Ever since legendary Japanese filmmaker Yasjuiro Ozu died in 1963, there has been an array of cinematic stories he left behind, remade by modern filmmakers who have been immensely influenced by his seminal oeuvre. However, only a few of have actually passed this test. Versatile Asian American director Wayne Wang is definitely one of them.
After he making indie history with his 1982 classic Chan Is Missing, he made a follow-up in 1985, one that also depicts the lives of Asian Americans in San Francisco’s Chinatown, but in a more low-key way. Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart captures beautifully the highs and lows of the bonds between parents and their children.
Laureen Chew plays Geraldine Tam, a thirty-something woman who still lives with her mother, widower Mrs. Tam (Chew’s real-life mom Kim), after all her siblings have moved out. Mrs. Tam is more traditional like most other moms of a certain generation, while Geraldine is more of the times, like other people her age who also grew up in multigenerational families. After Mrs. Tam sees a fortuneteller, she’s convinced that’s she’s going to die during the year. So, she not only wants to visit China to pay her respects but also wants Geraldine to get married. Although she has a boyfriend, Geraldine is reluctant to marry him, fearing that Mrs. Tam will be alone after she leaves home.
There is much comedy in this film, but it never shies away from the sadness of reality, where parents have come to terms with their mortality, with their children having to deal with not only losing them, but also facing independence for the first time.
The film doesn’t have a big plot, but that’s a good thing. A heavy story would have ruined the naturalism and chemistry between the actors. It feels like we’re witnessing real life here, meaning everyone feels genuine and real, to the point where it’s like they’re basically playing themselves.
It’s the type of film that can’t be made now because it’s too human and realistic and unfortunately not something that would be taken seriously by film buffs today. They would think that it’s too boring. I didn’t; I was very moved by it, and I actually laughed at many parts when it was warranted. I think it’s a great film, one that gets generational conflict and familial understanding quite right. The food in it looks pretty good too.
The Criterion edition is a director’s cut of the film with previously unseen footage and has supplements such as a new conversation between Wang and film scholar Arthur Dong, and a 2004 interview Chew (Laureen). There’s also a great new essay by scholar Brian Hu.