Asian Female cast shines in SAVING FACE
Alice Wu’s, SAVING FACE is a wonderful romantic comedy with Asian characters in New York City. It’s a surprisingly fresh take of a romantic comedy genre as it’s about Chinese American lesbian girls. The story is set in the spiderweb of traditional Chinese immigrants and second generation Chinese Americans who begrudgingly kowtow to the social norms. Wil’s world, played by Michelle Krusiec, is rocked when her widowed mother becomes pregnant and hides herself in Wil’s apartment disrupting her life. To complicate matters, Wil, who still hasn’t ‘come out’ yet, falls in love with a fellow Chinese second generation, who happens to also be an openly gay woman, gracefully poised by Lynn Chen, from their social circle.
The acting is nothing short of brilliant. Lynn Chen makes simple effective choices in her acting. Michelle plays thoughtful, and Joan Chen, from the unforgettable film the Last Emperor, does a marvelous job of playing against the stereotypical mother. She plays a multi-dimensional mother who’s scared to be on her own for the first time. She can’t even pick out her own dress to go out on a date because she’s followed always followed tradition. She’s never had to make her own decision her whole life. When she finally does break tradition, the first thing she announces is how she’s moving in with her daughter and wants to repaint and decorate the apartment. It’s like Oprah awakening in the end of the movie, THE COLOR PURPLE. Oh watch out. She’s back now.
We know we’re in the hands of a seasoned director, when there’s a throw back shot to THE GRADUATE. It’s where the couple escapes the wedding after declaring his love and end up on a bus. The camera rolls and the realization and the consequences of what they’ve done finally set it. It’s a throw back where the mother escapes the marriage and she and the daughter are on the bus and don’t realize what they’ve done. There’s also the biting shot of the measly pickings of videos addressing Asian characters and their issues at the video store. Yes, there used to be movie rental stores. So much has changed in the last 20 years or has it? The strong visuals of and getting the best performances like when Michelle tells her love interest Wil that she’s going to Paris and we see the monkey bars separate the two. Or the color shirt Red after coming out to her mother and her mother breaking tradition. It turns out, that this is her directorial debut.
What’s fresh about the movie is how the first generation would speak Chinese and their children would speak back in English. This is common in my household as well. I know Hollywood tends to shy away from subtitled films, especially American made ones. But with the cornucopia of movie selections online from all over the world and watching the best foreign movies from every country, the subtitles are an afterthought. There have been some great Asian movies and TV shows that are invading America like the zombies on a train movie, TRAIN TO BUSAN, as well as Korean drama.
The invisible shackles of shame and ‘SAVING FACE’ were woven in every plot. The characters were enmeshed within gossiping women and men at the restaurants and hair salon Wil remained in her closet. Vivian wasn’t allowed to perform modern dance. Joan Chen’s character couldn’t publicly embrace her nontraditional man or proudly live as a single mother without being ostracized from the Chinese community. Her pregnancy belly bump would be her scarlet letter. When the bonds were finally broken in the third act, you could see the ripple effect of the glass ceiling being shattered as several couples came clean with their true feelings leaving their fellow neighbors gasping in horror.
Only an Asian American could have written this line.
A throw away line that really spoke to me is the scene where the black friend where he says, I don’t understand.Why doesn’t she just do what she wants to do? It’s a clash of two different cultures. One that believes in collectivism vs one that believes in individualism. Social status means everything to the Asian immigration. I busted out laughing when the father proudly exclaimed, “Well at least my daughter’s dating a doctor.” Comedy has so much truth in it. I would have liked to have seen more comedy than romance. I did enjoy the bits of comedy where Vivian teaches the Will to fall down and when Vivian leans in for a kiss, Will conveniently falls down. I also enjoyed the subtleties of being Asian. Did you ever tell your mother? She knows already. Did you tell her? She walked in on me and another girl and never spoke of it again. In Asian culture, subtlety speaks volumes that we hold in silence for lifetimes.
Lynn Chen is currently writing and acting in her directorial debut of the independent film, I WILL MAKE YOU MINE
Michelle Kreuk is featured in Hawaii five O.
Looking forward to more work from the talented filmmaker Alice Wu who also holds a Master degree in computer science. She can help lead the way that there can be no limits to what we want to do in life.