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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Saving Face, or: Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Given the global pandemic still very much happening and its impact on my current mental/emotional state, I could probably keep watching horror for the next 500 years and still not satisfy that unique sense of dread and calm the genre inspires in me. I’m worried the world is an awful place but feel a certain tranquility when it shows its true colors.

Anyway.

It’s probably for the best to do a bit of a reset in September ahead of the most wonderful time of the year (Halloween). This week, we have a lesbian romance with hints of soap opera drama and a hearty dose of navigating cultural identity. Plus vending machine snacks.

The Film:

Saving Face

The Premise:

As a young Chinese-American surgeon pursues a romance with another woman, she learns her mother has been keeping a shocking secret of her own.

The Ramble:

Wil is a promising young surgeon who gives her mother Gao a lot of cred in their Chinese-American community in Queens. On the marriage front, Gao insists that Wil is much too busy and successful to date. Hmmmmm…dramatic secrets related to identity would suggest otherwise.

Wil, a young woman dressed casually in sweatpants, bends down to talk to her mother, Gao. Gao is sitting on a bed, eyes closed in meditation.

As Gao plays matchmaker at the community’s weekly gathering, she is unknowingly the source of her own gossip, as the widow of over 20 years is stunningly gorgeous and very single. A man by the name of Cho is quite clearly gearing up to make a move, though it’s taken years for him to work up the nerve.

One fateful night, Wil meets the one person her mother is decidedly not trying to set up her daughter with: a ballet dancer named Vivian. In a demonstration of how close-knit the community is, Vivian happens to be the daughter of Wil’s boss. But she’s quite attractive and her love language seems to be vending machine snacks, so poor Wil doesn’t stand a chance.

Wil, dressed in a loose-fitting button-down shirt, stands close in front of Vivian, who touches the sleeve of Wil's shirt.

Meanwhile, Wil realizes through shocking gossip that Gao is keeping even more secrets than her daughter. As it turns out, Gao is pregnant and refuses to divulge the father’s identity. Ooooooh, things are getting more scandalous than the Chinese soaps Gao watches religiously. Wil’s grandfather is especially disappointed, evicting his daughter from their shared apartment and telling her not to bother coming back without a husband. The tables are turned on Gao as Wil attempts to find her the perfect (and perhaps somewhat gullible) husband.

Wil reclines on a futon, arms behind her head. Her mother Gao sits next to her, knitting. Both are staring ahead at an offscreen television.

Now with the complication of having her mother as a roommate, Wil has to work double time to keep her own secret love hidden. A relatably awkward tomboy, Wil is quite sweet when bonding with Vivian. However, conducting their relationship as if it’s an illicit affair isn’t what Vivian has in mind. She begins actively considering an offer to dance ballet in Paris…even though her heart is with modern dance and with a certain socially graceless doctor.

After a number of horrible dates, Gao ultimately accepts a proposal from Cho. While Wil is initially relieved, she’s troubled that her mother still seems rather closed off and unhappy. What’s more, Wil’s grandmother experiences a health crisis, sending the family into a spiral just before the wedding. Taking a cue from Gao’s soaps, the discovery of a shocking letter on her wedding day could spell disaster…or might it lead two generations of Chinese-American women to carve out space for themselves within their own community?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

I really enjoyed this. Our story feels real, slightly melodramatic twists and all. I think this is largely because the characters and their relationships ground the story. There’s an attention to detail and nuance that makes the love, especially between mother and daughter, convincing. It involves just enough tension for us to believe this is true with all of the messiness and conflict that comes along with family.

The tone is perfect; overall, this is a very sweet film. However, there is enough of a cultural and familial clash that I was somewhat concerned about how it would all turn out. I was relieved when (spoiler?) our leading ladies found a way to fully embrace their own unique identities and place them within Chinese-American culture, not as disparate pieces. I loved that even Wil was shocked by Gao’s secrets and made some of the same assumptions the Chinese community made since it is a part of her identity.

This is the kind of film where I respect the director, Alice Wu, even more as I learned about her process of making this movie a reality. Look it up! It was really a labor of love. My favorite fact so far is that studios really pushed to make all (including the leads!) or at least some characters white to bring more star power to the film, but Wu insisted on maintaining a Chinese cast.

Related: consider that this film was the first major US release since The Joy Luck Club and until Crazy Rich Asians to star an Asian cast. And while we do now have Shang-Chi to enjoy, we’ve still got a lot of progress to make for representation.

Would my blog wife romance this one with vending machine fare or leave it at the altar for another film? Find out in her review!

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