Dim Sum Funeral (Anna Chi, 2008): Canada

Reviewed by Linda Schad. Viewed at the 2009 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

Upstairs in the darkened bedroom of a stately Seattle mansion, sixty-something Mrs. Xiao (Lisa Lu) lies motionless in a large lavish bed. Downstairs, her faithful caretaker, companion and possibly only friend, Viola (Talia Shire) telephones each of Mrs. Xiao’s four adult children to inform them that their mother has just passed away, leaving them only one deathbed wish–to be buried following a seven-day traditional Chinese funeral.

However, these children are angry with and long estranged from not only their strong willed, manipulative and domineering mother, but also from each other. The siblings have been pitted against one other for the affection of their mother since they were small children.

The eldest daughter, Elizabeth (Julia Nickson) lives in Maui, feels trapped in a loveless marriage, and is seeking a fresh start after the death of her child. The only son, Alexander (Russell Wong), is a successful Manhattan dermatologist and serious womanizer, who is trying to save his marriage to a beautiful, but bitchy former Miss Taiwan (Kelly Hu), who is hated and ridiculed for her affected airs. The middle daughter, Victoria (Françoise Yip) is a single mom who can’t stop stuffing food in her mouth as a means of coping with the anger she holds toward her mother. The youngest daughter, Mei Mei (Steph Song), is a beautiful but zany Hong Kong martial arts film star with a lesbian lover, Dee Dee (Bai Ling), who is actively seeking a sperm donor.

Now grown and totally westernized, none of these far-flung, emotionally distant children wants to return to their mother’s home — except perhaps for the reading of the will. After reluctantly arriving home, the four mistrustful children grudgingly agree to hang around and perform the traditional ceremony. But being completely disconnected from their Chinese roots, the children have no idea how to accomplish this task, and must learn what duties are expected of them from their white childhood nanny, Viola.

During the following seven days, the children meet many of their mother’s assembled friends, are shocked by loving stories told to them about a person they’ve never known, and finally learn things not only about their mother, but about themselves as well — often in ways one would have never expected. (Spoiler Alert: major plot twist in the final act.)

Yes, the mother in this tale is unquestionably flawed, frustratingly manipulative, and one can easily identify with her grown children’s distrust and anger. One can only imagine the emotional games that were played on these children during their formative years, and for what purpose. You need not be Chinese to identify with the characters in this film.

Dim Sum Funeral is a tale about self-discovery, love and forgiveness, and has universal appeal to anyone who has ever wondered how they ended up with the parents and/or siblings that they have.

I was surprised to learn that distribution for this film was picked up by HBO, since it appeared to be more on the order of a product for the Lifetime Channel. Nevertheless, no matter what anyone might think of the film’s storyline, production value, set design, cinematography or musical score, I’ll bet dollars to donuts that almost everybody leaving the theater will want to place a quick phone call home to their mother – just to say “Hello.”

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