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  • Ella Wu

'aka MR. CHOW' (2023)

You either know exactly who Michael Chow is, or you’ve never heard of him before. For the first time in his life, the mysterious figure behind the swanky restaurant chain MR. CHOW is allowing us a deeply personal glimpse into his life and history.

“The first time I met him [in person] was the first day of the shoot,” says producer Diane Quon. “I would have to say, just like the film, you see all sides of his personality. It was an amazing experience meeting him.”

“He was in his full artist outfit, a white coat,” editor Jean Tsien adds. “And he was really warm. He was super warm.”

There are many parts of Michael Chow’s life and career that some would say belong in the spotlight more than others. He built an international empire with his chain of restaurants with locations in London, New York, California, Miami, Las Vegas, and Riyadh. He regularly rubbed shoulders with the crème de la crème of the art world, Hollywood, and miscellaneous social elite. He provided opportunities to immigrants of all backgrounds, making it a point to hire diverse staff at his restaurants. His career is absolutely astounding. And yet, that’s not what this documentary is truly about.

“aka MR. CHOW” peels back that glittering curtain, pushes aside the Wikipedia page bullet points in favor of pure, stark honesty. Michael Chow’s story is not “just an immigrant story,” Jean Tsien explains. “I see Mr. Chow as someone who had to leave everything behind. And this story is really the universal story of the consequences of war.”

Michael Chow was born Zhou Yinghua 周英华, in Shanghai. His childhood was cut short by the devastating impact of the Cultural Revolution, leading to his immigration to England at age 12. There, in a completely foreign land with no grasp of the language, he faced racism and discrimination as he tried to adapt to his new surroundings. He never saw his parents again. His father, a beloved master of Beijing opera, was imprisoned until death; his mother, beaten to death.

Mr. Chow may be a larger-than-life persona, but Michael Chow’s tragedies and trauma are all too real. They shaped his life just as much as his successes did. That’s what this documentary sheds light on, especially in the political and global context of the film’s release. It’s an endorsement of empathy, an acknowledgement of pain, and a reminder to look for the human behind the headlines.

“aka MR. CHOW” is currently streaming on Max.

Find information about M aka Michael Chow’s art here.


Cover photo: Courtesy of HBO


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