Review of “Red Doors”

Red doors are said to bring good luck, although the new film of that name has had the misfortune of debuting in the shadow of another one featuring Asian-American lesbians, Saving Face. Worthy though it is of the attention it’s been receiving, Saving Face has been stealing the spotlight since landing theatrical distribution.

Meanwhile, Red Doors has been quietly dazzling festival goers and juries, capturing the awards for Best Narrative Feature (New York category) at the Tribeca Film Festival and Best Ensemble Acting
at CineVegas, and out Outfest, the HBO Audience Award for Best First Feature and the Grand Jury Award for Screenwriting.

It’s hard to avoid comparing Red Doors and Saving Face when they both feature first generation Chinese American lesbians in New York. Also, in both cases the main characters are medical
professionals who fall in love with artists. Saving Face’s Wil is a surgeon who falls for a ballet dancer, while Julie (Elaine Kao) in Red Doors is a fourth-year medical student who
becomes smitten with a TV star (Mia Riverton).

Taxing parents, ill-conceived weddings, and serious boogying (be it ballroom, ballet or hiphop) all feature prominently in both films.

But the similarities end there.

Red Doors is understated and tends toward offbeat humor, foraging for amusement amidst pain and regret. Ed Wong (veteran actor Tzi Ma) has just retired and is desperately trying to reconcile the happier times when his three daughters were growing up, with the emotional disconnect and strained communication that have since taken up residence with his family. He watches old family movies, mining them for answers or at least solace — digitizing the video footage to ensure its survival, perhaps hoping to somehow make the good times it has captured endure.

He doesn’t smile and contributes nothing but silence to household conversation, and his oldest daughter, Samantha (Jacqueline Kim), gives him three sessions with a psychiatrist as a retirement gift.

The film is at times self-conscious in its quirkiness, as in Ed’s series of half-hearted, gag-like suicide attempts. But his efforts keep getting interrupted by the intrusion of mundane life, highlighting the absurdity of his actions rather than the desperation that feeds them.

Red Doors disregards formulas for commercial success, and its deliberate eccentricity contrasts with Saving Face’s ploy for mainstream appeal.

Red Doors’ filmmakers even resisted early studio interest in the project, retaining creative control by financing it entirely through the support of family and friends. From the start, they intended the movie to be independent in finance as well as appeal. The result is heartfelt without being cliche, tender but with an edge.