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Master Chu, a retired Chinese Tai-Chi master, moves to Westchester, New York to live with his son Alex, his American daughter-in-law Martha, and their son Jeremy. However, Martha's second novel is suffering from severe writers' block brought on by Chu's presence in the house. Alex must struggle to keep his family together as he battles an inner conflict between cultural tradition and his modern American lifestlye. Written by
"Pushing Hands" was Ang Lee's debut feature and it was made on a small budget soon after he won a national screenplay competition in Taiwan. The Taiwanese government financed part of it, but the movie is still constrained to some degree by its small budget, though the script (co-written with James Schamus) is well sketched out and extremely clever. Basically, the film looks into the conflict between the East and the West as a father from the Mainland China, Beijing (Sihung Lung) visits his son in the USA and ends up experiencing some friction with his Caucasian American daughter-in-law, a writer. Sihung Lung is first rate as the father, bringing gravitas and a certain humor and reserve as the misunderstood Taichi patriarch. The rest of the cast are also up to the mark. Since this movie is shot almost entirely from the point of view of the Chinese father, one can see how this film relates with several other Asian features which also examine father-children relationships (the most prominent being Ozu's "Tokyo Story"). The best that can be said about this debut feature is that it trumps its budget and becomes a sensitive, poignant and often wryly humorous portrait of an old man coming to terms with a foreign culture and his estranged immigrant son. Anyone making such a debut could justifiably be proud.
As this movie is essentially small budget, don't expect the huge epic sweep of Lee's later films. This is an excellent and rewarding film, but only if you are patient enough. Unfortunately some non-Chinese may not be patient enough to sit through a family drama as this isn't your usual US$80 million American blockbuster. Its riches are far subtler than that.
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