Saving Face

on May 27, 2005 by Francesca Dinglasan
More lighthearted than "The Joy Luck Club," "Saving Face"--which, like the 1993 film based on Amy Tan's novel, focuses on intergenerational Chinese and Chinese-American women contemplating their lives and loves--is an admirable effort to bring underrepresented characters (Asians and lesbians) to the forefront of the big screen. Never didactic or overtly political in tone, Alice Wu's script suffers only from the occasional cliché and typical plot point.

Wilhelmina (Michelle Krusiec) is a successful young surgeon on the fast track at her New York City hospital. Her professional accomplishments, however, are not enough to satisfy Ma (Joan Chen), who, in the hopes of finding a potential husband for her daughter, insists that Wilhelmina regularly attend Chinatown's community banquets. The reason that Wil (as she is known by her friends) hasn't found a man becomes quickly apparent when the lovely ballerina Vivian (Lynn Chen) catches her eye. Reluctant to bring their burgeoning romance out into the open, Wil pushes her relationship with Vivian into further secrecy when Ma is forced to move in with her. Though still youthful and attractive, Ma, in observance of cultural custom, has lived with her parents since the death of her husband. She is kicked out by her strict father when he learns that she is pregnant. Unwilling to divulge the identity of her baby's father, she shows up on Wil's doorstep. Together, the mother-daughter pair works to find a middle ground between their traditional and modern lifestyles.

While "Saving Face's" similarity to "The Joy Luck Club" begins and ends with the films' respective examinations of mother-and-daughter bonds through a Chinese cultural perspective, more pertinent--albeit not exact--parallels can be drawn between Wu's feature and Ang Lee's New York City-set "The Wedding Banquet." In Lee's 1993 comedy-drama, the film's Taiwanese-American protagonist, driven by cultural traditions, is also attempting to hide his homosexuality from conservative parents, inadvertently alienating his lover and imperiling their future together. In addition to those shared themes, Lee's and Wu's movies both convey a genuine affection for their characters, with the storylines respecting the elder generations' established beliefs at the same time as they guide them toward a better understanding of their children.

And though the various dilemmas confronting the film's heroines are resolved in predictable fashion, the understated performances of Krusiec and the always radiant Joan Chen, combined with Wu's tender direction, are the saving grace of "Saving Face." Starring Michelle Krusiec, Joan Chen, Lynn Chen, Jin Wang, Shen Gung Lan and Jessica Hecht. Directed and written by Alice Wu. Produced by Teddy Zee, James Lassiter and Will Smith. An SPC release. Drama/Comedy. Rated R for some sexuality and language. Running time: 98 min

Tags: Starring Michelle Krusiec, Joan Chen, Lynn Chen, Jin Wang, Shen Gung Lan, Jessica Hecht. Directed and written by Alice Wu, Produced by Teddy Zee, James Lassiter, Will Smith, SPC, Drama, Comedy

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