Get local news delivered straight to your phone
We can't make City Paper without you
The basic idea of this comedy—drama, using an Asian-Anglo romance to confront ethnic stereotypes on both sides of the divide, is promising. But the subsidiary notions aren’t that smart, the execution is often clumsy, and the casting is poor—beginning with first-time writer-director Fay Ann Lee’s decision to give herself the title role. Born in New York’s Chinatown to recent-immigrant parents, young Yip Han Tang feels like an outsider even in her own ethnic enclave. She dreams of being Olivia Newton-John in Grease and renames herself after Grace Kelly. But for all her hopeless fantasies of turning blonde, Grace is also pragmatic and driven. When we meet her adult incarnation, she’s a well-paid investment banker, although she hasn’t persuaded her parents to relinquish their crummy jobs: Dad’s at a Chinese restaurant, Mom’s at a garment sweatshop. The latter gig proves relevant when Grace, through a tedious string of coincidences, meets assistant DA Andrew Barrington Jr. (Gale Harold). He’s the floppy-haired brother of a socialite who assumed that Grace is the daughter of a moneyed Hong Kong clan. Though his father is a ruthless exploiter, young Andrew wants to help the oppressed, starting with the employees of Chinatown’s sweatshops. Andrew and Grace fall in love, even though she can’t bring herself to tell him that she’s not an heiress. Neither Lee nor Harold are convincing, and the film’s best moments belong to bit players like Margaret Cho, who plays Grace’s best friend, Janie. Lee shows little sense of her own strengths and weaknesses and doesn’t understand how to finesse the limitations of a small-budget production. Instead, she actually calls attention to them, notably by staging scenes for which she can’t afford the music rights. (When Janie goes to Mamma Mia, there’s no ABBA to be heard.) But the film’s biggest problem is that Lee writes non-Chinese characters as if she’d never met any. While there are some genuine moments with Grace and her family, the movie’s whites and blacks are as one-dimensional as the Chinese in some mainstream American flicks.