Saving Face

Jun 22, 2005 at 12:00 am

The only saving grace about Saving Face is the sight of two silky-haired young Chinese women making out. Unfortunately, these scenes are not shown often in Alice Wu’s 2004 film. Instead, this romantic comedy is one cliché after another delivered by Chinese-Americans about American and Chinese people.

Here’s how weak and formulaic the movie is: It opens with a shot of the main character, Wilhelmena (Michelle Krusiec), resting against the sink in her bathroom with a healing mask on her face. This image is plastered with metaphors — about the culture’s obsession with good skin, about the young woman who has yet to reveal her true lesbian self, and as a blatant illustration of the flick’s title.

Wilhelmena is an overachieving young resident at a New York City hospital. She’s close with her family, which consists of her soft-spoken yet nagging mother (the lovely and expressive Joan Chen), her conservative grandfather (Jin Wang) and her extroverted grandmother (Guang Lan Koh). At a cultural gathering, Wilhelmena meets Vivian Shing, a sexy professional ballerina, and when Vivian notices Wilhelmena’s shy eyes on her, she comes on strong. This pick-up clearly is not a first for Vivian, but she’s patient with Wilhelmena as she has trepidations about her first lesbian relationship, and coming to terms with coming out to her traditionalist family.

This film is at its best when it takes itself seriously, as when Wilhelmena’s 48-year-old mother (who is single and pregnant) prepares for her first date, when her grandmother falls ill or when Wilhelmena, influenced by the high expectations of those around her, betrays her own feelings and breaks up with Vivian. There are also some good one-liners: “One billion Chinese people, two degrees of separation.” But the plot is totally formulaic. Overall, Saving Face is a disappointment. Save your time. —


In English and Chinese with English subtitles. Showing at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111).

Rebecca Mazzei is Metro Times arts editor. Send comments to [email protected].