Saving Face (2004 film)

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Saving Face
Saving Face film.jpg
Saving Face film poster
Directed by Alice Wu
Produced by Will Smith
James Lassiter
Teddy Zee
Written by Alice Wu
Starring Michelle Krusiec
Joan Chen
Lynn Chen
Music by Anton Sanko
Cinematography Harlan Bosmajian
Edited by Susan Graef
Sabine Hoffmann
Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics
Release dates
  • September 12, 2004 (2004-09-12)
Running time 91 minutes
Country United States
  • English
  • Mandarin
  • Shanghainese

Saving Face is a 2004 American romantic comedy drama film directed by Alice Wu. The film focuses on Wilhelmina, a young Chinese-American surgeon; her unwed, pregnant mother; and her dancer girlfriend.

The name itself is a reference to the pan-East Asian social concept of face.


Saving Face follows Wilhelmina ("Wil"), a young Chinese American surgeon, as she deals with her unwed mother's pregnancy, and the obligations of her dancer girlfriend Vivian. Wil struggles with allocating time between her mother (Gao) who is shunned by the Chinese American community of Flushing for being pregnant and unwed and thus has come to live with Wil.

Wil first meets Vivian at a party in a restaurant called Planet China, in which many Chinese friends gather. Gao convinces her to attend in the hopes of setting Wil up with the son of her friend. Wil however, is immediately attracted to Vivian instead. Wil meets Vivian again at the hospital in which Wil worked.

Meanwhile, Gao decides to move in with Wil after learning of her own pregnancy. Gao is shunned by her family due to the fact that she is unmarried with child. She was told to only come back home once she marries. Despite many questions, She refuses to reveal the father's identity.

Vivian invites Wil to one of her dance shows with a letter left on the vending machine. After the show, the two hang out. Vivian reveals the fact that they had met once before when they were 8 and 9 years old; Vivian kissed Wil on the nose after Wil rescues her from her buillies, and that Wil ran away afterwards. Vivian and Wil later goes to Vivian's house, and the two share a kiss on the floor.

The couple then goes on several dates. Wil is afraid of kissing Vivian in public. Vivian's birthday however, Wil gets held late due to a number of surgeries and attempts to redeem herself by spending the night at Vivian's house. Vivian reveals that she had informed her own mother of the relationship between them.

Meanwhile, Gao goes on several dates in order to find a man to father her child. She is uninterested in all the men she meets. She is debating on whether or not to accept the affections of Cho, one of the men whom had liked her for 15 years and is willing to father the child as his own.

Upon Vivian's wishes, Wil presents Vivian to her mother as a friend so that they can meet. The three share an awkward dinner. It is revealed that her mother knows of her homosexuality, but is in denial of it.

Later, Vivian reveals to Wil that she was accepted into a ballet program in Paris and is debating about whether or not to accept the offer. Unable to admit her feelings and be selfish, Wil congratulates Vivian and gives her encouragement to accept the offer. While Vivian still debates on the offer, Vivian's father speaks to Wil and talks her into convincing Vivian to accept the offer. Wil then ignores Vivian for the next couple of days and then breaks up with her, knowing taking the offer is best for Vivian's career.

Gao finally decides to accept the marriage proposal from Cho. At the wedding, Wil interrupts with a love note from the father of the child saying how much he loves her and want to marry her despite their large age gap. It is revealed that Wil's mother refuses to admit his identity due to the fact that he is the son of one of Wil's mother's friends, and is a generation younger than her.

After realizing that love dominates over societal expectations, Wil immediately rushes to the airport to Vivian. Wil apologizes, and Vivian challenges Wil to kiss her to prove her sincerity, despite there being other people around. Wil is still afraid and Vivian leaves and gets on the plane for Paris.

Three months after, Wil goes to another party at Planet China. Wil's mother once again does this as an attempt to set her up, but this time, the person she sets her up with is Vivian. Wil finally finds courage and kisses Vivian in front of her family friends at the centre of the dance floor.



Alice Wu, who directed the movie, wrote the script several years earlier, drawing on her own experiences "coming out."[1] In 2001, the script won the CAPE screenwriting award, which led to the production of the film. Filming began in fall 2003 on the $2.5 million project.[2]

Featuring the New York Chinese-American community, the film is in a mixture of Mandarin Chinese and English.


Saving Face premiered at the Toronto Film Festival on 12 September 2004, and made its way around the independent film circuit, screening at Sundance Film Festival, Seattle International Film Festival et al.; before going into a very limited release in the US on 27 May 2005.[3]

Box Office[edit]

Saving Face initially opened at only 6 theaters, making $75,104 (averaging $12,517/theater) in its opening weekend, and went on to gross $1,187,266 from 56 theaters in its theatrical run.[4] It grossed an additional $49,252 in the UK, for a worldwide gross of $1,236,518.[4]

Critical Reception[edit]

The critical reaction to the movie was mostly positive, with most critics praising the tender romance and the light-hearted comedy, whereas, some critics lambasted it for lack of depth and a "soap opera-like" ending.

Stephen Holden of the New York Times,[5] Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe,[6] Ed Park of Village Voice,[7] among others, gave positive reviews, with Holden in particular calling it an 'amiable' romance spanning three generations of Chinese-Americans.[5]

Jonathan Rosenbaum of Chicago Reader, was notably critical of the film,[8] especially the latter half, describing it as collapsing into "nonsense".[8]

It currently holds a rating of 86% at Rotten Tomatoes giving making it certified "Fresh",[9] and 65% at Metacritic.[10]


Saving Face was nominated for the Breakthrough Director Award at the 2005 Gotham Awards,[11] the Viewer's Choice Award and the Best Actress Award for Michelle Krusiec at the 2005 Golden Horse Film Festival,[11] and the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Film in Limited Release at the 2006 GLAAD Media Awards.[11] Out of these, it won the Viewer's Choice Award at the 2005 Golden Horse Film Festival.[11]


  1. ^ Johnson, G. Allen (June 6, 2005). "Alice Wu saved up her own doubts and struggles and turned them into the new comedy 'Saving Face'". San Francisco Chronicle. 
  2. ^ Leibowitz, Ed (May 29, 2005). "Kissing Vivian Shing". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-07-06. 
  3. ^ "Saving Face (2004)- Release dates". IMDB. Retrieved 2009-07-17. 
  4. ^ a b "Saving Face (2005)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2009-07-17. 
  5. ^ a b Holden, Stephen (27 May 2005). "Juggling Her Chinese Clan, Gay Lover, Pregnant Mom". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 July 2009. 
  6. ^ Morris, Wesley (10 June 2005). "Supporting cast's vibrancy saves 'Face'". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 17 July 2009. 
  7. ^ Park, Ed (17 May 2005). "Film". Village Voice. p. 1. Retrieved 17 July 2009. 
  8. ^ a b Rosenbaum, Jonathan (9 February 2007). "Saving Face". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 17 July 2009. 
  9. ^ "Saving Face". Rotten Tomatoes. IGN. Retrieved 17 July 2009. 
  10. ^ "Saving Face". Metacritic. Retrieved 17 July 2009. 
  11. ^ a b c d "Saving Face (2004)- Awards". IMDB. Retrieved 17 July 2009. 

External links[edit]