The concept of 'saving face' is extremely important in Asian culture, and something that many Caucasians fail to understand. In Asian culture, it is of the utmost importance that the person do the right thing for the family, which may not be what that person wants. It's a constant source of intergenerational conflict, which means that there can be an endless stream of movies spotlighting this. The Joy Luck Club is probably the most memorable example. Face takes a new twist on this subject by looking at two generations of one family, and how the expectations of what they should do conflict with their actions, and two very different ways of handling it.
Face takes place in two time periods in Queens, the 1970s and the 1990s. In the 70s, Kim Liu (Bai Ling, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, She Hate Me) is a young girl trying to live up to her mother's (Kieu Chinh, Green Dragon, What's Cooking?) expectations. Kim's boyfriend Willie (Ken Leung, Red Dragon, Vanilla Sky) does not meet up to them. Yes, he's going to be a lawyer, but he has to borrow his money to attend law school and is much too Americanized. Kim's life changes forever when Daniel (Will Yun Lee, Torque, Die Another Day) rapes her and leaves her pregnant. Mrs. Liu and Daniel's mom essentially force the two to marry, since that is the proper thing to do. Both Kim and Daniel are opposed to this, and shortly after the birth of Genie, Kim leaves her newborn daughter with her mom and escapes to New York.
In the 1990s, Genie (Kristy Wu, Drive Me Crazy, What's Cooking?) is nearing full out rebellion with her grandmother. She wants to dress more risque, and is, to the horror of her grandmother, dating a black man (Treach, Empire, Love and a Bullet). Genie is not happy to hear that Kim is returning for her graduation. Apparently, Kim has not made any effort to be a mother. Genie has no desire to see Kim, and when she does arrive, is pretty resentful. Her absence has been a large part of Genie's life. What they do not realize is that they had similar situations growing up. Each was trying to assert her independence, and ran straight into cultural expectations. Face is an expansion of a short film by Bertha Bay-Sa Pan (Sluggers). She directed and co-wrote this version with Oren Moverman (Jesus' Son), and it does feel stretched a bit thin at times.
The emotions do run high, but the characterizations are a little too stereotypical. Kim is initially the good Chinese girl with the good Chinese boyfriend. Mrs. Liu is a stereotypical overly protective grandmother, and Genie's rebellion seems a little too contrived. However, the acting and story is in earnest, and Treach comes off surprisingly well. Both Kim and Genie are living under the weight of enormous expectations, Genie even more so because she does not want to turn out like her mother. Ling does very well in the present, as a mother who is coming to terms with the mistakes in her life. There is a deep sense of melancholy and regret, compounded by the fact that the daughter she left behind wants nothing to do with her. She does not fare as well in the flashback sequences, mainly because she does not look like she's around twenty. Wu has some really nice rapport with Chinh (they were granddaughter/grandmother in What's Cooking?). Genie loves and cares for her grandmother, yet feels stifled by Mrs. Liu's desires for her. The dual nature of the film shows the different ways each woman approaches her problem, but leaves a big gaping hole in the intervening years.
|Mongoose Rates It: Okay.|
|1 hour, 29 minutes, Not Rated but contains language and some mature situations, an R or possibly a PG-13.|
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