Written and Directed by Alice Wu
Saving Face is a story set in a tight-knit Chinese community in the neighborhoods of New York City about a family dealing with the issues of love and family responsibility. Wil (Michelle Krusiec) is an attractive, twenty-something doctor who has to frequent social functions at the request of her widowed mother, Ma (Joan Chen), in the hopes of finding a good Chinese husband. The plan backfires because Wil, a closeted lesbian, meets a lovely ballet dancer named Vivian (Lynn Chen) there. They began a secret affair, in part because Vivian is the daughter of Wil’s boss. Life becomes even more hectic for Wil when she comes home one night to find Ma on the steps of her apartment building because Ma’s father, who is shamed by the fact that Ma is pregnant and won’t say by whom, has kicked her out. Both women learn from each other as they are forced to make decisions about whether they should follow their hearts or the rules of their society.
I didn’t enjoy Saving Face, but it is not a bad movie; the problem is that the stories are too familiar and have been better presented in other works, such as Lee’s The Wedding Banquet. It was no surprise when I learned that Wu wrote the screenplay in a week because while there were a number of interesting conflicts, the situations aren’t mined for all they could offer and the resolutions are resolved too smoothly. Also, the emotions of all the characters are very restrained, which might be because we are dealing with Chinese culture, but that keeps the viewer distant and disengaged. I had no emotional investment in the characters, so the outcomes didn’t matter.
There was great potential with the setting and characters to offer insight into Chinese-American society and the lesbians who find themselves a part of it, but the movie failed to offer anything new on either front. There was nothing uniquely Chinese about the characters, so they could have been people of any nationality. The relationship between Wil and Vivian wasn’t explored fully. If they had been a heterosexual couple of different races, the film would have been the same. The movie has only one sex scene, yet it should still help foreign sales when the producers mention that the movie has topless Asian lesbians kissing, but there is no more exploration of their sexuality, so if that is what the viewer is looking for, they are going to be just as disappointed as the people who searched the Internet for “topless Asian lesbians kissing” and find only my review.
I’m sure some people will like this movie. It’s a decent romantic comedy and it did have some good moments, especially the scene when Wil reveals the man involved with her mother, but not enough to keep my interest. I can’t recommend that you seek it out because the story unfolds like a pilot from a light dramatic television series on Lifetime or Oxygen that I wouldn’t watch.