Dim Sum Funeral



AFI Fest

By now the story of a large family congregating for a seminal event-a holiday celebration, a birthday, or a funeral-is almost a genre unto itself. Since these tales are inevitably a little shopworn, it's a challenge for filmmakers to freshen the stock situations. Director Anna Chi and screenwriter Donald Martin fail to invigorate the formulas in "Dim Sum Funeral." Despite the best efforts of an attractive and talented cast, the story of a far-flung family returning to Seattle for their mother's funeral seems predictable and distended. This AFI Fest offering will appeal to its ethnic base but won't break through to a larger audience.

When the strong-willed matriarch of a Chinese-American family dies, her caretaker (Talia Shire) assembles friends, children and grandchildren and lets them know that their departed mother wanted a ritualistic seven-day Chinese funeral. They reluctantly agree to hang around and participate in the ceremonies. During their sojourn, they resolve a lot of their own personal crises, which is clearly what Mama had in mind.

These individual dramas are steeped in cliche. Lesbian couple Meimei (Steph Song) and Deedee (Bai Ling) are hoping to have a child, and they are on the lookout for a sperm donor. Womanizing son Alex (Russell Wong) is trying to repair his marriage to his angry wife. Oldest daughter Liz (Julia Nickson) is also seeking a new start after the death of a child. Although there is a neat plot twist that enlivens the last quarter of the film, most of these subplots are resolved much too easily.

Nickson gives the strongest performance, managing to convey the bitterness of a wounded woman without ever losing our sympathy. Wong involves us in his character's conflicts. Bai Ling is engaging in one of the lighter roles; she provides needed comic relief.

Technical credits are solid if uninspired. Most stories of family tension and reconciliation can be counted on to stir emotion in audiences, but the tears at this "Funeral" are jerked without much deftness.

Production: Reel One Entertainment.
Cast: Bai Ling, Steph Song, Russell Wong, Julia Nickson, Talia Shire, Kelly Hu.
Director: Anna Chi.
Screenwriter: Donald Martin.
Producer: Jeffery Lando.
Director of photography: Michael Balfry.
Production designer: James Willcock.
Music: Scott Starrett.
Costume designer: Kate Main.
Editor: Karen Porter.
No MPAA rating, 97 minutes.