Wayne Wang

(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
7.1 Chan Is Missing (1982)
6.0 Dim Sum (1985)
5.0 Slam Dance (1987)
6.0 Eat a Bowl of Tea (1989)
5.0 Life Is Cheap But Toilet Paper Is Expensive (1989)
6.0 Joy Luck Club (1993)
6.8 Smoke (1995)
5.0 Blue In The Face (1995)
6.2 Chinese Box (1997)
6.0 Anywhere But Here (1999)
6.5 The Center Of The World (2001)
4.5 Maid in Manhattan (2002)
4.0 Last Holiday (2006)
6.0 The Princess of Nebraska (2007)
6.5 A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (2007)
5.0 Because of Winn-Dixie (2005)
6.0 Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2011)
5.0 While the Women Are Sleeping (2016)
5.0 Coming Home Again (2019)

Wayne Wang, born in Hong Kong in 1949, moved to the USA when he was a teenager and studied film in the Bay Area, debuting with Chan Is Missing (1982).

Dim Sum (1985)

Slam Dance (1987)

Eat a Bowl of Tea (1989) is an adaptation of Louis Chu's 1961 novel, and is very traditional by Wang's standards. Unfortunately the intriguing premise (the bachelor society created by the discriminating immigration law) is given only one passing scene. Ben's impotence is a metaphor for the sexual impotence of a society of bachelors. Wang tries to mix comedy and tragedy, but it works only erratically.

After World War II a wealthy male Chinese immigrant to the USA, Wah, who was forced by the immigration law to leave his wife behind, has a handsome son, Ben, who just returned from the war and is busy romancing girls in night-clubs. The son's mother writes from China that it's time to find a wife for him. His father reluctantly agrees to send his son back to the village, after having talked to his friend Lee, who is from the same village and has a girl. Ben is welcomed by a crowd of curious neighbors, who mainly study how handsome and healthy he is. His mother is so happy to see her son after so many years that she can't even find the strenth to hug him. She has already appointed an aunt to find an appropriate wife. The messenger from the family of the girl comes to check out the boy. After giving his mother the presents that his father sent her, including a photograph of him that makes his mother sad because it shows how old the man has become, Ben is introduced to the girl, Mei Oi, at a restaurant. The whole town is watching the event from a distance. Later his mother sadly mentions that she cannot give him any advice about marriage because she has lived all her life like a widow. A wise old woman compares the horoscopes of the girl and boy and pronounces them compatible. Now it's just a matter of choosing a date. The girl is dreaming of going to the USA and of reuniting with her father, who left the village before she was born. The wedding is celebrated, and the couple moves to the USA. They are again the center of attention because a young Chinese woman is a rarity and they are the first Chinese couple in several generations. Wah introduces his boy's wife to the community of Chinese immigrants with a huge party. Then the married life begins, and it's not happy: Ben neglects her because of his work, and Ben seems to be impotent because of the pressure to have a baby ("I feel like everyone is watching us"). The doctor advises them to take a vacation, and sure enough Ben performs his sexual duties with no problem. It's only at home that he has problems. One day a former (Caucasian) girlfriend of his shows up at his apartment, not knowing that he's married now. Mei is ashamed. She buys two tickets to go out of town, but Ben cannot leave work. Disappointed and frustrated, she tears up the tickets. A friend of the family, who calls himself "uncle Ah", sees her crying and eventually seduces her. The "uncle" does perform his sexual duties: she is ashamed but not too much. When Ben buys her a tv set to keep her company, she tries to explain to him that a machine is not the same as a husband, tears rolling down her cheeks. One day she announces that she's pregnant. Ben is puzzled because the last (only?) time they had sex was too far back in time. Ben's father is thrilled and starts celebrating publicly. But one day someone sees Ah kiss Mei, and the rumor spreads quickly in the tighly-knit community. Ben's father is humiliated and almost kills his son. In the meantime the USA and China have entered war in the Korean peninsula.
Ben decides to move and a friend of the family finds him a job in a factory. In the new town their marriage goes from bad to worse. They not only argue but they start hitting each other. They decide to divorce.
One night Ben's father follows Ah, who is entering Ben's old apartment thinking that Mei is alone, grabs an axe and tries to cut his head off, but only manages to cut a ear. The Chinese community believes that Ben did it. When she hears the news, Mei faints to the floor. Ben is arrested for attempted murder, but then released.
Despite his age, Ben's father decides to leave town and start a new life, and so does Mei's father. Both cannot stand the humiliation anymore.
Ben and Mei meet again, and decide to start a new life too in another city.

Life Is Cheap But Toilet Paper Is Expensive (1989)

Joy Luck Club (1993) is a film about Chinese women who emigrated to the USA, and two generations of them: the generation that was born and raised in China, and the generation that was born and raise in the USA.

