Reel Affirmations 2006
Hainan ji fan
Review by Sean Bugg
Rating: (5 out of 5)
Sunday, 10/15/2006, 7:00 PM
Feature presentation, $9 at Lincoln Theatre
Mandarin and French with English subtitles
JEN FAN IS LIVING the dream life of a successful Chinese immigrant in Singapore. Her restaurant is renowned for serving the best Hainan chicken rice in town. She enjoys the flirtations of neighboring coffee-shop owner, Kim Chui. And her three sons — Daniel, Harry and Leo — are the kinds of boys who would be every mother’s pride and joy.
Except for one little thing. Her two oldest sons are gay, and she suspects Leo’s heading the same way. Every fortune teller in Singapore tells her the same thing: All three will be gay.
Fearing that she’ll never become a grandmother, Jen hatches a plot with the help of Kim Chui to help encourage Leo’s development on a different path. Namely, by bringing a sexy French exchange student, Sabine, into her home and then telling Leo that he’s to never touch her. With such a forbidden fruit in the house, she believes, Leo’s sure to try the waters of heterosexuality.
In its plot and structure, Rice Rhapsody is in many ways a formulaic family farce that will feel instantly familiar. What sets it apart, particularly for a gay film festival, is taking such an understanding and ultimately respectful view of Jen’s desire for at least a partially ”normal” life. That doesn’t mean the film dismisses her gay sons — they’re treated respectfully as well. It does mean that everyone has conflicting desires, and the trick is learning to live and love despite them.
A lot of strong performances also sell the story’s central conceit. American audiences may recognize Martin Yan of Yan Can Cook as Kim Chui — he’s charming as he both pursues Jen and tries to steer her toward an understanding of her three sons.
Rice Rhapsody ends with a contrivance — the final understanding between mother and son comes during a televised cooking contest — but the contrivance doesn’t matter if the emotions it provokes are honestly reached. And, in the end, Rice Rhapsody rings true. — SB