Saturday, May 04, 2013

Seeking Asian Female: Meet the Happy Couple

Admit it, you assume he is a complete lecher and she’s just in it for mercenary reasons. Filmmaker Debbie Lum also had her own preconceptions about the sixty year old American man and the thirty year old Chinese woman who got engaged over the internet.  However, their developing relationship proved to be more complicated and messy than Lum ever expected.  She documented the drama in Seeking Asian Female (promo here), which airs this coming Monday on PBS’s Independent Lens.

Lum could hardly have asked for a better subject for her examination of “yellow fever” than Steven Bolstad.  When discussing his romantic preferences he utterly unabashed and guileless. It is hard to dislike someone so forthright, even when he makes wince-inducing comments.  After many internet flirtations with younger Chinese women, he falls for Sandy, who accepts his proposal, much to Lum’s head-scratching disbelief.  Yet, the miscommunication starts almost immediately when Sandy moves into her intended’s Bay Area apartment (which looks darned spacious by New York standards, especially for an airport toll collector).

Not unexpectedly, the culture clash takes a toll, but Sandy’s jealous suspicions are more serious.  A conflicted Lum finds herself pulled into the story, acting as a reluctant translator and marriage counselor.  Obviously, she is mindful of the potential objectivity pitfalls.  What would the Maysles Brothers say?  Probably do what you need to do to finish the film.

Indeed, Seeking often feels the sort of documentary that serves as reality television for art house-festival audiences.  Yes, it examines cross cultural ethnic and gender stereotyping, but it comes with a heck of a lot of voyeuristic fireworks.  Of course, that also means it is highly watchable.

You have to wonder what did not make it into the film.  Frankly, viewers might be most curious about Lum (who happens to be in an interracial marriage herself).  Based on her refereeing sessions with the bickering couple, Seeking could probably be remade into an amusing comedy with her as the harried central character.

At least, it would be a romantic comedy (sort of).  Seeking is a rarity among docs (or any sort of film for that matter), portraying the evolving attitudes of its director as well as its subject.  At times embarrassingly revealing, Seeking Asian Female is impossible to turn away from.  Recommended for those who enjoy some chaotic reality with their social commentary, it airs this Monday (5/6) on most PBS outlets as part of the current season of Independent Lens.