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Saving Face   (released 4/1/2005)
By Neil Norman

Wilhelmina, an attractive 28 year old surgeon, seems to have everything going for her. She is successful, beautiful, has a good job, but somehow has been unable to land a man, even though her mother drags her unwillingly to traditional Chinese dances in the Flushing, Queens. The reason for this, we soon find out, is because Wil likes girls. She meets Vivian Liu at one of the dances, played by feature newcomer Lynn Chen (All My Children), and their attraction is instantaneous. Wil meets Vivian again at the hospital in which she works and finds out she's the daughter of her boss. They begin a relationship which Wil hides from her mother and family, as she can't handle the idea of coming out to her traditionalist Chinese family. In the meanwhile, Wil's Ma divulges that she is pregnant to Wil's grandfather. She won't reveal who the father is (and it's definitely not Ma's divorced husband, who is long out of the picture), so Grandpa throws Ma out of the house to save face. Ma comes to live at Wil's house and immediately makes herself at home, which makes hiding the relationship with Vivian harder. Wilhelmina (Americanized as she is) is keen to be a "dutiful Chinese daughter," so she has no choice, but to put up with her mom in the house. After nudging by Vivian to come out to her mom, which she is terrified of doing, Wil begins trying to hook her mom up with a new man, so that everyone can save face. The love triangles, secret trysts, and nervous first-in-many-years dates of the film spiral in a comedic maelstrom of events that causes us to really care about who will really find love by the end credits.

This film took me completely by surprise. When I read the description of it, I wondered if "this film was for me." Being neither a lesbian nor Asian, I felt that this might be yet another one of those genre-specific films that didn't really speak to me. Boy was I wrong. Wu does a fantastic job as a writer of the film by creating memorable characters that the audience comes to love and feel sympathetic for. Wu places her actors in situations that are universal and we all can relate to regardless of race or sexual preference.

The excellent acting by all three leads draws you into the story even further. Joan Chen does such a wonderful job in her multi-layered, funny portrayal of Ma that it makes you root for her success in her emergence as a modern woman. The screen chemistry between Krusiec and Lynn Chen is electric and the portrayal of their relationship is sweet, charming, and realistic. I'm sure we can expect great things in the future from these two actresses.

I really liked the fact that the film was half in English, half in Mandarin Chinese (with English subtitles). The portrayal of Chinese culture pushes the comedy of the film at times, but it never overshadows the focus of the film. This is definitely not just a movie about Chinese culture (or lesbians, for that matter). It is a warm romantic look at life, love and the family members that can sometimes get in the way, until of course, they fall in love, too.

The focus on the three generations with Wil, Ma, and Grandpa, and the cultural values of each, really makes the film special. When we see the traditionalist attitudes that cause conflict give way to what is really important, loving one another despite our faults and differences, it really pays off.

I highly recommend Saving Face. Go see it with someone you love.

Neil Norman is a freelance writer and a graduate of the University of Central Florida. Neil also works on independent film productions.

Saving Face plays Friday, April 8, 2005 at 7:00pm at Enzian Theater.

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