Cultures clash loudly in `East Is East'

May 12, 2000|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Om Puri is a wonderful actor, with a grizzled, charismatic screen presence few of his contemporaries can match. But in "East Is East," a film that tries to figure out which culture is more likely to give when East clashes with West, he's undone by a script that's supposed to make him one of those gruff-but-lovable tyrannical fathers. Unfortunately, it forgets the lovable part.

Puri is George Khan, a Pakistani who arrived in Britain penniless but who has since acquired a fish-and-chip shop, a British wife and seven children. He's determined to raise those children Pakistani, convinced that's the only way to ensure they don't fall victim to decadent Western ways.

The film is set in the disco-driven '70s, so you can understand, perhaps, where he's coming from. His wife, Ella (Linda Bassett), seems to, even though she doesn't fully agree. The film never really lets us in on what first attracted these two to each other. But Ella's specialty is letting George get as bombastic as he likes, then cleaning up the emotional damage afterward and striving for some middle ground between East and West.

But that's not working so well anymore. Their oldest son has run away to London; two others are horrified at the prospect of arranged marriages to some burdensomely unattractive Pakistani women; their daughter disdains traditional Pakistani garb; and the youngest boy refuses to ever take off his parka. What's worse, he's never been circumcised!

Faced with mounting family insurrection, George is determined that his will be followed. And woe to anyone -- especially any wife -- who tries to stop him.

"East Is East" unwisely bills itself as a comedy. There are a few funny moments, mostly centering on his youngest son's physical and fashion challenges.

But there's nothing funny about George's unwillingness to live within the society in which he has settled and in which his wife was raised, and it's hard to generate much sympathy for the cultural imbroglios in which he finds himself. That becomes particularly true when he resorts to violence as the only method of control.

`East Is East'

Starring Om Puri and Linda Bassett

Directed by Damien O'Donnell

Released by Miramax

Rated R (Language, domestic violence)

Running time 96 minutes

Sun score * *

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