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Comic mother-daughter tale is universal

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Brooklynite Alice Wu is optimistic about box office sales for her first feature film, “Saving Face,” which is being released this weekend by Sony Pictures Classics.

“There’s something for everyone,” the Park Slope resident told GO Brooklyn. “Asian lesbians! For gay men, Joan Chen. And I do feel that almost everyone resonates with this [story]. No matter who you are, usually you have some sort of secret wish or something that you held back on because you worry about what your family or your community will think. There’s something exhilarating about seeing people reach for that.”

In addition to Chen, the Elizabeth Taylor of China, another boldface name attached to Wu’s film is Will Smith, in the role of producer.

Wu’s film is a comic story about Wil (Michelle Krusiec), an independent Chinese-American woman, who comes home to find her pregnant, 48-year-old mother (Chen) sitting on her Park Slope stoop one evening. She’s decided to move in with Wil, because her strict father threw her out of his house when she refused to name the baby’s father.
Now that Ma is in such close proximity, Wil’s secret life as a lesbian threatens to be revealed to her traditional Chinese family, employer and friends. (Not that much can be hidden for long from the gossipy, close-knit community of women portrayed in the film.)

But the close quarters also offer the mother and daughter an opportunity to grow closer.

“I wrote ‘Saving Face’ as a love-letter to my mother,” said Wu, 35. But it doesn’t mean she didn’t put her mother to work translating the Chinese dialogue for the film (as Wu can only speak the language, not write it).

Apparently, the love letter was well received.

“She is incredibly supportive now and proud of the film,” said Wu.

Because the film alternates between Mandarin dialect (with subtitles) and English and has many scenes filmed in the Chinese community in Flushing, Queens, it feels like an authentic, insider’s glimpse of this seemingly cloistered enclave.

“In Flushing you have more recent waves of immigration so you can actually have enclaves of people who choose to not speak English or don’t know how,” said Wu.

She shot “Saving Face” over 27 days in and around New York City. Her rooftop scenes (“I live in Brooklyn, so I know there are beautiful rooftop views that have nothing to do with the Manhattan skyline!”), and even the exterior of Wil’s Park Slope-style brownstone, were shot in Greenpoint, she said.

“For this particular story, I actually felt like New York is the only place in the United States to tell it, because the film is so much about a woman who has compartmentalized her world,” explained the San Jose, Calif., native.

“The thing about New York is that in a very small geographical location it has thousands of worlds, all right next to each other.
“And it’s a walking city, so you have to walk through other people’s worlds to get to your own.

“It was very important to me that there be a sense of universality to this experience. It seems like Wil is going through this specific thing in this specific community of Flushing, but it should feel, when she’s walking down the street, that the Hasidic Jewish man that passes her or someone on the subway next to her is going through the exact same thing in their community.”

“Saving Face” opens in Manhattan this weekend, and the filmmaker hopes the film will open in Brooklyn, too. Whether the film gets a wider release, and whether Wu gets another crack at writing and directing, depends on the first weekend’s receipts.
“I’m kind of amazed this film got made at all,” Wu said of her five-year endeavor. “I just hope people can enjoy the film a tenth as much as I loved making it with incredible people. Then I’d be happy. And I hope I get to do this again because those 27 days were probably the best days of my life.”


“Saving Face” opens at AMC Empire 25 [42nd Street and Eighth Avenue (212) 398-3939] and Angelika Film Center [18 West Houston St. at Broadway (212) 995-2000] in Manhattan on May 27.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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