tone in tackling weighty subjects—the difficulty of being female, Asian and sexual subject in a world where Suzie Wong is still, perhaps the model of the desirable Asian woman.” (Extreme Orient Occident, Cinema Onf, Montreal 1993)

“A dense meditation on self-image and otherness, mixing theory and experience in a hybrid that moves beyond the boundaries of experimental or documentary cinema.” (Festival of Festivals, Perspectives Canada, 1990)

“This elliptical and complex though entertaining story revolves around a young Asian-American woman wrestling with a small birth mark which only becomes a 'beauty spot' when men interpret it as an erotic symbol. The woman tries obsessively and in vain to remove this mark on her breast. She tries her luck with various men. It is into this plot that Helen Lee weaves a visual and verbal deconstruction of the Hollywood film The World of Suzy Wong (1960) about an affair between an American man and a Chinese woman in Hong Kong. Extracts from the film-sometimes unchanged, sometimes visually manipulated-are inserted at strategic intervals in Sally's Beauty Spot to highlight behavioural or thought patterns which are shown or emphasized by the media. The influence of colonialism can be felt throughout the film. The 'differentness' of Sally's body is examined visually, while the internalisation of this system of opposites is brought out through the men's comments and the Hollywood film. The film offers feminist and post-colonial theories to allow the viewer to take an objective view of the effects of colonial thinking in a post-colonial society such as that in North America.” (Robin Curtis)

“Helen Lee creates a tense cross-current using the metaphor/reality of Sally’s mole to represent a woman’s desire to erase herself, her racial identity, and the blackness/otherness which differentiates her from her dominant other. As one of the film’s narrators says: “Skin as the key signifier of cultural and racial differences in stereotyping is the most visible of fetishes recognized as common knowledge in a range of cultural, political, historical discourse in history and lays a part in the racial drama that is enacted every day in colonial societies.”

Lee juxtaposes her minimal film style-images of Sally alone intercut with footage of interracial kissing (considered taboo in mainstream media) and stock footage from The World of Suzie Wong, an interracial melodrama in which the protagonist, William Holden, transforms the Chinese cultural stereotype, Nancy Kwan, from whore to Madonna before he is able to consider her as a suitable marriage contender.” (Daria Stermac, Nice Girls Don’t… Do It catalogue)

Sally’s Beauty Spot is an innovative, impressionistic look at the meaning of blackness in a culture that privileges whiteness and ‘purity.’ “You look different,” a man tells Sally. She wonders, “Different from what?” Her obsession with a mole on her chest (she continually tries to wash it away and cover it with make up) is intercut with scenes from 1960’s The World of Suzie Wong, in which William Holden plays an artist who falls in love with his model, Nancy Kwan. The turbulence of this movie romance parallels Sally’s growing self-awareness, the myths and realities of interracial relations, and popular constructions of Asian femininity.” (Different From What by Cindy Fuchs, City Paper, Philadelphia, Dec. 1990)

“Suzie Wong meets Homi Bhabha as Sally becomes obsessed with her mole and tries to come to terms with herself both as object and subject of sexual desire. Although playful in tone, the film also takes up the challenge of presenting sexual pleasures with all their complications intact while offering a critique of sexist and colonialist perceptions. An impressive first film.” (Can-Asian Perspectives: A Film and Video Series Exploring Asian Experiences in Canada)

“Obsessed with the blemish on her body, Sally tries scrubbing, washing and hiding the black mark, but it doesn’t go away. Scenes from the classic 1960 miscegenation melodrama, The World of Suzie Wong, explore popular (mis)conceptions of interracial romance and underscore Sally’s won questioning of the lotus blossom/dragon lady stereotype of Asian women. Sally’s Beauty Spot is a playful, incisive treatment of racial expectations, role-playing and kitsch. This post-colonial hetero-romance asks: Could it be love?” (The Third Wave International Women’s Film and Video Festival, 1992)


Writer, Director, Producer: Helen Lee
Cinematographer: Rick McGinnis
Sound/Music Composition: Markley Boyer
Editor: Helen Lee
Editing Advisors: Karim Ainouz, Mark Potter
Voice-over Engineer: Omid Arabian
Sound Mixer: Juan Martinez
Negative Cutter: Nick Di Beneditto, N+D Films
Film Titles: Atlantic Title

With: Sally Lee, Mitsuyo Wada, Helen Lee, Tim Powis, Yumiko Murakami, Kerri Sakamoto, Cameron Bailey, Philip Bull, Lynne Yamamoto

Voices: Lynne Yamamoto, Christopher Philips, Helen Lee, Kerri Sakamoto, Dominic Faccini, Joyce Lee


Available from:

Canadian Filmmakers' Distribution Centre
37 Hanna Ave. #220
Toronto, Ontario Canada M6K 1W8
telephone: 416-588-0725,

Women Make Movies
462 Broadway Suite 500WS, New York, NY 10013
telephone: 212-925-0606 x360

Sally’s Beauty Spot Storyboard

Sally’s Beauty Spot Synch Notes

Sally’s Beauty Spot Voice-over Script

Reviews & Articles:

SEEING YELLOW: Asian Identities in Film and Video by Richard Fung
1994. In Karin Aguilar-San Juan (Ed.), The State of Asian America: Activism and Resistance in the 1990s, pp. 161-1711. Boston, MA: South End Press.

Desire and Dissolution by Laura U. Marks, Afterimage, Vol. 19, No. 9, April 1991

REVIEWS: A Project Room series, curated by Tom Folland and Natalie Olanick, Mass Media: Art and Culture

Yellow Peril: Reconsidered by Paul Wong, Video Guide, Spring 1991

Sally’s Beauty Spot by Kass Banning, The Independent Eye

Sally’s Beauty Spot Interview by Anne Jew, Discorder, Vancouver, July 1991.

Sexual Hybrids From Oriental Exotic to Postcolonial Grotesque by Laura U. Marks, Parachute, Issue 70, April –June 1993.

Fine local product deserves new and improved exhibition by Cameron Bailey, Best of 1990