At last we left the quirky-family dramedy, it was thrusting us into a dilapidated VW van with Toni Collette and Greg Kinnear at the helm in the lovable, if not uneven Little Miss Sunshine. Now, in a stab at cultural accentuation, we are given Red Doors, the tale of the Wongs, an extremely dysfunctional Asian family living in the suburbs surrounding New York City. Too bad culture and tradition are used only as window dressing.
When Ed Wong (the reliable Tzi Ma) retires, he finds that the meaning in his life has been lost. His first way to regain it is to surround himself with old tapes of his three daughters and wife when they were growing up. It doesn't help to look at them now. His wife (Freda Foh Shen) has become a mechanical beast of nagging and criticism. Samantha (Jacqueline Kim), his eldest, has become all business, no soul, and gives all her time to her husband, who is likewise all business. His middle daughter, Julie (Elaine Kao), is a repressed lesbian who begins falling for a B-movie actress (Mia Riverton). And then there's Katie (Kathy Shao-Lin Lee), his youngest, a hip-hop dancer who shows her affection for her neighbor (Sebastian Stan) by pulling dangerous pranks. Ed attempts to commit suicide, but not one of the 40-plus attempts have been successful. Ed's finally conclusion: become a Buddhist and move to an upstate temple to study the religion. This, of course, sends the family into disarray.
The jokes are successful, sure, and the emotions are identifiable, as expected. The issue here is that the problems that the film approaches aren't given any nuance or specificity. Julie's lesbianism seems not to be an actual problem and more of away to differentiate her problems from Katie's. In fact, the only time that we are even given a hint that her lesbianism would be a problem is five minutes before the film ends. Samantha, more so, has a very boring storyline with all the similar trimmings. A boring engagement/marriage can be used for several reasons and can even be enthralling in certain cases, but here, it's all complete business as usual, including his inability to grasp at why she would cry at the opera.
However, where those two storylines fail, the other two are rather intriguing. Ed's slow decline into late-life crisis goes mainly unspoken, leaving out any trace of melodrama. The simple act of watching the videotapes of his daughters dancing and playing as young children has more emotional weight than anything said in the entire film. Katie's romance with her neighbor strikes a morbidly curious note. The dangerous pranks, which include fire, explosions and sexual devices, are an interesting twist on the idea of defensive relationships. The relationship actualizes all the defense mechanisms that are often used in romantic comedies, instead that here its part of the film, rather than stretched as the entirety of the film. These two storylines make Red Doors an enjoyable film but there are so many things holding it back (the mother/wife's story is given no real time to connect with the audience) that stop it from being a respectable movie. Consider it a missed opportunity.