As soon as I heard that someone had considered commissioning
a TV series from Red Doors it suddenly hit me
what was bugging me the entire time I was watching this film.
It feels like a pilot for a TV show. For a ninety minute film
there were too many characters, too many interlocking stories,
thus too little exploration of each character and too many loose
ends left untied. This is only frustrating because I liked every
single one of these characters.
The Wong family, as created by first time director Georgia Lee,
is so damned appealing they could probably, if it weren't for
the lesbian storyline, exist quite happily on any major TV network.
As it is, if they get picked up at all they'll probably be relegated
to cable, but that's where most of the best, groundbreaking television
is made these days anyway.
There's so much to like here. I like the father who, on his sixtieth
birthday, begins to feel the weight of his own existence and mortality.
I liked the mother whose aim in life is to see her daughters happily
married and settled, and is thwarted on all fronts but still keeps
soldiering on even after her husband drops out of life. I loved
Sam Wong, successful in business and engaged to be married, who
comes to understand just a little more about the importance of
family and tries to re-evaluate her existence. (I also loved that
she was played by the swoonworthy Jacqueline Kim) There is a parallel
storyline which shows Sam and her father experiencing similar
emotional responses to their vastly different lives.
Then there's Julie Wong, a dedicated doctor who hasn't told her
mother she's gay. She meets a movie star doing research at her
hospital, and despite her better judgement begins to fall in love
at the most inconvenient time in her career. Finally there's Katie
Wong, gifted dancer and teenage rebel, who is attracted to a guy
at school and spends her time inventing elaborate practical jokes
to get his attention, and he reciprocates in kind.
The family rally together to deal with a crisis and a celebration:
Ed Wong's suicidal tendencies and Sam's upcoming nuptials. In
the end neither the suicide nor the wedding is successful, and
the thwarting of both lends itself to much warm-hearted humour
and associated heartbreak. In the meantime there is food preparation
(what would a film about a Chinese family be without preparing
and eating at least one meal?) and extended family to deal with.
The three girls are also desperately trying to hold onto their
bonds as sisters, failing as often as they succeed, but always
scoring points for effort.
The greatest compliment I can give Georgia Lee is that I felt
at times like I was watching early Ang Lee. She has that same
deft touch for handling human interaction, and the same obvious
love of family mingled with the ability to make us laugh at its
foibles. We're laughing because we can relate, because we understand.
It's that kind of laughter that seduces you and makes you feel
all warm and gooey inside, unless of course you hate warmhearted
family comedies, in which case this film will make you feel like
you're in the seventh level of hell.
Despite not missing any chance to pull decisively and delibeately
at the heartstrings, I did not get any sense of cloying sentimentality
from this film. The lesbianism is not the main point of the film,
but neither is it hidden behind all the other heterosexual relationships.
It's given equal time to create empathy. The film is about the
difficulty of communicating, on many different levels. Julie's
problem of communicating her gay identity to her traditional,
straight parents just adds a level of complexity to the overall
themes of the film.
At times the production values do slip a little, particularly
with the often-unimaginative camera work, and we're made aware
that this is an indie feature after all. Not all of the actors
are experienced, but I didn't feel the film was at all lopsided
with some actors noticeably better than others since the entire
cast is extraordinarily talented. The exception to this is perhaps
the super-experienced Tzi Ma, who really captures the eccentricities
of Ed Wong. At first I was worried that the father would simply
be a two-dimensional laughing stock. When he finds himself in
meditation, it becomes obvious that this was the whole point.
Ed feels two-dimensional, until he is able to remove himself from
his everyday life and regain focus. Then suddenly he blossoms
and unexpectedly fills out the character.
As Katie, the youngest and most troublesome daughter, Kathy Shao-lin
Lee (the director's younger sister no less) is quite mesmerising.
I truly hope that she continues on in the role and fleshes out
this fascinating character. When you watch the film you'll see
as I did that there are so many more stories to tell for the Wong
family, and I hope Georgia Lee gets the chance to tell them.
Red Doors is heartwarming, funny and utterly
inoffensive on every level. If there was ever a film with a lesbian
character in it with crossover potential this would have to be
it. When I first heard about the film I thought it would basically
be Saving Face
all over again. But no, not even close. This film has a unique
voice and a truly wonderful script, which just goes to show that
there is plenty of room for more films about lesbian Asian-Americans
and their families.
As I said, Red Doors loses something simply
because I feel at times it tries to do too much, hence our satisfaction
and enjoyment of each character is somewhat diminished by their
restricted screen time. I would have loved for Julie and Mia's
courtship be more developed. I would have liked to see the reforming
of bonds between Katie and Sam as they get to know each other
as people as well as sisters. I wanted more time with Ed and Sam
to explore this mysterious connection they seem to have.
Red Doors is just quirky enough, just melodramatic
enough, just angsty enough. Here's hoping, if there are any intelligent
TV executives left out there, that we all get the opportunity
to spend more time with the Wong family in the future.
Got a comment? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org