A woman immigrant (not shown) swears to have a daughter in the USA who will be respected like she was not in China. Years later her daughter June is a nice teenager but her mother has just died. She joins the Joy Luck Club that her mother started with other Chinese women, all of which are June's "aunts". She takes her mother's place when they place mahjong. June remembers how her mother wanted her to become the greatest piano player. The mothers were very competitive about their children. Her mom had been married before in China and had abandoned the twins from her first marriage during the chaos of the civil war. June knows very little about it. Now the aunts tell her that the twins have been found and are looking forward to meet with her. But her aunts hide something from her. One of the aunts remembers how she herself as a baby was given away by her own mother . She was promised as a child to the son of a wealthy women. When her family moved south, she, a teenager, became the wife of a man she had never met. It turned out to be a child, and an arrogant one. Her stiff mother-in-law demanded grandchildren, but the child was terrified by his wife's nudity. She got out of the unhappy marriage by concocting a colossal lie. Her daughter in the USA, Waverley, became a chess champion, even making the front page of national magazines, but Waverley rebelled against her mom's obsession with showing her off. When one day Waverley decided to go back to playing chess, her mom predicted that she would not be capable, and in fact the girl never became what she used to be again. She had become a loser. She married a Chinese boy to make her mom happy and give her a grandchild, but then divorced him and went to live with a Caucasian man. The mother feels that the daughter is ashamed of her, while the daughter feels that the mother will never be pleased no matter what. At the wedding party they finally become friends. These were all mothers who tortured their children to make them perfect. Another "aunt" at the wedding remembers how, still a teenager, she married a handsome man who turned out to be a cruel playboy who cheated on her and even treated her like a servant in front of his lovers. She went crazy with jealousy and one day drowned their child, the only way that she could get back to her husband. In the USA she remarried and had a daughter, Lena, who grew up scared of her mom's sudden spell during which she seemed to lose her mind. Her mother was always anxious about her daughter's future, and can sense that Lena's wedding to her boss is not going well. The man is stingy and insensitive: he makes her pay for everything even though he earns seven times more. Lena pretends to be happy in front of her mother, but her mother senses the truth and has nightmares of her own unhappy marriage. Back to the wedding party everybody looks so happy and everything so perfect: one big family. The fourth aunt didn't even remember her mother for many years because her mother was expelled from the family when the child was just four years old. She ran away with a rich man who had already a few wives. One day her mom came back, a beautiful elegant lady, to visit her dying mother, begging to be forgiven even by cutting a piece of her own flesh as a sign of love. The child decided to follow her mother into the rich house. Now that child is a grandmother in the USA whose daughter Rose is married to the heir of a very rich family. The groom's mother had opposed the marriage flatly telling Rose that she was not good enough for them, but the boy had married her anyway. Rose however had to give up her life to become a full-time wife of a rich and successful businessman who has little time for her. In the end this marriage is failing too: he grew tired of her loyal and servile manners and asked for a divorce. Rose's mother remembers how humiliated she felt when she realized how her mother (the fourth wife) was treated in the rich house. Her mother had actually been raped by the wealthy man, but nobody believed her at the time. The son she had from that man was given to the more powerful second wife, to become the official heir of the family, while she was simply used for sex every now and then. The unhappy woman committed suicide. Her daughter, Rose's mother, felt that it was a way to make her strong. Now she wants to make her daughter strong too. Roswe thus funds the strength to stand up to her powerful husband for the first time. Back to the first girl, June, who's mother just died, who remembers how she always disappointed her mother. June was never as smart as Waverley, but her mother realized that June had the best heart of them all. They all get together to wish June a nice trip to China, where she will finally meet her sisters, the twins that her mother left behind. What the aunts didn't tell her is that the twins believe the mom to be still alive. It will be up to her to tell them that their mother died. June's father finally tells June how her mother escaped the civil war in the absolute chaos of the city carrying her two babies in a wheelbarrow until she collapsed of fever and exhaustion. June travels to China, meets her two sisters and tells them that their mother died.
If English is your first language and you could translate my old Italian text, please contact me.

Smoke (1995), scritto da Paul Auster:

