Saturday, October 29, 2005

Saving Face

The first thing that hits you in this movie, is the realization of how accurate its portrayal of traditional Chinese values are, and the spot on capture of the various stereotypes amongst the Chinese people. Hence the title about Face (literally translated from the chinese language for respectability). Face is something that can be lost if you've done something shameful and not the norm, and to the traditionalist, Face must be preserved at all cost.

But lo and behold, the two main protagonists, Wil (Michelle Krusiec) and her mother (played by Joan Chen), are anything but traditionalists. While on the surface, the mother might seem like your typical neighbourhood auntie, she became the family outcast when she's pregnant with a child whose father's identity she refused to reveal, and is driven out of the home by Grandpa, Chinese values personified.

She starts to intrude into the life of her daughter Wil, a doctor, who's more westernized. And Wil too develops a lesbian relationship with her boss' daughter Vivian, a dancer. Wil has her hands full as she struggles with the demands and expectations of her new found relationship, trying hard to keep her relationship under wraps as she doesn't know how her loved ones would react, and taking care of her mom. For the conservative folks out there, don't mind the lesbian love; it's the themes behind this movie that are universal, and appealing.

Little nuances were very much welcomed in the movie, like filial piety (yes you may not like what your mom is doing to your life, but you respect her anyhow), the congregation of Chinese people in western lands for their weekly dinner-and-dance matchmaking sessions, the malicious gossips and the spreading of rumours like wildfire amongst a close-knit community. Many of these led to natural humour at seeing cultural values, misconceptions (like the Soy Sauce joke) and prejudices played out on screen.

It's also a story about coming out of the dark with controversial relationships (single parenthood, lesbian love), having the courage to stand up for who you are and love, and the acceptance of the only constant in life - change. We see the dominating fatherly figure in the movie come to realize this fact as he resigns to the fate about his lost of face.

I have two favourite scenes in this movie (no, it's not the lesbian sex in case you're wondering, and even that has been edited too, despite its R21 rating). The first scene is something that plays like a small homage to The Graduate, with the interrupting of a wedding scene and running away only to end up in a bus. They sit in silence, before wondering what the next step should be. Just as the Graduate dealt with an unconventional relationship, so does this movie, and I found it somehow apt to have adopted it in this film.

The other is the statement it made about relationships. It's personal, between two persons, and it doesn't matter what others think. Conditioning and culture might have made us conservative in the declaration of our true feelings, but the message in the movie is to let these inhibitions go.

Some might not like the movie's use of both Mandarin and English in the same conversation, especially when trying to figure out why Wil speaks English to her mom, while she replies in Mandarin (yes, she knows a little English, but doesn't seem to suffice her understanding of Wil's more complete sentences). But hey, put that aside, and you'll enjoy other conversational pieces where the characters break into, and uses the other language's words as substitutes, kinda like how we bilinguals speak sometimes.

It's a clash of western's open and asian's conservative cultural values in an earnest tale of traditional and modern relationships and love, packaged with an excellent soundtrack selection. This is going into my books as one of the contenders for my movie of this year. Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that the female leads are attractive eye candy too? Highly recommended!

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