Finding Kukan

A search for an extraordinary woman leads to a lost Oscar®-winning film
Year Released
Film Length(s)
75 mins
Closed captioning available
Remote video URL


An American Library Association "Notable Film" - Filmmaker Robin Lung investigates the forgotten story of Li Ling-Ai, the uncredited female producer of Kukan, an Academy Award®-winning color documentary about World War II China that has been lost for decades.

Featured review

Amazing....If you love movies or history see this film.
Steve Kopian
Unseen Films


Kukan, a landmark color film that documented Chinese resistance to the Japanese invasion of China in the early days of World War II, was the first ever American feature documentary to receive an Academy Award® in 1942. When Robin Lung discovers a badly damaged film print of the “lost” Kukan, she pieces together the inspirational tale of the two renegades behind the making of it -- Chinese American playwright Li Ling-Ai and cameraman Rey Scott. Through a dynamic mix of verite, archival, and re-enactment footage, Finding Kukan creates an unforgettable portrait of a female filmmaking pioneer, and sheds light on the long history of racial and gender discrimination behind the camera, which continues to reverberate in Hollywood today.

Finding Kukan is both a personal film about a fourth generation Chinese American digging into her own culture and a wide-ranging exploration of decades of history between China and the United States.

DVD Extra Features include: Full 85-minute Kukan, 1941 (mastered from VHS) & Partial 35-minute version of Kukan, 1941 (mastered from 16mm)

20-page Viewer's Guide available to download (includes time-coded DVD chapter markers)

Streaming version available with Chinese language subtitles

The film is an excellent teaching and research tool for courses in:

*Ethnic/Asian American Studies

*Gender/Feminist Studies

*Film Studies

*American/World History

*Political Science & International Relations

*Immigration Studies

*War & Genocide Studies


...fascinating portrait of an Asian American pioneer filmmaker...
Candace Smith
...equally a biography of an important Asian-American woman, a historical record of our alliance with China in World War II, and a musing on how film history can be rewritten. It would be perfect to show students in many classes— twentieth-century and military history, Asian history, Asian-American studies, film studies, and women's studies.
Shana J. Brown
Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
Finding KUKAN is both compelling historical drama and thrilling detective story about a missing piece of Asian America, masterfully told. So riveting, I paid to see it twice!
Helen Zia
Author, Asian American Dreams
Based on extensive historical research and beautifully crafted film making, Finding KUKAN explores how race and gender shaped the lives of Chinese Americans in U.S. society with special attention to the entertainment industry. It also illuminates how individuals and cinematic creations can play powerful roles in shaping U.S.-China relations.
Judy Wu
Professor & Chair, Department of Asian American Studies, University of California, Irvine
Finding KUKAN demonstrates that re-discovering forgotten history can yield treasures as valuable as gold or jewels.
Peter Wong
Beyond Chron
Robin Lung's Finding Kukan unearths previously unimaginable historical facts: that an Asian American woman is the first to win a documentary Oscar. We are made aware of the historical limits of family but also national culture in giving women credit for their voice, no matter how loudly or eloquently they speak. This film is mightily useful to students and teachers of documentary and the history of women's voices in American and transnational cultural production.
Celine Parreñas Shimizu
Professor of Cinema, San Francisco State University
Lung's Finding KUKAN pays fine tribute to a 'little woman' who became a 'big hero.'" "Recommended
Stephen Rees
Video Librarian
The film is a compelling detective story covering the fields of World War II history and film preservation….It's important in shining a light on unsung women in the history of American film, the saga of the Chinese in the United States, and attitudes towards Chinese-American women in particular. Plus the vivacious Li Ling-ai is a pleasure to get to know.
Betsy Sherman
The Arts Fuse whatever format, KUKAN is a revelation.
Thomas Doherty
This is an excellent resource for exploring the absences and gaps of official film history, especially with respect to the contributions of women, and minority diasporic women in particular. It also probes the relationship of the filmmaker with the subject she documents in a way that teachers of documentary film classes will find useful for sparking discussion and reflection.
Kristin Hole
Assistant Professor Film Studies, Portland State University

Awards and Screenings

American Library Association "Notable Fillm for Adults", 2019
Selected for PBS Broadcast on America ReFramed, 2018
Audience Award, Best Documentary Feature, Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, 2017
Courage in Cinema Award, UMass Boston Film Series, 2017
Special Jury Award, Best Documentary Feature, Hawaii International Film Festival, 2016
Honorable Mention, Best Documentary Feature, CAAMFest, 2017
Official Selection, DOC NYC, 2016
Official Selection, Seattle International Film Festival, 2017
Official Selection, Independent Film Festival of Boston, 2017
Official Selection, Chicago Asian American Showcase, 2017
Official Selection, Mendocino Film Festival, 2017

Director Commentary

“I started this film project as a way of bringing visibility to an inspirational Asian female, but I grew to realize that the missing faces of Asian women in popular culture only mirror much deeper and disturbing exclusions of their stories from our historical records. Li Ling-Ai’s story not only highlights the systemic racism and sexism that still exists in Hollywood, it provides an inspirational rallying cry to women and people of color to fight to change the system. In my work, I hope to leave a legacy that will empower other women and people of color to become media makers, and that they, in turn, will create work that corrects the inequities and injustices that still exist in how we record history and tell stories in America.” Robin Lung

Features and Languages

Film Features

  • Closed Captioning
  • DVD Extras
  • Subtitles
  • Resources for Educators

Film/Audio Languages

  • English
  • Chinese

Subtitle/Caption Languages

  • Chinese

Promotional Material

Promotional Stills

Resources for Educators

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