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Overall Rating

Awesome: 33.33%
Worth A Look42.11%
Average: 12.28%
Pretty Bad: 12.28%
Total Crap: 0%

5 reviews, 27 user ratings

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Saving Face
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Brian McKay

"(Chinese-American Lesbian) Sex in the City"
3 stars

It's disappointing to see that SAVING FACE seems to utilize the same cookie-cutter ethnically-themed Romantic-Comedy template as MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING or BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM, when I was expecting something more akin to CHARLOTTE SOMETIMES, with a bit more emotional weight behind it. While filmmaker Alice Wu has assembled a talented cast and created a film with likable characters and amusingly awkward moments, it seems to suffer from the same kind of paint-by-numbers predictability and stereotypical overkill of its predecessors.

Wil (Michelle Krusiec) is an attractive young Chinese-American surgeon. She's also gay, a fact which her traditional mother (Joan Chen) is aware of intellectually, but in denial of emotionally. While not exactly in the closet, Wil keeps the fact that she is a lesbian very low-key, although her mother likes to berate her tomboyish sense of fashion with lines like "I see men's clothing is still in style."

At a monthly Chinese social function, where all the parents drag their unmarried children out to try and pair them off with a suitable mate, Wil steals a glance at the gorgeous Vivian Shing (Lynn Chen), a dancer with the New York Ballet Company. Apparently, each of them has gaydar that is finely-calibrated enough to detect a stealth bomber, because the attraction is instant, and in a matter of days they are in each others arms.

Unfortunately, their relationship is off to a rocky start, since Wil is always working late at the hospital. If that weren't impediment enough, Wil's mother must come to live with her after getting booted out of the home of Wil's grandpa, Wai Gung (Jin Wang), for being pregnant out of wedlock. Quite frankly, this is where the film begins to fall apart a bit, as the stern patriarch berates her repeatedly for bringing eternal shame upon the family name, using rants like "I have no daughter" and "don't come back here until you have a proper husband". Now, if she were 16, coming from a hardcore traditionalist Chinese family, I might still find the reaction exaggerated, but at least somewhat plausible. But this is a 40-something year old woman who has already been married once and has a full-grown daughter. But then, we needed some kind of plot contrivance to have Ma move in with Wil so that hijinks can ensue when she brings her girlfriend over for dinner, etc. etc.

While Wil tries to hold her relationship with Vivian together, she also contends with Ma's refusal to say who the father is, and with her increasing bouts of depression. In an attempt to find a husband for her (and get her out of the apartment), Wil sets Ma up on a series of dates with older Chinese businessmen types - none of whom are all that romantic or attractive. But Wil and Vivian encounter another large bump in the road when Vivian is offered a dream job in a prestigious Paris ballet company, and as Vivian waits patiently for Wil to ask her to stay, Wil hesitates.

But the biggest problem Wil and Vivian's relationship faces, from a narrative standpoint, is that it just isn't developed strongly enough to be that interesting. Sure, they're both very attractive and likable, and watching their moments of intimacy is not at all unpleasant, but too little time is spent on getting to know either of their characters well enough to really identify with them. Granted, as a straight white male, I'm not exactly the target audience, and yet the characters of Wil and Vivian still feel somewhat anemic. Aside from their attractiveness in general, there's no real spark between them, and their relationship occasionally feels forced (especially since it takes place in the course of mere weeks). Likewise, their characters feel too much like something out of an Asian episode of "Friends", with each of them having prestigious jobs and trendy New York lifestyles. Valuable time that should be spent on developing their romance is squandered on Ma going on bad dates and enduring the repeated scorn of her family and friends due to her "scandalous" behavior (Yes, because of the millions of Chinese people living on the planet Earth, I'm sure none of them have ever been concieved outside of blessed matrimony). But have no fear, because as is typical with these types of films, everything will be wrapped up quickly and happily after a false "sad" ending, and the formerly tyrannical Grandpa will have a quick change of heart and do an even quicker about face on the subjects of his daughter's illegitimate pregnancy and grandaughter's lesbianism.

SAVING FACE isn't a bad film, but unfortunately, it's a formulaic and familiar one that seems to trivialize the pressures of being gay in a traditional Chinese family with cute but lightweight humor and broad characterizations. Although fun while it lasts, it's ultimately just a cute story about family and acceptance that could have been a lot more convincing and heartfelt with just a little more depth.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 07/12/05 04:30:24
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Sundance Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 San Francisco Asian-American Film Festival. For more in the 2005 San Francisco Asian-American Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/06/16 Yahong Chi Oooooooh boy yeah Wil is definitely speaking Mandarin, not Cantonese, LOL. 5 stars
2/13/10 anonymously really love's the fact its happening now 5 stars
7/20/08 amrita wonderful , lovely movie. absolutely loved it. 5 stars
4/25/08 Smooth Johnny S A Chinese father would definately yell at his 40-yo daughter like that 3.5*s 3 stars
9/15/06 Sara Sioux Wonderful and funny 4 stars
5/10/06 wayne It is funny. 4 stars
3/06/06 Ji-ann Blanca N. Perez It's a feel good movie that shuns diversity and taboo 5 stars
11/15/05 illusionz i think this is a good movie .. i think peijin chen is too biased to give such comments 5 stars
10/31/05 Jeff Chen Pretty.... Recommended 5 stars
8/06/05 Greg Ursic Light fluff that delivered a few smiles. Sadly not enough. 2 stars
8/01/05 john wow, funny, tender, right on stuff 5 stars
7/02/05 Amy Chang Excellent. Highly recommended. 5 stars
6/10/05 q IT FRIGGIN' ROCKS. and btw, c. parry, big fat greek wedding wasn't the first of its kind! 5 stars
5/30/05 Amy See it! Great fun. Joy, some weepy moments, fab stuff. 4 stars
5/30/05 Liv It has many relatable and funny moments. 4 stars
5/28/05 Helen Lots of sweet, amusing moments. Two thumbs up! 5 stars
5/26/05 David I am neither gay, female nor Chinese yet I loved it! Universal appeal! 5 stars
5/15/05 Tina very funny - leaves you with a good feeling 5 stars
5/09/05 Ellen Great movie 5 stars
5/07/05 Alex It was delightful and charming. The leads did a superb job conveying the film's sentiments. 5 stars
4/15/05 Yaya Alice speaks my mind... 5 stars
3/02/05 Judy Excellent ensemble, great story. I really liked it. 5 stars
1/28/05 Wendy Lee Fantastic! Lynn Chen is a new young actor to keep an eye on... 5 stars
1/28/05 Anna wonderful performances by the 3 leads 5 stars
1/24/05 Polak Really surprisingly funny. Worth buying a ticket for. 4 stars
12/07/04 Matthew Pope Great overall story with really poignant moments. Comedic tone is very sweet. 5 stars
10/16/04 Tracy Saw it at TIFF and it was excellent! 4 stars
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  27-May-2005 (R)
  DVD: 18-Oct-2005



Directed by
  Alice Wu

Written by
  Alice Wu

  Joan Chen
  Lynn Chen
  Ato Essandoh
  Jessica Hecht
  Michelle Krusiec
  Brittany Perrineau

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