By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
As reported elsewhere in the Northwest Asian Weekly, the breakout Chinese romantic comedy “Finding Mr. Right” earned a Golden Key Award from the City of Seattle. It’s also taken in more than $81 million in its native country, making it one of the biggest Chinese/Hong Kong cinematic moneymakers in recent years.
The controversial film, with its tale of a Chinese woman sent to Seattle to give birth, skirting Chinese birth-control laws, presumably sheds some light on illegal maternity centers flourishing in America that cater to such women.
Wen Jiajia (played by Wei Tang) arrives in Seattle and soon meets Frank (Xiubo Wu), a driver for the ring of clandenstine maternity centers. They’ve got the right hookup, but they arrive at their destination to find the center being busted.
Narrowly escaping the police, Frank retreats to Plan B, another center, which is operated by Huang Mali (Elaine Jin). A brisk but warm older woman, Mrs. Huang treats her not-strictly-legal boarders as her own daughters, and lovingly festoons her refrigerator with snapshots of her “grandchildren.”
Ms. Jin’s performance provides solid grounding in a scenario so flimsy at times it threatens to flip over and blow down the street.
The movie’s major problem is Wei Tang, who showed both fortitude and daring in the sexually graphic “Lust, Caution,” but here can’t seem to make the viewer believe in her character. Or maybe, to begin with, there’s nothing much to believe in.
Wen Jiajia, the mistress of a business magnate, lands in Seattle with roughly a ton of luggage, a credit card from her sugar daddy, and a shrill attitude. She’s here to give birth, but several weeks of high-end shopping couldn’t hurt, could it? She rapidly offends everyone she runs across, and her mid-movie switch to a caring, supportive person never makes sense.
Xiubo Wu does what he can to keep the enterprise running. In real life he’s 45 but could pass for 10 years younger; his role as Frank has him wearing clunky glasses and a graying beard over gleaming cheekbones. Frank has many secrets, but he’s serious about hiding them underneath his friendly, laidback front.
Wu’s an ugly duckling, not allowed to shine until it’s too late in the narrative, but unlike Tang he gives a responsive, nuanced performance, waiting for others to act, however wildly, before he reacts, somewhat subtly. An actor mostly seen on Chinese television, he’s been picked for John Woo’s upcoming epic, “The Crossing,” and seems poised to do more fine work.
Seattle settings also will lend interest to local viewers. I did not see “Seattle” in the locations listed at the movie’s end credits, but certain scenes do look quite a bit like they were filmed at the University of Washington Medical Center and (for a crucial Christmas scene) the Yuletide “Candy Cane Lane” in Seattle’s Ravenna neighborhood. Much of the filming took place in Vancouver, British Columbia, as so many Seattle-set films do. That’s especially sad because the film is clearly inspired by the 1993 movie “Sleepless In Seattle,” which used the city extensively.
Of course, “Sleepless In Seattle” was derived in large part from 1957’s “An Affair To Remember,” with all three films setting key final scenes on top of New York City’s Empire State Building.
“Finding Mr. Right” can’t, ultimately, do much with a tired plot and an unsympathetic female lead character. But watch what Wu does next, and I think you’ll be thrilled. (end)
“Finding Mr. Right” opens Friday, Nov. 8, at the AMC Pacific Place Theater, 600 Pine Street in downtown Seattle. For prices and show times, check local listings or call 1-888-262-4386.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.