AFI Movie Club: SAVING FACE – American Film Institute
Saving Face Film Still - Michelle Krusiec and Lynn Chen



SAVING FACE, directed by Alice Wu and starring Michelle Krusiec (DWW Class of 2021) and Joan Chen, follows Wilhelmina “Wil” Pang, a gay Chinese-American doctor whose life is upended when she finds herself juggling her unwed, pregnant mother unexpectedly moving in with her and a burgeoning relationship with a ballet dancer (Lynn Chen).

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Movie Trivia about SAVING FACE

DID YOU KNOW? Director Alice Wu was initially a program manager at Microsoft with a background in computer science. She was thinking about writing her first novel, but after writing a two-page treatment, decided it would make a better film. SAVING FACE is her feature film debut.

DID YOU KNOW? Alice Wu gave herself five years to get the film made. She quit her high-paying tech job, moved to New York, picked up film editing and made SAVING FACE herself—with a few months to spare before her self-imposed deadline.

DID YOU KNOW? SAVING FACE was originally inspired by writer/director Alice Wu’s experience as a gay woman relating to her mother. Wu said, “As I was writing the story, I wanted to say something to my mom, because she’d been treating her life as if the most important things all had to do with me. Like anything she hoped for, she hoped for me. And I thought, she’s only 48, that’s too young to feel that way!” She also wanted her mom to know that it’s never too late to fall in love for the first time.

DID YOU KNOW? The script for SAVING FACE won the CAPE (Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment) Screenwriting Award, which led to it being produced by Teddy Zee, one of Hollywood’s most highly placed Asian American producers, and star Will Smith at Overbrook Entertainment.

DID YOU KNOW? Alice Wu auditioned some 1,000 actors for the 35 speaking parts in her film. For budgetary reasons, most of the cast had to be based in New York. However, the two lead parts went to Michelle Krusiec in her first starring role and Joan Chen who were both based on the west coast.

DID YOU KNOW? Not all of the leads spoke Mandarin. While Joan Chen did, lead actress Michelle Krusiec didn’t, but she listened to recordings of her Mandarin lines and she flew to Taiwan twice to do immersion courses.

DID YOU KNOW? There’s a pan shot of both Wayne Wang’s THE JOY LUCK CLUB and Bertolucci’s THE LAST EMPIRE when Hwei-Lan Gao is in the movie store – the latter of which ironically also starred Joan Chen. According to Alice Wu, it was a “commentary on what most people know about Asian film, most people can name like five Asian films if that. The reality is your choices are that or RUSH HOUR 2. It was a little bit of a joke.”

DID YOU KNOW? Michelle Krusiec is the only Asian American to receive a nomination for Best Actress for the Golden Horse Award – Taiwan’s top film award. It was for SAVING FACE, which won the 2005 Golden Horse Audience Choice Award. Most recently, Krusiec played Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American Hollywood movie star, in the Netflix miniseries HOLLYWOOD. She is also a member of AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women, Class of 2021.

DID YOU KNOW? Fifteen years after making SAVING FACE, Alice Wu returned to make her second film THE HALF OF IT, a heartfelt story about an introverted Chinese American teenaged girl who helps a boy woo a fellow classmate, only to follow in love with her too.

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The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your responses in the comment section below.

-What is the main source of tension between Wil and her mother? Why does Wil find it difficult to be herself?

-How is SAVING FACE unconventional in its depiction of a Chinese American gay woman?

-How does she depict Flushing in the film? How is SAVING FACE a love letter to New York City?

-How does the film set up a dichotomy between traditional and unconventional in terms of Wil and Vivian’s sexuality and professions? How does Vivian’s struggle between ballet and modern dance amplifies this?

-How does the film set up a contrast between Wil’s and Vivian’s mothers and how they react to their daughters being gay?

– How does Ma evolve throughout the film? How does her own predicament as an older, unwed pregnant woman help her to empathize with her daughter’s struggle as a gay woman in a very traditional community?

-How does the film tackle racism between minorities when it comes to Wil’s neighbor? Why are these scenes an important part of the film and add nuance and complexity?

-What do you find remarkable about the ending in terms of how Wil’s relationship with Vivian works out? How does it deviate from a lot of stereotypical stories about lesbian women in Hollywood?

-How would you rate SAVING FACE?
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