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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Saving Face - Movie Review


The Movie: Saving Face

The Director: Alice Wu

The Cast: Michelle Krusiec, Lynn Chen, Joan Chen, Jin Wang, Guang Lan Koh, Jessica Hecht, Ato Essandoh, David Shih, Brian Yang, Nathanel Geng, Mao Zhao

The Story: A Chinese-American lesbian and her traditionalist mother are reluctant to go public with secret loves that clash against cultural expectations.

Michelle Krusiec and Lynn Chen

The Story:
If Alice Wu is only going to write and direct a movie every sixteen years, I hope each one is as heartfelt and meaningful as this movie is. A few days ago, I watched her second and more recent feature film, The Half of It, and I was thoroughly impressed. Saving Face has been on my radar for a couple months and I am so glad I finally took the time to watch it. The fact that this movie was made, distributed, and released in 2005 is quite an achievement considering we are still having conversations today, fifteen years later, about a lack of diversity and equality in the film industry.

This movie was written and directed by a gay Asian American woman and features an Asian American lesbian couple, a pregnant Chinese single mom, and a supporting friend character who is a black male. I'm telling you, that would be an extremely difficult movie to get anyone to agree to make now let alone fifteen years ago so, right off the bat, this movie is kind of a miracle. What really stands out about this movie is the authenticity in the story telling as Wu is able to break down Chinese American family dynamics in a way that shows how complicated they are while presenting them in a way that is understandable and relatable to anyone willing to take a look.

"Kiss me. Now. In front of all these people."

Michelle Krusiec and Lynn Chen have about as much chemistry as any on screen couple I've ever seen not because of some sweeping sense of romanticism but because of all the awkward conversations, nervous energy, moments of not knowing what to say, and then a whole lot of subtle gestures, looks, and intimate moments that are the type of things we dream about having, or not having, in a relationship. There's s much going on in every moment they are together and I absolutely love the glances they sneak at each other during a moment of indecision in front of  a vending machine.

Can we talk about Joan Chen for a moment? A good friend of mine who adores this movie, had just one thing to say about the legendary actress. "QUEEN." I could not argue any point or angle of that comment and chose to wholeheartedly and emphatically agree. Talk about magic on screen. You will never see a more adorable and relatable cupcake eating scene ever in your entire life. She has the type of on screen presence that 99.9% of anyone who has ever claimed to be an actor would do anything to have for just one moment. Speaking of moments, there is a scene where she walks into a room, ready to go out on a date rocking a killer red dress and my jaw actually dropped a bit as I sat in my chair. Not figuratively or metaphorically, I actually had one of those moments.

From a story telling standpoint there is one obvious thing I was able to take away from watching this movie and that is just how much influence Alice Wu has had on her peers. Women like Lynn Chen who is now a director in her own right, Emily Ting, Alan Yang, and Lulu Wang all have similar sensibilities when it comes to how their movies feel, what they look like, and how honest they are. They fill their movies with culture and family and relationships in such a unique way compared to the Hollywood norms and most importantly they are allowing human beings to see themselves in cinema, people who have never or rarely ever have that opportunity.

Michelle Krusiec, Lynn Chen, and Director Alice Wu

The Verdict:
Saving Face is a must see for anyone who loves cinema. The story is brilliant, the cast is perfect, and I'm kind of mad it took me this long to finally watch this movie.


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