DisOrient 2013 Seeking Asian Female
SEEKING ASIAN FEMALE (2012) 84 min. USA
Feature Documentary Directed by Debbie Lum
Steven, a 60-year-old white man from Burlingame, California, fantasizes about marrying a traditional Chinese woman. Broke, and twice-divorced, his ten-year search has led him from mail order catalogues to online dating sites where Western men meet Asian women. I am a 4th-generation Chinese American woman, and when I started documenting Steven's fetish for young Asian women, I never expected to capture a love story.
Then one day, Jianhua or Sandy, a young woman from Anhui, China, says yes to Steven's emailed marriage proposal. Taking the first flight of her life, Sandy arrives at San Francisco Airport. She's sweet, and he's aglow but I'm afraid this is a disaster in the making. She's 30. He's 65. She speaks Chinese. He speaks English. They barely know each other, but intend to marry before Sandy's 90-day fiancée visa expires.
Over the next three months, I film them build a marriage from scratch. Sandy gives Steven's cramped bachelor pad a Chinese makeover, while Steven works his night job as a garage attendant. She takes her first bus ride in a foreign land to deliver home-cooked spicy noodles to him. To my disbelief, their budding relationship evokes a quaint 1950's marriage with a cross-cultural twist. Although they can't communicate without the aid of Google Translator, they have "chemistry," and Sandy appears to be everything that Steven dreamt of.
The honeymoon period ends abruptly when Sandy uncovers disturbing clues to Steven's past including letters, mementos and thousands of photos of Asian female "pen pals" meticulously filed in his computer. Unable to fight in two different languages, they turn to me with my college-level Mandarin. I resist the urge to put Sandy on the next flight to China, and translate her ultimatum: either he leaves behind his old fantasies, or she will leave him.
Compromise one of the fundamentals of a lasting marriage comes slowly, especially for this 65-year-old man. During their first 90 days Steven and Sandy encounter a year's worth of newlywed challenges, from financial woes, to cultural isolation, family conflict, and personal hygiene. I expect each new issue to be a deal-breaker, but the two soldier on, determined to get married, and constantly call me in for help. The more I film, the more my role morphs from observer to translator to marriage counselor.
Over the course of another year, I film the dramatic ups and downs of courtship, wedding, separation, and reconciliation. My skepticism about Steven and Sandy's intentions for marriage fades away as I witness the two working hard to make it last. Sandy's fiery personality emerges as she learns English, and she demands to be head of the household. America may not be what she originally expected, but remarkably she chooses Stevenwarts and all. More remarkably through his young wife's guidance Steven changes.
By their one-year anniversary, Steven's obsession with any Chinese woman has become a deep commitment to one. Their marriage is an odd union with all its joys and all its flaws.
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