27 March 2000 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Chinese-American women of three generations (and one far-flung family) pile into an RV and take a roundabout tour of California's deserts and mountains in "My American Vacation", winner of the best dramatic feature prize at 1999's Worldfest Houston.

A well-intentioned but unpolished family film playing at Laemmle's Grande in downtown Los Angeles, "Vacation" (mostly in English, with a few subtitled scenes) is another in the durable genre of East-meets-West comedy-dramas aimed at ethnic audiences but not without its points of interest for the eclectic moviegoer.

Screenwriter-director VV Dachin Hsu (whose feature debut was 1990's "Pale Blood", co-directed with Michael W. Leighton), born in Hong Kong and a UCLA Film School grad, creates a labor of love with the family-themed "Vacation", a movie with light humor, whimsy, turmoil and even physical danger, but nourished to achieve a soothing effect on the viewer, including a structure inspired by tai chi.

Venerable Chinese film, television and stage actress Tsai Chin (Michelangelo Antonioni's "Blowup", ABC's "Fantasy Island", "The Joy Luck Club") stars as Grandma Lee, widowed mother of grown daughters Ming-Yee (Kim Miyori) and Ming-Na (Deborah Nishimura). Bossy and ambitious Ming-Yee, a single mom raising daughter Melissa (Sasha Hsuczyk) to know her divorced father is a "jerk," is delighted to have Grandma come from Taiwan for a visit.

A journalist and happy with husband Henry (Dennis Dun), Ming-Na is younger than her sister and more carefree. She is not that thrilled to play host to nosy Grandma, who arrives with many loaded-with-meaning gifts. The sisters more or less call a truce, and the whole gang, including Henry, decides to acquire a motor home and head to Colorado.

They don't get very far after choosing an expensive model and packing it up for a trip of ill-defined purpose and length of time. The adventurers make it to Joshua Tree, Lake Isabella and finally Sequoia National Forest but never leave California. With The Great Outdoors as a backdrop, several family and personal conflicts are worked out.

Grandma dishes out much wisdom and mediates frequently between the warring sisters.

The writing is overly episodic, the humor is light, the jokes are often predictable, and occasionally the choice of musical accompaniment is questionable, but one can suspend disbelief enough and overlook manipulative devices to enjoy Hsu's "Vacation" largely because of the heartfelt performances.

Ultimately, the spirit of Chin's character prevails during what becomes a nearly disastrous trip. She pens a series of bogus postcards to her friends back home and dreams of her dead husband as a young man (Roger Fan), while hurting every time Ming-Yee and Ming-Na go at each other. What's not to live for?

So it goes, the joys and pains of a family coming together. East saves West and vice versa, with Grandma almost dying during a scene worthy of an old-time western serial. Meanwhile, the shores of the Kern River and the towering sequoias are wonderful settings for the gentle movements of women performing tai chi.

MY AMERICAN VACATION

American Vacation Prods.

Winn Entertainment

in association with CACC Investment

Screenwriter-director:VV Dachin Hsu

Producers:VV Dachin Hsu, Cindy Sison, Frank Gargani

Executive producer:Winston H. Chin

Director of photography:Dean Lent

Production designer:Fu-Ding Cheng

Editors:Marc Grossman, Clarinda Wong

Costume designer:Sheri Grider

Music:Joel Iwataki

Color/stereo

Cast:

Grandma Lee:Tsai Chin

Ming-Yee:Kim Miyori

Ming-Na:Deborah Nishimura

Melissa:Sasha Hsuczyk

Henry:Dennis Dun

Ming-Yee-Ba:Roger Fan

Running time -- 88 minutes

No MPAA rating


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