The Wongs struggle to cope with life, love, and family dysfunction in the suburbs of New York.The Wongs struggle to cope with life, love, and family dysfunction in the suburbs of New York.The Wongs struggle to cope with life, love, and family dysfunction in the suburbs of New York.
Each of the Chinese-American daughters has a relationship with a Caucasian, but inter-ethnic issues are less of a concern than human issues of self-realization, as the characters end up drawing strength from their cultural context as they deal with the pressures of being "the model minority."
While the writing is stronger than the directing as there's some drag, particularly during the middle daughter's seemingly endless and petty travails, writer/director Georgia Lee makes the best use of actual home movies - her family's -- since "Capturing the Friedmans," for bringing memories to life. We are actually seeing her sister's, lively co-star Kathy Shao-Lin Lee's, childhood as the family members take turns digitizing home movies.
As is usual in first timer's ethnic coming-of-age movies there's a bit of a stereotyped emphasis on art vs. commerce career choices and high school memories that are doubtless a filmmaker's autobiographical resonances. But each character is very much an individual, including having their own musical themes, from hip hop to mopey singer-songwriter tunes. The teen ager is an original spark plug of comic relief even as the family members' relationships aren't all resolved sit com style.
I particularly liked how the acculturated oldest sister pushes the depressed dad (a marvelous Tzi Ma) to see a shrink but he wisely finds a more traditional healing process that's the opposite of talk therapy and a touching contrast to the similar emotional crisis in "About Schmidt."
The title was explained in an off-hand remark at the end, a reference to the tradition of painting one's front doors red to bring good luck, and not all the audience caught the meaning, though we all appreciated the red doors pins that were distributed after the screening at the Tribeca Film Festival. It was also nice of the director to give up some of her allotment of tickets to people on the long line hoping to get in, which included many Chinese-American women from around the New York metropolitan area who had heard about the film through word of mouth.
The potential audience may be confused by the time this film is generally released with "Saving Face" that is being distributed earlier, as they share a few plot points, including parental conflict and a lesbian daughter, but on its own it is a lovely, sweet film.
- May 25, 2005