When Adrian (Adrian Martinez) decides that it is time for him to settle down and create a family of his own he quickly gets in touch with a local agency that specializes in making the white man's dreams come true. So, it should be easy…Adrian has just a tiny wish list his future wife-to-be must be willing to follow: she needs to know how to cook chili, she must learn to feed Andrew's huge pet-python, and every once in a while she must meet her husband's rather edgy S/M needs which he incidentally likes filming in his basement. After all Andrew is willing to give his future wife the chance of a lifetime-living the American Dream, so what could be the problem here!
The problem is that Andrew does not have enough money to place his order. So he quickly strikes a deal with a local documentary filmmaker who is willing to provide him with the right amount of money if Andrew grants him the right to film the arrival of his bride. So, a deal is a deal and when Lichi (Eugenia Yuan) finally arrives to the States our little documentary feature is well underway. Things however turn rather complicated when the director of Mail Order Bride quickly discovers what has been going on in Andrew's basement. He takes Lichi away from Andrew under the pretext that he wants to protect her and consequently falls in love with her. But how can a Chinese mail-order bride who barely speaks any English, a naïve documentary-filmmaker who lives in a chic New York apartment, and an overly jealous "husband" co-exist together? You will have to see for yourself...it gets quite interesting.
Produced by Doug Liman, the director of the acclaimed Swingers and The Bourne Identity among others Mail Order Wife almost had me convinced for well over an hour that this was indeed an amateurish documentary. The cheap camera work, unscripted dialog, and above all a situation that looks very real by just about any standards you might come up with involving the business of "family happiness" this is a film that indeed delivers some serious food for thought.
I suppose for the average American that lives in a beautiful suburban neighborhood, goes to work from 9 to 5, and enjoys a pleasant ballgame during the weekend nonchalantly sipping a cold and refreshing Bud Light, this film must seem like sheer hypocrisy. Well, it is actually quite real as agencies such as the one offering Andrew a chance, desperate women willing to go through God knows what so that they could have a taste of the American Dream, and "normal guys" like Andrew happen to exist. In just about every American city! And when their paths cross each other some truly unforgettable stories see the light of day.
Mail Order Wife is an intelligently put together pseudo-documentary (watch the end credits and you will see why) that while relying on an easily detectable punch-line surely puts a good amount of salt in a societal wound which just about everyone that I know dismisses with "well, these mail-order brides…I did not ask them to come here, did I? They knew what they were getting themselves into". I suppose I would adopt the same approach as the director of Mail Order Wife has and leave it to you to decide whether or not a "mail-order wife" actually knows what to expect.
Here's the biggest shocker…On the cover of the DVD herein reviewed there is a bold quote by Rolling Stone proclaiming that Mail Order Wife is a "Fierce & Darkly Funny" feature. Either I am a complete idiot and I missed the point of the film by a mile or someone has a very twisted sense of humor. Or, there are simply way too many machos out there that don't see what the problem is in "owning" a tiny female toy which they could experiment with when the urge strikes them. You be the judge!!
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's Mail Order Wife looks quite good. The film was indeed shot with the intention of looking as an authentic documentary so every once in a while the lighting gets a bit off, the camera is not as steady as you would like it to be, and film contrast that you would expect from a mainstream film a little subdued. Regardless, the film looks mighty good on a large screen and I don't think that there are any significant issues that might distract your viewing experience.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with an English 5.1 track Mail Order Wife sounds very well. I was a bit concerned in the beginning that as a "documentary" this film might have its fare share of audio drop-outs. On the contrary I had absolutely not problems following the dialog. Great job!
There is a good amount of extras on this DVD that bring some additional zest to an already very curious film.
Actor/Director Commentary- Quite an exciting commentary that sheds some light on the premise and execution of the film (with director Huck Botko, Andrew Gurland, and Eugenia Yuan)
Deleted Scenes- a total of six deleted scenes.
Supporting Character Segments-
I am often skeptical when it comes down to documentaries (or pseudo-documentaries as it is the case with this film) but I have to admit that Mail Order Wife surely grabbed my attention from the very beginning. I guess there are two ways you could view this film, you could act as if this is just another awkward picture investigating the nature of fixed relationships or, you could actually sit back and ponder what has really been shown to you. Under the veil of a laidback film with a few unintentional laughs lies a very intimidating reality where to use a cliché phrase there are "haves and have-mores"...though in this case, if I may add, we get to see what I often describe as the "have-nadas".