Publicity Stills of "Saving Face"
(Courtesy from Columbia TriStar)

2005 Sundance Film Festival – Official Selection
Director: Alice Wu
Starring: Joan Chen, Michelle Krusiec, Lynn Chen
RunTime: Est 1 hr 40 mins
Released By: Columbia TriStar
Rating: R21

Opeing Day: 27 October 2005


For 28-year old New Yorker Wilhelmina "Wil" Pang (Michelle Krusiec), life is a juggling actbetween a promising career as a surgeon and her responsibilities as a dutiful daughter. Like the #7 train she takes to visit her Chinese family on a weekly basis, Wil is perpetually in transit between two worlds. The expectations of the Flushing, Queens society she is from and the desires that alienate her from it have made Wil content to live below the surface -- even if it means playing an inadvertent game of charades with her widowed mother (Joan Chen) and the old world Ma represents. The masquerade is comic even in its pain as Wil tolerates Ma's weekly set ups with eligible Chinese-American boys at the Friday Chinese socials; but it quickly becomes a farce when Ma's mask cracks first.

One night, Wil comes home to find Ma on her doorstep - pregnant. Disgraced by the Chinese community, and with no where else to go, Ma moves in with her daughter, making it difficult forWil to nurture a budding relationship with gorgeous dancer Vivian (Lynn Chen). As her carefully compartmentalized worlds collide, Wil is forced to find her mother a husband, placate her girlfriend, and choose between breaking a cycle of keeping up appearances, or risk losing the girl she loves.

SAVING FACE is a romantic comedy about a daughter struggling to understand her mother's heart, which ultimately allows her to understand her own. It is the story of unspoken loves, contemporary and cultural taboos, and the journey of two women towards living their lives honestly.

Movie Review:

Put Asians in a Western community and presto, you have a winning formula for a film. On one hand, the Asians can connect with their counterparts in the story. On the other hand, the Westerners would be more than amused to see the interesting turn in events due to this clash in cultures. Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet (1993) and Wayne Wang’s The Joy Luck Club are two critically-acclaimed films of such nature.

Although Saving Face is the first feature helmed by director Alice Wu, she has charmingly brought the story to life.

Wil (played by Michelle Krusiec, who looks like a sweeter version of Zhang Ziyi) is a Chinese-American surgeon living in Manhattan. She is shocked when her single mother (played by Joan Chen, who is ageing very beautifully) shows up on her doorstep pregnant.

To help her avoid the taboo in the Chinese community of an unmarried pregnant woman, Wil goes all out to help her mother find her Mr. Right. While this mother-daughter tie bonds, complication materializes in the form of Vivian (played by Lynn Chen, who illuminates the screen from every angle), whom Wil has a romantic relationship with.

The story challenges the traditional values in a Chinese community, where single mothers (to add to the controversy, a 48-year-old one!) and lesbian relationships are not socially accepted easily. It is a smart move then, for the director to tackle these issues in the form of comedy.

The upbeat rhythmic humour of the film keeps the audience involved throughout its 100 minutes, and there isn’t really a dull moment. Even if you are watching this alone, there are a few sequences which will have you laughing out loud.

The first third of the film is highly energetic, with the help of an array of colourful characters and dialogues. Although the pace slows down after that, you will still be captivated by the film’s two female leads.

One can always count on Joan Chen for a sincere performance. With experience from films like Oliver Stone’s Heaven and Earth (1993) and Stanley Kwan’s Red Rose White Rose (1994), the 44-year-old Chinese American actress definitely still got what it takes in her latest showcase.

Michelle Krusiec nicely contrasts her on-screen mother’s engaging performance with her rendition of a confused daughter who has so many things to take care of. This role has earned her a surprise Taiwan Golden Horse Award Best Actress nomination, beating strong contenders like Sammi Cheng (Everlasting Regret) and Rene Liu (A World Without Thieves). The results will be announced in later in November this year.

With the cast speaking in Mandarin most of the time, the Chinese audience will probably enjoy this film quite a bit. This is especially so when familiar scenes come alive on the big screen. It is interesting to note that the most interesting exchanges of dialogues in the movie are those during which the characters are having food. It must be an Asian thing, that food plays an important role in our culture.

Another noteworthy aspect of this film is its fine depiction of a lesbian relationship. Michelle Krusiec and Lynn Chen’s affection for each other come across as more sincere than that of the lesbian couple in the recent local film Be With Me (2005) by Eric Khoo. The emotions between the two girls are definitely better fleshed out and heartfelt here.

Some may not like this film because of its lack of dazzling camerawork, cinematography and editing. Heck, even the plot is somewhat predictable and conventional. But this film is truly a wonderful piece of work, thanks to the combination of its sweet sense of humour, coupled with the sincere and earnest performances of its fine cast.

That is the greatest saving grace of this movie.

Movie Rating:

(A very likeable film that will charm you from beginning to end)

Review by John Li

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