Combustible Celluloid
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With: Michelle Krusiec, Joan Chen, Lynn Chen, Jin Wang, Guang Lan Koh, Ato Essandoh, Brian Yang
Written by: Alice Wu
Directed by: Alice Wu
MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality and language
Language: English, Mandarin with English subtitles
Running Time: 96
Date: 09/12/2004

Saving Face (2005)

2 Stars (out of 4)

'Saving Face' Doesn't Face Reality

By Rob Blackwelder, SPLICEDwire

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Saving While Saving Face may be just a breezy comedy-drama about a young Chinese-American lesbian trying to balance her gay lifestyle with the cultural mores of her old-country family, the movie has one fatal flaw among many more niggling missteps -- it betrays its whole premise with an unrealistically breezy and much too easy finale.

Newcomer Michelle Krusiec stars as Wilhemina, a gifted surgeon in her stressful first year of residency at a New York City hospital, who enters a tentative romance with Vivian (sweetly charming Lynn Chen), a lovely ballet dancer far more comfortable with her sexual preference than Wil. This is a major issue in their relationship -- which is soon tested further by keeping their secret from traditional parents, etc.

But Wil's problems are only multiplied when her very difficult, long-widowed mother (the always-wonderful Joan Chen, no relation to Lynn) moves in. It seems she's become pregnant at 48 and has been booted from her own parents' home for refusing to name the father.

The movie makes both women run a gauntlet of honor-bound disapproval, and gets plenty of mileage out of it, both comedically and dramatically, as they slowly come to understand each other better -- although never so much that they even speak the same language. Wil defiantly speaks English to her mom, who always answers in Chinese.

Krusiec gives a fine-tuned performance, establishing Wil's confidence in the operating room and her uptight insecurity anywhere else. But writer-director Alice Wu is clumsy with the love story, which she sends on a bumpy but largely conventional trajectory toward probable happiness despite emotional obstacles that should indicate these two just aren't meant for each other.

While Wu is very frank about the traditional values Wil and her mother are each up against, she seems less interested in hard choices and consequences than she is in sending audiences away with a smile.

Best Buy Co, Inc.