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Film Review

By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

 

Catfish in Black Bean Sauce
Directed by Chi Muoi Lo
Iron Hill 08/00 DVD/VHS Feature Film
PG-13 - brief strong language and sexual content

Dwayne (Chi Muoi Lo) and his older sister Mai (Lauren Tom) are Vietnamese refugees who have been adopted and raised by an African American couple, Harold (Paul Winfield) and Dolores (Mary Alice). At 26, he is a manager at a bank in a black neighborhood. Suddenly, when he least expects it, everything seems to close in on Dwayne. Or to use another expression: When it rains, it pours.

Mai has located their long-lost birth mother, Thanh (Kieu Chinh), and has arranged to bring her from Vietnam to live with her and her husband Vinh (Tzi Ma). But instead Thanh decides to camp out at Dwayne's. This forces him to try to come to terms with his Vietnamese heritage.

Meanwhile Dwayne has just proposed to his African American girlfriend Nina (Sanaa Lathan) but feels that she may be too much for him to handle. His adoptive family adores Nina, but his birth mother is pressuring him to meet some Asian American women. If things weren't complicated enough, Dwayne's roommate Michael (Tyler Christopher) is dating a Chinese girl named Samantha (Wing Chen) who is really a transvestite. And at work, an angry African American is picketing outside the bank.

This very funny comedy written and directed by Chi Muoi Lo convincingly conveys the tipsy cross-cultural tensions between various ethnic groups in Los Angeles — a city where 40 percent of its residents are foreign born. Right now California receives half of all America's immigrants. This bold film is one of the first to try to deal with the complications of molding a fusion culture comprised of so many disparate elements. Dwayne and his extended family are challenged to come to terms with a diversity that not only includes races but different lifestyles as well.

Comedy is the best way to deal with all of this, and Chi Muoi Lo is a master of insightful little moments. Check out the talking cat, the dire impact a bottle of Vietnamese sauce has upon a celebratory meal, the phony smiles of an Asian immigrant officer while talking to a cop, Dwayne's propensity to slip into hip-hop jargon, and the clever use of several fantasy sequences. Although Catfish in Black Bean Sauce (don't you just love the title?) occasionally goes over the top, it is a timely and uniquely creative comedy.

 

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Reviews and database copyright 1970 2012
by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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