The seemingly dated Chinese concept of "saving face" may still have relevance in modern America. Well, at least in Alice Wu's directorial debut (released Oct. 18). The crux of her New York–set film is the contentious relationship between a seemingly quintessential Chinese mother and daughter. The mother (Joan Chen) is a permed, mah-jongg-loving widow who watches Chinese soap operas religiously. The daughter (Michelle Krusiec) is a smart, practical surgeon, presumably American-born. And to throw the formula off a little bit, Wu makes her a lesbian. "Who does that?" the director rhetorically asks in the behind-the-scenes featurette.
Well, for starters, how about Ang Lee and his 1993 The Wedding Party, which also features a gay Chinese-American character. The major differences? Coming out wasn't an option for Lee's hero, resulting in the situational farce of his agreeing to marry, thus fooling his parents, and his lover going along with the ruse. Saving face means staying in the closet. Those parents were more distant (geographically and culturally), whereas in Wu's film, the mother and daughter are very close, making secrets impossible to maintain for long.
Meanwhile, Krusiec's secret lover has parents who accept her sexual orientation, which indicates that "for some Asian families, it's OK, and for others, it's not—just like for the general American audience," says actress Lynn Chen of her character in the featurette. In the end, no surprise, it is OK for Krusiec's surgeon to come out to her mother, who has her own secrets. In Saving Face's major subplot, the 48-year-old mother becomes pregnant but doesn't want to name the father. Parallels can be drawn between both mother and daughter deciding to live honestly. For Wu, finally, the old notion of saving face has been inverted to candor rather than denial.
This story and concept was "very personal" to Wu, says Joan Chen on the featurette. But although Wu is openly gay in the film community, she makes no mention of it on her DVD commentary.
OTHER RECENT notable releases include Millions, Land of the Dead, Unleashed, a three-disc Wizard of Oz restoration, Gregg Araki's Mysterious Skin, Batman Begins, Hitchcock's 1945 Lifeboat, Revenge of the Sith, a Bruce Lee Collection with Game of Death, Peter Riegert's heartfelt King of the Corner, Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samouraï, and Gus Van Sant's Kurt Cobain tribute, Last Days. Look for the fine documentaries Tell Them Who You Are, Paradise Lost, and Rated R: Republicans in Hollywood.