'Made in China': Film Review

Courtesy of Mars Films
Crazy Not-So-Rich French Asians.

Frédéric Chau, one of the leads in the hit 'Serial (Bad) Weddings' movies, stars in this dramedy about a Franco-Chinese man estranged from his native family.

In 2014, the high-concept French comedy Serial (Bad) Weddings became a surprise box office sensation, grossing close to $175 million worldwide (most of it domestically) and turning into one of the most successful Gallic films of all time.

Its premise was, well, a bit ridiculous: a bigoted father’s three daughters marry an Arab, a Jew, and an Asian, respectively, leaving his fourth daughter the last hope of maintaining pureblooded French genes in the family. But when she decides to get hitched with an African, daddy nearly has a stroke. That is, until he learns, after many comic asides, to stop worrying and accept diversity, welcoming his multicultural sons-in-law into the fold. How do you say “Can’t we all just get along?” en français?

Early this year, the filmmakers followed their hit up with a less-successful sequel that still grossed close to $70 million, most of it in France and Germany. And now, one of the actors from the franchise has released what could be considered the first veritable spinoff from the Serial (Bad) Weddings Cinematic Universe, called Made In China.

Conceived by and starring Fréderic Chau, who played the Asian hubby in Weddings, the film is a well-meaning if rather generic dramedy about a France-born Chinese man, François, who’s grown estranged from his immigrant father, Meng (Bing Yin). With his first baby on the way, François decides it’s time to make amends with his heritage, paying his dad a surprise visit at his home in the working-class 13th arrondissement, which is Paris’ biggest Chinatown (there are other ones in Belleville and near the Marais.)

Shenanigans, of course, ensue, most of them involving François’ comic-relief sidekick, Bruno, played by Medi Sadoun (who plays the Arab husband in the Weddings films). A few decent jokes are made to debunk Sinophobic stereotypes, poking fun at the fact that certain Frenchmen still believe all Chinese people work as sushi delivery boys, speak French with lurching accents or eat dog meat over their steamed rice.

In a country where Asians have often made for easy punchlines in movies and TV shows, and where a more aggressive racism toward the Chinese population has reared its head these past years, Made in China comes as a welcome reminder of France’s evolving demographics — especially compared to comedies like the recent Tanguy Is Back, which barely hid its xenophobia beneath a litany of terrible slapstick.

Some of the jokes in China aren’t all that more sophisticated than in Tanguy, but the film has a good heart at its core and offers a few insights into life for people like François’ dad, who remain isolated from the rest of Paris yet find their own ways to get by. One subplot shows Meng helping recent Chinese immigrants maneuver France’s Kafkaesque bureaucracy, or else organizing community loans so that they can start up a business. 

Generally, the Chinese characters — including François’ crazy cousin, Félix, played by the rather hilarious Steve Tran — come across as altogether more nuanced and interesting than the non-Asian ones, who feel like caricatures. This is especially the case with François’ very pregnant girlfriend, Sophie (Julie De Bona), whose jealous rages are never really credible. Ditto for her overzealous mother (Clémentine Célarié), obsessed only with her daughter's future baby. 

Yet even if it suffers from some of the same flaws — a predictable plot, a few too many jokes that miss their mark — as the Weddings films, Made in China probes slightly deeper into similar questions: What does it mean to be French at a time when the concept of a “typical Frenchman” may no longer exist? How do parents, whether immigrants or natives, react to the cultural assimilation of their children? And how do children inherit the values of parents who were raised in another time and place?

These are questions facing France, as well as the rest of Europe, perhaps now more than ever, which may explain why the Weddings farces have been such huge hits. Made in China tackles the theme from the opposite angle, focusing on the minority viewpoint rather than the other way around. The result is a film that has proved less successful thus far, pulling in close to 250,000 admissions after two weeks in theaters. But it may also pave the way for more movies like it — which, in a country where popular comedies are still, for the most part, purely French affairs, is no minor(ity) feat.

Production companies: Montauk Films, Ripley Films
Cast: Frédéric Chau, Medi Sadoun, Julie De Bona, Steve Tran, Bing Yin, Mylène Jampanoï
Director: Julien Abraham
Screenwriters: Frédéric Chau, Kamel Guemra, Julien Abraham, based on an original idea by Frédéric Chau
Producers: Florian Genetet-Morel, Sandra Karim
Director of photography: Julien Meurice
Production designer: Jacques Rouxel
Costume designer: Pauline Berland
Editor: Scott Stevenson
Composer: Quentin Sirjacq
Casting director: Stéphanie Doncker
Sales: TF1 Studio

In French
88 minutes