I protagonisti sono il padrone di un piccolo negozio di quartiere, che passa il tempo a chiacchierare con gli avventori e a rincorrere ladruncoli, e uno scrittore, che e` quasi sempre soprapensiero. Lo scrittore parla metaforicamente del peso del fumo.
Il negoziante racconta come la moglie dello scrittore venne uccisa da una pallottola uscendo dal suo negozio. Lo scrittore viene salvato da un ragazzo: un camion stava per investirlo. In cambio gli offre ospitalita` nel suo appartamento.
Il negoziante rivela allo scrittore il suo hobby segreto: prendere fotografie dell'angolo di mondo in cui vive. Per lo scrittore quelle fotografie sono tutte identiche, ma in realta` ogni fotografia e` diversa in qualche dettaglio.
Il giovane nero, Rashid, nasconde un pacchetto in uno scaffale, poi scompare. La zia viene a cercarlo: tutto cio` che il ragazzo ha raccontato allo scrittore e` falso. Rashid, appreso che suo padre e` vivo, e` andato a spiare come vive. L'uomo, che ha perso un braccio, si barcamena come meccanico. Dapprima il meccanico e` irritato dalle attenzioni del ragazzo, ma poi il ragazzo riesce a farsi accettare e si mette a risistemare il suo garage.
Intanto una bionda con un solo occhio va a chiedere aiuto al negoziante: gli rivela di aver avuto da lui una figlia, che adesso e` scappata da casa, e` incinta e vive con un gangster. Il negoziante non le crede: non e` la prima volta che lei gli chiede soldi.
Il ragazzo torna dallo scrittore a regalargli un televisore. Lo scrittore gli fa confessare il suo problema: ha assistito a una rapina e riconosciuto il rapinatore, e adesso teme per la sua vita.
La bionda porta nogoziante a incontrare la ragazza, una drogata volgare e violenta che disprezza la madre e si diverte a umiliare il presunto padre. Le dice di aver abortito, di essere fiera del suo uomo, e di non aver bisogno di loro.
Lo scrittore e Rashid invitano la commessa di una libreria a festeggiare il compleanno del ragazzo con loro. Al club incontrano il negoziante, che offre un posto a Rashid. Lo scrittore trova, pero`, il pacchetto nascosto fra i suoi libri: e` pieno di banconote. Rashid confessa che prese il bottino della rapina al volo e scappo`.
Il negoziante assume Rashid, ma Rashid combina un guaio che lo rovina. Pur di conservare il posto, il ragazzo gli regala tutto il denaro della rapina. La notte i gangster irrompono in casa dello scrittore e reclamano il bottino. Rashid li vede dalla finestra e chiama la polizia. Poi scompare di nuovo.
Il negoziante a sua volta da` i soldi alla bionda. Rashid sta dipingendo il garage del meccanico quando lo scrittore e negoziante vanno a trovarlo e lo costringono a confessare al meccanico di essere suo figlio. Il meccanico e` sconvolto.
Il negoziante racconta allo scrittore una storia di Natale che lo scrittore poco dopo trascrive.
Mentre scorrono i titoli di chiusura si vede la storia del negoziante: insegui` un ladruncolo a cui cadde un portafoglio; decise di restituirlo e , il giorno di Natale, si reco` all'indirizzo; lo accolse un'anziana cieca, che lo scambio` per il nipote; lui finse di esserlo e ceno` con lei; poi le lascio` un portafoglio e le rubo` una macchina fotografica, quella con cui inizio` il suo hobby.
L'ambientazione realista ricorda i film di Chayeksky, ma senza la sua umanita`. La sceneggiatura e` grottesca (per esempio, nessuno pensa a restituire il denaro al legittimo proprietario), zeppa di "storie" lunghe, inutili e banali, troppo parlata (personaggi che muoiono dalla voglia di raccontare "storie"). Tutti fumano, e non e` il massimo del simbolismo.

Blue In The Face (1995)

Chinese Box (1997) is a melodrama that examines the transition of Hong Kong from British colony to Chinese rule. It has a zen-like quality: slow, intense, self-analyzing, moving.

John (the narrating voice) is a British photojournalist who is upset by the forthcoming political change. He is in love with Vivian, the owner of a nightclub. John and Vivian witness the suicide of a student activitist at a New Year's party, to protest the loss of freedom. To make things even more depressing, John learns that he is dying of cancer: he has only a few months to live. As he walks around Hong Kong and films the daily life of the city, John meets a mysterious woman, Jean. He is fascinated by her free and unorthodox life style and her defiant attitude, but she refuses to talk to him. John's relationship with Vivian is also ending badly, as she considers marrying a rich Chinese businessman.
Jean accepts to do the interview (for a huge sum of money). John films her obsessively as she tells her story. She is homeless and broke, and makes a living in the streets, selling anything that sells. Her face is horribly disfigured. When she was still a teenager, she attempted suicide because of an English boyfriend.
The two stories alternate. On one hand, John is still after Vivian, whose disturbing past (she used to be a prostitute) is jeopardizing her chances to become a respectable housewife, while on the other hand he is continuing the "interview" with Jean, which is really a way to date someone without any obligation. His body is getting weaker and weaker, subject to more and more frequent spells of dizziness.
Vivian sleeps with him one more time. John watches on tv the celebrations for the official turnover of Hong Kong to the Chinese. Then he dies, watching the skyline of the city, his camera zooming on his own face.
The film is overtly metaphoric (the Englishman is dying just like the British Empire, the old Chinese woman is a former prostitute during the British rule bound for a respectable life in the Chinese state, the young Chinese woman has become tough after being dumped by an Englishman).
The film feels mostly improvised, as the camera rolls casually and the protagonist adds his thoughts to the events.

Anywhere But Here (1999)

The Center Of The World (2001)

Maid in Manhattan (2002)

Last Holiday (2006)

The Princess of Nebraska (2007)

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (2007)

Because of Winn-Dixie (2005)

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2011)

While the Women Are Sleeping (2016)

Coming Home Again (2019)