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Film / Saving Face

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Saving Face revolves around the 29 year old Chinese-American surgeon Wilhelmina Pang. Wil's life is shaken up when her mother (Joan Chen) moves in with her and it is also revealed that Wil's mother is pregnant by an unknown father. Wil also gets a new love in her life with another Chinese-American girl Vivian. To complicate things, Wil is trying to keep the relationship secret. The question is how can Wil handle and balance these new factors in her life?

This film is a lesbian Romantic Comedy released in 2004. Directed and written by Alice Wu, the work is a lighthearted take on family and relationships as well as how people present themselves to others.

Saving Face provides examples of:

  • Absurdly Elderly Mother: Wil's mother finds herself pregnant again despite being forty-eight years old.
  • Actor Allusion: When Wil's mom browses Chinese films, the first video she comes across is The Last Emperor.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Wil shouts her declaration after Vivian has walked away to board her flight to Paris, but she's too far away to hear her.
  • Ballet: Vivian is a professional ballet dancer. She prefers modern dance, but is pushed by her father to advance in her ballet career.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: Around 40% of the film is in Mandarin. Often Wil speaks to her mom in English, who answers her with Mandarin.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Gao (played by Joan Chen) watches The Last Emperor. Joan Chen also had a role in the film.
  • Coming-Out Story: Wil comes out to her mother. While her mom already caught her with another woman a few years ago, they never acknowledged or discussed it. Her mom isn't happy at first, but later accepts this.
  • Dances and Balls: The community frequently gathers for formal dances at Planet China, where parents gossip and try to set their children up with each other.
  • Disappeared Dad: Wil's dad died when she was very young. Her mother raised her alone afterward, and clearly found it hard, though Wil turned out okay.
  • Disposable Fiancé: Cho is the Bland Perfection sub-type of this. He's rich, devoted, and left at the altar with absolutely no consequences.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Cho has pined for Wil's mom for 15 years. He's willing to accept the baby as his own, no questions asked. But her heart belongs to another.
  • Easy Evangelism: A mild case. Wil's mom transforms the local Chinatown disapproval on her and Wil's romance in about 3 months so much that Wil and Vivian can kiss in public though there still are some people who aren't happy about it and leave.
  • Forbidden Love: Wil and Vivian can't be out about having a relationship due to homophobia prevalent in the Flushing Chinese-American community.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: While Wil's mother is browsing in the video store, she walks past the empty spot for The Joy Luck Club, another movie about a Chinese-American mother and daughter.
  • Gayngst: Wil knows that her traditionalist family won't approve of her sexuality (and her mother stops talking to her for a time after she comes out). That leads to her keep her relationship with Vivian a secret, damaging it in the process.
  • Gossipy Hens: Everyone in Flushing (men and women) is seen talking about various scandals and potential marriages at the beginning of the film, and about Wil's mother throughout.
  • Happy Ending: Although it's sort of tacked on, three months after their breakup Wil and Vivian get back together.
  • Homage Shot: Wil and her mother sitting at the back of the bus after running from the wedding is a nod to The Graduate.
  • Last-Minute Hookup: Although it's sort of tacked on, three months after their breakup Wil and Vivian get back together.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Wil's mother is 48 and hiding a Secret Relationship, so of course she has a surprise pregnancy. (Before her family finds out, they even speculate that she's menopausal.)
  • Likes Older Women: Little Yu has a thing for much older women — though to be fair, we're discussing Joan Chen.
  • Lipstick Lesbian: Lovers Vivian and Wil both have long hair. Wil likes to wear masculine clothing, but still isn't butch overall. Vivian wears feminine clothes and makeup.
  • Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places: There's a montage of all of Wil's mother's failed first dates.
  • May–December Romance: Though not the way you think. Even Wil assumes immediately that her mother's boyfriend is Old Yu. It's not. It's Little Yu.
  • Queer Romance: The primary plot has to do with family drama, changing attitudes in the close-knit Chinese-American community of Flushing, NYC, and coping with family pressures with regard to protagonist Wil's forbidden romance with another Chinese-American woman, Vivian. One of the stories deals with Wil trying to conceal her relationship from her mother ... while her mother is living with her.
  • Practically Different Generations: Wil is twenty-nine years old when she finds out her forty-eight-year-old mother Gao is pregnant again.
  • Race for Your Love: Wil runs through the airport after Vivian. Deconstructed when the gesture is rejected.
  • Racist Grandma: Wil's mom displays some typical racism against black people. She purposely uses paper plates for Jay because she thinks he's dirty, to Wil's frustration. Later warms up to him though.
  • Runaway Bride: Wil's mom sprints out of her wedding to Cho after Wil interrupts the wedding and Little Yu confesses to being the father of her child.
  • Secret Relationship: Wil hides her relationship with Vivian from her family and refuses to engage in PDA. Wil's mother refuses to reveal the father of her child. In the first case it's due to homophobia, the latter as they aren't married.
  • Smoking Hot Sex: Vivian smokes in bed after hooking up with Wil.
  • Soap Within a Show: Wil's mother watches a lot of soap operas and repeatedly explains what's going on.
  • Token White: Wil's coworker Randi is the only white person in the film, which has an almost entirely East Asian cast, along with one black person (Wil's friend Jay).
  • Tomboyish Name: Wilhelmina Pang goes by "Wil". She's a bit of a tomboy, and also gay.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The trailer reveals that Wil's mother is pregnant and also shows climactic moments from late in the movie, including Vivian walking away from Wil in the airport and Wil interrupting her mother's wedding.
  • Where Did We Go Wrong?:
    • Wil's grandfather disapproves of his daughter's pregnancy out of wedlock, telling her she's no longer part of the family until she finds a husband to raise her child.
    • Wil's mother disapproves of her lesbianism, and is in denial about it because she thinks it reflects badly on her parenting (she eventually comes around).