You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Seeking Asian Female

A documentary observing the marriage between a Caucasian American and his Chinese mail-order bride, "Seeking Asian Female" brings stereotypes of "yellow fever" and "gold-digging immigrant" into compelling interplay.

With: Jinhua "Sandy" Bolstad, Steven Bolstad.
Narrator: Debbie Lum.
(English, Mandarin dialogue)

A documentary observing the marriage between a Caucasian American and his Chinese mail-order bride, “Seeking Asian Female” brings stereotypes of “yellow fever” and “gold-digging immigrant” into compelling interplay. No radical cultural deconstruction ensues, but preconceptions and expectations are discreetly overturned in the wake of real-life experience. Although Chinese-American helmer Debbie Lum only scratches the surface of issues relating to mixed-race relationships, what will impress and engage auds is the honesty on display, including Lum’s own admission of reservations about her subjects’ motives. The pic is a perfect fit for Asian-American festivals and family channels.

Having been regularly racially pigeonholed, despite an upbringing as American as apple pie, Lum makes no bones about her distaste for and involuntary fascination with the phenomenon known as “yellow fever.” Her attitude accounts for the film’s initial barbed tone and makes the early scenes a hoot, especially interviews that brim with outrageous racial stereotypes, as when a man notes that, after watching the Vietnam-set drama “The Scent of Green Papaya,” he wanted “a lovely servant girl who’d cook … these wonderful dishes.”

Lum herself says of her chief male subject early on: “I have spent my life avoiding men like Steven (Bolstad).” Flaunting his colossal collection of portfolios of Asian femmes he’s dated, mostly online, the twice-divorced sexagenarian San Francisco airport cashier waxes lyrical about the supposed virtues of the Chinese race, from their slit eyes to their belief in everlasting love.

After shopping around on matchmaking sites, Bolstad settles on thirtysomething Sandy, from a poor family in Anhui province. She arrives with a three-month “fiancee visa.” The remarkable thing is how outspoken she is oncamera; although she denies being mercenary, she nonetheless admits to choosing Bolstad partly because her marriage options back home are dwindling. Upon discovery of Bolstad’s economic situation and other unflattering attributes, Sandy’s reactions prove she’s not the guileless Chinese waif he fantasizes about. Yet it’s all the more touching that, after asserting her hard-nosed, even calculating side, she reveals a soft spot for the man, almost in spite of herself.

Beaming like a tot handed a lollipop, Bolstad seems to epitomize arrested development with his irresponsibility and infuriating optimism. But like Sandy, he surprises by showing an occasional awareness of his inadequacy and a capacity for change.

“Seeking Asian Female” doesn’t delve into the couple’s past relationships; nor does it explore cultural differences more deep-rooted than such banalities as rules of dating or spending money. And Lum’s no Frederick Wiseman: The film is saturated with her running commentary, which is colored by her background as well as a small dose of condescension. Yet, her emotional investment is what makes the film involving, and the ethical dilemma of her conflicting roles as filmmaker, confidante and counselor also raises dramatic stakes when the Bolstads’ marriage hits the rocks.

Largely a one-person project spanning a year, the pic boasts simple but serviceable tech credits.

Popular on Variety

Seeking Asian Female


Production: An Independent Television Service (ITVS), Cal Humanities, Center for Asian American Media, Chicken & Egg Pictures presentation of a Debbie Lum, ITVS, KQED production in association with Chicken & Egg Pictures. Executive producers, Sally Jo Fifer, Louise Lo. Co-producers, Tina Nguyen, Chris Guevarra, Ali Sargent, Cianna Stewart. Produced, directed by Debbie Lum. Written by Tina Nguyen, Amy Ferraris.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Lum; editors, Nguyen, Ferraris; music, Gordy Haab; supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer (stereo), Philip Perkins; associate producer, Alison Pezanoski-Browne. Reviewed on DVD, Vancouver, Sept. 25, 2012. (In Vancouver Film Festival -- Nonfiction Features of 2012; SXSW, SilverDocs, Hawaii, Los Angeles Asian-Pacific film festivals.) Running time: 85 MIN.

Cast: With: Jinhua "Sandy" Bolstad, Steven Bolstad.
Narrator: Debbie Lum.
(English, Mandarin dialogue)

More Scene

  • Anne Hathaway Modern Love

    Anne Hathaway Talks Mental Health Awareness, Playing a Bipolar Woman on Amazon's 'Modern Love'

    In Amazon Prime’s upcoming “Modern Love,” Anne Hathaway sheds light on an important facet of living with mental health issues, playing a bipolar woman who struggles with dating. “We’re all becoming more sensitive, wiser and more cognizant of gentility, and especially emotional gentility. I think those conversations are starting to happen. And I think the desire [...]

  • Margot Robbie, Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron.

    Charlize Theron Could Win Second Oscar for Playing Megyn Kelly in 'Bombshell'

    Charlize Theron walked on stage before a screening of “Bombshell” at West Hollywood’s Pacific Design Center on Sunday night and announced to the crowd, “I’m about to s— myself.” The Oscar winner had good reason to be nervous. The screening of the Jay Roach-directed drama about the fall of Fox News boss Roger Ailes was [...]

  • Charlize Theron speaks at the GEANCO

    Charlize Theron Talks 'White Privilege,' Growing Up During Apartheid in South Africa

    Charlize Theron, during an onstage discussion with her “Gringo” costar David Oyelowo about philanthropy at Thursday’s annual fundraiser for Nigerian children’s educational and health program GEANCO, said she was a beneficiary of “white privilege” while growing up in Apartheid-torn South Africa. “I obviously am a white person who benefited from my white privilege,” Theron said [...]

  • Lyliana Wray, Sam Ashe Arnold, Miya

    ‘Are You Afraid of the Dark’ Revival Team on Living Up to the Series’ Legacy

    The 2019 revival of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” centers around the Carnival of Doom, a place that star Jeremy Ray Taylor (“It Chapter Two”) describes as “beautiful on the outside, but…in the middle of it, there are definitely dark secrets. Variety caught up with the young star during a carnival-themed celebration at Row DTLA [...]

  • Charlize Theron'The Addams Family' film premiere,

    Charlize Theron Speaks Immigration, Diversity in ‘The Addams Family’

    They’re creepy, they’re kooky, and they’re an allegory for immigration in America.  Charlize Theron discussed the changing face of the nuclear family and her animated film, “The Addams Family,” with Variety at the movie’s recent premiere at the Century City Mall in Los Angeles. “When you think of [the Addams] being around since the sixties, [...]

  • Emma Stone attends the Los Angeles

    Emma Stone Talks 'Cruella' Transformation, New 'Zombieland' Sequel

    Despite inevitable comparisons to Glenn Close’s iconic turn as Cruella de Vil in 1996’s “101 Dalmatians,” Emma Stone teased that her take on the infamous villain in the upcoming “Cruella” movie will be very distinctive. “It comes long before her story,” Stone told Variety at the premiere of “Zombieland: Double Tap” at the Regency Village [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content