In Memoriam: Dear Elizabeth


I wrote this post back in 2018 but never published it. I think my heart ached too much. I’m ready to share this with the world now. Here goes:

Elizabeth Sung was truly a pioneer. As a teenager, she moved from Hong Kong to study dance at Juilliard, on scholarship. After graduating, she joined the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. When an injury ended her dance career, Elizabeth channeled her energy into acting. She was just as talented behind the camera — she was selected for AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women, got her MFA in directing at AFI, and was one of three women chosen for the ABC Directing Fellowship. Her resume boasts 100+ acting and directing credits. But she was more than her accomplishments. She mentored countless Asian and Asian American actors and filmmakers, myself included.

After hearing about her passing, I started writing a letter to her. I’ve decided to share it, in the hopes that you might get a sense of how special Elizabeth was.

Amidst the outpouring of love for her, I think that she’s pushing us, reminding us in her typical Elizabeth fashion, to continue her legacy of helping and encouraging each other, especially within the Asian American film community. She will live forever in our memories, in all of us.

What follows is more or less what I read out loud at Elizabeth’s memorial.


Dear Elizabeth,

I can’t believe that I will never see you again. We were just texting a couple weeks ago, and I was hoping you’d feel better soon so that I could tell you all about Taiwan.

Thank you for talking with me the night before I left for Taiwan, and giving me advice on what to do at the hospice, for telling me to say everything that I wanted to say to my dying grandmother. I can’t believe that you’ve now passed away too.

I feel like I’ve said everything I’ve wanted to say to you, but just in case:

Thank you for mentoring me, encouraging me, supporting me.

Thank you for taking a chance on me and agreeing to act in L.A. Coffin School eight years ago. I was so excited that a talented, veteran actor like you wanted to work with me. And you instantly recruited Jerry, Megan, and others to be in the cast. You never hesitated to lend a helping hand. Thank you also for daring to film on that cliff! You taught me a lot about writing, directing, and acting on that project, and I never stopped learning from you.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with me, help me rehearse pitches, and read my scripts. Remember last year, after I finished pitching to you, you gave me notes, then told me to stay and revise it so that I could present you the new version? I think I was at your house for five hours! That’s what made you so special – you went all out with everything you did. You put your heart and soul into everything – no matter the size of the film, no matter how established the filmmaker. I really admire that. I’m sad that we won’t be able to collaborate on projects in the future (I know it’s a totally selfish thought). Nevertheless, I know that you’re still cheering me on. I’m determined to get my projects made, and make you proud!

Thank you for helping me see that my bi-cultural heritage and experience is something to be proud of, and for encouraging me to tell my stories as a writer/director. To tell our Asian American stories.

Thank you for your generosity, for writing recommendation letters, and going to bat for me. I don’t know how you found the time to forward me links and emails about filmmaking. You were always so busy with auditions, rehearsals, and filming. Thank you for thinking of me.

Thank you for always believing in me, especially when I doubted myself.

I know that so many actors, writers, and directors in this industry feel the same way about you. Even though you didn’t have any biological kids, you had many children who loved you and looked up to you, myself included! You’ve truly inspired multiple generations of Asian American artists.

Most of all, thank you for being a friend. I’m going to miss our teas, catch-ups at your favorite sushi place, conversations during carpools, and screenings. I’m going to miss your presence, your kindness, your voice.

I’m grateful to have met you, and for the time we’ve spent together. Thank you for showing me and so many others how to do it right – in life and in art.

I still can’t believe you’re gone. But knowing you, you’re onto the next part of your journey and handling it with elegance, heart, and passion.

Love you forever, Elizabeth.

Rest in peace.


L.A. COFFIN SCHOOL Photography: Cliff stills and BTS photos by Jeff Hofland. Chinatown BTS photo by Ricky Onsgard. Blue motel photo by Scott Laytart.