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West Is West -- Film Review

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TORONTO -- "West Is West" is an amusing if rather broadly played follow-up to the successful Om Puri starrer "East Is East" (1999), about a Pakistani fish-and-chip shop owner in 1970s England battling with his own family over cultural mores. Only in the sequel, it is he who must adjust culturally when he and his youngest son return to the native land he abandoned 30 years before.

The original film was highly successful in the U.K., and Miramax enjoyed a small art-house hit in 2000. Much has changed on the specialty film front since then, so "West Is West" may face a challenge duplicating that feat. It helps, though, that the original writer, Ayub Khan-Din, and a new director, Andy De Emmony, have made a highly entertaining film.

The battle may be the same -- old-country tradition vs. Western ways -- but the battlefield has dramatically shifted. "West Is West" does begin back in Salford, England, about five years later. Members of George Khan's (Puri) large family have married or moved out, leaving him to squabble with only his English wife (Linda Bassett) and youngest son, Sajid (Aqib Khan).

The lad hates his Pakistani heritage if for no other reason then the racist bullying he suffers at school. Also his father's use of English and own mixed-up identity -- he's almost half English himself by now -- embarrasses the boy. After one more insult hurled against this heritage by his son, George decides to drag the boy back to his roots.

The trip to Pakistan proves fateful for both Khans. Sajid naturally resists the country ways of his relatives, while George -- his name reverts to Joginder -- must confront the wife and family he left behind. While he has faithfully sent money back to buy land and maintain their home, the hurt of this abandonment is still extremely painful.

Then there is Sajid's older brother, Maneer (Emil Marwa), who has been living in Pakistan for more than a year and wants to find a bride. But he and his father's Western ways are off-putting to families of potential candidates.

So the stage is set for multiple conflicts and comic developments. Unfortunately, De Emmony, making his first film after working in British television, plays things too large. If every actor simply took the energy level and shtick down a notch, not a single laugh would be lost, and the story would unfold a little more realistically.

One could also complain the film has a very benign view of a highly volatile part of the world, but 1976 Pakistan was a much different place than today.

It is always a pleasure to watch Om Puri work and especially on this character whom he understands so well. With his mind working too fast in too many languages, George/Joginder runs comic roughshod over everyone's sensibilities and never seems to listen to anyone. He has a good heart but ignores it far too often. East may be East and West West, but the two do meet in the character of George Khan. It's truly one of the great comic roles of recent British films.

All credits are splendid as the cinematography and production design really create a striking contrast between a dreary English town and the rustic Pakistani farmhouse.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival
Production companies: Assassin Films/BBC Films
Cast: Om Puri, Aqib Khan, Linda Bassett, Ila Arun, Jimi Mistry
Director: Andy De Emmony
Screenwriter: Ayub Khan-Din
Producer: Leslie Udwin
Executive producers: Jane Wright, Shaana Levy, Kim Romer
Director of photography: Peter Robertson
Production designer: Aradhana Seth, Tom Conway
Music: Shankar Ehsaan
Costume designer: Louise Stjernsward
Editor: Jon Gregory, Stephen O'Connell
Sales: Icon Entertainment
No rating, 102 minutes