“Red Doors” is the debut feature from writer/director Georgia Lee, and attempts to breathe some new life into the hoary family drama genre. The Wongs are a Chinese-American clan living outside New York City. Ed (Tzi Ma), the father, has just retired and is having a bit of difficulty coming to terms with not having anything to do with himself. Meanwhile, his three daughters are dealing with their own problems. Sam (Jacqueline Kim) is pushing 30, fast-tracked into a successful life as a businesswoman, and engaged to a similar Type A-personality guy. Julie (Elaine Kao) is in her 4th year of medical school and appears to be the most level-headed member of the family, while Katie (Kathy Shao-Lin Lee) seems like your typical sullen teenager, though she’s one mean dancer.
Naturally, appearances can be deceiving, and Lee (who apprenticed with Martin Scorsese on “Gangs of New York”) comes perilously close to cliché with a few of the relationships presented, especially those of the older daughters. Sam’s a workaholic trapped in a passionless relationship who just happens to run across her old sweetheart in his new gig as a music teacher at Katie’s high school. No bets on whether or not she leaves her disconnected fiancé for the sensitive artiste. Then there’s Julie, the shy one. Could her series of fruitless blind dates be a result of looking for love in – literally – all the wrong places?
Katie, the youngest, has the juiciest role. She enjoys the most original romance (a cat and mouse affair with a neighbor and fellow student that involves the use of explosives and strategically placed sex toys) and also the most rewarding relationship with the parents. She’s the first to appreciate her dad’s need to be alone, and also ends up bonding the closest with their mother (Freda Foh Shen).
Though I have to confess, the father drove me nuts. It isn’t as if we haven’t seen a family patriarch driven to depression by the end of his career before, but rarely has attempted suicide been used as a convenient gag (“Harold and Maude” pulled his off most believably). Maybe I missed something, but I found the idea of a husband and father thinking that his job is the only thing in life worth living for to be somewhat aggravating. His eventual decision to up and leave his family to join Buddhist monastery? Slightly less so.
Georgia Lee has evidently learned a great deal from her experiencing directing shorts, as “Red Doors” is a very good looking picture. Her shot selections, especially during the latter half of the film, are quite enjoyable to watch. She also brings out decent performances from the principals, which is a good thing, considering the well-worn territory most of the characters are forced to tread. In the end, “Red Doors” – a film about a family billed as “bizarrely dysfunctional” – is a pleasant enough experience. However, it probably could have used a little more of the bizarre or dysfunctional to spice things up.