Stubborness must run in the family. It’s 1977 in Queens, New York and Kim (Bai Ling) is determined to defy her mom Mrs. Liu (Lieu Chinh) by beginning a career and dating Willie (Ken Leung), a poor beginning law student. Yet when Willie makes the fateful mistake of leaving Kim at a party upon learning that she’d been tutoring Daniel (Will Yun Lee), the latter forces himself upon her and she winds up pregnant. Knuckling under to their respective mothers’ insistence on the old ways, Kim reluctantly marries the spoiled and irresponsible Daniel. It’s clearly a farce, however, and she flees for a job in Singapore shortly after the birth of her daughter Genie (Kristy Wu), leaving the baby for her mother to raise.
Twenty years later, Genie has grown up to be even feistier and more headstrong than her mostly-absent mother is. With Kim returning to attend Genie’s graduation and considering moving back to New York, Genie’s open resentment and hostility towards her mother rises to the surface. With Mrs. Liu already facing the unenviable task of forging a reapprochment between her workaholic daughter and the bitter granddaughter she raised, it’s simply too much for her when she learns of Genie’s relationship with Michæl (Treach). Raised in the ways of the Old World and already concerned that so much of those traditions are lost on her precocious granddaughter, Mrs. Liu simply cannot tolerate the idea of Genie dating an African-American DJ.
“Face,” the feature-length debut for director Bertha Bay-Sa Pan, is a three-way standoff; a tri-generational battle of wits that pits Old World thinking against New while exploring the limits of forgiveness and reconciliation. The biggest problem with the film is the lack of compassion in each character. This in turn leaves little room for the audience to feel sympathy for their situation. Genie is a spoiled brat, and perhaps understandably so, while her mom is a self-centered cold fish. Mrs. Liu comes the closest to showing some heart in this family, but even she comes up short with her harsh, close-minded reaction to Michæl before she even meets him. It may be the Old World way, but such overt racism doesn’t sit well in the real world.
“Face” does a number of things well. Pan excels in creating an aura of palpable tension whenever Kim is in the room, while the parallel stories between the two decades flow smoothly. Yet, one can’t help but get the feeling that these three women are caricatures rather than real people. Even more distressing is the lack of any resolution at all. You don’t have to wrap everything up in a nice tidy package with a bow on top, but it’s frustrating to invest time in a film, only to walk out of the theater knowing that nothing has really changed for these people. Hard-headed to the end, the three women in “Face” prove that if nothing else, stubborness and inflexibilty run in the family.