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This is the story about a white man
and his life... or not. Leo is a good-looking white guy with an interesting career, but he's also a Decoy Protagonist
in a story that is really about three women and their children. Ellen is white and rich. She is a well-paid doctor, and she's married to Leo who is just about to make a business deal that will get him over 40 million dollars. Gloria is Asian and poor, the nanny of Ellen's and Leo's daughter. Cookie is Asian and most likely poor as well, working as a prostitute.
Much of the story revolves around the angst Ellen and Gloria feel over being separated from their children. Ellen is too busy taking care of dying kids at the hospital to take care of her own daughter, while Gloria is too busy taking care of Ellen's daughter to be there for her own little kids. While these women are extremely different in social status, they come across as being quite similar as human beings and actually living chillingly similar lives.
Under no circumstances to be confused with the 2006 monster movie starring Summer Glau
- Asian Hooker Stereotype: A major plotline starts with Leo visiting a place where sex-workers and clients hook up, just to have a look. He obviously expected the local prostitute to be a living stereotype: Finding out that she's a regular normal person makes him shocked and confused. He awkwardly tried to take up the role of Mighty Whitey Knight in Shining Armor instead, but it doesn't work. After that, he spends the rest of the story trying to convince himself that he's a heroic lover and that paying a sex-worker "for not having sex" and then have sex with her after all does not make him a John. This also fails miserably, and he end up leaving her without even saying good-bye... Thus after all treating her as a lowly whore to be used and discarded..
- As for the racist "all Asian women are sex-workers" stereotype version of this trope, the movie averts it by having Gloria as a central character, Gloria's mother as an important side character, and loads of minor female Asian characters who have nothing to do with the sex industry.
- Bittersweet Ending: For Leo and Ellen, as they try to stitch their broken family together and try to convince themselves that it's a happy ending. Downer Ending for everyone who isn't white, however.
- Condescending Compassion: Believing prostitution to be horrible, Leo keep feeling sorry for Cookie in a way that's actually shaming her and would damage her emotionally if she internalized it.
- Crapsack World: There's basically one tragedy behind each corner.
- Crapsaccharine World: ...luckily for Leo, he can afford to not look behind any corners. Or behind him. Sure people's lives get ruined, but those people are replaceable anyway.
- Decoy Protagonist: Leo isn't all that central to the story as one might think. This is really a story about three mothers and their children.
- Downer Ending: As Leo betrays Cookie and sneak away in the night, it becomes obvious that she never expected any better from him anyway. Surely she encountered the "I'm a good guy, not an exploitative John" kind of exploitative John many times before. As a final mess-up, he leave her two extremely valuable items, but didn't bother telling her that they were valuable or why. She ends up pawning them for a few bucks, missing out on over $15,000 dollars that would surely have improved her life. As a final twist, she talks on the phone with her beloved little child, who she rarely gets to meet - thus revealing to the audience that she's in the same shitty situation as Ellen and Gloria.
- Hopeless Suitor: Averted, not a part of this story. However... The aversion is notable because the narrative builds up to putting Cookie in this role, as Leo tries to fill her head with dreams of a better life with him. At the end, it is made clear that his dreams were his own alone; she understood him far better than he understood himself. Thus, she was not surprised or visibly saddened when he left her without even saying good-bye. Just another self-deluded client making his exit.
- Internalized Categorism: Averted, since Cookie doesn't take Leo's pity to heart: His pity would have made her feel like a lost and dirty little whore (in desperate need of getting saved by him, no doubt), but it appears she just shrugs it off along with the rest of his self-deluded bullshit.
- Mighty Whitey: Leo tries to be one. It doesn't work out.
- Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow: When Leo met the Thai sex-worker Cookie, it confuses him to find out that she's a regular person rather than an Asian Hooker Stereotype. He falls in love with her, having a brief romance where he keeps making all kinds of promises to her. He is completely honest, believing his own unrealistic fantasies about how he's not a John and how he's going to give her a better life and everything. Of course, he ends up realizing that he does have a wife and daughter at home. And thus, he ends up sneaking away in the night, leaving his Asian lover without even saying good-bye.
- Need a Hand, or a Handjob?: The relationship between Leo and Cookie isn't primarily about sex. He's pretty messed up, and she is good for him. He's not very good for her, however, and he can't even pay properly since he thinks that would make him a John. (Well, he is a John, it's just that he won't admit it to himself.)
- Poor Communication Kills: Gloria's mother try to deliver An Aesop to her grandson, based on the premise that child prostitution is something truly awful. However, he doesn't know what child prostitution is, so he start asking her questions. Embarrassed, she avoids his question, leaving him with the impression that chatting up elderly white tourists might be a rather smart way to make money. It goes downhill from there.
- Unproblematic Prostitution: Selling sex and "girlfriend experience" to silly white guys comes across as emotionally stressful or maybe even draining, but it still comes across as far less awful than the alternatives presented. Try being a night-shift doctor, not getting enough sleep and spending your nights watching children die without being able to save them. Or try being a nanny, hearing on the phone how your own children's lives are spiraling into hell while you are busy taking care of another woman's child... a rich woman who is jealous of you, frightened that her daughter may love you more than she loves her.
- White Male Lead: ...except that he's a Decoy Protagonist.