“Saving Face” – A Chinese love story!
Meet Wil, a very promising surgeon doing her residency in New York, who is consequently at the beck and call of her pager. She’s stressed to the point of being terribly uptight, stiff, and left with little spare time to herself.
Meet Vivian, a very promising ballerina waiting to find out if she’s been accepted to the Paris Opera Ballet Corps, but enjoying (and preferring) her sabbatical as a modern dancer. She’s a complex girl who knows what she wants, even if it’s often difficult for her to acquire.
Wil lives by herself in New York, in a small apartment, running like crazy across town in order to answer her constantly wailing pager. For the most part, she seems to live a life of solitude, interacting only with her neighbor and her co-workers.
However, every Friday her mom, Hwei Lan, nags her into going back home to Flushing to attend the weekly Chinese dance parties: Wil might be a lesbian, but that’s not stopping Hwei Lan from trying to find her a husband.
The other person she seems to regularly interact with is Little Yu, who works for the subway. He’s the son of Old Yu, who’s a fortune teller and sells herbs. So, every week on the way back from Flushing, Little Yu hands Wil a packet of Old Yu’s herbs that are meant to help improve her chi so that she can settle down and get married.
One night on the way home from work, Wil gets a sudden surprise:
Now, Wil’s mom is a widow, and lives with her mother and father in Flushing. Although she works at a beauty salon, and although she’s 48, she’s seemingly dependent on her parents, and mostly controlled by her father. To see her outside of Flushing, just hanging out on the stoop… Well, it gives Wil a cause for concern.
…Particularly since she’s brought a ton of things with her and proceeds to plant herself on Wil’s bed, cranks up some Chinese music, and absolutely refuses to explain why she’s there.
Luckily, Wil’s grandma calls and explains the situation. Well… Sort of luckily…
Meanwhile, Wil’s met Vivian, and although Wil’s too uptight and tense to make a move on the ballerina, the ballerina has no qualms whatsoever about pursuing the surgeon. After a bit of creative handiwork, Vivian manages to lure Wil into a date. (Which Wil sneaks off to, completely mortified to mention any hint of having a private life to her mom. Particularly a romantic private life.)
Hwei Lan’s starting to learn what independence is like, but it comes at the price of her daughter’s own freedom. She’s somewhat trapped in the apartment because she’s been banished from Flushing, and that means she’s always around when Wil comes home. And since Wil’s uptight and private, it means that her blossoming relationship with Vivian is kept very, very, very secret.
Vivian’s relationship with her own mom is significantly different, however:
Anyway, Vivian’s hinting that she wants more than a secret romance, which puts Wil on edge. …And she’s already on edge anyway, because she’s got a pregnant mother at home who doesn’t get out enough, and refuses to confess who the baby daddy is.
So under the pressure of needing to get her mom out of her hair, she decides to set Hwei Lan up on a series of dates.
Wil’s grandfather is also concerned about the situation. Yes, he’s banished his daughter from home, but that doesn’t mean it has to be permanent: all she has to do is get married before the baby comes, and all will be forgiven.
Meanwhile, Vivian’s really pushing now to be more open about her relationship with Wil:
Hwei Lan’s romantic life has also gotten complicated. She’s agreed to date Cho – the man her father had selected for her – but while he’s nice, there’s just no spark for her. …However, there’s definitely a spark for Cho.
And just when it looks like her mom might be giving in to marrying Cho, thus freeing Wil’s private life back up, Vivian finds out she’s been accepted to the Paris Opera Ballet Corps.
To make matters even more complex, Wil’s grandmother suddenly gets sick and lands herself in the hospital.
The pressure of having her grandmother in the hospital, watching her mother seemingly forcing herself to date Cho, and the extra weight of having her boss “encouraging” her to push Vivian into accepting the contract with the Paris Ballet (Vivian’s been delaying the decision because she wants to stay in New York and do modern dance – and she wants to stay in New York and do Wil) finally shoves Wil into a stupor, and she just shuts down for a few days.
Wil finds herself heartbroken and at the edge of her own sanity. She finally decides it’s time to have the talk with her mother that they’ve both been pushing off for years:
But before the conversation can go any further, they get a call: Wil’s grandmother has died. They rush to the hospital…
Hwei Lan makes a snap decision to marry Cho after all, and the ceremony is scheduled almost immediately. Wil isn’t invited because her mother isn’t speaking to her. And, to top it off, the day of the wedding is also the day of Vivian’s departure to Paris. Wil finds herself completely alone on the eve of two major events.
Wil takes the package back to her empty apartment, only to realize it’s fallen open and spilled stinky herbs into her backpack. But, amongst the mess, she also finds a letter addressed to Hwei Lan:
So what does Hwei Lan do? Does she confirm or deny Wil’s suspicions? Does she save face and marry Cho? Does she hook up with the baby daddy? Does she make peace with Wil? Does she go back to Flushing? …I won’t give away this plot point! You’ll have to find out on your own!
Meanwhile, though, Wil’s been inspired to go after Vivian, and catches her just before she boards the plane to Paris.
So! Does Wil win Vivian back? Do they live happily ever after in New York? Does Wil remain alone? Is she ever pressured into getting married to a proper Chinese boy to save face? Does Vivian get to pursue her dream of doing modern dance? Or does she give in to her father’s dream of her being a ballerina in Paris? Does Wil ever relax?
All I’ll give you is this hint about the conclusion of this delightfully sweet, sad, hysterical, and dramatic movie…
Here you go: