In 10 Words or Less
Little is going right for the Wongs
Loves: Good indie films
Likes: Screwed-up families, dramedies, Asian-American films
Dislikes: Films built on cultural cliches
Hates: The cool kids, lesbian chic
There's something about films about Asian-American families that appeals
to me. It might be the importance placed on tradition, the mostly
positive view of family or the exotic beauty of Asian women, but I've
had little trouble getting into movies like The Joy Luck Club. Red Doors
is another entry into this genre, and a quality one at that.
The story of the Wongs starts near the end, as Ed, the family's
patriarch, retires from his job. As he spends his newly-found free time
converting old home videos to DVD, he falls into depression, realizing
his three daughters are no longer his little girls. As he turns into a
Chinese Lane Myers, we meet the reason for his sadness: Sam, Julie and
Sam, the oldest daughter, is a successful, engaged businesswoman, but
happiness eludes her, both in her personal life and work. Julie, the
middle child, is a successful medical student, but she doesn't have a personal
life, outside of her dance lessons. The little sister, Katie, is the
rebellious one, into hip-hop dancing and a prank war with a cute boy at
school. Though they are all doing relatively well in life, things could
certainly be better. Thus, they are all straining against expectations,
and looking for happiness.
The story unfolds in bits and pieces as we pop in and out of the four
Wongs' lives (Mom doesn't get much notice), which results in quite a bit
of momentum, despite something of a lack of plot progression. Director
Georgia Lee does an excellent job of keeping all her parts in order as
their lives spin out of control, making the film into a kinetic and
emotional affair that avoids slipping into melodrama until its too late
to pull out. And though none of the actors stood out for any reason,
good or bad (except maybe the adorable Kathy Shao-Lin Lee as Katie), the
film's acting has a solid feel overall, matching the look and pacing.
In an interesting choice, the home movies that set off Ed's troubles are actual home movies of the director and her family, which lends the film a definite sense of authenticity.
If there's anything I would complain about, it's the father's character.
Played for dark laughter early on, he's essentially pushed to the
background, and brought back without much of a resolution, despite
delivering what's probably the best and most touching moment with a
subtle change of expression.
A one-disc release, Red Doors is packaged in a clear single-width
keepcase. The disc features a stylish, well-designed animated anamorphic
widescreen main menu, with options to watch the film, select scenes and check out the extras. There are no audio options, no subtitles and no closed captioning.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer on this film, is good, but not great, with very lush, vivid color and a high level of detail. Holding it back is a somewhat soft image in spots, blacks that lean more toward grey and an excessive amount of edge enhancement, as well as some noticeable grain, dirt and minor digital artifacts in spots.
The audio is presented as a Dolby Digital 2.0 track that's good enough for a dialogue-heavy film like this, but which also does a nice job with the music, keeping everything nice and cleanly separated. There's nothing dynamic to test your system with.
The extras are pretty plentiful here, starting with a feature-length audio commentary with Lee, actress/producer Mia Riverton and producer Jane Chen. It's a very chatty track, as the three women discuss the story, comparisons with Lee's life and how the film was made on a shoestring budget, including one tale that Best Buy will not be happy to hear. It's exactly what you'd want from an indie film commentary, a blend of how-to and reminiscing. It's followed by a nine-minute making-offeaturette , "Behind Red Doors," which mixes interviews, on-set footage and a Q&A session to show more of the kinds of info heard in the commentary, including a look at the film'sTribeca Film Festival glory.
One of Lee's short films, the 11-minute "Educated" is also found on this disc. If you expect more of the same, you'll be surprised, as this stylish head-trip is more of an experimental look at the pressures placed upon students by Asian cultures. The dog leashes are a nice touch, and the inclusion of this film is as well.
The rest of the package is of the promotional variety, including the film's theatrical trailer, presented in letterboxed widerscreen, a photo gallery and other trailers.
The Bottom Line
What looked like a chick flick at first has surprised by being a very
solid story of love, loss and family, directed with style and a welcome
lack of flash. The DVD looks and sounds good and
features a healthy spread of extras. If you enjoy a well-rounded family
story with an ethnic angle, this is a good pick-up.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.