COURTESY WILDCAT RELEASING
If you enjoyed "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," "American Fusion" will probably be your cup of tea.
Unhyphenated America has humor
Perhaps one day there will be a film comedy about assimilated Asian-Americans in which the comedy isn't about assimilating Asian-Americans. But writer-director Frank Lin takes that race card and runs with it nonetheless, and the result is a genial and amusing roundelay that nicely balances outright internecine slapstick and forthright romantic yearnings.
Opens Friday at Regal Dole Cannery
I guess it's called "American Fusion" because "My Big Fat Chinese Wedding" might seem a little derivative, and besides, although marriages and the problems thereof are firmly on the minds of all present, it doesn't seem like anyone will eventually get to the altar. If you found the "Greek" movie funny and endearing, you're already prepped to enjoy this one, although they're quite different in approach. Family squabbling is a rich lode to mine for comedy, perhaps the richest.
Taiwan-born Yvonne -- who's old enough to be Formosa-born -- has one failed marriage, a slacker son who seems to think he's black, a cranky live-in mother who's a terror, useless siblings and a dead-end job at an advertorial suburban shopper that the tone-deaf publisher has optimistically renamed Fortune Cookie Press to attract Chinese advertisers. It doesn't help when she meets a handsome dentist who's clearly attracted to her, because he's Mexican-American and Mama would be horrified. The least of Yvonne's problems are her false teeth.
There are no hyphens here. Everyone is either "Chinese" or "Mexican" or "black," and their American heritage is of secondary importance, or so obvious that it doesn't bear mentioning. This seems deliberate on Lin's part, as do some Chinese-caricature characters -- played by the doughty James Hong and Pat Morita -- that would never pass muster in a mainstream film. Hong and Morita seem to be having the time of their lives, though, and the movie is often genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. Humor is a great equalizer. And if you can't laugh at yourself ...
As the dentist, Esai Morales has a natural charm that makes us wonder why we don't see him more on screen. As Yvonne, Chinese actress Sylvia Chang is absolutely adorable -- she's a major star in Asia and it's easy to see why -- and the romantic chemistry between these two middle-aged people generates the right amount of heat. It'll be appreciated by middle-aged audiences.
Lin directs with comic flair, even though some of the characters speak with a strange staccato rhythm, as if their Chineseyness or Mexicanishness has created a speech impediment on the way to an American punch line.