Last Monday, writer/director Alice Wu, actor/director Joan Chen, and actors Michelle Krusiec and Lynn Chen gathered together at the 30th San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival for a special reunion screening of Saving Face, the 2004 romantic comedy about a queer Chinese American doctor (Krusiec) juggling a new flame (Lynn Chen) and her pregnant, ostracized 48-year-old single mother (Joan Chen). Before the screening, Joan Chen sat down for a press conference, followed shortly by Wu, Krusiec, and Lynn Chen; as the latter two walked in, Joan Chen jokingly said, “This is my daughter, and this is my daughter-in-law.” The three stars have gone on to star in multiple projects in both the US and Asia since Saving Face came out eight years ago. Looking back, what did Saving Face mean to them as Asian American women actors?
“I would’ve done Saving Face for no money,” said Joan Chen, who was honored by SFIAAFF 30 with screenings of opening-night film White Frog (2012), her acclaimed directorial debut Xiu Xiu: The Sent-Down Girl (1998), and Saving Face. “I was always this tragic woman, and Alice gave me this opportunity to play in a comedy. In a lot of the movies that I did, before Saving Face, I had a dark period where I played a lot of awful roles in films like On Deadly Ground and Judge Dredd and some other stuff I don’t want to mention so that you don’t look it up. But I really felt I wasn’t being authentic, and so Saving Face came along and gave me the opportunity to get the authenticity that I was craving for.”
Like an African elephant
“Saving Face was my first feature film,” said Lynn Chen, who reunites with co-star Krusiec in SFIAAFF 30 entrant Nice Girls Crew. “And I had no idea that it was so special when I did it. I thought all movies were like that. And I soon found out afterwards that that’s not the case. So for the first few years after doing Saving Face, I was constantly comparing. And now I look back at it almost how I look back at -- this is a weird thing to say -- my trip to Africa, when I went on safari. I took a shower outdoors, and an elephant walked by. And I thought to myself, ‘It’s never going to get any better than this. And I’m not going to try to top it.’ That’s how I feel about this movie now.
No longer a servant
“[Saving Face] was the first time where I actually got a role that I could develop and showed real depth,” said Krusiec. “Most of the things I had been doing was fitting into somebody else’s story in a way where I was probably serving a primary story. In this story, I felt very integral and that was very new and I was so excited to be part of that process. And I think it was the first time that I experienced not questioning myself; I was able to really have this rapport with everyone, but also to work with Alice who really allowed me to explore, and that is really vital for an artist, and because of that I was able to grow.”
The surprise ascendance of New York Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin captured the world’s attention, and seemed ready-made for a film. How would the Saving Face women direct, write, or act in a film about Lin?
“Of course I’d play the mother!” Joan Chen exclaimed. When asked what the mother character would look like, she quickly blurted, “She looks like me!”
“Funny, I thought Jeremy Lin would look like me!” said Krusiec. “I actually was going to wear a Jeremy Lin jersey tonight, but I could not get a hold of one in time. But he’s so exciting to me, and we were just talking about it upstairs, I think it will be a story that needs to be told.
“If there is an Asian American story,” Joan Chen added, “Jeremy Lin is the one. A Chinese American story.”
Krusiec interjected, “A Taiwanese American story.”
The family feud continues.
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