Bertha Bay-sa Pan

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Face (2002) Review


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The concept of "losing face" is the titular reference made by Bertha Bay-Sa Pan's Face, the story of three generations of Chinese-American women living in Queens (during both the 1970s and 1990s) whose lives are forever altered by an adherence to outmoded beliefs. Earnest and intermittently poignant despite its obvious construction, Bay-Sa Pan's drama is yet another in a long line of cinematic stories about immigrant families struggling to simultaneously assimilate and retain their ethnic heritage. And while it brings little freshness to the burgeoning sub-genre, this minor film - mildly affecting even considering its uneven performances and some grating use of music - nonetheless conveys the intractability of long-held attitudes and the frequent impossibility of cross-generational reconciliation.

The life of demure, respectful teenager Kim (Bai Ling) is forever altered when, after being raped by acquaintance Daniel (Will Yun Lee), she discovers she's pregnant and is forced by her mother Mrs. Lieu (Kieu Chinh) - who blames Kim for the situation, and who's eager to minimize her own dishonor - to marry her spiteful attacker. Desperate to escape this miserable betrothed life, Kim eventually snaps, leaving the baby girl in her mother's care before fleeing for Hong Kong. Nineteen years later, Kim returns to Queens to attend her resentful daughter Genie's (Kristy Wu) high school graduation, only to find tradition-rejecting history repeating itself. Ignoring her grandmother's disapproving stance toward anything modern or American, Genie surreptitiously wears belly shirts that display her forbidden naval piercing, hangs out with non-Chinese friends, and has begun dating Michael (Anthony "Treach" Criss, frontman for Naughty by Nature), an African-American DJ whose skin color makes him, in the eyes of Genie's elderly guardian, an unacceptable boyfriend.

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