We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

Success! You're on the list.

Chi Muoi Lo has an interesting story, but he hired the wrong person to tell it: himself. A Vietnamese refugee who grew up in predominantly African-American West Philadelphia, Lo wanted to address the issue of cultural identity in contemporary America. So he wrote, directed, and starred in this low-budget dramedy, about a 26-year-old Vietnamese refugee adopted two decades ago by a black couple (Mary Alice and Paul Winfield). Jive-talking bank manager Dwayne (Lo) is about to marry a nice but distant black woman (Sanaa Lathan) when his older sister (Lauren Tom) announces that she’s found their long-lost mother (Kieu Chinh); Mom’s arrival threatens Dwayne’s relationship with his adoptive parents and his fiancée while unsettling his self-image. Lo plays this scenario for both broad farce and heartwarming human drama, with occasional surrealistic asides—absolutely none of which work. Poorly written, directed, and (at least in Lo’s case) acted, Catfish in Black Bean Sauce is painful viewing. Lo throws in transvestites, medical traumas, talking cats, a cameo by comedian George Wallace, and the inevitable cross-cultural rapprochement, but nothing can distract from the movie’s fundamental ineptitude. —Mark Jenkins