Seeking Asian Female is a feature-length personal documentary about the unlikely romance of Steven and Jianhua (“Sandy”) – an American man obsessed with marrying any Asian woman and the Chinese woman half his age who agrees online to become his fiancée. Chinese American filmmaker Debbie documents everything, with skepticism and humor, from the early stages of Steven’s search through the moment Sandy steps foot in America for the first time, to a year into their precarious union. From one unexpected turn to the next, as these two online pen pals attempt to overcome vast differences in age, language and culture for the sake of a real-life marriage, the filmmaker gets pulled deeper into their story. And as her role morphs from documentarian to translator to couple’s counselor, this roller coaster relationship becomes more intimate and more human, ultimately becoming a strangely compelling love story for the ages.
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Seeking Asian Female
Seeking Asian Female
AN INTERVIEW with DEBBIE LUM (Director, Producer, Writer, Editor) What’s your film about? Two strangers, a white, American man obsessed with Asian women and a young woman from China half his age, meet online and become engaged. This intimate and quirky personal documentary is told from my POV, as a Chinese American woman who always wanted to know why so many Western men are obsessed with Asian women. As I film them attempting to build a marriage from scratch in California, I become their translator and unwitting marriage counselor – all the while trying to determine, could it possibly be for love? What else would you like audiences to know about your film and your work? This is a real life story about two people with questionable motives who are thrown into a crazy situation – but above all, I really want to show both the humor and the human side of the story. “Yellow fever” (Western male obsession for Asian women) is a really polarizing issue in the Asian American community, and probably pisses off a lot of women as well. I really tried to get beyond black and white polemics and dig into the layered complexities of the issue through a very personal story. Tell us about yourself, your background? And why did you choose to make movies? I was a child when the term blockbuster was first used to describe films like Star Wars and E.T. My house in St. Louis, Missouri, was right behind one of the largest single screen movie theaters in town, and we loved going to the movies. I remember the huge disappointment I felt when I saw Sixteen Candles with Molly Ringwald – and the character Long Duc Dong, the stereotypical, heavily accented, freaky, embarrassing Chinese foreign exchange student. My family has been in America for four generations but my roots are Chinese. And I realized that the only stories that vaguely represented where I came from were gross stereotypes at best, and demeaning at worst, but generally non-existent. You don’t have to be Asian American to feel a disconnect between what you see in the movies and your own real life. There are so many untold stories out there. Those are the stories that really interest me, the ones I really want to tell. What was your biggest challenge in developing or producing this project? It’s hard to choose only one challenge – there were so many! Romance and relationships are unpredictable. Chasing the story took over five years. I had to wait for my main character to find a Chinese woman who wanted to marry him. There were so many late night calls to me after she arrived, as I went from documentary filmmaker to translator to marriage counselor. I didn’t realize I had become a character in my own film until halfway through shooting it. My editor will tell you how much work that created in the editing room. And of course, don’t even get me started about trying to fund an independent documentary… What would you like audiences to come away with after seeing your film? I’d like audiences to be surprised by the way two seemingly strange characters are so relatable. I’d like them to see a different side of the stereotypical international bride story, and have a new image of what it means to be a Chinese woman and a Chinese immigrant in America. I’d really like people to ponder how powerful and troubling stereotypes and expectations are in romance and relationships, and to think twice before making judgments about others based on a few details they may know. Have any specific films inspired you in making this movie? The film ‘a.k.a. Don Bonus’ by Spencer Nakasako – the first documentary I ever edited – was shot entirely POV by a 17-year-old Cambodian immigrant kid with virtually no filmmaking experience. Not “beautiful” it is still incredibly vivid, intimate and powerful because the subject/cinematographer could only be true to his life. Other recent docs I love with similarly obsessed main characters are Marwencol and Anvil. On the other side of the spectrum, I often thought of fiction films with awkward, unconventional love stories as I was creating this, movies like Annie Hall and Punch Drunk Love.