Winner of top honors at the 1999 Houston fest, “Catfish in Black Bean Sauce” is a tasty but insubstantial dish that likely will appear on homevideo and pay cable menus. The debut effort of Vietnamese-born Chi Muoi Lo, who wrote, directed and produced in addition to playing a lead role, pic benefits greatly from casting of vets Paul Winfield and Mary Alice as an African-American couple who, years earlier, adopted two Vietnamese siblings. Now in their 20s, the adoptees eagerly await the L.A. arrival of their long-lost birth mother.
Helmer plays Dwayne, who has steeped himself in contemporary black culture and is engaged to an African-American beauty (Sanaa Lathan). His sister (Lauren Tom) is more traditional, having married an older Asian-American businessman (Tzi Ma). Culture clashes are presented with equal measures of humor and sensitivity, but “Catfish” is too mild-mannered and fuzzily focused for its own good. It spends too much time on an unfunny subplot involving Dwayne’s roommate (Tyler Christopher) and a possible transsexual, and devotes too little time to the profoundly mixed emotions cued by the reconciliation between the siblings and their not entirely sympathetic mother (Kieu Chinh).