SXSW 2012 Review: SEEKING ASIAN FEMALE Questions Men, Women, Cultures, and Filmmakers

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, USA (@peteramartin)
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SXSW 2012 Review: SEEKING ASIAN FEMALE Questions Men, Women, Cultures, and Filmmakers

A documentary that becomes progressively more fascinating as it develops, Seeking Asian Female digs far beyond what its cringe-inducing title might imply.

Filmmaker Debbie Lum, herself a Chinese-American woman, explains in her voice-over narration that the phenomena of Caucasian men who are attracted to Asian women purely on the basis of race is widespread, especially in California,. She decided to investigate, and the result surprised her as much as it will the audience.

She reached out to men on dating or friendship sites who specified "seeking Asian female" or similar, and thus came across Steven, a 60-year-old single man who is unusually open about his life. Fortunately, it's not for annoying, attention-hungry reasons, like so many participants on reality shows, but, more basically, because Steven has a very open personality, and appears to have no filter between what he thinks and what he says, as Lum notes.

Steven looks and sounds like the worst stereotype imaginable: a clueless Caucasian suffering from an extended bout of "yellow fever," pursuing women solely because they're Asian. He's had Asian girlfriends in the past, and is attracted to what he perceives to be their (stereotypical) qualities: humble, modest, quiet, submissive, all qualities that he thinks will make him a good wife.

Amazingly, he's made contact with a 30-year-old single woman in China named Jian-hua (AKA "Sandy") who has agreed to marry her, even though they've never met. Steven travels to China and comes home with her; she has a three-month engagement visa, during which time she must marry or return home.

Lum openly expresses her astonishment and disbelief that Sandy could possibly be genuine. She barely speaks any English, and Steven knows only a few expressions in Chinese. How could this possibly work?

It doesn't take long, however, before Lum -- working as a one-person documentary crew -- finds herself translating for Sandy, and then becoming a kind of on-call translator, and then becoming Sandy's confidante, and then becoming Steven's "marriage counselor."

Lum is aware that she is being drawn more and more onto questionable grounds as a documentary filmmaker. It's a step-by-step process, and Lum wonders how much responsibility she bears for what happens between Steven and Sandy, for good or for bad.

The fascination rests with the extremely open nature of the relationship between Steven, Sandy, and Debbie. How much rope will Lum, the filmmaker, give to Debbie, the increasingly close friend of Steven and Sandy?

However questionable, Lum's presence and closeness with her interview subjects also means that she is present for some extremely uncomfortable and intimate discussions -- OK, arguments -- between the couple, especially as the wedding day approaches. At the same time, that allows for more understanding of Steven and Sandy as individuals, especially Sandy's frustration that Steven has no knowledge of Chinese culture. The culture clash becomes more glaring when Steven's past relationship with another woman raises its ugly head.

All in all, Seeking Asian Female proves to be utterly compelling viewing, openly raising questions about men, women, love, romance, commitment, and cultures, as well as dealing with issues that are specific to documentary filmmakers. It's a funny, warm, worthwhile experience.

Seeking Asian Female enjoyed its World Premiere at SXSW. See the film's official site for more information

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SXSW - SEEKING ASIAN FEMALE - screening page

More about Seeking Asian Female

Sam ReevesMarch 16, 2012 11:41 PM

There are a huge range of professional, and dare I say 'normal' men, who just happen to find Chinese women attractive. The documentary filmmaker quite obviously chose a somewhat 'soft' target.

There are many men that seek a Chinese wife or Asian wife, and by my experience, one of the least common factors is the desire for 'subservience' and the usual stereotyping of Asian and Chinese females. The majority of western males don't even believe that stereotype is true.

That every male who is particularly attracted to Asian women (and let's face it, it's not as if men are initially attracted to personality anyway) is branded as ignorant is a somewhat sad state of affairs. The irony is western males with an Asian girlfriend or wife are then stereotyped with 'yellow fever'.

It should also be noted that the filmmaker is married to a caucasian herself.

Peter MartinMarch 17, 2012 1:27 AM

Ms. Lum noted in the post-screening Q&A that she chose Steven in large part because he was such an open personality. She interviewed a number of men, and followed some of them, but it was Steven who got a response from a Chinese woman, and so she decided to follow that story.

In the film, Ms. Lum reveals fairly early on that she is married to a Caucasian man, and says that's one of the reasons why she wanted to explore the subject. And one of the reasons that I found the film fascinating is that she questions her own assumptions and stereotypes about men who are primarily attracted to Asian women.

kungfueurotrashMarch 18, 2012 9:52 AM

Has Gareth Evans seen this yet??