Wilhemina Pang (Michelle Krusiec) is a 28 year-old Chinese New Yorker who feels as though she lives in the middle of a culture divide. She works as a successful surgeon in a busy New York hospital, but gets caught up in the world of her tradition-proud family when she visits home each week. Wil's mother Ma (Joan Chen) infuriates her by setting her up with all the eligible Chinese-American men at the weekly Friday night Chinese dance, but she isn't interested in men. She has just begun a relationship with a beautiful dancer Vivian (Lynn Chen). Suddenly Ma has problems of her own. She is pregnant at 48, shunned by her own community and wants to move in with Wil. So while she is having a secret love affair with Vivian, Wil tries to find a husband for Ma - all to save face.
Review by Louise Keller:
There's a wedding, a death and two love affairs in Saving Face, and they all come as a surprise. This enjoyable film about love and honour from writer director Alice Wu is poignant and wonderfully observed, as it explores the many layers in the lives of three generations of Chinese. Punctuated by its wry humour and appealing characters, the script evolves smoothly and we quickly understand the dilemma of the protagonist. A heartfelt story about tradition, love and honour, this is a film about mothers, daughters and matters of the heart.
Wil (Michelle Krusiec) is an ultra modern New York girl with one foot stuck in her cultural past. Her family believes in its Chinese heritage and expect her to marry a nice Chinese boy and continue its traditions. As a talented up and coming surgeon, she knows exactly where she want to go professionally, but her private life is a mess. Wil lives in an apartment in Manhattan, but every Friday, she joins her extended family at the weekly dance in Flushing, Queens, where her mother Ma (Joan Chen) bullies her into dancing with all the local Chinese bachelors. But Wil is not even vaguely interested in any of them. In fact she is not attracted to men at all; she has just met the lovely outgoing Vivian, a dancer with whom she starts a passionate, secret affair. Vivian (Lynn Chen) is also Chinese, but unlike Wil, whose upbringing has instilled a sense of 'saving face', she has no qualms about living life - on her own terms. She believes that if you are in love, you need to have the courage to declare it openly - to everyone.
Life becomes even more complicated for Wil, when 48 year old Ma falls pregnant, but won't name the father of the baby, and when she is rejected by the Chinese community, moves into Wil's apartment. This puts a spanner into the works for the blossoming relationship between Wil and Vivian. There's a funny scene when Vivian insists on coming over to dinner to meet Ma. Vivian drops hints left, right and centre about her relationship with Wil, but Ma appears oblivious to the innuendos. Language is also part of the incongruity to the lifestyle: Ma insists on speaking Chinese, while Wil replies in English.
The fun starts when roles are reversed and Wil plays matchmaker for Ma. But although she stops watching TV soaps and goes out for dinner, dancing and karaoke, none of the suitors are a success. My Big Fat Chinese Wedding this is not. The characters we meet are as varied as a yum cha on display in a New York deli. Each day, Brian Yang's Little Yu brings Wil envelopes filled with herbs for 'marriage chi' to the train station; his fortune-teller father Old Yu (Mao Zhao) shakes his head as he mutters the world is increasingly hard to predict; Wil's gay black American neighbour Jay (Ato Essandoh) drowns his food in soy sauce and is an unlikely ally.
Wu has assembled a fine cast, and those who know Joan Chen's fine body of work, will nod knowingly in the scene when Ma goes to the local video shop, pausing in front of the title, The Last Emperor. Krusiec is all heart as Wil, who tries her utmost to please everyone except herself, while Chen's Vivian is warm and open. We feel as though we get to know each of the characters as we become part of their lives for a short, but memorable interlude.
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SAVING FACE (M)
CAST: Michelle Krusiec, Joan Chen, Lynn Chen, Jin Wang, Guang Lan Koh, Jessica Hecht, Ato Essandoh, David Shih, Brian Yang
PRODUCER: James Lassiter, Teddy Zee
DIRECTOR: Alice Wu
SCRIPT: Alice Wu
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Harlan Bosmajian
EDITOR: Susan Graef, Sabine Hoffmann
MUSIC: Anton Sanko
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Daniel Ouellette
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Pictures
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 4, 2005 (Sydney/Melbourne)
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Pictures Entertainment
VIDEO RELEASE: October 12