Review of “Red Doors”

The family

The breakdown of communication is a central theme in Red Doors, and in the absence of direct conversation the characters resort to creative means to reach each other.

Mia apologizes to Julie by camping out on her doorstep with an assortment of mini goudas in lieu of flowers. Katie (played by the director’s sister, Kathy Shao-Lin Lee) and a boy from school express their interest in each other via an escalating prank war that involves dead rodents, explosive devices and incriminatingly placed sex toys.

As in Saving Face, the relationships are disorderly and complicated, but in Red Doors they don’t tidy up by movie’s end in ways that are charming but unrealistic. The film shows no discomfort with the messiness of human interactions.

While Saving Face features the first big screen pairing of two Asian American women, Red Doors has been criticized for all three daughters being paired up with non-Asian love interests (including a white fiance as well as a white ex-boyfriend in Samantha’s case).

Director Georgia Lee has said that two Asian American actors who were originally cast had to back out at the last moment, and co-producer Mia Riverton (who also stars in the movie) has commented on how difficult it was to cast the ex-boyfriend, who not only had to be compelling as an actor but had to sing and play guitar equally well.

But the casting choices yielded very strong performances, particularly from the three actors who play the Wong sisters.

The filmmakers also employed some unusual extras, transporting monks from a Chan Buddhist temple in New York City to the Chuang Yen Monastery 60 miles outside of the city for one scene. The temple’s website features a blog-like account of the monks’ involvement with the film: “Mia got us settled in and brought us over to wardrobe where we were fitted into the monastery’s robes….The background monks were not needed for a few more hours so we were left to explore the trails that were laced through the monastery grounds.”

Lee not only wrote the screenplay and directed the film but co-produced it with two fellow Harvard alums, Jane Chen and Riverton. Lee’s only schooling in filmmaking was five months in Rome under Martin Scorsese’s wing, when he invited her onto the set of Gangs of New York after watching a short film she had sent him.

Red Doors was partly inspired by Lee’s discovery of old family movies, which she wound up using in the film. The footage Mr. Wong watches of two little girls dancing and ice skating is as authentic as it looks; the girls are Kathy Shao-Lin Lee and Georgia Lee. Georgia told Emerging Pictures that her film “is a story inspired by the true lives of my family and friends that has crystallized as part historical reality and part narrative filmmaking. It is at once a fictionalized version of my memory and an ode to my real-life family.”

Perhaps this personal element is what makes the film resonate so personally for viewers as well.

For more on the movie, visit the official website