Published Jul 01, 2005Featuring an Asian-American cast headed by the luminous Joan Chen, Saving Face is an unconventional romantic comedy centring on a mother (Chen) and her daughter that pits transgressive love against community values.
Wil (Michelle Krusiec), an overworked 20-something surgeon, finds her world turned upside-down when her widowed mother arrives on her doorstep pregnant and alone. At 48, Ma is ostracised by the Mandarin-speaking Chinese community of Flushing, NY, because she won't cough up the father's name. Now, Wil must play matchmaker to redeem Ma and "save face" for the family. At the same time, Wil falls in love with a childhood buddy-turned-ballerina named Vivian (Lynne Chen). Despite their obvious passion, Wil hides Vivian from her traditional mother. Who will reveal her secret first?
Writer/director Alice Wu wrings genuine laughs out of sexual politics and cultural clashes to create an impressive debut. Despite its sitcom pacing, Saving Face is witty, especially when it explores the thorny mother/daughter relationship. The performances are strong, particular from Chen, whose conservative Chinese mother undergoes an awakening of her own sexuality and that of her gay daughter. "I call it The Joy Luck Clit," joked Wu at last September's Toronto International Film Festival. Her script originally attracted the attention of Will Smith, whose company produced the picture.
Unfortunately, because Hollywood neglects films about Asians (unless it's martial arts), there's too much pressure placed on any Asian-American film to succeed. Saving Face has been criticised for being too light and too television, but I disagree. The film examines two taboos - homosexuality and older women's sexuality - that would have been insufferably overwrought if presented as a straight drama. By making a comedy, Wu makes the material not only entertaining but palatable to a wide (read: white) audience. (Mongrel Media)