Talkback on Asian American Films

The fourth Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival ended on November 6th with the local premier of Almost Perfect, directed by Bertha Bay-Sa Pan (also writer/director/producer of the 2002 drama Face).  The screening at the Ibrahim Theater at International House at the University of Pennsylvania campus was followed by a lavish dinner reception.   Billed as a romantic comedy, Almost Perfect depicts a successful Chinese career woman who finally meets her perfect soulmate  but her budding relationship is highjacked by her dysfunctional family.  It stars Kelly Hu (X-Men 2), Edison Chen (Infernal Affairs), Roger Rees (The Prestige), Tina Chen (Golden Globe Nominee), and Ivan Shaw (CSI: New York).

Mayor Michael Nutter introduced the evening and it was followed by a talkback session, attended by the director, actors Tina Chen and Alice Callahan (Gossip Girls), producer Jim Chu, production designer Wing Lee, and art director Cherie Kroll.  Director Pan was asked why a romantic comedy and she said that American cinema do not represent the full gamut of Asian human experience (producer Chu quipped that it has not documented that Asians do fall in love).  An audience member asked if the script was a comment on inter-racial marriages  (Tina Chen’s character is unhappily married to Roger Rees’s character, although only one of their three movie children looks bi-racial).  Pan said no, but she’d casted her high school friend Christina Chang as the fashion designer daughter and is of a Chinese-Caucasian blend.  Note: Fashion product placement occurred in the wearing of a Brown University shirt (the slacker brother and the best friend/male lead are alumni) and the frugal use of the Thuy clothing line as exhibited by the fashion designer sister.  Pan had gotten lots of flak from the Asian American community for casting a black love interest in Face, and she didn’t dare do so for the romantic leads in this movie.

Chen was asked how to promote more Asian American films and she said it happens at the box office, where movie studios comprehend that there is an audience for films about and starring Asian Americans.  Production Designer Lee got all choked up about the satisfaction of finally working on a production with a mostly Chinese cast and crew.  An audience member praised the apartment setting of the female lead, as her various family members barge in and storm out— it was entirely built on a sound stage by Lee and his crew.  Callahan in a minor role as Shop Girl spoke about how one small scene illustrated the father character, as a womanizer who was experiencing a mid-life crisis as a ship designer facing retirement.  Chen was asked how did she get into the role of the repressed, distressed art professor mother (being a fun, happily married woman) and she quoted her acting mentor who’d taught that they have to be true to the character, to live within the emotional landscape of the person being portrayed.  Pan was bestowed the Emerging Director Award, but she noted that she’s been emerging for 15 years already.