'My Wedding and Other Secrets'

A familiar cross-cultural dramedy conceit gets sparkling treatment in helmer/co-scripter Roseanne Liang's "My Wedding and Other Secrets," a dramatization of her highly praised autobiographical documentary "Banana in a Nutshell" (2005).

A familiar cross-cultural dramedy conceit gets sparkling treatment in helmer/co-scripter Roseanne Liang’s “My Wedding and Other Secrets,” a dramatization of her highly praised autobiographical documentary “Banana in a Nutshell” (2005). This story about a New Zealand-born Chinese girl hiding her white boyfriend from her tradition-minded parents reps a winning combo of laugh-out-loud humor and genuinely touching heartache. A local B.O. hit last March, “Wedding” has the universal truths and broad appeal to win admirers on the fest circuit, and ace casting of Hong Kong vets Kenneth Tsang and Cheng Pei-pei as the parents could help land niche engagements in Chinese-lingo territories.

In a lovely meet-cute, super-enthusiastic film student Emily Chu (Michelle Ang) is pitted against lanky white boy James Harrison (Matt Whelan) in the university fencing club. Most auds should warm instantly to the clever but rather clumsy girl who wants to make martial-arts movies and the nerdy nice guy aspiring to design computer games. The perfectly cast leads are delightfully convincing as they share a first kiss and James declares his encounter with Emily to be “the best and only date I’ve ever had.”

It’s true and secret love straight away. Knowing that Emily’s old-fashioned father, Dr. Chu (Tsang), and traditional housewife mother (Cheng) would never approve of any non-Chinese suitor, the young couple carry on a clandestine romance that becomes trickier when, at about the one-third mark, the lovebirds tie the knot.

Narrative smoothly slides from the funny hijinks of ducking and weaving around Emily’s parents to the inevitable strain on the relationship. Surrounding Emily and James with an engaging collection of friends and relatives, the screenplay by Liang and Angeline Loo offers rewarding commentary on cultural values and the damage caused by living a lie.

The difference between taking the accepted path and breaking the rules is poignantly noted in the side stories of Emily’s sisters, favored child Melanie (Celeste Wong) and Susan (Katlyn Wong), whose past romance with a white boy raised the specter of being disowned by her father.

Neatly balancing the serious/funny equation are James’ endearingly geeky housemates Neil (Josh Thomson) and Tom (Todd Emerson). A few gags fall flat along the way, but most viewers should easily forgive and forget. Crucially, Tsang and Cheng are given dignified roles that never turn Emily’s parents into objects of derision. The yarn benefits significantly from Emily’s flinty relationship with Eric (Simon London), a pretentious film student who eventually helps her make a docu about her unwieldy situation.

Liang’s brisk and breezy direction is complemented by Richard Harling’s appropriately simple and effective lensing around Auckland. Snippets of Liang’s Super 8 homemovies are delightful. Other technical work is solid on a modest budget.

My Wedding and Other Secrets

New Zealand

Production

A Sony Pictures NZ release of a South Pacific Pictures production, in association with the New Zealand Film Commission, NZ on Air. (International sales: High Point Media Group, London.) Produced by Paul Davis, John Barnett. Directed by Roseanne Liang. Screenplay, Liang, Angeline Loo, based on the documentary "Banana in a Nutshell" directed by Liang.

Crew

Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Richard Harling; editor, Eric De Beus; music, Andrew McDowall, Bic Runga; music supervisor, Jonathan Hughes; production designer, Gary McKay; art director, Paul Murphy; costume designer, Sarah Voon; sound (Dolby Digital), Chris Burt, Stefan Brough; stunt coordinator, Tim Wong; line producer, Janet McIver; assistant director, Richard Matthews; casting, Christina Asher. Reviewed at Melbourne Film Festival (Next Gen), Aug. 5, 2011. (Also in New York Asian-American, San Diego Asian film festivals.) Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Michelle Ang, Matt Whelan, Cheng Pei-pei, Kenneth Tsang, Katlyn Wong, Celeste Wong, Simon London, Janet Tan, Josh Thomson, Todd Emerson, Gareth Yuen, Mike Ginn, Johnny Barker. (English, Mandarin, Cantonese dialogue)

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