Film Review: Red Doors (2005, US) – 紅門
[Dad, with slight frown]: Kate, there's a penis in your coat pocket. [Daughter, shrugging]: It's not mine.
Red Doors is the most lighthearted film in my – admittedly shallow – dip into Asian movies with gay and lesbian themes. Although to be honest, calling this a lesbian film is like saying Forrest Gump is a movie about sport.
This is a mainstream hollywood feel-good comedy, no two ways about it. Oh yes, and one of the characters is a lesbian.
The film is about a mildly dysfunctional, middle classed Chinese family living in the suburbs of New York. The father has just retired, the mother is a dedicated home maker and the three children are all intelligent and good looking.
That would be the euphemistic way to describe the Wong Family.
Just below the surface, problems abound. The father, splendidly portrayed by “Tzi Ma”, (watching his parts in 24 season 6 first just makes his lines even more poignant!) has lost his purpose after retirement and attempts to take his own life at every opportunity.
The oldest daughter, a successful businesswoman is having second thoughts about her marriage to a successful but inconsiderate yuppie. The middle daughter, the shiest of the three is an intern in medical school and is having second thoughts about her sexuality. The youngest and only remaining teenager in the family is the wellspring of much of the movies guffawing and comic relief has thoughts only about one, special boy in her life and not much else.
The story follows their father’s unnoticed depression as his energetic wife and daughters lead their busy lives oblivious to his plight and the chain of events that ultimately lead the disparate members of the family back together again.
These types of family comedies are clear, pattern driven movies with plots that follow well trodden paths through the forest of modern society and pressured family life with all its attendant problems. More than other categories, these comedies tend to fall cleanly into two groups: shite or genuinely funny.
Luckily for Red Doors, it falls squarely into the latter category and had me in stitches at several points, leaving me feeling good without more than the occasional smidgen of wincing sappiness.
OK, so the father feels disconnected from everything, the youngest daughter is the rebellious “rocker grrl” black sheep who spurns her family’s traditions and who nobody can really communicate with. So what’s new?
Well, there’s the coming-out of the lesbian daughter, which hasn’t quite been flogged to death in the context of family mainstream comedies to the extent of the other bits.
Really, there are only so many things that can be told when it comes to comedies featuring entire families and this film covers no new ground in and of itself. Yet what makes this film a success is how those stories are told and bound together by the chemistry of the excellent cast and how their characters relate to each other.
And the family members really do just plain work well together, foibles and all. Their interactions are believable, charming, touching and funny in equal measures.
However, this is no “Meet the Parents” or “Me, myself and Irene”, two landmark dysfunctional-family-taken-to-extremes comedies by which I benchmark all others
Firstly, having been involved in the BBC (British Born Chinese) community in the UK, I can really say that the portrayal of Chinese-American culture in Red Doors was hackneyed, littered with stereotypes and unrealistic situations.
When Red Doors’ community is lined up alongside the rich and suggestively deep background created by Alice Wu in Saving Face, it really fails to inspire. These differences are subtle, but very important for a culturally themed movie.
Where Saving Face built up a very specific and real image of a particular Chinese community in Flushing, (Queens, NY) that had character and substance – like a masterful portrait of a living, breathing person – Red Doors is more like a postcard from Chinatown.
For example, the characters, especially the older generation, talking English amongst themselves is just plain odd. Then there are the occasional “Chinese Customs” bits thrown in to remind the audience that this fluent, English speaking family is actually really, really Chinese.
My second big issue with this movie are the peripheral male love interests who for one, all happen to be Caucasian and while they are important enough to feature repeatedly and have direct impact on the Wong’s daily life, they appear as flat as the paper their scripts were written on.
The prime example here is the oldest daughter Samantha’s husband, an entirely unlovable and irredeemable “Hi I’m a PC” jobsworth who, while being reliable and trustworthy, would be immediately marked as “dead” in any teen horror movie, but is instead marked from the outset to merely be replaced by an “And I’m a Mac” old flame, complete with designer stubble and all.
In fact, the two are so “PC v Mac” I’m reminded that this blog is actually Technojunkie and not LesbianMovieReviewWeekly
OUT DAMNED PC!
BRING OUT THE MAC!
To be honest, only the youngest daughter and her love interest show any real original character development, and that relationship is one of the many touches that make this film so watchable.
I intended this this series of reviews to be a “lesbian-interest” point of view so I will just make my token mention here.
The lesbian plotline here is absolutely not a social commentary. It’s as lighthearted and humous a relationship with its shares of cuteness and mishaps as any of the other relationship in the film and is really just intended to add another twist to the movie.
Unfortunately, dispite having watched quite a few lesbian films over the last week or two, the relationship in this film looked contrived and was far more embarassing than I have come to expect from films in the last few years. I actaully found my finger hovering over the fast forward button during one or two of the cornier exchanges.
One could argue that the fact that they just rolled it in without any special attention is a testament to how really and truly mainstream audiences of a family comedy have progressed to the point of acceptance.
As I said, this is a family comedy and not a psychosocial essay on the current interracial trends gender issues of the US, so it can be forgiven for these transgressions given the juicy characters of the father and the exploits of his three delightful daughters.
Big thumbs up. Uneven but with a superb cast and some honestly side-splittingly funny bits. Oh, and not to mention the funniest T-shirt punch-lines I’ve ever seen!