Movie Review
Saving Face
Saving Face poster
By Scott Sycamore     Published May 29, 2005
US Release: May 27, 2005

Directed by: Alice Wu
Starring: Michelle Krusiec , Joan Chen , Lynn Chen

Running Time: 97 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $1,186,323
Saving Face has the work of a deft hand behind it.
Saving Face is a new romantic comedy from Chinese-American writer/director Alice Wu. It is set amongst a community of Chinese citizens in New York City and centers on Wil (Michelle Krusiec), a young female surgeon-to-be who has some seeming complications in her life. She goes to arranged-dances every week and mingles with friends and family members. One of these people is her mother (Joan Chen), called Ma in the film (a clever double-reference to the American "Ma" for mother, and the fact that "Ma" is a Chinese name).

It is discovered that Ma, at 48 years old, is pregnant (and unmarried to boot). This triggers a wave of responses and gossip within their circle, not the least of which is by Ma's father. He disowns her as a daughter until she finds a husband, and she is forced to move in with her own daughter, Wil. Why exactly she is forced to move was unclear to me, probably because most of the subtitles were missing in the first several minutes of the print I saw. After Ma moves in, we start learning more about Wil's personal life and her problems in love. Her main roadblock is that she is a lesbian, and has trouble looking for partners while hiding that fact from her family. This all changes when Vivian (Lynn Chen) walks into her life at the hospital one day.

Yes, there is a lesbian relationship in the movie, replete with a revealing and uninhibited sex scene. I certainly enjoyed that part, but I was taken in by the affair as a whole. Michelle Krusiec and Lynn Chen are so charming and beautiful that anyone who is not slayed by their cute-ness has a few switches shut off. If Hollywood is looking for the next Asian female superstar, they have two on a silver platter right here. Their chemistry is what carries this movie; their scenes play out in a very natural and unforced manner. The girls' unconventional hookup feels realistic; there's a true loving sense to it that eclipses most other shallow movie romances. And the film does a meta-play on this sense of caring voyeurism by showing Ma's affinity for soap operas, and her roping of Wil into watching them.

Alice Wu is a clever writer. There are some good bits of comedy that utilize wordplay, double meaning, and sarcasm. The tone of the dialogue and performances feel genuine rather than scripted. The drama is also very well handled, even if there are a few somewhat cliche moments (phone interruptions at key moments). The direction is solid as well, as we get the over-killed New York urban backdrop, but it feels crisp and fresh; I liked the environments a lot. Saving Face has the work of a deft hand behind it.

The film reminded me of The Upside of Anger. Both films contain strong performances and feature moving love stories. Both are enjoyable despite their flaws and deserve to be seen. Saving Face will probably only have a limited audience in the U.S., but I would bet that most who see it will like it.
Scott's Grade: B
Scott's Overall Grading: 417 graded movies
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