`Saving Face' with humor and grace


July 29, 2005|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Family, honor and love in all their possible forms have rarely been celebrated with more grace and humor than in Saving Face, an insightful, clear-headed look at relations within a Chinese-American family.

Even better, the film, from first-time writer-director Alice Wu, gives Joan Chen, a Chinese-born actress, the chance to carry a film, and she shines. Her performance, as a 48-year-old widow coping with her pregnancy (by a man she won't identify) and her daughter's lesbian affair, while struggling to live by the old-world standards set by her own father, is humorous and heartbreaking, dignified yet delightfully off-kilter.

At the center of Saving Face is Wil (Michelle Krusiec), a surgical resident at a New York hospital whose mother (Chen) is constantly trying to marry her off to a nice, reputable Chinese boy. Wil, however, is in love with Vivian (a very sexy Lynn Chen), a professional dancer she's known casually since both were young girls.

As though Wil's romantic preferences aren't enough to throw her traditional Chinese family into turmoil, her mother turns up on the apartment doorstep one day, pregnant and - more importantly, at least in her own eyes - disgraced.

Thus Wil is charged with keeping two secrets: She can't reveal her mother's condition to anyone inside the family (or, for that matter, inside the entire Chinese-American community), and she can't tell her mother she's gay. By not revealing her own sexual identity, she could lose Vivian, who doesn't want to spend her life in the shadows. And by keeping her mother's secret, she's implicitly condoning the sort of closed-mindedness that is threatening to rip her family apart.

Answers don't come easily in Saving Face, as befits a world in which old ways and new ways seem unable to coexist. But Wu, who reportedly based the film on her own experience when coming out, holds out the hope that love, and family, can transcend such seemingly insurmountable boundaries. Now that's something worth saving.

Saving Face

Starring Joan Chen, Michelle Krusiec, Lynn Chen

Written and directed by Alice Wu

Released by Sony Pictures Classics

Rated R (some sexuality and language)

Time 97 minutes

Sun Score ***1/2 (three stars and one half star)

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