Joy Lem, Henry Wang; sound, Steve
Munro, Henry Embry; associate pro-
ducers, Yan Cui, Leslie Padorr. Re-
viewed at Festival of Festivals, Toron-
to, Sept. 12, 1993. Running time:85 MIN.
Sally … Lily Zhang
Zhao … Reimonna Sheng
Li An … Andy X. Xu
Jack Kelly … Phillip MacKenzie
Mr. Ying … David Chant
Keith Lock’s feature debut, “Small Pleasures,” is a raw but decent addition to a growing body of films (“Combination Platter,””The Wedding Banquet”) dealing with multiculturalism and the experience of Asian immigrants in North America. Reportedly the first film ever written and directed by a Chinese-Canadian, timely, if also naive, pic may be of interest to viewers in urban centers, where Asian immigrants reside.
Set in the spring of 1989, during the tumultuous events of Tiananmen Square, story centers on Sally (the extremely beautiful Lily Zhang), a young, ambitious woman determined to make the most of her new life in Toronto. She is contrasted with her roommate, Zhao (Reimonna Sheng), also a recent immigrant, but one who still clings to the traditions of the old world.
Pic chronicles their daily existence: work in a restaurant owned by a rigid Mr. Ting (David Chant), and affairs of the heart. Rebelling against the notion of an arranged marriage back home, Zhao ends up having an affair with Li An (Andy Xu), a dissident professor who works as a waiter in the same restaurant because he can’t practice his profession.
A leisurely first half establishes the setting’s context in Toronto’s Chinatown. In the second, however, story becomes overly melodramatic when the two women experience detachment. In what appears to be a reversal of stereotypes , Li turns out to be a married man with a wife in China. And Sally is forced into sudden maturity when her white Canadian beau (Phillip MacKenzie) goes abroad.
For the sake of accuracy, Beijingers were cast as Beijingers, and assimilated CBC (Canadian-born Chinese) play characters born there. The melange of accents promotes pic’s authenticity, a crucial but often missing ingredient from other immigrant sagas.
“Small Pleasures” contains charming perfs by the two women (Zhang and Sheng), but it’s the kind of heartfelt film in which characters spell out everything and mean exactly what they say. Still, in this first film, scripter-helmer demonstrates generosity of spirit and ample talent in handling his actors.