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New film examines Rose Pak’s ‘incredible power’ in San Francisco

A welcome image at the trailer screening event for the Rose Pak documentary on Jan. 17, 2023 | Han Li/The Standard

After six years of making, a new documentary about the late Chinatown activist Rose Pak is set to debut in coming months.

The film's production team announced the milestone at a screening for the trailer hosted Wednesday night in San Francisco.

Named “Rally,” the documentary explores Pak’s activism by interviewing the people around her, and examines her controversial but formidable power in San Francisco politics. The project is sponsored by Rose Pak Community Fund, Center for Asian American Media, and local philanthropists.

Poster of the documentary "Rally" about late Chinatown activist Rose Pak | Courtesy photo

Pak, an immigrant from China, came to the U.S. for education in the 1960s and later became the first Asian female reporter at The San Francisco Chronicle. She advanced her community and political work by forging tight connections with powerful politicians. Through that work, she built her reputation as a staunch advocate for Chinatown and putting the Chinese community’s interests at the center of City Hall.

She died unexpectedly in 2016 at the age of 68.

Willie Brown, the former San Francisco mayor and a close ally of Pak, said the new film shows the “incredible power” she wielded for the city’s betterment and to uplift marginalized groups.

“She became a strong advocate for change in who should hold elected office, and what they should do once they were elected,” Brown said.

Attendees at the trailer screening event for the Rose Pak documentary on Jan. 17, 2023, include (from left) producers Michelle Moy and Ernestine Fu, former Mayor Willie Brown, film director Rooth Tang and Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin. | Courtesy Russell Jew

Pak is widely considered the key powerbroker who provided the political momentum for Ed Lee to become the first Asian American mayor of San Francisco in 2011.

However, Pak’s own rise to power didn’t come without controversy or enemies made, the trailer noted. Critics cast suspicion over her ties with the Chinese government, while allegations of corruption and bullying followed her over the years. 

When the city renamed the Chinatown subway station after Pak in 2019, it created a huge divide in the community.

Rooth Tang, the Los Angeles filmmaker who directed the new documentary, said that while the film centers on Pak, it also tells a story about San Francisco. He said Pak’s vision of protecting and building her community was “ahead of the time.”

Director Rooth Tang speaks at the trailer screening event for the Rose Pak documentary on Jan. 17, 2023. | Han Li/The Standard

Tang hinted that the team is pitching the film to film festivals and may host its first public screening in the spring.

Han Li can be reached at